Study: NY Times Op-Eds: Forum for Contentious Issues or One-Sided Advocacy?

(For the introduction and methodology of this study, which also includes analyses of the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages, click here.)
“The Op-Ed page of the New York Times is perhaps the nation’s most important forum for airing opinions on the most contentious issues of the day…” began the public editor’s (ombudsman’s) column addressing the complaints of outraged readers of a column by a Hamas official.

Editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal was quoted explaining that Times editors are looking for “opinions that are provocative” and “do not feel the obligation to provide the kind of balance you find in news coverage – because it is opinion.” To the charge that featuring a terrorist organization’s views on the Op-Ed page is essentially advocacy journalism, the public editor responded that, “the point of the Op-Ed page is advocacy.”

The New York Time’s sanguine approach to giving Hamas a platform is equally apparent in the editorial judgement that chooses to present a preponderance of opinion columns portraying Israel in a negative light or advocating for the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

During CAMERA’s 19-month study of guest Op-Eds relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the New York Times (January 2006 through July 2007), the newspaper presented twice as many Op-Eds critical of Israel or espousing an Arab perspective as those supportive of Israel or critical of Arab policies. These included several columns by Arab leaders, including Fouad Siniora, prime minister of Lebanon, and Saeb Erekat, chief of the PLO Negotiations Department, as well as two columns by Ahmed Yousef of Hamas.

By contrast, there were no Op-Eds at all by any Israeli leader.

Of 33 Op-Eds dealing directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict, 16 were critical of Israel primarily or advocated an Arab position, eight were critical of the Palestinians or Hezbollah primarily or advocated an Israeli position, and nine were neutral.

In addition, during the Hezbollah/Israel war of 2006, editors of the New York Times Op-Ed page solicited opinions for a feature on how to “defuse the crisis” from seven people they described as “experts”– five of whom represented an Arab or pro-Arab perspective. One presented a pro-Israel position, and one was neutral, addressing the conflict without assigning blame or criticizing either side.

The results were much more balanced when it came to those columns that only dealt with the Arab-Israeli conflict tangentially. Of 11 columns only tangentially dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict, six were neutral, not really advocating for one side or another; two could be categorized as critical of Israel; and three could be categorized as supporting an Israeli position.

It appears that overall rather than representing the “nation’s most important forum on the most contentious issues of the day,” the New York Times has become a vehicle for one-sided advocacy in a contentious debate.

Primary Op-Eds: Neutral

1) March 23, 2006 – “Cuba on the West Bank” – Gideon Lichfield: Argues that banning communication with and aid to Hamas might make it like Cuba, with Fidel Castro gaining popularity, while giving aid might allow a strong Hamas government to show moderation and get rid of its militant branch. Points out if Hamas has long-term plans to destroy Israel, unrestricted aid would make it more dangerous. Concludes both Hamas and Israel should be given incentives to move in the right direction. (Note: This column really leans toward moderating the stance toward Hamas, but since it also mentions arguments against such a change in policy, it was categorized as neutral.)

2) July 14, 2006 –  “Israel’s Invasion, Syria’s War” Michael Young: Criticizes both Hezbollah and Israel – Hezbollah for “overplaying its hand” and Israel for “brutalizing” Lebanon. Syria and Iran are criticized as well. The Op-Ed concludes with an admonishment to Israel – “Israel must cease its attacks and let diplomacy take over.” (Again, this column leans more toward criticism of Israel, but since there is also criticism of Hezbollah, it was categorized as neutral.)

3) July 18, 2006 – “A Conflict That Will Stay Close to Home” – Edward Luttwak: Discusses Israeli-Hezbollah conflict as part of larger conflict financed and directed by Iran and Syria.

4) Aug. 2, 2006 –  “Lebanon’s Force for Good” – Adir Gurion Waldman: Discusses the Israel-Lebanon monitoring group that was established in 1996 to “oversee compliance” to “an agreement calling for Israel and Hezbollah to shield civilians from violence,” and advocates using this as a “precedent for calming tensions.”

5) Aug. 5, 2006 – “To Help Israel, Help Syria” – Andrew Tabler: Urges Bush “to modify its democracy agenda to include support for Syrian reform.” Although it suggests that “only an Israeli pullout from the Golan Heights would entice Damascus to help seal off Hezbollah-controlled areas and ensure that the fighters are eventually disarmed,” the main thrust of the column is that the U.S. should assist Syria’s reformers to “undermine the widespread and increasingly corrosive suspicion in the region that Washington’s democracy agenda is a cover for an Israeli-inspired plan to spread chaos in the Arab world.”

6) Jan. 9, 2007 – “A Green Line in the Sand” – David Newman: Discusses the Green Line as “the default boundary” which has “finally been recognized anew by the Israeli government” (referring to Yuli Tamir’s decision to reintroduce the Green Line into Israeli textbooks).

7) July 19, 2007 – “Forced to Get Along” – Mark Helprin: Argues that we are “on the verge of a rare alignment of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the leading Arab nations and the major powers,” and that the opportunity should be seized.

8) Jan. 24, 2007 – “What if Israel and Syria Find Common Ground” – Michael Oren: Discusses the possibility of carrying out back-channel meetings between Israel and Syria while the U.S. opposes discussions with Syria.

9) Aug. 22, 2006 –  “In Lebanon, Even Peace Is A Battle” – Carlos Pascual and Martin Indyk: Discusses reconstruction effort and how U.S. should finance Lebanese reconstruction through the government so that Hezbollah won’t gain upper han d. Suggests that Israel “although it has its own reconstruction needs, should request that Washington temporarily reallocate some of its annual $2.3 billion in American military assistance to help the Lebanese government.”

Primary Op-Eds: Arab Perspective/Critical of Israel

1) Jan. 27, 2006 – “Hamas at the Helm” – Fotini Christia and Sreemati Mitter: Acknowledges Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of Israel, but urges a softening of policy toward the party, suggesting Hamas did not include such calls in its campaign and might be changing stance.

2) March 1, 2006 –  “What the P.L.O. Has to Offer” – Saeb Erekat: Presents PLO advocacy.

3) March 10, 2006 – “Israel’s Tragedy Foretold” – Gershom Gorenberg: Argues against Israeli settlements, claiming they are a violation of international law.

4) May 11, 2006 – “Cold, Hard Cash” – Geoff Porter: Urges U.S. and E.U. funding of Hamas-led government, arguing that it will compel Hamas to embrace a 2002 Arab peace initiative, abandon its charter and recognize Israel.

5) July 27, 2006 – “The Tribes of War” – Abbas El Zein: Presents personal anecdote of grandmother’s suffering during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and warns international community not to allow Israel to continue attacks in Lebanon.

6) Aug. 3, 2006 – “Ground to a Halt” – Robert Pape: Calls on Israel to stop its offensive against Hezbollah.

7) Aug. 17, 2006 – “Is Hamas Ready to Deal?” – Scott Attran: Portrays Hamas leaders as reasonable and calls on Israel to give more concessions to the Palestinians.

8) Aug. 18, 2006 – “Start Talking to Hezbollah” – Lakhdar Brahimi: Argues the Hezbollah-Israel war did not begin with abduction of Israeli soldiers, but with ”the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel” as well as “Lebanese prisoners” and the “military occupation and injustice that has come with it.”

9) Oct. 7, 2006 – “We Can’t Go Home Again” – Sam Bahour: Presents allegations of mistreatment by Israel for not approving his application for Palestinian residency. Claims thousands of other Palestinians are in his situation.

10) Nov. 1, 2006 – “Pause for Peace” – Ahmed Yousef: Hamas senior official presents Hamas as peace-loving and explains its offer of “hudna,” or truce, as a step toward peace.

11) Dec. 17, 2006 – “If You Love Lebanon, Set It Free” – Robert Grenier: Argues against isolating Hezbollah, and advocates for integrating Hezbollah politically, socially and militarily into the Lebanese state.

12) May 11, 2007 – “Give the Arab Peace Initiative a Chance” – Fouad Siniora: Prime Minister of Lebanon accuses Israel of not complying with international law and of “illegal occupations, over-flights, detentions, house demolitions, humiliating checkpoints, attacks and counterattacks.”

13) June 5, 2007 –  “What if Israel Had Turned Back?” – Tom Segev: One of Israel’s revisionist historians alleges “leading Israeli policy planners had determined six months before the Six-Day War that capturing the West Bank would be bad for the country.”

14) June 18, 2007 –  “New Lyrics for Israel” – Adam LeBor: Advocates changing Israel’s national anthem to exclude the term “Jewish soul” in order to show Israel as an inclusive society.

15) June 20, 2007 – “What Hamas Wants” – Ahmed Yousef: Hamas leader is again given platform for propaganda, this time to rail against Fatah and American and Israeli support for Fatah, while claiming to be the moral and peaceful party.

16) July 21, 2007 – “Getting Hezbollah to Behave” – Nicholas Noe: Advocates a softening of policy toward Hezbollah, advising Israel and U.S. to “pause and take stock of the nonviolent alternatives that Hezbollah itself says would lead it to shun military action” and to give Hezollah what it wants.

Primary Op-Eds: Israeli Perspective/Critical of Arabs or Pro-Israel

1) Jan. 6, 2006: “In the Shadow of Sharon” – Benny Morris: Discusses effect of Sharon’s illness on the future of Israeli policy and advocates unilateral separation because, he maintains, there is no Palestinian partner.

2) March 18, 2006: “How I Learned to Love the Wall” – Irshad Manji: Discusses the separation barrier and Israel’s reasons for building it, while acknowledging humanitarian discomforts that it may cause.

3) March 27, 2006: “Stupor in Our Time” – Etgar Keret: Presents personal anecdote of self-declared “non-Zionist.” Israeli author discusses exhaustion of the Israeli public. (More neutral than pro-Israel, but assigned to this category as it is said to represent the Israeli public.)

4) July 18, 2006 – “The Way We War” – Etgar Keret: Presents personal anecdotes supposedly portraying the Israeli mindset and suggests Hezbollah-Israel war is one that does not have the same “moral ambiguity” as Israel’s war against Palestinians. (This is subtly critical of Israeli policy, particularly its war against Palestinians.)

5) June 22, 2006 –  “Hiding Behind the Enemy” – Haim Watzman: Discusses Israeli perspective on using Palestinians as human shields.

6) July 19, 2006 – “Israel Leaves the Scuds Behind” – Zev Chafets: Presents Israeli mainstream perspective on Israeli-Hezbollah war.

7) Aug. 2, 2006 – “Peacekeepers Are Not Peacemakers” – Nancy Soderberg: Discusses the difficulty and danger of international peacekeeping in Lebanon and says that before international peacekeepers go in, the Syrians, Lebanese and Iranians must “give up the fiction” that Israel did not fully withdraw from Lebanon in 2000 and that the “Hezbollah militia must be disarmed and dismantled.”

8) June 19, 2007 – “Brothers to the Bitter End” – Fouad Ajami: Discusses the fratricidal war between Hamas and Fatah and is critical of both.

Lebanon War, Summer 2006

The New York Times solicited opinions for a July 22, 2006 feature on how to “defuse the crisis” from seven “experts”:


1) Avishai Margalit, Israeli left-wing p hilosopher on the boards of Peace Now and B’tselem, calls for “substantial outside intervention based on the Saudi peace plan.”

Lebanon: Arab Perspective/Critical of Israel

1) Judith Kipper argues that Hezbollah and Hamas – whom she describes as “political parties and social welfare organizations” whose “military wings must be disbanded” – should not be shunned but should be engaged diplomatically.

2) Robert Malley contends that the the U.S. should ease the economic boycott of Hamas and engage them diplomatically.

3) Rashid Khalidi blames the hostilities on “Israel’s nearly 40-year-old occupation of Palestinian lands and its occupation of Lebanon from 1982 to 2000” and says focus should be placed on the underlying problems of Israel’s “denial of rights to Palestinians and the occupation of Arab lands.”

4) Chibli Mallat, running for Lebanese president, says the U.N. should pass a resolution putting Lebanon in charge of its territories, and “demand that the Israeli and Lebanese governments begin negotiations to address all outstanding issues that are governed by international law,” including “borders, refugees, water, Lebanese prisoners in Israel and Lebanese citizens who collaborated with the Israeli occupation from 1982 to 2000.”

5) Paul Salem, formerly of Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, calls for intervention of “international community” to insist on cessation of hostilities so that Lebanese cvilians can receive aid, and to help the Lebanese Army assert its authority throughout the country. Any political settlement should “insist” Israel release Lebanese captives from its jail and “induce” Hezbollah to return Israeli soldiers.

Lebanon: Israeli Perspective/Critical of Arabs

1) Richard Perle, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense, explains that “what appears to some to be a disproportionate response to small incursions and kidnappings is, in fact, an entirely appropriate response to the existential struggle in which Israel is now engaged” and advises Israel to “see current fighting through to a conclusion that is unambiguously a defeat for

Tangential Op-Eds: Neutral

1) March 30, 2006 – “You Say You Want a Constitution” – Steven V. Mazie: Does not deal with Arab-Israeli conflict, but discusses the issue of drafting an Israeli constitution.

2) July 21, 2006 – “Look What Democratic Reform Dragged In” – Ted Koppel: Discusses the effect of democratic reform with examples of Hamas being voted into power, Hezbollah becoming “the most influential political entity in the country” and the Shiites having gained power in Iraq.

3) July 26, 2006 – “The Enemy of My Enemy Is Still My Enemy” – Bernard Haykel: Discusses Hezbollah’s “ascendancy among Sunnis” by having “taken the lead on the most incendiary issues for jihadis of all stripes: the fight against Israel,” and how Hezbollah’s “effective defeat” of Israel has put it in competition with Al Qaeda for popularity among Jihadists.

4) Aug. 24, 2006 – “Sweating Out the Truth in Iran” – Maziar Bahari: Explores how much influence Iran has on Hezbollah and how it has become a political liability for Iran to be recognized as a backer of Hezbollah.

5) Oct. 28, 2006 – “Stuck in the Canal” – David Fromkin: Looks back at the 1956 Suez crisis and how it marked “the moment when America pushed out the Europeans and then tried to take their place.”

6) Jan. 4, 2007 – “Getting the Middle East Back on Our Side” – Brent Scowcroft: Former national security adviser to Presidents Ford and Bush Sr. discusses the results of the Iraq Study Group, and urges “a vigorously renewed effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Tangential Op-Eds: Arab Perspective/Critical of Israel

1) April 19, 2006 – “A Lobby, Not a Conspiracy” – Tony Judt: Argues for more coverage in mainstream press of Walt and Mearsheimer’s controversial Israel Lobby paper claiming that a powerful Israeli lobby in the U.S. directs U.S. foreign policy in harmful ways.

2) April 24, 2007 – “The Neocon Paradox” – Robert Wright: Criticizes general “neocon” policy, including condemnation of “endorsing the policies of Ariel Sharon, whose assertive policing of the occupied territories was proving counterproductive, helping to radicalize both Palestinian opinion and, via Al Jazeera, Muslim opinion globally.”

Tangential Op-Eds: Israeli Perspective/Critical of Arabs

1) July 25, 2006 –  “Another Man’s Honor” – John Tierney: Discusses “honor system” in Arab culture generally but also quotes from James Bowman’s book on the topic saying that “Hezbollah is fighting for honor, to humiliate the enemy, not for any particular objective” and “Israel has no choice in what it’s doing. Nothing sort of victory by either side will change anything.”

2) Aug. 7, 2006 – “Counterinsurgency, by the Book” – Richard H. Shultz Jr. and Andrea J. Dew: Discusses the general topic of counterinsurgency, but brings as example Israeli intelligence gathering, concluding that “the British and the Israelis have the blueprints for successful intelligence architecture.”

3) Jan. 9, 2007 –  “Don’t Play With Maps” – Dennis Ross: Criticizes the maps used by Jimmy Carter in his anti-Israel book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, saying they were misrepresented and dispels “mythology that seeks to defend Mr. Arafat’s rejection of the Clinton ideas by suggesting they weren’t real or they were too vague or that Palestinians would have received far less than what had been advertised.”


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