New York Times Selective About Apportioning Blame in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

When it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, The New York Times’ modus operandi is to blame Israel while downplaying any Palestinian role. This was clearly demonstrated in CAMERA’s detailed 6-months study of coverage, Indicting Israel: New York Times Coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict And it is what many readers have come to expect again and again in the news articles published on the topic.

Take, for example, two articles about the conflict published on Saturday, July 20, 2013. In the first, “Europe’s Carrot-and-Stick Approach to Israel Includes Blacklisting Hezbollah” by James Kanter and Jodi Rudoren, the reporters blame Israel for undermining the peace process:

The timing of the carrot-and-stick actions was coincidental, but they illustrated the bloc’s strategy of pushing forward with its own efforts to rein in Israeli actions that undermine the Middle East peace process — and to maintain good relations with Israel, understanding its unique security needs.

That “Israeli actions” are subverting prospects for peace is clearly a subjective opinion promoted by Palestinian leaders and their supporters. Certainly Israel and its supporters believe that it is not Israeli actions but rather Arab actions – including violence against Israelisglorification of terrorism against Israel, and indoctrination of Arabs against Israelis and Jews – that are undermining attempts to negotiate peace. Times reporters Kanter and Rudoren, nevertheless, convey the Palestinian opinion as fact.

Contrast this to reporting of Palestinian actions that undermine peace. There, Times reporters have taken scrupulous care to inform their readers that the notion of Palestinian responsibility for such actions is merely the opinion of Israel and her supporters.  Even the well-known fact that Hamas increased its attacks on Israel following its takeover of Gaza was portrayed not as fact, but as mere Israeli opinion. For example:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his aides have said they are reluctant to withdraw from the West Bank because they say that when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 Hamas took over and stepped up rocket fire against Israel. (“Israel’s West Bank General Warns Against Radicals,” Oct. 12, 2011)

And on the infrequent occasion that the newspaper has covered Palestinian incitement against Israel, it was framed as a “contentious” accusation by Israel, with the focus almost as much on criticism of the Israelis who document the incitement than on the incitement itself:

But for many, the subject of incitement and media monitoring has become as contentious as some of the messages, especially since these pronouncements are often used to score propaganda points. (“Finding Fault in the Palestinian Messages That Aren’t So Public,” Dec. 20, 2011)

In a similar vein, the newspaper continues to downplay Palestinian responsibility for the failure of peace talks. Although Israeli and Palestinian leaders have yet to decide on a starting date for new US-brokered peace talks, an article published Saturday, “Kerry Achieves Deal to Revive Mideast Talks” by Michael R. Gordon and Jodi Rudoren, wasted no time misleading readers about what happened last time Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas fleetingly got together for talks. The newspaper hazily informed readers, “The last round between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas, in 2010, broke down after 16 hours of talks over three weeks.”

The vague term “broke down” is rather euphemistic. In actuality, Abbas decided to cut off peace talks, and refused to restart them until his demands about Israeli settlements were met. A look in the media archives is instructive. In October 2010, for example, the Associated Press accurately referred to “the Palestinian refusal to negotiate with Israel.” As one article explained,

Dozens of senior Palestinians on Saturday backed President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to negotiate with Israel as long as it builds in West Bank settlements, dealing a new setback to troubled U.S. efforts to salvage peace talks.

Also that month, the China’s Xinhua wire service noted that

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and major Palestinian political faction Fatah Party, both led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, decided on Saturday to suspend the direct peace talks with Israel until the Israeli government freezes settlement construction in the Palestinian territories.

Even the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency openly reported at the time on “threats that Abbas would withdraw from the nascent talks,” and described “Abbas’s previously announced decision to walk out of peace talks” unless Israel met his demands. Abbas followed through on his threat, even as Israel’s prime minister repeatedly urged him to return to the negotiating table without preconditions.

Although the record on this is clear, the The New York Times resort to fuzzy language obscures these important details about the breakdown of previous negotiations.
It is not as if the newspaper generally shies away from laying blame. Consider how the newspaper placed responsibility on Netanyahu for ending a round of discussions in September 2011:

Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, met secretly with Mr. Abbas three times in recent months in efforts to bridge the gaps between the Palestinians and the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and avoid a United Nations battle. Mr. Netanyahu ultimately pulled the plug on those talks, leaving Mr. Abbas a sense of having no alternatives. (“Taking a Stand, and Shedding Arafat’s Shadow,” Sept. 22, 2011) 

If the New York Times can recount that Netanyahu “pulled the plug” on the 2011 talks, shouldn’t it be able to say the same about Abbas in current stories describing the 2010 talks?

The newspaper’s recent coverage also misleads about key geographical terms, inaccurately referring in several July 2013 stories to Israel’s “1967 prewar borders” or “1967 borders.” In fact, the Green Line between the West Bank and Israel is not a border.

As CAMERA has previously pointed out:

The Green Line … served as an armistice demarcation line between Israel and Jordan. The armistice line was established April 3, 1949 by Article III of the Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement and was never the “border” between Israel and the West Bank.

On the contrary, the agreement specifically notes that the lines are not borders: “The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”

In short, the word “border” implies legality, political significance and permanence that does not apply in this circumstance.

Lord Caradon, the British representative to the United Nations during the 1967 Six-Day War, made this very point when discussing UN Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for a peace agreement based on territorial concessions and recognition of countries’ right to exist in peace and security. Explaining the meaning behind Resolution 242, which he drafted, he noted that

It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of 4 June 1967 because those positions were undesirable and artificial. After all, they were just the places the soldiers of each side happened to be the day the fighting stopped in 1948. They were just armistice lines. That’s why we didn’t demand that the Israelis return to them and I think we were right not to …

And as The New York Times continues to present  the Arab-Israeli conflict with incorrect terminology and double standards, it misinforms readers and confirms its increasing role in what can best be described as advocacy journalism.

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