The New York Times’ Bronner Advocates for Fringe Group, Censors Mainstream Concerns

The New York Times‘ Ethan Bronner has once again provided a platform for a fringe extremist Israeli group to air its views unchallenged (“Where Politics Are Complex, Simple Joys at the Beach“, New York Times, July 27, 2011). The reporter’s July 27 article is, in effect, an advertisement for a radical organization which calls itself “We Will Not Obey,” whose purpose is to illegally smuggle Palestinian women into Israel. The story’s simplistic message is that the Palestinians have been deprived of the joys of swimming in the sea by harsh Israeli policies, and the noble Israeli organization is affording them this experience.

The article alternates between the group’s shrill criticism of Israel’s security policy and its members’ ludicrous moral preening, interspersed with mawkish descriptions of the Palestinian women’s innocent joy after a life of alleged privations.

Beginning with a depiction of Palestinians finally enjoying themselves after being deprived of freedom by an unfair Israel, Bronner promotes the actions of the Israeli group, granting its members nearly a quarter of the article to express in their own words condemnation of Israel and self-congratulatory praise for themselves and their radical agenda. One of the organization’s members even goes so far as to compare Israel to Nazi Germany, and herself to those who tried to resist Nazi crimes:

“What we are doing here will not change the situation,” said Hanna Rubinstein, who traveled to Tel Aviv from Haifa to take part. “But it is one more activity to oppose the occupation. One day in the future, people will ask, like they did of the Germans: ‘Did you know?’ And I will be able to say, ‘I knew. And I acted.’

It is not only the extreme words of the group that is disturbing; it is that they put out false information, and that the reporter does not bother to challenge it. An Israeli newspaper advertisement by the group is quoted extensively. (In Israel, the group has to pay for such advertising. The New York Times gives it to them here for free.) The ad alleges that Israel’s Law of Entry “allows every Israeli and every Jew to move freely in all regions between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River while depriving Palestinians of this same right.”

In fact, the law says no such thing. Current restrictions on freedom of movement apply both to Palestinians and Israeli Jews and are a direct result of the security threat presented to Israel and Israeli citizens. Both Palestinians and Israelis had complete freedom of movement “between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River” until after the first intifada, when Palestinian violence against Israelis began to rise. Today, Israeli Jews are barred from entering Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank, while Palestinians are issued permits to cross Israel’s pre-67 boundaries. So the advertisement is simply false.

The account is also grossly unbalanced. The 1069-word article includes 238 words of direct quotes from this radical fringe group but not a single person is quoted voicing criticism of the group’s illegal and potentially dangerous activities. Nor is anyone quoted to present Israel’s perspective on security and entry controls.

What about Israel’s legitimate concerns about the brutal, deadly violence against Israeli civilians perpetrated by infiltrators from the West Bank? This important information is grossly downplayed in Bronner’s story. It isn’t until the second half of the article, after Bronner explores the group’s views at length, that he touches fleetingly on this. He writes:

Israel’s military, which began limiting Palestinian movement into Israel two decades ago to prevent terrorism at a time of violent uprisings, is in charge of issuing permits for Palestinian visits to Israel.

Terrorism carried out by whom? The New York Times avoids directly attributing terrorism to its Palestinian perpetrators. Did the Palestinian subjects of the article apply for permits to visit Israel? Were they denied? And if so, why? Again, Bronner does not say. Instead, he obliquely refers to them as having “complicated histories,” with some relatives being “locked up” by the Israelis. Why are they in prison? Yet again, the reporter conceals this from readers.

The closest Bronner gets to acknowledging an act of violence carried out by a Palestinian is in a vague passage that focuses on violence against a Palestinian man whose own role is obscured. The reporter mentions that the brother of one of  the smuggled Palestinian women “was killed when he entered a settler religious academy armed with a knife.” Was the killing an overreaction – a shooting of someone who may have taken a wrong turn? Or was the Palestinian a terrorist who burst into the school with a raised knife, seeking a victim? This is not the sort of information the Times chooses to share with readers.

Perhaps that explains why the brief reference to violence – the very reason Israel is forced to exercise control of Israeli and Palestinian movement – comes only after the reporter’s own glowing portrayal of the dissident Israeli group. The context of terrorism is even buried under tangential details, such as Bronner’s description of the group having “dropped off toys and equipment at the home of one of the Palestinian women, who is setting up a kindergarten.” 

Rather than allowing readers to understand the real dangers Israel faces from infiltrators, and the fringe nature of the group who smuggles them in, he portrays those engaged in these illegal activities as valiant “people who refuse to give up on [coexistence].” By contrast, those who oppose the group are labelled  as “right-wing.” In other words, those who disagree with allowing the unchecked entry to Israeli cities of Palestinians from the West Bank — a territory from which scores of terrorists, including women, have tried to infiltrate and attack Israeli civilians — are portrayed as hard-right xenophobes opposed to coexistence.

Bronner ends the piece with yet another condemnation of Israel and an analogy to Rosa Parks of the American civil rights movement:

Ms. Aharoni was asked her thoughts. She replied: ”For 44 years, we have occupied another country. I am 53, which means most of my life I have been an occupier. I don’t want to be an occupier. I am engaged in an illegal act of disobedience. I am not Rosa Parks, but I admire her, because she had the courage to break a law that was not right.”

The New York Times thus again simplifies the conflict into a clash of right and wrong – with Israeli authorities, as usual, the ones in the wrong, and those who oppose them as the righteous ones.

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