New York Times March Madness

The Times landed a sharp one-two punch at Israel in its March 17 coverage. There was correspondent Jodi Rudoren’s front page story rehashing old themes about Jewish housing in eastern Jerusalem allegedly victimizing Arab residents and thwarting peace. Then, in a rambling 8000-word cover story for the Sunday magazine (“Is This Where The Third Intifada Will Start?”), Ben Ehrenreich, who has elsewhere called for an end to the Jewish state because “the problem is Zionism,” waxed poetic about the Palestinian “resisters” from a West Bank town engaged in weekly – and sometimes violent – protests.

Among the featured faces in the cover illustration is the unrepentant terrorist who helped take the life of Malki Roth and other innocents at Jerusalem’s Sbarro Pizzeria in August 2001.

Sunday’s banner day followed other recent, extreme anti-Israel pieces, including a March 9 column by Joseph Levine that argued “one really ought to question Israel’s right to exist…” He claimed it’s “morally problematic” for Jews to inhabit the land of their forefathers. Levine is an active, vocal champion of divestment campaigns against Israel.

A few days later on March 12, former PLO spokesman and current Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi, poured invective on the Jewish state in an Op-Ed devoid of balance and factual context, charging Israel with “intransigence,” “colonization,” “subjugation,” “discrimination,” “oppression” and more.

But it was the one-two punch on Sunday that most shocked readers.

Rudoren’s story, “New Apartments Will Complicate Jerusalem Issue,” relies on no breaking news at all. The story is a recycling of old claims buttressed by the same partisan voices the publication has offered up before. The underlying allegation is — in case there’s a reader anywhere who’s missed The Times unsubtle political message — that settlements and Jewish “settlers” are the crux of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The 44 Jewish apartment units, already built, in two small developments that are propped up as the centerpiece of the Rudoren story are said to be intruding in “the very fabric of Arab east Jerusalem;” they are said to be a cause of friction and to exacerbate an “anxious time.”

As in much of The Times coverage of Israel and its adversaries, Rudoren’s Palestinian voices are a Greek chorus, echoing the charges leveled against Israelis by the reporter. They have no responsibility as actors in the matter at hand; they’re victims only. They’re cited denouncing an “insidious ring” of Jewish activity in holy areas, along with “colonization” and aims to “disfigure.”

In addition to Danny Seidemann, an ubiquitous partisan from the far left who opposes Jews living in eastern Jerusalem, and Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erakat (whose outlandish, false claims of Israeli massacres of Palestinians in Jenin have done nothing to prompt Times skepticism about his credibility), Rudoren invokes that handy source for the busy reporter — the anonymous “many say” and the unnamed “most experts” as well as the ever popular “international condemnation” to endorse her opinionated insertions.

Thus, we learn that “many say” the Jewish neighborhood of Maalot David “fundamentally undermines” the goal of creating the “capital of a Palestinian state.” (She doesn’t explain why Arabs living in West Jerusalem wouldn’t cause a similar problem.)

Likewise, Rudoren tells us “most experts” on the issues “have long imagined Jerusalem as ultimately being divided.” Actually, a lot of experts, including Israeli political leaders of all stripe, mayors of Jerusalem, think-tank specialists and academics do not imagine Jerusalem divided. Many “imagine” serious damage to the city and its residents should it be divided.

How did the Times reporter conclude there is a majority of experts – “most” – who see benefit in dividing Jerusalem? Who are these experts? Did Rudoren provide backup to her editors to support this assertion?

Needless to say, unsuspecting readers have no context for understanding the actual landscape of building in Jerusalem.

How different the full and accurate story would have been if Rudoren had bothered to make a phone call to Israel Kimhi at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, a former city planner and a serious expert — not a propagandist — on housing in the city.

He would have given her a fresh perspective, one based on figures that show an explosion of Arab building in the eastern part of the city. In just the specific Arab neighborhood Rudoren mentioned – Ras al Amud (and adjacent Abu Tor and Herbiet Beit Sahur) – Arabs built nearly 2500 apartments between 1995 and 2010, a 61% increase.

In eastern Jerusalem as a whole, Arabs built nearly 19,000 apartments in the same period for an increase of 83%. Much of that has been done with legal permits but a lot without.

According to research by Justus Weiner, another expert Rudoren ignored, “The Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an intentional campaign to subsidize and encourage massive illegal construction in the Arab sector, seeing this as part of their ‘demographic war’ against Israel.”

But in Rudoren’s simple tale Jews are building houses, causing tension and wrecking the peace process. Arabs are blameless.

Rudoren and Ehrenreich’s stories, steered by ideology and not by journalistic ethics that require reporters to provide a full, balanced and accurate depiction of events, are obviously of a piece with the increasingly politicized coverage now proffered by the newspaper.

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