Jewish Students Were Besieged. The NY Times Casts the Besiegers as Victims.

In October, after anti-Israel protesters at The Cooper Union menaced visibly Jewish students in the college library, the New York Times was among the many news outlets to cover the incident. Two months later, on Dec. 18, the newspaper again reported on the disturbance — this time, to recast the agitators who caused Jews to fear for their safety as the situation’s real victims.

What stands out from the incident, the Times tells readers, isn’t the harassment of students, or the disruption of studies, and certainly not the radicalization that has led so many students to align with campus groups that celebrated the Oct. 7 massacre and march against the target of the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

Rather, insists reporter Sharon Otterman, “the episode at the library and its aftermath show how a brief moment, free of context or nuance, can be repurposed by partisans in service of broader political rhetoric during a war in which information is an important weapon.” When a Cooper Union student someone is quoted lamenting that frightened students were forced “into this awful position,” it wasn’t about the besieged Jews. It was about the protest leaders.

The paper’s apologia for those who marched on the library is consistent with how it has treated other anti-Israel extremists since Oct. 7. The Times recently came to the defense of those tearing down posters of men, women, and children abducted by Hamas, casting the heartless act by profanity-spewing vandals as a “release valve” for the “anguished.” Another recent piece was dedicated to whitewashing the slogan calling for a Palestine “from the river to the sea” saying it is not necessarily a call for a Palestine from the river to the sea. (That geography requires the elimination of Israel.) One piece goes so far as to listing ways to wear kaffiyehs, or Middle Eastern head scarfs, included “wrapped around the face” — in the manner of Palestinian terrorists or the pro-violence, anti-Israeli protesters who mimic them — as just another run-of-the-mill way of fashioning the scarf. (It is traditionally worn over the head, not as a disguise.)

In its Cooper Union reprise, the New York Times craftily slants the report to bolster its preferred narrative. The piece wastes little time before downplaying the incident as follows:

The pro-Palestinian protesters had dispersed just a few minutes later and no one was injured or arrested, but the story seemed to grow more dire the further it traveled. Posts that went viral falsely claimed that the library had been barricaded to protect the students inside from an angry mob, and that the police were afraid to get involved.

It is true that there were no objects were used to “barricade” the library doors. Instead, as the piece acknowledges fifteen paragraphs later, “a security guard shut [the library’s] large gray doors and stood outside them.” The effect was the same, leading protesters to later say they were “angry about being kept out,” as the newspaper admits. And if the college, which acknowledges that the library was closed for 20 minutes, isn’t willing to say it was closed to protect the students inside, there is nonetheless video footage in circulation in which someone can be heard telling a student, “I wouldn’t recommend leaving right now.” (He replies, “I wasn’t planning on it.”) One of the Jewish students told CBS, “The librarians ran over to us and they were like, ‘We tried to warn you, but we just got notice that they’re coming down.'”

So if viral posts indicated that the library was barricaded to protect students, these claims were incorrect only on the margins.

After suggesting concerns about the Jews in the library were excessive, the newspaper then shifts attention from them, with the first quotation in the article serving to reframe the story to cast those banging on the library glass as imperiled:

“Off-campus groups are very motivated to weaponize these protests,” said Angus Johnston, a historian of student activism at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. But the stakes of campus activism are now perilous. “What, 20 or 30 years ago, could have been an incident that nobody would find out about unless they were actually there has now become one that can be circulated globally and be a life-changing experience.”

Readers are left to believe Johnston is a dispassionate scholar of activism, though he is far from a neutral observer on this topic. On Oct. 7, as Hamas was mowing down Israeli civilians in their homes an at a music festival, Johnston took to social media to express indignation. Not about Hamas’s rampage. About those distressed by it. “Lots of folks expressing moral outrage about Palestinian tactics today who I’ve never seen expressing similar outrage about Israeli tactics, ever,” he wrote on X.

If his first sentiment — during an invasion by an antisemitic terror organization known for murderous suicide bombings of city buses and restaurants — is to criticize those upset by the invasion, it should hardly be surprising that his main problem after Jewish students were intimidated by an angry mob was with those alarmed by the angry mob. That’s what the New York Times wanted. So that’s what the newspaper set out to get.

After focusing extensively on the distress of one of the anti-Israel activists, the newspaper continued downplaying the distress of the Jewish students. One sentence did made mention of the students being “visibly worried.” Another noted, “There is nervous laughter, and also concern.” And the reporter shares that a student “asks if the police were there.” But the piece neglects to share that there were six calls to 911 over concerns for the student’s safety. (Elsewhere, the reporter author cited an article that mentions these calls, so she would have been aware of it.)

And when the newspaper did eventually get around to sharing that a pro-Israel student “had felt threatened ‘when there were chants calling for the murder of Jews being chanted at me from my fellow students,’” the reporter immediately follows with doubts:  

During the protest outside the school, students chanted various slogans, including the disputed phrase, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” but they denied they were calling for violence.

That others of the “various slogans” more explicitly endorsed violence apparently wasn’t fit to print. “Resistance is justified when people are occupied,” shouted students, who by the time of their October 25 demonstration would have known the murderous, horrifying extent of the “resistance” they were justifying. Another chant called for an intifada, the name given to bouts of deadly anti-Israel violence. The anti-Israel crowd continued its “intifada” calls while besieging the library, the Forward reported.

Instead of giving readers the opportunity to understand what the besieged students might have meant when referencing the threatening chants, the reporter chose to cast doubt on their truthfulness. That, apparently, is what it takes to defend anti-Israel extremists. 

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