NYT Guest Essay: Propaganda in the Guise of Health Scholarship

In the closing days of 2022, the New York Times is capping its tightening embrace of partisan advocacy journalism by featuring a deceitful guest essay by a Palestinian activist, with yet another attack on Israel, this time under the guise of health research. 

The New York Times promoted the activist Yara Asi, in her own words, as a serious “scholar,” both in the essay itself and the author bio appended to it, for a total of four “scholar” mentions. Asi also used the term “research/researcher” an additional four times to describe herself and her work, including in the unusually wordy, self-endorsing headline: “As a Researcher, I Study the Health of Palestinians. It’s Time to Pay Attention.” 

But despite her efforts at self-promotion with seemingly impressive bona fides and name dropping (Fullbright, Harvard), Asi’s essay provided nothing more than a clichéd menu of agitprop, devoid of both “scholarship” or “research.” It was the sort that’s generally served up by the least sophisticated of anti-Israel propagandists.   

Asi introduces a Palestinian terrorist organization that has attacked both Israeli civilians and the soldiers protecting them as an “armed resistance group.”  And she labels Israel’s counter-terrorist operations “military violence” which she blames for “the deadliest month in the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank.”   This is followed by the only statistic she attempts to provide:

 “At least 150 [Palestinians in the West Bank] have been killed so far in 2022, including more than two dozen children, almost all as a result of Israeli military violence.”

What is the source of this statistic?  What were the circumstances of the deaths?  How many among those killed were combatants killed in gunfights or while attempting to attack Israelis?  And how many were innocent bystanders among whom Palestinian gunmen positioned themselves while firing at Israeli troops?

There are plenty of reports of Palestinian terrorists belonging to foreign designated terrorist organizations being killed while engaged in firefights with Israeli Defense Forces or whilst in the process of attacking Israelis.  (See, for example,  here, here, and here).  But such context is entirely missing from the scholar’s analysis of Palestinian mortality.

Nor does she provide context for the counter-terrorist operations that she decries as “military violence,” or the temporary closure to capture murderers on the loose that she condemns as “an act of violence in and of itself.”  There is nothing about — no statistics and not even a reference to — the spike in terrorist attacks by Palestinians targeting and killing Israelis this year that prompted the operations of Israel’s Defense Forces.

The IDF recorded a record of 285 gunfire attacks (15 times more than in 2019); 1,268 hurlings of incendiary devices (a 33% increase from 2019); 7,589 stone throwings (almost double the number than in 2019), as well as 14 stabbing attacks, all of which has resulted in the killings of seven soldiers and 24 civilians (i.e. between 6 and 10 times the numbers of the three previous years).

Indeed, context has no place in this scholar’s article, unless it is to legitimize Palestinian terrorism. The only mention of  “context”  is to justify the newly formed terror group, called Lion’s Den – the one Asi labels an “armed resistance group.” Asi writes:

“Palestinian youth have never known free movement or life without the constant and violent rule of the Israeli military. This is the context in which the Lion’s Den, which has claimed responsibility for several shooting attacks on Israeli soldiers, has arisen.”

Asi is being disingenuous by omission, because as someone who insists she has “long felt a responsibility to convey the reality of the situation,” surely she must be aware of the importance of conveying the group’s claims of responsibility for shooting at Israeli civilians and civilian targets as well. After all, the group tried to garner attention by posting film clips on social media of their attacks on Israeli targets. And beyond their attacks on soldiers, clips were posted  of a Sept. 22 shooting attack toward the Har Bracha settlement, of  Oct. 2 shooting attacks at Israeli civilian vehicles on the road near Elon Moreh, including the targeting of a schoolbus and shooting and injuring of a cab driver.  On Dec. 26, the  Lion’s Den terrorist group publicly  claimed responsibility for a shooting attack on an Israeli civilian car travelling on the road to the Yitzhar settlement. Yet Asi hides the terror group’s proud acknowledgement not only of the fatal shooting of Staff Sgt. Ido Baruch but of targeting civilians driving on roads in the West Bank that both Israelis and Palestinians use.

That is because in Asi’s telling, there is no such thing as Palestinian terrorism, Israeli victims, or the need for Israeli security and therefore, Palestinians bear no responsibility for their situation.  Instead, the author bemoans “the buzzing sound of Israel’s military surveillance drones” patrolling the area as “a form of psychological torture”  and bleats about memories of “long, winding checkpoint lines, with hostile Israeli soldiers looking through our documents,” and of “having to change taxis” between the Tel Aviv airport and her destination in the West Bank “because Palestinian taxis weren’t allowed to pick us up.”

It is hardly an authoritative, accurate, or research-driven account of the factors that impact Palestinian morbidity and mortality that might be expected from someone legitimized on the NYT pages as an illustrious scholar of public health. 

In inviting and/or accepting a guest essay from Yara Asi, New York Times editors should have been well aware of Asi’s history of dishonesty to defame Israel . In her guise as a public health scholar, Asi contributed to creating the coronavirus libel against Israel: In February 2021, she teamed up with BDS proponent Yousef Munayyer, and  two months later, she teamed up with other anti-Israel activists to promote the myth that Israel was violating international law and practicing apartheid by not vaccinating Palestinians against  Covid-19 in PA and Hamas-governed areas, even though the governing Palestinians refused this.  The libel is based on falsehoods that have been thoroughly debunked.   Asi certainly has never been reticent about using her health credentials as a tool for militant propaganda against Israel. 

But perhaps the newpaper’s editors were well aware of this. And perhaps they knew she was exactly the one to deliver what they were looking for to wrap up the year.    

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