On Saturday, Feb. 25, the New York Times published an article about Israel’s denial of a work visa to Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Country Director for Human Rights Watch (HRW). It also dealt with UN criticism of the prison sentence given to an Israeli soldier who shot dead a Palestinian assailant after he lay on the ground. Reporting was Ian Fisher, the New York Times’ relatively new Jerusalem bureau chief.
As is often the case with the New York Times, readers were not provided with an objective presentation of the facts from a neutral standpoint. Nor were they given sufficient information to allow them to draw an informed opinion on the matter. Instead they were presented with a view from an off-center vantage point where the Israeli government and courts are seen as extremists and wrongdoers, while the controversial HRW and its staff are portrayed as honest and noble, and the UN is treated as an impartial source about Israel. The article was narrowly focused on the viewpoints of these biased sources about Israel, while omitting the larger story.
How Were the Players Presented?
*Human Rights Watch was presented positively as “a prominent advocacy organization” which “shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997” and which “works in 90 nations and has official offices in 24 of them.”
*Omar Shakir was described as “an investigator for HRW” who was accused of having a ‘pro-Palestinian’ bias.
*B’tselem and Peace Now were described positively as “rights groups” that “monitor Israeli settlements and the conditions of Palestinians.”
*The UN high commissioner for human rights was presented without any qualifiers.
By contrast, the Israeli government and leaders were depicted as ‘right wing,’ obstructionist and ‘hostile.’
How Were the Different Perspectives Balanced?
The vast majority of the article cited or quoted the critical perspective of the above-mentioned groups which are known for singling out Israel for condemnation (10 of 16 paragraphs cited or quoted anti-Israel accusations alone. An additional two paragraphs included the perspectives of both sides) .
By contrast, only three paragraphs cited or quoted the perspective of the Israeli government, in addition to the two paragraphs that included both sides’ viewpoints. (Another paragraph mentioned Israeli representatives who would not comment on a particular point.)
What was Omitted From the Story?
Completely missing from the story were the following relevant details:
1) It is not simply “right-wing” Israeli officials who accuse Human Rights Watch (HRW) of being biased against Israel, as the article suggests. HRW staffers’ writings and actions reveal an obsession with singling out the Jewish state for delegitimization. The group’s own founder, Richard Bernstein, condemned the organization for its obsessive attempts to delegitimize Israel. More than seven years ago, the New York Times itself published an Op-Ed by Bernstein explaining why he had decided to distance himself from the organization he founded. He began:
As the founder of Human Rights Watch, its active chairman for 20 years and now founding chairman emeritus, I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics. Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state. (New York Times, Oct. 19, 2009)
CAMERA’s Alex Safian has written about the extremism of the organization’s Middle East staffers. Joe Stork, the deputy director of HRW’s Middle East and North African division, revealed his radical anti-Israel leanings as early as 1970, when he and several others started MERIP, the Middle East Research Information Project, because they deemed existing leftist critiques of U.S. support for Israel “inadequate.” Stork wrote about the “revolutionary potential” of Palestinian violence and of “liberating Palestine” through the “struggle against (Zionist) imperialism.” He took part in a “Zionism and Racism” conference in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and has repeatedly attempted to delegitimize Israel in his writings and pronouncements, with false characterizations and allegations. Safian concluded that from Stork’s writings “it is clear that he considers Israel to be illegitimate and to have no right to exist, and that he supports its destruction, with violence if necessary.”
Stork is just one of several radical anti-Israel activists who staff HRW, as Safian points out. For additional details, see NGO-Monitor’s documentation of HRW’s bias promoting false, distorted, and unverifiable allegations against Israel.
2) Nor did the article contain any hint that Omar Shakir’s involvement in anti-Israel activism extends far beyond simply being an “investigator” with a “pro-Palestinian” bent. Shakir, whose application for a work visa was rejected, is an activist against the peace process and a two state solution. For example, speaking to students at UC Irvine in 2010, Shakir can be seen criticizing the peace process and the Palestinian leadership for not coming down strongly enough on Israel, as he describes his strategy for achieving an international consensus around the replacement of a Jewish state.
Shakir is also a fierce proponent of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign to delegitimize the Jewish State. The BDS tactics for which Shakir actively campaigns are considered anti-Semitic by many, including the French Supreme Court, the UK’s Secretary of State for Justice, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, with the latter comparing the BDS campaign to the Nazi boycotts of the 1930’s. BDS has also been condemned for its ties to terrorist organizations.
(For more details about Shakir’s involvement in radical anti-Israel agitation, see here.)
3) Although the article extensively quoted and cited the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) criticiz
ing Israeli courts, it mentioned nothing about that UN agency’s penchant – like that of HRW – for singling out Israel for criticism and condemnation. As Hillel Neuer of UN-Watch points out, it is “an agency that stands out even within the UN as a bastion of hatred for Israel.”
The current high commissioner, Jordanian Prince Zeid Ra’ad al Husseini, in his first speech to the UN, accused Israel of a variety of human rights violations, while either ignoring or giving short shrift to the world’s worst human rights violators.
A press release by this UN office, following a June 2016 deadly Palestinian terrorist attack on civilians in a Tel Aviv shopping center, refused to label the attack “terrorism” or mention the Palestinian identity of the perpetrators. In fact, its primary focus was to criticize “the response of the Israeli authorities” as they tried to protect Israelis from terrorism, rather than the terror attack itself.
But the NYT avoids mentioning anything about the double standards of this critic, relaying its accusations of Israeli wrongdoing at face value, as if it were an impartial observer.
How can readers assess the truth of what actually transpires in the Middle East when it is reported through the New York Times’ heavy filter?