Hey, New York Times: Where are the Fact Checkers?

UPDATE: See below for the correction that ran after CAMERA contacted the Times.

A long article about Jerusalem in the June 12 Travel Section of the New York Times was yet another example of the decline in standards and the absence of fact-checking at the country’s – if not the world’s – leading newspaper. Josh Hammer’s Jerusalem Outings Go Beyond the Biblical was a feature article, not breaking news, thus removing any excuse like lack of time for the material errors that slipped through.

Hammer, Newsweek’s former Jerusalem Bureau Chief, first goes astray in claiming that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was involved in the Deir Yassin fighting (which he terms a massacre) during Israel’s War of Independence:

After the April 1948 massacre by Jewish paramilitary forces of 120 Arab civilians in the nearby village of Deir Yassin (killings in which former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been implicated), Ein Karem was evacuated, and resettled by Israelis.

In fact, Ariel Sharon was not involved in the Deir Yassin battle in any way, and he has never previously been “implicated” in the events there. Hammer is probably confusing him with former Prime Ministers Menachem Begin or Yitzhaq Shamir.

Hammer also refers in his article to the “Jerusalem National Fund”:

Twenty years ago the Jerusalem National Fund took possession of this hillside sweep of pine and cypress forests, terraced the slopes, and began cultivating olives, figs and pomegranates using ancient methods. The fund also carved out trails through the reserve.

There is no such thing as the Jerusalem National Fund. There is a pro-Palestinian organization known as the Jerusalem Fund, but based on the forestry and planting work described in Hammer’s article, the reference should probably be to the Jewish National Fund (JNF). (After we contacted the Times the JNF error was corrected in the online version.)

Finally, turning back to the question of the fighting in Deir Yassin, Hammer’s description of it as a massacre has been called into question in recent years, based on new testimony from Arab participants. For example, an eyewitness to the fighting, Ayish Zeidan, was quoted in the British newspaper the Telegraph to the effect that most of those killed were fighters and those helping the fighters:

The Arab radio talked of women being killed and raped, but this is not true… I believe that most of those who were killed were among the fighters and the women and children who helped the fighters. The Arab leaders committed a big mistake. By exaggerating the atrocities they thought they would encourage people to fight back harder. Instead they created panic and people ran away. (Daily Telegraph, April 8, 1998)

Furthermore, as noted by the Jerusalem Report in an April 2, 1998 article, a BBC documentary independently reported Palestinian admissions that the events in Deir Yassin had been intentionally distorted:

In a BBC television series, “Israel and the Arabs: the 50 Year Conflict,” Hazem Nusseibeh, an editor of the Palestine Broadcasting Service’s Arabic news in 1948, describes an encounter at the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City with Deir Yassin survivors and Palestinian leaders, including Hussein Khalidi, the secretary of the Arab Higher Committee (the representative body of the Arabs of British Palestine).

“I asked Dr. Khalidi how we should cover the story,” recalled Nusseibeh, now living in Amman. “He said, ‘We must make the most of this.’ So we wrote a press release stating that at Deir Yassin children were murdered, pregnant women were raped. All sorts of atrocities.”

A Deir Yassin survivor identified as Abu Mahmud, said the villagers protested at the time. “We said, ‘There was no rape.’ [Khalidi] said, ‘We have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews.'”

Based on these and similar admissions, it is misleading for Hammer to refer to the fighting at Deir Yassin as a massacre, when even Palestinian sources have called this into question.
Update: After CAMERA contacted the Times about this article the paper ran the following partial correction:
Correction: June 19, 2011

An article last Sunday about day trips just minutes from downtown Jerusalem, including the village of Ein Karem, now a secular Jewish artists’ colony thought by many Christians to have been the birthplace of John the Baptist, erroneously attributed a distinction to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Mr. Sharon did not participate in the 1948 massacre of more than 100 Arab civilians by Jewish paramilitary forces in the village of Deir Yassin, near Ein Karem. The article also misstated part of the name of the organization that controls the Jerusalem Forest. It is the Jewish National Fund, not the Jerusalem National Fund.
While this correction does cover some of the errors in the article, it fails to deal with the misleading claims about a massacre at Deir Yassin, and it strangely refers to its mistaken linking of Ariel Sharon to Deir Yassin as an erroneous attribution of a “distinction,” as if participating in an alleged massacre is an achievement to be proud of.

Full disclosure – I went to high school with Josh Hammer, but have had no contact with him since.

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