A New York Times correspondent who reports on Israel has insisted that the country’s “military tactics” are analogous to those of the Syrian regime.
Siege, bombardment, striking bakeries, targeting hospitals, preventing aid.
We’ve seen these military tactics before in Syria.#Gaza
— Raja Abdulrahim (@RajaAbdulrahim) November 6, 2023
Syria’s crackdown during the civil war is understood to have been characterized by atrocities including systematic, widespread use of chemical weapons on civilians.
Abdulrahim’s post not only violates the newspaper’s social media guidelines but, more importantly, misinforms readers with an absurd analogy backed by falsehoods and bias. Let’s consider her “evidence” one piece at a time, in the order she presents it.
Sieges are a tool of war that are legal under international law. “I think the swift condemnations of Israel’s siege as illegal are at best premature,” explained Columbia law professor Matthew Waxman. “I think they’re based on very questionable interpretations of law, and this is something that we’ve seen throughout the conflict is I think some snap judgments that are made before all the facts are in.” West Point law professor Thomas Wheatly was more direct, stating that “Israel’s siege of Gaza does not violate the law of armed conflict or international law.” To argue that Israel’s siege on Hamas’s territory makes Israel like Syria because the latter also used sieges, then, is like arguing that Israel is Syria because both have used bombs.
Which is actually Abdulrahim’s second point. “Bombardment,” she writes, is a tactic we’ve seen in Syria. True. Assad dropped bombs in Syria. And the US also dropped bombs in Syria in its fight against Islamic State. NATO dropped bombs on Yugoslavia. The Allied powers dropped bombs on Germany. Every modern war includes bombardment. It’s a meaningless to argue about bombardment that “we’ve seen these military tactics before.”
A similar point, unfortunately, must be said about bakeries. “U.S.-led air strikes killed at least 15 people on Tuesday when they hit a bakery in the city of Shadadi in northeastern Syria,” Reuters reported in February 2016. On March 22, 2017, the US-led coalition forces hit a bakery in Tabqa, Syria. They allegedly struck two bakeries in Raqqa, Syria, in June 2017. More information would be needed to assess whether these were valid military targets, or if something went wrong. But the incidents don’t mean the U.S. (and its allies such as Canada, France, and Denmark) conducted its war in the same way Assad and his Russian allies did.
Abdulrahim’s last two points are range from egregious editorializing to abject falsehoods. There is no evidence, and certainly no way for Abdulrahim to know, that Israel had “targeted” hospitals — even as Israel and others have noted that Hamas illegally uses and hides behind hospitals, which would remove protections given to hospitals under international law.
And even as Israel seeks to deprive Hamas of resources, it does not deny aid to Gaza. On November 2 alone, for example, over 100 trucks of humanitarian aid entered Gaza, bringing the total to 374 trucks. By Nov. 7, a day after Abdulrahim’s posted her slur and before she re-posted it, the New York Times itself had reported that 526 trucks of aid had entered. Aid has continued to enter. Over 700 trucks have already entered Gaza with thousands of tons of food and medical equipment, despite the logistical challenges of allowing aid while preventing Hamas, adept at smuggling, from resupplying. Unencumbered trucking from Gaza would certainly be preferable for the population, but also preferable for Hamas. It is certainly legal for Israel to control and inspect what enters the Hamas-ruled territory as it battles Hamas. Doing so hardly justifies an analogy with Syria.
That analogy, and the underhanded way Abdulrahim seeks to promote it, violate the New York Times’ social media guidelines. The guidelines forbid journalists from expressing partisan opinions—which Abdulrahim’s post clearly is, and calls on reporters not to appear to take sides on issues that the paper covers. Journalists, the guidelines reemphasize, do not “have a license to veer into editorializing or opinion.”
To determine whether social media activity conforms to the newspaper’s expressed standards, the guidelines urge reporters to ask themselves:
• “Would someone who reads your post have grounds for believing that you are biased on a particular issue?”•
• “If readers see your post and notice that you’re a Times journalist, would that affect their view of The Times’s news coverage as fair and impartial?”
• “If someone were to look at your entire social media feed, including links and retweets, would they have doubts about your ability to cover news events in a fair and impartial way?”
In answer to that, it is worth also noting that on Oct. 7, Abdulrahim’s social media feed was silent on Hamas’s massacre of Israelis. And on Oct. 8. And on Oct. 9. And every day since the group’s sadistic murder rampage. Only criticism of Israel’s response, and now, an absurd analogy that misrepresents and slurs.
The newspaper’s guidelines state: “If our journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media, that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom.”
It can. And it does. Someone who can’t report credibly on Israel shouldn’t be reporting on Israel at all.