New York Times News Pages Go Into Editorializing Overdrive

The New York Times news pages are in editorializing overdrive today. Diaa Hadid has looked into Benjamin Netanyahu’s heart and determined that, in light of his statements while campaigning for votes on election day, his earlier support for a Palestinian state was nothing more than a “pretense.” And she looked into Mahmoud Abbas’s heart to conclude, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that he “has long preferred negotiations for statehood rather than acting unilaterally.”

Her colleague Jodi Rudoren, meanwhile, echoes critics who argue that Israel’s proposed nationality bill from late 2014 downgrades Israeli democracy — but takes their opinion and repackages it as a fact.

Observers and pundits are, of course, entitled to hold any of the above views. Hadid and Rudoren, too, are welcome to those beliefs. But in their role as news reporters, they are expected to avoid such editorializing. That’s for the opinion pages. As the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics puts it, newspapers must “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.”

Israeli “Pretenses”

Hadid’s piece is entitled “Palestinian Leaders See Validation of Their Statehood Effort.” An alternate title might be “Diaa Hadid Sees Validation of Palestinian Statehood Effort.”

She opines that, “with Mr. Netanyahu having dropped, for now at least, the pretense of seeking a two-state solution, the Palestinians can argue to Europe and the United States that they no longer have a negotiating partner, strengthening their case for full statehood and recognition in the United Nations, as well as membership in important international bodies.”

Was it all a “pretense”? Maybe. Or did the Israeli prime minister perhaps change his mind at some point between 2009, when he publicly announced his support for Palestinian statehood, and today, after two wars with Hamas in Gaza and advances by both ISIS and Iran in Syria, Iraq and beyond? Also possible. Or might Netanyahu’s statement have been all about taking votes from his right, and not a reflection of his actual views? Hadid might not believe so. But that’s certainly no grounds for slipping  into a news story her opinion about Israeli “pretenses.”

Palestinian “Preferences”

Later in the piece, Hadid again goes partisan. “Mr. Abbas has long preferred negotiations for statehood rather than acting unilaterally,” she asserts in her own voice.

But does the Palestinian leader actually prefer this? The evidence doesn’t appear to support Hadid’s opinion. Abbas has been plowing ahead with unilateral moves at the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, undeterred even by US and Canadian opposition. When Netanyahu in 2010 announced Israel would freeze settlement building for ten months in order to open the door to peace talks, Abbas avoided negotiations for nine of those months before finally succumbing and again walking away. This came after a period in which Abbas staunchly refused to negotiate until the US convinced Israel to freeze building. For some, Abbas might be best known for walking away from negotiations.

Could a writer for the newspaper’s opinion pages nonetheless be able to make a compelling case that Abbas has “long preferred negotiations” over the unilateral moves he has been pursuing with such gusto? Perhaps. But it’s certainly not for a news reporter to assert this questionable conclusion as fact.

Overruling Israeli Legal Experts

In a separate article today, Jodi Rudoren references a proposed 2014 nationality bill that, she says, “would emphasize Israel’s Jewishness over its democratic nature.”

Rudoren correctly noted that the bill had angered many, including Arabs and Jews who believed, or interpreted, or opined that it emphasized Israel’s Jewishness “over” its democratic nature. And while she didn’t mention it, there were also many Jews and Arabs who didn’t share that view. But her language treats the former opinion as fact, and thus (yet again) inappropriately editorializes in a news story.

It is certainly is not clear that the bill elevated Israel’s Jewish nature over its democratic one. According to a respected poll, 52% of Jewish Israelis and 12% of Arab Israelis “do not believe that passing the Nation State Law will contradict the principles embodied in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, according to which Israel will be a Jewish and democratic state.”

About one version of the bill — Netanyahu’s draft, which was supported by his cabinet — Israel’s deputy attorney general for legislation Orit Korin stated that “We believe the correct legal reading of the wording shows that equality is included among the principles on which the government bill on this matter will be based.”

This conclusion, she wrote, is based on two main elements of the bill: its “clear statement” about Israel’s democratic character and values and its explicit protection of civil rights for all Israelis.

The introduction to the bill, Korin noted, states that its purpose is to enshrine “Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state.” In addition, its second principle declares that “Israel is a democratic state.”

“These are significant statements which make it clear that the new Basic Law, alongside enshrining the state’s identity as the Jewish nation state in which the Jewish people realizes its right to self-determination, also enshrines the state’s democratic character,” she wrote. (Haaretz, “Livni likely to back Netanyahu’s ‘Jewish nation-state’ bill“)

So many Israeli Jews, some Israeli Arabs, and even Israeli legal experts have concluded that the nationality bill does not, in fact, shift the Jewish and democratic state away from democratic and toward Jewish. Others disagree. Ultimately, though, the balance of opinions here is not important. What is important is that these are opinions. So why does The New York Times, in violation of journalistic norms, promote one side’s opinion by describing it as a fact?

This is hardly the first time the newspaper has crossed the line into anti-Israel editorializing. This video from 2013 gives a number of other glaring examples:

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