Over the two-day Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) holiday, the New York Times greeted its Jewish readers with a one-two punch of news stories that strayed from fact-based reporting to attack supporters of the Jewish state and denigrate a widely accepted definition of anti-Semitism.
The first article, appearing on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, was entitled “A Harsh Diplomatic View, Even Where His Boss Sees Hope” and provided a colored and dismissive rendering of US National Security Advisor John Bolton’s first major public remarks about US foreign policy.
The newspaper’s offering for the second day of the Jewish New Year was even worse: a brazenly partisan, opinion-laden characterization of Kenneth L. Marcus, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights, as “a longtime opponent of Palestinian rights causes” who had pressured campuses “to squelch anti-Israel speech and activities.”
An Attack on an Opponent of Anti-Semitism
The Times makes a show of promising reporting “without fear or favor,” and yet the article, “U.S. Revives Rutgers Bias Case In New Tack on Anti-Semitism,” by Erica Green, clearly favors—worse, embraces—the antagonistic judgments of radical anti-Israel activist groups, which often slur anyone supportive of Israel as “anti-Palestinian.”
The language wouldn’t be out of place, for example, on the website of the so-called US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, an advocacy group opposed to Israel’s right to exist. Indeed, that group has used virtually the same wording about Marcus: “This is bad. Trump has nominated Kenneth Marcus – a sworn opponent of Palestinian rights – for Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education,” the anti-Israel group asserted in a piece entitled, “The Trumpocalypse is coming to campus BDS, and YOUR senator can stop it.”
Likewise, the Times language mirrors a headline on Electronic Intifada, a virulently anti-Israel propaganda site: “Trump taps head of anti-Palestinian group as top civil rights enforcer.”
The same goes for the newspaper’s allegation that Marcus worked to “squelch anti-Israel speech and activities.” Here’s the same slur, but from the professional activists at Code Pink: “An often-used tactic to squelch criticism of Israeli state policies toward the Palestinians is to call the criticism anti-Semitic.” The New York Times, though, doesn’t attribute this view to pro-Israel activists, nor to “longtime opponents of Jewish rights causes,” but, incredibly, levels the accusation of “squelching criticism” in its own voice.
The organizations named above are opposed to Israel’s right to exist, and openly campaign in support of that goal. But how does the New York Times, which promises readers it will “cover the news as impartially as possible,” justify its partisan language on its news pages?
While the examples cited above are particularly striking, the article tilts against Jewish concerns in other ways, too. After introducing what she describes as “a hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism,” for example, the author quotes “Arab-American activists” saying the Education Department’s use of the definition amounts to the government “declaring the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.” (Feel free to search for where the definition in question denigrates “the Palestinian cause.”)
And what about those who defend the definition? The article offers no such support at this point in the article. Instead, the author waits nearly 20 paragraphs to present readers with the counterpoint that the definition indeed “reflects how anti-Semitism is so frequently expressed today”—and this only after yet another critic is quoted describing the adoption of the definition as amounting to “pressuring universities and government bodies to trample free speech.”
While the article casts the definition as “hotly contested,” it fails to note that virtually identical (if not identical) definitions of anti-Semitism have been embraced by the Obama administration in 2010, the European Parliament, and the intergovernmental International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and has been praised by mainstream Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League.
New York Times on Bolton
The piece, by Mark Landler, was about U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s remarks to the Federalist Society and focused on his rejection of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the administration’s closing of the PLO’s office in Washington. It was presented as a news article, but read more like an editorial arguing against Bolton’s positions.
Rather than objectively presenting the views articulated by Bolton, citing both supporters and opponents, the reporter, in his own words, proclaimed his judgement that the White House has moved “far” from being a broker of Middle East peace. The only voices cited in the piece are those of Bolton’s critics.
That Mr. Bolton may have valid reasons for opposing the ICC and the PLO’s use of this body against Israel as a substitute for peace negotiations is ignored by the reporter. For example, he ignores Bolton’s description of hypocrisy in the ICC’s treatment of Israel and the Palestinians.
Instead, the reporter dismisses Bolton by labeling his history of public action as “famously rancorous” and cites unnamed detractors to drop derogatory innuendo about Bolton’s allegedly negative “history” and “hostile stance.” The message conveyed by the New York Times is that Bolton’s “virulent condemnation of the International Criminal Court” is invalidated by his history of antipathy toward the court. The article limits Bolton’s explanation of his views to “a litany of familiar arguments against the court: It infringed on American sovereignty, had unchecked power and was ‘ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous.'”
The article gives short shrift to the five legal concerns about the ICC articulated by Bolton, including the fact that:
1) the court’s “unfettered discretion to investigate, charge, and prosecute individuals, regardless of whether their countries have acceded to the Rome Statute” concentrates power “in the hands of an unchecked executive, who is accountable to no one”;
2) “the definitions of crimes, especially crimes of aggression, are vague and subject to wide-ranging interpretation by the ICC,” thus “exacerbating the Court’s unfettered powers”;
3) the failure in the court’s “fundamental objective to deter and punish atrocity crimes,” having “spent over $1.5 billion dollars, while attaining only eight convictions,” creates a paradox where the dangers of the court “stem from both its potential strength and its manifest weakness”;
4)”domestic U.S. judicial systems already hold American citizens to the highest legal and ethical standards,” making the court “superfluous” and although it is supposed to be a “court of last resort,” there is “little precedent for the ICC to determine how to apply the complementarity principle”;
5) the court has been widely criticized and rejected, with “more than 70 nations, representing two-thirds of the world’s population, and over 70% of the world’s armed forces” declining to join the ICC. Bolton pointed out the disproportionate attention to certain countries while ignoring the crimes of others. For example, “several African nations have recently withdrawn or threatened to withdraw their membership, citing the disproportionate number of arrest warrants against Africans” and the ICC has displayed hypocrisy by “welcom[ing] the membership of the so-called ‘State of Palestine’ while “threat[ening] Israel—a liberal, democratic nation—with investigation into its actions to defend citizens from terrorist attacks in the West Bank and Gaza.”
In his remarks to the Federalist Society, Bolton explained the decision to close the P.L.O.’s office in Washington as reflecting “Congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel” instead of taking steps “to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” He noted that the U.S. “supports a direct and robust peace process, and will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense.”
But this too was ignored as the New York Times reporter put his own spin on the decision to close the P.L.O. office. Instead of noting the Palestinian’s appeals to biased international bodies while avoiding direct talks with Israel, the reporter noted only that closing the PLO office “deepens the rift between the Trump administration and the Palestinians, which opened up after Mr. Trump announced he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” This was followed immediately with a quote by Saeb Erekat to excoriate “this dangerous escalation” and condemn the U.S. for its “willing[ness]to disband the international system in order to protect Israeli crimes.” The charge that the Palestinians have “not shown good faith in trying to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel” is attributed to Bolton alone and includes no quotes to support this widely held view. Moreover, it is immediately countered by the reporter’s own justification that “the White House has yet to present its peace proposal.”
In this way, the New York Times predisposes readers to view the national security advisor – and his support for Israel – in a negative light while viewing the Palestinians as blameless victims of Israel and of the U.S. administration.
In the newspaper’s defense, for what it’s worth, it doesn’t reserve its anti-Israel editorializing for days that Jews are observing their high holidays. It was not on Rosh Hashanah, but rather last August, that the Times insisted Peter Beinart, a controversial and consistent critic of Israel, is actually “known for his love of Israel.” Again, this telepathy, which detected not only Beinart’s love but also the public’s knowledge of such love, appeared on the news pages. The newspaper has repeatedly taken liberties to downplay and normalize the anti-Israel BDS movement and its extreme goals. And Jews who supported the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital were recently denigrated as “hard-line” Jews.
The pattern is clear. Despite its promises, the New York Times clearly welcomes editorializing on its news pages, as long as that editorializing tilts against Israel’s concerns and in favor of Israel’s critics. This isn’t reporting “without fear or favor,” as the newspaper puts it. It is favoring without fear.