In New York Times, the “Blame Israel” Narrative Trumps Neutrality on Rafah Crossing

In late May, Egyptian authorities permanently re-opened the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. It was the most glaring proof yet that the border closures that had been in place since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007 were imposed not only by Israel but also by Egypt.

For the New York Times, though, Egypt’s re-opening of the border terminal didn’t serve as further evidence of that country’s direct responsibility for the restrictions. The newspaper continued its recent policy of pinning ultimate blame for the closure solely on Israel. It refers to an “Israeli blockade,” which Egypt is merely “helping” to enforce, as if Egypt isn’t a sovereign country responsible for its own border and its own decisions.

In a May 29 story about the opening of the Rafah crossing, David Kirkpatrick, the New York Times correspondent in Egypt, wrote:

Hundreds of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip arrived here by the busload on Saturday to pass through the re-opened border into Egypt, taking the first tangible steps out of a four-year Israeli blockade.

Why not an “Israeli and Egyptian” blockade? A few sentences later, the newspaper provided a hint at the conceptual trick justifying its shifting of responsibility to Israel alone. “[M]any of those making the trip on Saturday said they felt a new stirring of hope at Egypt’s decision to stop enforcing Israel’s blockade of the Palestinian territory,” Kirkpatrick wrote.

In the Times‘s narrative, that is, Egypt isn’t so much making its own self-interested decisions as it is carrying out Israel’s work.

Responding to the Kirkpatrick story, The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg blogged:

It always seemed to me that Israel and Egypt, two independent states, decided jointly to blockade Gaza. Does the Times believe the Mubarak regime decided to participate in the blockade of Gaza because Israel ordered it to participate? Does anyone actually believe that Egypt closed its border with Gaza only because it was in Israel’s interest? Or was Egypt’s government and military worried about the spread of Hamas ideology into Sinai and beyond?

Ahmad Shokr, an Egyptian journalist and a critic of Israel, apparently feels more comfortable acknowledging his country’s responsibility than does the New York Times. In a June 2010 article slamming Egyptian policy, he wrote that “empty rhetorical gestures and mendacious displays of solidarity with Palestinian suffering do not change the basic fact that Gazans have been victims of a coordinated Israeli-Egyptian siege, for which Mubarak’s government bears its fair share of responsibility.”

That fair share of responsibility has been absent from the pages of the Times. “Israel imposed an embargo on the area, with Egypt’s help,” wrote Laurie Goodstein (6/2/11). Fares Akram likewise cited “a blockade imposed by Israel with Egyptian help” (4/15/11). Ethan Bronner said Egypt was only “helping Israel in its blockade policy aimed at squeezing Hamas” (2/12/11). A Feb. 4 article said that Gaza was “under an Israeli blockade,” but mentioned not a word about Egypt’s restrictions.

It wasn’t always this way. For a time, the newspaper had used more precise and fair language, including numerous references in 2010 to a “blockade by Israel and Egypt,” or one “enforced” or “imposed” by both countries alike. Since then, though, Egypt is cast as an Israeli accomplice.

It may be understandable that, as the Egyptian journalist Ahmad Shokr argued, “the Egyptian government desperately wants to deflect any negative attention away from its own complicity in the blockade.” But why has the Times taken to doing the same?

Comments are closed.