“Op-Ed, explained” was the title and the promise of an Oct. 23, 2006 Los Angeles Times piece by Op-Ed page editor Nicholas Goldberg. Goldberg had set out to demystify for readers his paper’s opinion page, but the editor has plenty more explaining to do.
In particular, take the paper’s stated goal:
We want a page that is politically balanced over time – not leaning too heavily to the left or the right – but we don’t monitor it day to day, or count Democrats versus Republicans. Similarly, we seek diversity of thought and diversity of contributors – we want provocative ideas from people of all races, genders, religions, etc. – but again, we don’t try to balance the number of women to men on every single page.
Balance over time is a commendable goal, but has it been achieved? When it comes to the politically-charged subject of the Israeli-Arab conflict, the answer is no on the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed page. (Nor, notably, did Golberg cite the imperative of accuracy, a deficiency reflected in all too many Los Angeles Times columns.)
A 19-month study (January 2006-July 2007) found 29 Op-Eds that espoused a pro-Arab message and/or were critical of Israel, versus 18 Op-Eds representing an Israeli position and/or were critical of Arabs. (There were also 10 neutral contributions. In total, the Los Angeles Times ran more than double the number of Op-Eds on the Arab-Israeli conflict than the Washington Post and also greatly exceeded the number by the New York Times.)
The tangential Op-Eds, on the other hand, those only nominally related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, were far more balanced, even slighly favoring an Israeli perspective over an Arab perspective (seven to five). There were also four neutral tangential Op-Eds.
The imbalance among the primary Op-Eds becomes more pronounced when considering that many of the pro-Arab Op-Eds espoused extremist views – for example advocating the replacement of the Jewish state with a binational state, accusing Israel of apartheid, and defending Hezbollah or Hamas, listed as terror groups by the United States, the European Union, and Israel – while many of those in the pro-Israel category were more moderate and included criticism of Israel as well.
For example, on July 19, 2006, in the midst of the war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Times paired two Op-Eds, one pro-Arab by UCLA English professor Saree Makdisi (551 words), and one pro-Israel by Israeli author and peace activist Amos Oz (356 words). Makdisi, a nephew of Edward Said, excoriates Israel, accusing the Jewish state of “extraordinary collective punishment,” “terrorism,” and “vindictive bombardment.” He also falsely claims that Israel’s so-called “blanket bombardment of Lebanon” preceded Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on Israel, (a falsehood which National Public Radio corrected on Aug. 23, 2007, but which the Times refuses to correct.) Makdisi utters not even a hint of criticism about Hezbollah or other Arabs.
On the other hand, Makdisi’s ostensible counterweight, Amos Oz, assails Hezbollah for its “vicious, unprovoked attack into Israeli territory,” but also criticizes Israel using a highly-loaded term that many supporters of Israel repudiate:
The Israeli peace movement objects to the occupation and colonization of the West Bank. It objected to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 because the invasion was aimed at distracting world attention from the Palestinian problem. (Emphasis added.)
Similarly, one day before the Oz and Makdisi Op-Eds ran, a pro-Israel piece by leftist Israeli author David Grossman appeared that also reserves some criticism for Israel:
Israel’s goal is logical and just, but the aggressive conduct of the operation is dangerous . . . . In recent decades, Israel has gotten tangled in military operations in Lebanon again and again. It never succeeded in achieving its goals. Previous attempts to shape the Arab world in accordance with Israel’s needs have failed.
He also addresses suffering on the other side, a gesture that Makdisi does not make:
millions of innocent civilians – Israelis and Lebanese – are under heavy fire. In Beirut and in Haifa, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and the Israel Galilee, children and adults face the horrors of war. Israel and Lebanon must do all they can to not harm innocent people.
Earlier, Makdisi was essentially paired with an Israeli – (their columns appeared within a day of each other) – on the topic of the stricken Ariel Sharon and his legacy. Here, again, the disparity is the same, albeit more striking. Makdisi’s shrill Jan. 7, 2006 piece, entitled “The whitewashing of Ariel Sharon: The ‘man of courage and peace’ story ignores his bloody and ruthless past,” declares:
From the beginning to the end of his career, Sharon was a man of ruthless and often gratuitous violence. The waypoints of his career are all drenched in blood, from the massacre he directed at the village of Qibya in 1953, in which his men destroyed whole houses with their occupants – men, women and children – still inside, to the ruinous invasion of Lebanon in 1982 . . . As a purely gratuitous bonus, Sharon and his army later facilitated the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. . . .
The Op-Ed by Israeli David Grossman the day before argued that Israelis have come to love and trust the once deposed leader (“How Sharon won Israel’s trust: In a curious metamorphosis, the brutal warrior became the one leader most Israelis would follow with their eyes closed”). Grossman writes that Sharon underwent a transformation after ascension to the position of prime minister, realizing “that the land had to be partitioned between its two peoples, that the occupation could not continue, that the Palestinians would have their own state,” and so on. This Op-Ed qualified as “neutral,” because it recounts in detail Sharon’s anti-Arab activities, rendering Makdisi’s charges the next day repetitive:
In the 1950s, when he wielded no little influence on the Israeli army’s way of thinking and carrying out its missions, he was an officer in the elite Unit 101. Then he was known for his violent, brutal and extreme treatment of Arabs, both combatants and innocent civilians. His commanders, such as Moshe Dayan, warned him about his disdain for human life, including the lives of his own soldiers. Time after time, his advancement in the military hierarchy was blocked because of reservations and severe criticism of his behavior by his superior officers. In 1972, as general of the southern command, he conducted a campaign to expel Palestinians from Gaza in order to make room for Israeli settlements. Tens of thousands of Palestinians were cruelly, violently displaced. Their homes were destroyed and their wells filled in.
Like the parallel CAMERA studies of the New York Times and Washington Post, this study found that in the 19-month period, there was not one Op-Ed by an Israeli official. In contrast, four Arab officials – Hamas spokesman Mousa Abu Marzook (who has been indicted in the United States on racketeering and money-laundering charges, a fact which the Times withheld from readers), then-Palestinian Minister of Finance Salam Fayyad, Khaled Meshaal, head of the political bureau of Hamas, and Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States – were given a platform.
The Times’ mandate, assured Goldberg in “Op-Ed, explained,” is
to provide provocative, thoughtful commentary that is reasoned yet opinionated on a wide variety of subjects. The page itself has no ideological bent or political agenda; we want to provide the broadest possible range of opinions . . .
Can he explain, then, how that mandate is served by including four contributions from Arab leaders (including two from Hamas, an organization calling for the destruction of Israel), but none from any official Israeli representatives?
Narrow on Settlements
The Los Angeles Times dismally failed “to provide the broadest possible range of opinions” on the controversial Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The question of settlements was addressed in five Op-Eds, and all of them are in total agreement that Jewish settlements must be dismantled. Four out of five are even written by the same person. The Op-Eds are:
1) “The lie beneath Israel’s settlements” – Gershom Gorenberg, Nov. 26, 2006
2) “Hard ground; Farming the West Bank brings the Mideast fight into focus – and illustrates why Jewish settlements must go” – Bernard Avishai, Nov. 20, 2006
3) “Paying for Israel’s makeover: U.S. funds for a controversial settlement pullback could help advance a peace agreement” – Gershom Gorenberg, May 22, 2006
4) “Israel’s broken romance with its settlements; Most of its leaders agree that, to preserve a Jewish state, the question now isn’t whether to withdraw from the West Bank but how and why” – Gershom Gorenberg, March 6, 2006
5) “West Bank buildup” – Gershom Gorenberg, Jan. 3, 2006
The notion that settlements are a primary obstacle to peace is just one perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Another is that Arab terrorism, which predates settlements and even the establishment of the state itself, is the main obstacle to peace. Others point to genocidal Arab incitement, which rejects Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East and calls for the killing of Jews as the main impediment to peace. Yet, none of these, nor any other Israeli grievance against Arabs, received the same sustained criticism that settlements received in the Times Op-Ed pages. There was only one Op-Ed devoted to Palestinian terrorism, for example (Matthew Levitt, July 3, 2007) and none about genocidal hate indoctrination.
Diversity of Contributors?
“[W]e seek diversity of thought and diversity of contributors,” Goldberg insisted in his “Op-Ed, explained.” Yet, another curious aspect of the Times’ unique brand of “diversity” is the repetition of certain Op-Ed contributors. Namely, anti-Israel writer Saree Makdisi penned an unmatched six Op-Eds in the 19-month period. Gershom Gorenberg, and his frequent condemnations of Israeli settlements, came in at a close second with four Op-Eds. No writer who repeatedly attacks Arabs or any of their anti-peace policies was invited to contribute six times (or even four, for that matter).
Lamenting the “one-sidedness” of Times’ analyses, certain critics of the newspaper’s Mideast coverage asserted in August 2006 that the publication “needs to give more attention to the other side to foster a healthier civil discourse on this important issue.” What steps could editors take “to foster a healthier civil discourse”? Expand their Rolodex beyond supporters of Hamas’ brutal tactics to include supporters of Israeli settlements? Bring in Israeli officials as counterweight to the multiple contributions of Arab officials (including representatives of the Hamas terror organization who have been indicted in and deported from the U.S.)? Give space to specialists on Palestinian terrorism or experts on Arab anti-Israel incitement? Conduct periodic reviews to ensure balance over time?
But the aforementioned critics, authors of an Aug. 13, 2006 Op-Ed, were Salam Al-Marayati and Edina Lekovic, both of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. If they were honestly to examine the breakdown of the Los Angeles Times’ Op-Eds, they would rest assured that the “one-sidedness” that exists in the paper’s Op-Ed pages is wholly to their advantage.
Primary OpEds: Neutral
1) Jan. 6, 2006 – “How Sharon won Israel’s trust; In a curious metamorphosis, the brutal warrior became the one leader most Israelis would follow with their eyes closed” – David Grossman: Recounts in detail Sharon’s alleged anti-Arab activities, but acknowledges that Israelis nevertheless came to trust him.
8) June 20, 2007 – “History Argues for a three-state solution” – Jacob Savage: Presents historical review of differences between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
9) July 15, 2007 – “Is Peace Out of Reach: The chance for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation may have passed” – Aaron David Miller: Argues prospects for peace are much dimmer than they were seven years ago.
10) Aug. 12, 2007 – “A war of escalating errors” – Caleb Carr: Asserts both sides, Israelis and Arabs, made errors in conflict since June (but he seems to pin more error on the Israeli side).
Primary Op-Eds: Arab Perspective/Critical of Israel
1) Jan. 3, 2006 – “West Bank buildup” – Gershom Gorenberg: Argues that settlements are about to expand, and Washington should take a more forceful position against Israel concerning them.
2) Jan. 7, 2006 – “The whitewashing of Ariel Sharon; The ‘man of courage and peace’ story ignores his bloody and ruthless past” – Saree Makdisi: Argues that “From the beginning to the end of his career, Sharon was a man of ruthless and often gratuitous violence.”
3) Jan. 27, 2006 – “Hamas in charge; It gave the Palestinians God and hope. They gave it power” – Beshara Doumani: Charges Israeli policies led to “subhuman levels” in standards of living in the occupied territories, and the people naturally turned to Hamas to help them.
4) Feb. 1, 2006 – “‘We shall never recognize . . . a Zionist state on our soil’; The chief of Hamas’ political bureau outlines its mission – and its message for the U.S., Europe, the Arab states and Israel” – Khaled Meshaal: Misrepresents Hamas’ mission, stating, for example, that Hamas’ problem with Israelis is strictly political, not religious.
5) Feb. 21, 2006 – “Palestinians are being robbed by Israel” – Amira Hass: Claims Israel has no right to withhold Palestinian tax and custom revenues.
6) March 10, 2006 – Saree Makdisi: Charges Israel’s American defenders cowed a British architect who had protested the wall, which itself is a violation of human rights and international law.
7) May 6, 2006 – “Palestinian pain, one kid at a time” – Fareed Taamallah: Tells the personal story of his young sick daughter and the difficulties they had getting treatments for her because of Israeli restrictions.
8) May 21, 2006 – “The incredible shrinking Palestine” – Sandy Tolan: Opposes Olmert’s convergence plan, because it is unilateral and because it takes too much Palestinian land.
9) May 22, 2006 – “Paying for Israel’s makeover; U.S.funds for a controversial settlement pullback could help advance a peace agreement” – Gershom Gorenberg: Argues settlements are key obstacle to peace, and advocates that the U.S. fund compensation for evacuated settlers under certain conditions.
10) June 18, 2006 – “Is ‘moral equivalency’ really so wrong” – Henry Siegman: Argues in favor of moral equivalency, stating that Israel is indifferent to the killing of Palestinian civilians, and asserts that IDF actions will trigger a “new intifada.”
11) July 6, 2006 – “In Gaza, fear in the dark” – Mona Elfarra: Excerpts of her blog detail the hardships of her life in Jabalia refugee camp under Israeli attack.
12) July 14, 2006 – “Symbolic slugfest” – David Myers: Superficially critical of both sides, states that “Israel and its Arab foes [are] together again in a deadly dance” in a “cycle of violence.” But he reserves specific, extended criticism (seven paragraphs) only for Israel.
13) July 19, 2006 – “Caught in the crossfire: Israel’s outrageous offensive” – Saree Makdisi: Excoriates “Israel’s [alleged] blanket bombardment of Lebanon.”
14) July 23, 2006 – “‘Democracy’ flopped. Now what?” – Anatol Lieven: Asserts Bush’s plans for bringing democracy to the region are a failure. Instead of engaging Syria and Iran, Bush’s policies have hewed closer to Israel’s strategy of relying on force.
15) Aug. 1, 2006 – “Oops, sorry’ doesn’t let Israel off the hook” – Adam Shatz: Argues that Israel shows no concern for humanitarian law or civilian life.
16) Aug. 4, 2006 – “Washington’s stubborn failure to communicate; Syria’s ambassador says if the White House wants peace in the Mideast, it shouldn’t insist on ignoring Damascus” – Imad Moustapha: Argues U.S. must engage Syria.
17) Aug. 13, 2006 – “and the Hezbollah stories aren’t any better” – Salam Al-Marayati and Edina Lekovic: Claim the Los Angeles Times’ news, features and Op-Eds are skewed in favor of Israel against Arabs. (“Nowhere is this more obvious than on The Times’ Op-Ed pages, where for every 10 articles supporting Israel, one criticized the country’s military operations and Washington’s unflinching support for them.”)
18) Oct. 21, 2006 – “Death still stalks Lebanon” – Saree Makdisi: Condemns Israel’s use of cluster bombs and makes exaggerated, false claims about other Israeli actions in war.
19) Nov. 20, 2006 – “Hard ground; Farming the West Bank brings the Mideast fight into focus – and illustrates why Jewish settlements must go” – Bernard Avishai: Describes Palestinians trying to tend crops despite harassment from settlers. Defends James Baker and calls settlements an obstacle to peace.
20) Nov. 26, 2006 – “The lie beneath Israel’s settlements” – Gershom Gorenberg: Discusses Peace Now report about settlement building on private Palestinian land, and says that settlements undermine Israel’s legal institutions.
21) Dec. 8, 2006 – “How I see Palestine” – Jimmy Carter: Discusses his book, which “describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories,” its reception, and the alleged stifling of debate on Palestinian issues.
22) Jan. 23, 2007 – “Whose Jerusalem? A Wiesenthal Center project opens old wounds – and a debate over hallowed ground” – Daniela Yanai: Opposes the construction of Wiesenthal museum on a former Islamic cemetery.
23) March 11, 2007 – “In the war of words, The Times is Israel’s Ally” – Saree Makdisi: Argues that “The Times consistently adopts Israel’s language and, hence, its point of view,” and is guilty of “a form of verbal erasure designed to extend the physical destruction of Palestine.”
24) March 31, 2007 – “Palestinian hope held hostage; Economic sanctions are keeping Palestinians from building a life” – Salam Fayyad: Argues for lifting of sanctions imposed after Hamas victory.
25) April 11, 2007 – “Forget Pelosi. What About Syria?” – Robert Malley: Argues that Syria’s calls for peace talks are genuine, and the U.S. and Israel should heed them.
26) May 3, 2007 – “Why Israel is after me” – Azmi Bishara: Defends himself against the charges against him and argues that Israeli Arabs face discrimination “in all spheres of life.”
27) June 5, 2007 – “Israel’s lost 40 years: Since the Six-Day War, the country’s future has been consumed by the problems of the occupation” – Meir Shalev: Argues that Israel has “choked” on the occupation, leading to arrogance, extremism, fanaticism, stupidity, unwise decisions and apartheid
28) June 20, 2007 – “West chooses Fatah, but Palestinians don’t” – Saree Makdisi: Claims Palestinians prefer Hamas because they viewed Fatah “as mere policeman of the perpetual occupation.” Calls for binational state, otherwise situation is apartheid.
29) July 10, 2007 – “Hamas’ Stand: An official of the movement describes its goals for all of Palestine” – Mousa Abu Marzook: Presents Hamas propaganda justifying violent takeover and terrorism against Israelis.
Primary Op-Eds: Israeli Perspective/Critical of Arabs
1) Jan. 20, 2006 – “Targeted killing-American style: Israel’s experience in taking out terrorists offers lessons for the United States” – Daniel Byman: Discusses the advantages and limitations of targeted killing for the U.S., as learned by Israeli experience.
2) Jan. 31, 2006 – “Voting isn’t democracy; Bush equates elections with democracy, but in the Mideast, Islamic radical movements exploit the ballot box” – Eytan Gilboa: Argues that the Hamas victory reveals a deficiency in the American plan for democracy in the Mideast.
3) March 29, 2006 – “Israel’s politics of dreams” – Yossi Klein Halevi: Argues Israelis lost their dreams and passions, but centrist views prevail; few believe peace is possible and Likud no longer opposes territorial withdrawals.
4) June 14, 2006 – “Abbas or Hamas? Choose and lose” – Aaron David Miller: Criticizes Abbas’ decision to have a referendum based on the prisoners’ document, which endorses violence. Argues that Palestinians must make clear precisely what they want and how they plan to achieve it.
5) July 6, 2007 – “Why Hamas can’t let go” – Alan Kaufman: Asserts Hamas’ rasion d’Ltre is to fight the “occupier-enemy,” so when the Israelis withdrew entirely from the Gaza Strip, Hamas pursued them with rockets and the Shalit capture.
6) July 18, 2006 – “Shaken awake by war” – David Grossman: Says Israel has no choice but to respond to Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli territory and its goal to oust Hezbollah from southern Lebanon is just.
7) July 19, 2006 – “Caught in the crossfire: Hezbollah attacks unite Israel” – Amos Oz (356 words), paired with Makdisi (551 words): Argues that Israelis are united because Hezbollah is targeting Israeli civilians.
8) July 20, 2006 – “Israel has a war to win” – Daniel Pipes: Criticizes Israeli fatigue and recommends Bush administration urge that Israel adopt policies to convince Israel’s foes the Jewish state is “permanent and unbeatable.”
9) July 22, 2006 – “‘Civilian casualty’? That’s a gray area; Those who support terrorists are not entirely innocent” – Alan Dershowitz: Argues that because Hezbollah and Hamas militants are difficult to distinguish from those “civilians” who provide all types of support, the media should adopt a continuum of culpability.
10) July 26, 2006 – “Fighting to Survive” – Michael Oren: Reviews the reasons why Israelis are unified in their support of army’s actions in Lebanon, emphasizing Israel’s purpose is survival.
11) Aug. 6, 2006 – “A new, messier Mideast” – Aaron David Miller: Provides an assessment of the current situation, stating clearly that Israel took unilateral steps, giving something for nothing, and was repaid with violence. Also discusses Iranian meddling and growing regional factor of non-state actors.
12) Aug. 8, 2006 – “Israel’s unhappy exit strategy” – Daniel Jonah Goldhagen: Reviews the bad options available to Israel given an enemy indifferent to its own people’s fate.
13) Aug. 13, 2006 – Outside the Tent: “Coverage of Israel is full of holes . . . .” – Abraham Cooper: Argues Times coverage is skewed against Israel.
14) Aug. 31, 2006 – “Israel’s soldiers bring the war back home” – Alan Kaufman: Presents perspective sympathetic to Israel’s soldiers, but is critical of the way politicians ran the war and more generally the erosion of “genuine values.”
15) May 30, 2007 – “Dueling Over Herod” – Walter Reich: Criticizes Palestinian denial of Jewish Temples at Temple Mount and Palestinian destruction of archeological treasures.
16) June 3, 2007 – “Remaking the world in six days; Though it failed to bring peace, Israel’s 1967 military triumph saved the country and changed the global landscape” – Michael Oren: Emphasizes the existential threats that Israel faced prior to the Six Day War and explained how Israel’s position improved after the war.
17) July 3, 2007 – “Hamas’ hidden economy” – Matthew Levitt: Discusses Hamas’ tunnel smuggling and its funding.
18) July 22, 2007 – “A byline for Hamas?” – Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper: Argues against moral failure of Times in publishing Abu Marzook.
Tangential Op-Eds: Neutral
2) July 20, 2006 – “Beirut: Before the Bombs” – Brian Winter: Reminisces about a vibrant, modern Beirut before the 2006 war, and reflects how quickly the city’s fate has changed over the years, for better and worse.
3) Aug. 9, 2006 – “Kiss Iraq goodbye if its Shiites align with Hezbollah” – Rajan Menon: Argues that “As Israel and Hezbollah continue to trade deadly blows, the Bush administration may have to brace itself for the possibility that the shock waves from the war in Lebanon could wreck its partnership with Iraq’s Shiites and make Iraq’s fragmentation well-nigh unavoidable.”
4) Aug. 21, 2006 – “Victory isn’t all it’s cracked up to be” – Andrew Bacevich: Argues that genuine war victories in the modern era must have a political, not just military, dimension. Cites the Arab-Israeli conflict in general, as well as the 2006 Lebanon war and the 1967 war in particular.
Tangential Op-Eds: Arab Perspective/Critical of Israel
3) March 1, 2006 – “A message crushed again” – Katherine Viner: Argues that a New York theater gave in to political pressure to cancel the Rachel Corrie play, denying “a bridge between two worlds,” Gaza and America.
Tangential Op-Eds: Israeli Perspective/Critical of Arabs
1) Jan. 1, 2006 – “Justice must be done; Spielberg’s ‘Munich’ falls victim to today’s moral relativism, which ignores the absolute evil of killing innocents” – Judea Pearl: Argues that “‘Munich’ now adds a Hollywood-styled confusion to the moral relativism on terrorism.”
2) March 5, 2006 – “Does democracy end tyranny” – Natan Sharansky: Argues that the U.S. policy to introduce democracy to the Middle East has failed because it was inappropriately focused on elections, while ignoring other aspects of the democratic process. Palestinian example is emphasized.
3) March 11, 2006 – “Two-faced on terrorism” – Henri J. Barkey: Argues that Turkey’s invitation to Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal is hypocritical in light of Turkish attempts to block meetings in Washington for a Kurdish political leader in Turkey.
4) July 23, 2006 – “I want Falwell in my foxhole: At the end of the day – or at the End of Days – Israel has plenty of time for anybody who wants to help the Jews” – Zev Chafets: Urges embracing Christian evangelicals for their pro-Israel support.
5) Sept. 12, 2006 – “Failing a terror test” – Natan Sharansky: Argues for holding regimes responsible for terrorism. In five paragraphs, he cites Iranian support for Hezbollah as an example.
6) Dec. 5, 2006 – “The Muslim double standard; What they conquer, they keep. When they lose, they complain to the U.N.” – Raymond Ibrahim: Argues that Muslims conquer and transform non-Muslim territories, and never consider returning them, while demanding restitutions when their own regions are conquered by others. He cites Palestine, and particularly the Temple Mount, as an example.
7) Jan. 10, 2007 – “‘Never Again’ – Israel Means It: Attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities now may be Tel Aviv’s best option” – Ze’ev Chafets: Argues that “Israel needs to fight its own battles. If it encourages, or allows the U.S. to disarm Iran on its behalf, it can kiss its sovereignty goodbye.”