New York Times Apologetics for Terror

CAMERA has repeatedly faulted the New York Times for whitewashing and excusing Palestinian terrorism and repeating terrorists’ claims at face value. Jerusalem Bureau Chief Steven Erlanger refers to Hamas’s “armed” or “military resistance,” employing the terrorist group’s own preferred phrasing to invoke heroic language for the murder of children. Although CAMERA has consistently urged the Times to desist from characterizing the targeting of pizza shops, university cafeterias, hotel dining rooms, shopping malls, game clubs, beachfront pubs, crowded cafes and public buses as “military resistance,” the newspaper has persisted in putting a noble face on Hamas’s destructionist goals. (See “In New York Times, Hamas Attacks are ‘Armed Resistance'”, “Why the New York Times Refrains From Calling Hamas and Hizballah ‘Terrorist’ Groups,” “New York Times Whitewashes Palestinian Terrorist Groups Again,””New York Times Misrepresents Hamas.”

(It is noteworthy that the Times does not grant Israeli claims the same credibility as those of the terrorist organization. See, for example, Times coverage of the Gaza beach explosion.)
While the Times occasionally notes that the organization is “sworn to Israel’s destruction” and that certain countries (U.S., Israel, and E.U.) “consider” or “classify” it a terrorist organization, the newspaper itself refuses to label it as such. This amounts to a clear double standard, since Al Qaeda is repeatedly referred to by the Times as a “terrorist” entity.

Faced with a newly published volume (“Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad,” by Matthew Levitt, Yale University Press, 2006) that exposes the Hamas organization’s single-minded goal of jihad against Israel—to which all its resources are devoted—Erlanger’s review of the book once more rationalizes the terrorist nature of the organization.

“Hamas is hot,” he begins, indicating at the outset a startlingly flippant vantage toward a terror group whose aim is nothing less than genocidal.

Erlanger faults Levitt’s book for depending on American and Israeli sources—even when those sources are original Palestinian documents captured by Israel. He criticizes Levitt for not making clear that Hamas’ “essential goal” is the creation of an Islamic society in Palestine with the war against Israel only “secondary. But most of all, he assails Levitt for not discussing “the premise that Palestinians have a right to resist a 40-year Israeli occupation and partial annexation of their land.” As CAMERA has repeatedly noted in the past regarding references to Hamas seeking to “resist” or end Israeli “occupation”—Hamas views all of Israel as occupied territory. Erlanger inexcusably conflates the generally understood meaning of “occupation” which refers to the West Bank and Gaza with Hamas’ self-declared definition referring to every kilometer of the Jewish state.

Some might wonder about Erlanger’s implication that Levitt’s sources are somehow suspect merely because they are supportive of Israel. After all, Erlanger cites no evidence to suggest that they are in any way unreliable. Others might see Erlanger’s emphasis on separating Hamas’ focus on the Islamization of Palestine from the destruction of the Jewish state as an obvious effort to obscure Hamas’ violent mission. But nothing announces Erlanger’s biases more bluntly than his simple use of certain terminology. He refers to “their land”—though the land captured by Israel in a self-defensive war was, according to U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 unallocated, and its disposition to be decided through negotiation between neighbors.
Hamas has rejected the negotiation route in place of terrorism. Article 13 of the Hamas Charter proclaims that:

The initiatives, the so-called peace solutions, and the international conferences for resolving the Palestinian problem stand in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS), for to neglect any part of Palestine is to neglect part of the Islamic faith. The nationalism of the Hamas is part of its [Islamic] faith. It is in the light of this principle that its members are educated, and they wage jihad in order to raise the banner of Allah over the homeland.

Yet this New York Times Middle East correspondent believes that Hamas has “a right” to wage its war (which includes attacks against civilians) as an expression of “resistance to occupation” of “land” that is rightfully “theirs.”

Erlanger’s view reflects not only his, but also the Times‘ approach in covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is consistent with editorials that constantly blame Israel while minimizing Palestinian terrorism. (See “New York Times Anti-Israel Bias in Editorials As Bad As Ever“). It is consistent with the representation of Palestinian obligations as demands by a rigid Israel. (See “New York Times Reports Palestinian Obligations as Israeli Demands“). It is consistent with the tilted number of human interest stories depicting Palestinian grievances (See “Human Interest Stories in New York Times Skewed Toward Palestinians“)

Mr. Erlanger has now perhaps inadvertently exposed his own lack of objectivity (and that of the Times) for all to see.

Professor Barry Rubin, Editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, similarly criticizes Erlanger’s review of the Levitt book:

In a shocking anti-Israel diatribe the New York Times correspondent in Jerusalem has revealed both his profound personal bias and basic acceptance of Hamas’ political claims.

These revelations came in a review by Steven Erlanger in the International Herald Tribune of June 24-25 (reprinted from the Times) of a book on Hamas by Matthew Levitt, currently a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury department. Erlanger spends little time covering the actual contents of the book but instead launches an attack on the book’s premises, sources, and Israeli policy.

The most important aspect of the review is Erlanger’s complaint that Levitt, “Does not discuss (and never even seems to entertain) the premise that Palestinians have a right to resist a 40- year Israeli occupation and partial annexation of their land.” He says that Hamas is popular because of the existence of Jewish settlements, the separation barrier, restrictions on Palestinian movements and “The failure by Israelis to support those in Fatah committed to nonviolence, like President Mahmoud Abbasâ€Â¦.”

Clearly, Erlanger views the conflict from a radical Palestinian standpoint, probably without consciously understanding why his statement demonstrates this fact. Hamas itself and its main supporters do not hold their views because of anger at Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip—now greatly diminished though Erlanger appears unaware of this—but due to a desire of wiping Israel off the map. Apparently, though, Erlanger views anti-Israel extremism—the factor that is maintaining all the issues he mentions—as merely a reaction to Israeli policies. Yet, to cite only two examples, both Hamas and Fatah rejected both peace with a Palestinian state in 2000 and Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip because they saw such developments as undermining their drive to keep the conflict going until they can attain total victory.

Equally absurd is Erlanger’s blaming Palestinian extremism on an Israeli failure to help Abbas. Leaving aside past Israeli funding of that leader’s budget, military restraint, the turning over to him of the Gaza Strip, and the recent giving of guns to his forces, it ignores Abbas’s unwillingness to do anything moderate. Abbas is hardly committed to nonviolence. To cite only one example, his recent endorsement of the “prisoners’ proposal” explicitly endorses violence against Israelis. Hamas’ success is certainly related to Fatah’s incompetence and corruption as well as the nationalist group’s refusal to offer an alternative, moderate program but that is hardly Israel’s fault.

While Erlanger would no doubt condemn terrorism, it is also shocking that he does not see that terrorism is not exactly covered by a right to resist occupation. The way he expresses all these issues is the same way that Hamas and Fatah propaganda explain them.

And yet Erlanger is accurately explaining the thinking that lies behind most of the Times coverage, the view that Israeli is responsible for the conflict, Abbas is a moderate victim, and Hamas is an understandable reaction to Israeli misdeeds. It should be remembered that Usama bin Ladin and the terrorists in Iraq also justify their deeds, including September 11, as falling under a right to resist occupation.

On two other points, Erlanger makes interesting observations. First, he is obsessed with Levitt’s use of sources, complaining that the author employs material from a research center associated with Israel s government and has worked at a think tank, “considered friendly to Israel.” Thus, he concludes, “There will be readers of this book who will see it as fronting for the Israeli intelligence establishment and its views.” Of course, Erlanger is signaling people that they should reach this conclusion.

This kind of writing is inappropriate because the research center in question is almost exclusively merely translating Palestinian documents and texts. At any rate, the proper course for Erlanger would have been to point out some error or questionable interpretation by Levitt based on his use of this material. Instead, we have guilt by association.

I think that what Erlanger is really doing here is revealing his own fear of being branded pro-Israel if he pays too much attention—or at times merely report—Israel’s side of the story. There is a constant tendency to take Palestinian sources at face value but to challenge energetically Israeli sources, which have proven far more reliable.

Finally, Erlanger is insistent on a very curious argument. He spends a lot of the review criticizing Levitt for not agreeing that the most important aspect of Hamas is trying to Islamicize Palestinian society rather than fighting against Israel. Ironically, this contradicts his claim that Hamas and its supporters are motivated by Israeli actions. But obviously both fighting Israel and Islamicizing Palestinian society are both goals of Hamas. Indeed, Hamas believes that continuing to fight Israel, ignoring Israeli concessions and ensuring that peace fails is the best way to build support for an Islamist revolution among Palestinians.

Why, then, is Erlanger obsessed with this distinction? I suggest that what Erlanger is actually saying is that what is really bad about Hamas is not that it is a racist, terrorist group with genocidal intentions against Israelis but that it is an Islamist organization. If, after all, Hamas is exercising a just right of resistance motivated by Israeli misdeeds, how can it be condemned on those grounds? The trouble with Hamas is that it is a “right wing” religious group rather than a “left wing” nationalist one.

The bottom line of all these points is that after reading Erlanger’s review it is impossible to take seriously the idea that he is a fair reporter or has a good understanding of the contemporary issues he is covering.

Professor Barry Rubin,
Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center
Editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal
Editor, Turkish Studies

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