The New York Times’ latest piece on the death of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, written by editorial board member Serge Schmemann, is yet another example of the newspaper setting facts to the side to promote an anti-Israel narrative. That narrative, built through insinuations, is that the Israeli Defense Forces “callously” murdered Abu Akleh, and that the former was resisting an investigation of the incident because of the “moral corruption that comes with controlling a hostile population.” The first part of that narrative is built on conjecture that even the NY Times’ own reporting doesn’t support. The second part is built on a blatantly false claim.
Consider first the insinuation contained in the opening paragraph: “The State Department, which had put pressure on Israel to investigate the shooting, said, ‘We welcome Israel’s review of this tragic incident.’” If the State Department was putting pressure on Israel to investigate the shooting, then it was wasting its time and resources, because the IDF already opened an investigation immediately after the incident.
On May 12 – the day after the incident – an initial investigation had already been conducted, and the IDF Chief of the General Staff ordered “the continuation of the investigation” as it could not be determined whether it was Israeli or Palestinian fire, and the Palestinian Authority had refused a request for a joint investigation (which would also have included American representatives).
Importantly, that investigation remained active. On May 19, the IDF said it had identified a soldier’s rifle that may have fired the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, but could not confirm this without the bullet which the PA was still refusing to provide. On June 17, the investigation was expanded “in order to deepen the study of documentary evidence from that night.” On July 4, the U.S. State Department itself announced that a forensic analysis overseen by the U.S. Security Coordinator – which was “granted full access to” the IDF investigation, was finally given access to the bullet, but “could not reach a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet.”
All of this is simply passed over by Schmemann, who instead seems to find fault with the IDF’s investigation because it didn’t reach its conclusion as fast as that of CNN – which relied on questionable sources and failed to inform the audience of important assumptions and caveats – and the NY Times.
This is like chastising the authors of a peer-reviewed study for taking longer to prepare their paper than it did for a popular magazine on the same subject. It should go without saying that a formal investigation by authorities into a deadly incident, which could result in criminal charges, will be subject to much more rigorous standards and processes than that of NY Times journalists. Given the paper’s lengthy history of basic errors and partisanship, this should be a relief.
But even the NY Times’ own reporting doesn’t support the other insinuation made by Schmemann, who writes:
“The Israel Defense Forces has so far not acknowledged that killing a journalist whose helmet and flak jacket were clearly marked ‘Press’ was a grave violation of how an occupying army should behave.”
The implication here, of course, is that the IDF deliberately shot Abu Akleh knowing who she was. Yet, despite Schmemann’s emphasis on “clearly marked ‘Press’,” even the NY Times’ own investigation said it “was unable to determine whether the shooter saw that she and her colleagues were wearing protective vests emblazoned with the word Press.” She was, after all, approximately two entire football fields away from the IDF position.
Similarly, the U.S. Security Coordinator which analyzed the bullet and oversaw both the Israeli and Palestinian investigations stated that while gunfire from the IDF was “likely responsible” for the death of Abu Akleh, it “found no reason to believe that this was intentional.”
Despite this, Schmemann’s piece insinuates otherwise, replacing his lack of evidence with emotive accusations like “callousness and moral corruption.”
Whatever shortcoming one may find in the IDF investigative process, Schmemann’s critique certainly doesn’t capture it. It seems the New York Times values a narrative of evil Israel over a thoughtful analysis.