New York Times Advocates in Report on UN Jerusalem Vote

Judging by the way the New York Times covered today’s United Nations vote about Jerusalem, it would seem the outcome in favor of the resolution was an astounding rarity.

In the first paragraph of the newspaper’s story on the vote, reporter Rick Gladstone called the General Assembly resolution “a stinging rebuke to the United States.” In the second paragraph, it was “a collective act of defiance toward Washington.” In paragraph three, the lopsided vote was no less than a sign that “the Trump administration’s decision to defy a 50-year international consensus on Jerusalem’s status has unsettled world politics and contributed to America’s diplomatic isolation.”

“Stinging” might be an objective fact in an article about bees, but not in a news story about the United Nations, where, as CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out, anti-Israeli politics are mundane and hypocrisy seems to be rampant. Indeed, in the long record of General Assembly votes related to Israel, the vote looked like more of the same, or even an erosion of the large majority that can typically be relied on to back pro-Palestinian resolutions.

Today’s resolution repeated boilerplate UN language declaring any decisions that purport to alter the status of the city “null and void,” while also alluding to the recent U.S. announcement that it intends to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city. It passed by a majority of 128 to 9, with 35 countries abstaining and 21 absent from the vote.

The numbers are hardly as shocking as the Times introduction suggested. Every November, in fact, the UN’s General Assembly votes for a resolution with largely similar language about Jerusalem. Last year, 149 countries were counted among the “yes” votes in favor of the annual “Jerusalem” resolution, 21 more than in this vote; 7 voted against; and only 8 abstained. In 2015, the Jerusalem vote was split 153-7-8. In 2014, it was 144-6-10, in 2013, 162-6-8, and in 2012, 162-7-6.

To be sure, the context of the recent U.S. statement recognizing Israel’s capital city and announcing the embassy would be moved added a twist to the today’s vote. But to suggest the vote’s lopsidedness was a sign of increasing American isolation is untenable. The isolation, when it comes to Israel, is a fixture of United Nations politics.

In the New York Times article (the latest version of which can be found here, and which may or may not have redressed the issues detailed in this article) reporters Rick Gladstone and Mark Lander made a point of casting opposition to the newspaper’s narrative as nothing more than U.S. spin:

The United States Mission to the United Nations quickly issued a statement seeking to portray the outcome as a victory because the vote could have been even more lopsided. It cited the 35 abstentions, coupled with 21 delegations that were absent, representing a significant chunk of the total membership of 193.

But as the Associated Press noted, the vote could be seen not as a rebuke of the United States, but rather as a victory that left the resolution’s sponsors disappointed:

Thursday’s vote, while a victory for the Palestinians, was significantly lower than its supporters had hoped for, with many forecasting at least 150 “yes” votes. It is noteworthy that 21 countries were absent.

In that sense, it was a victory for the United States, with Trump’s threat to cut off U.S. funding to countries that oppose his decision having an impact.

The article also insisted that, contrary to a statement by the United States UN mission describing the number countries that didn’t vote for the resolution as an encouraging sign, “American Jewish organizations,” plural, “saw nothing positive about the outcome of the vote.” But the authors cited only one Jewish organization, quoting from an American Jewish Committee statement that didn’t quite say there was nothing positive to take away from the vote.
The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, meanwhile, noted “the important message sent by the sixty-five countries that abstained or did not cast a vote.” And Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, asserted on Twitter that “critics of Israel fared worse today in UN Jerusalem vote than in 2012 vote upgrading Palestine’s status.” These comments and others like it apparently didn’t fit the New York Times narrative, and were ignored.
The article had additional problems. The authors referred to “1967 Arab-Israeli war, when the Israelis occupied the entire city,” poor word choice for a conflict where “occupation” tends to have a very specific meaning, and not one that can be applied to “the entire city.”
Then there’s this bizarre assertion by the authors: “The consensus under international law is that East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967, should be the future capital of a Palestinian state.” In fact, international law isn’t in the business of choosing capital cities. Countries are. And apparently, the New York Times is, too.

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