New York Times Conceals Inconvenient Facts in Coverage of UN Gaza Report

In his story about an anti-Israel report commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council, New York Times correspondent Nick Cumming-Bruce substantively misleads readers about Palestinian demands for a “right of return,” ignores widespread international criticism of the UNHRC’s anti-Israel bias, and conceals accounts of gunfire and explosives used by rioters.

Return

When describing the purpose of Palestinian riots and protests on Gaza’s border with Israel, the Times states that

Palestinians sought an end to the economic blockade that has been choking off Gaza for more than a decade. They also wanted refugees and their descendants to be allowed to reclaim property in Israel, 70 years after thousands of Palestinians were displaced.

The border demonstrations were organized and held under the banner of the “The Great March of Return,” and the centrality of that demand has repeatedly been reiterated by Palestinian demonstrators and leaders. But the Times casts the return demand as secondary.

It’s worth recalling a Times story last April, by Jerusalem bureau chief David Halbfinger, that had completely ignored the primary purpose (and title) of the demonstrations, casting them as merely “a mass protest against Israel’s decades-long blockade of Gaza.” Only after CAMERA contacted the newspaper was the article was updated to acknowledge the “Palestinian claims of a right of return.”

When pointing out the Palestinian demand for a so-called “return,” the current article makes it appear innocuous: The goal is just to “reclaim property,” the newspaper tells readers. But even the anti-Israel UNHCR report acknowledges there is a much more sinister side to the to the demand for “return.”  Per the report,

Israel opposes their return, arguing that “the influx of millions of Palestinians into the State of Israel would threaten the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, obliterating its basic identity as the homeland of the Jewish people and a refuge for persecuted Jews worldwide.”

This is clearly relevant. And of course, it isn’t only Israel that understands the demand that way. While serving as president of Egypt, Gamal Nasser openly acknowledged the purpose of “return”: “If the Arabs return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist.” Or as Barack Obama put it much more recently, “The right of return would extinguish Israel as a Jewish state, and that’s not an option.”

The Times essentially hides that the the Gaza riots were part of a call to eliminate Jewish national self-determination and wipe Israel off the map. Readers deserve to know this, and can’t properly understand the story otherwise.

UNHRC Bias

The author does point out that, in response to the report, Israel charged the UNHRC with bias. But he fails to to note the wider context of criticism of the Council by prominent officials worldwide, leaving readers with the false impression that only a self-serving Israel charges the UN with bias.

This isn’t the first time the paper has concealed criticism of the Human Rights Council. Again, it’s worth recalling an earlier article, this one published last June, in which Times correspondent Gardiner Harris cherry picked criticism to make the half-true claim that “conservatives have been complaining about the council since its inception in 2006.”  CAMERA informed editors that critics of the UN body’s anti-Israel bias included three Obama-appointed ambassadors (Susan Rice, Samatha Power, and Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe), two UN Secretaries General (Ban ki-Moon and Kofi Annan), Democratic members of Congress (including Jeff Merkley, Bill Nelson, and Nita Lowey), officials from Human Rights Watch (Peggy Hicks and Tom Malinowski) and even the New York Times editorial board (!). But the newspaper refused to budge on its characterization. 

In today’s article, it isn’t even “conservatives” who are said to have called out the Council’s anti-Israel tilt. Only Israel. Clearly, the UNHRC’s tendency to beat up on Israel — a 2006 Times editorial called it a “shameful pattern” — is relevant to the story. But readers are left in the dark, and Israeli concerns about the Council’s integrity are made to appear cynical and unwarranted.

Violence

The article downplays the degree of violence at the riots when stating only that “some demonstrators attempted to storm the fence” while “others rolled burning tires…, pulled away razor wire, released flaming kites or threw rocks.” Even the UNHRC report admits that a Palestinian militant “fired a rifle towards the Israeli side of the separation fence.” And the Times has previously reported on accounts of explosives and grenades being used against Israelis:

Eight of the dead, the army said, were armed Hamas militants in civilian clothes who tried to storm the fence in northern Gaza and attacked Israeli forces with grenades and pipe bombs before being killed in a shootout. A photograph showed what the military said was an Israeli battalion commander’s armored vehicle pockmarked with Kalashnikov fire. Another three militants were killed while laying an explosive device in the south, the army said.

The article’s substantive errors of omission tilt the scales to promote the idea of Israeli guilt and Palestinian innocence. The use of guns and explosives, the ultimate goal of demands for a “right of return,” and the UN Human Rights Council’s history of bias all matter. That, apparently, is why the New York Times didn’t include them in its report.