The New York Times covered Mahmoud Abbas’s speech this week at the UN — except for the parts that it covered up.
In its reporting on the UN’s commemoration of the nakba — the Palestinian narrative about their defeat in the 1948 war against the nascent Jewish state — and on Abbas’s speech at the event, the newspaper withheld from readers the most incriminating parts: the Holocaust minimization, the denial of history, the sections that would have showed readers the ugliness of the Palestinian leader’s extremism.
Abbas engaged in Holocaust inversion by comparing Israel and mainstream Jews to Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief who played a key role in the genocide of Europe’s Jews. “The false Zionist and Israeli claims continue,” he told the UN audience. “They say that Israel made the desert blossom. … They cannot avoid lying, but what can they do? They lie and lie, like Goebbels.”
The comment was slammed by U.S. antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt. “PA President Abbas’s equating Israel with the lies of top Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels is an affront to Holocaust victims and survivors,” she wrote on Twitter. “Especially during a time of rising antisemitic violence throughout the world, such rhetoric about the world’s only Jewish state is entirely unacceptable.”
But Abbas’s comment, of the type that would cause a diplomatic stir with the U.S., was concealed.
The Palestinian president also delivered wild lies of his own. Speaking about the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site and the location of the ancient Jewish Temples, Abbas insisted there was no evidence of Jewish history there:
Israel has been digging for 30 years, in an attempt to find anything that would prove its existence there, but they did not find anything. It is not me saying this. The Israeli historians and archeologists said this. They said: “We could not find anything. We have nothing here.” So why lie? They dug underneath Al-Aqsa and above it…. They dug everywhere but did not find anything.
The New York Times didn’t find Abbas’s ignorant, inflammatory, and unhinged denial of Jewish history newsworthy.
Nor his conspiratorial claim that the U.S., U.K., and the West created Israel because it wanted to rid itself of Jews.
Each of these comments gives important insight into the mindset of the Palestinian president whose views, if less radical than the Palestinian leadership in Gaza, are extreme enough to matter—and to shape the conflict. But Times reporters Farnaz Fassihi and Hiba Yazbek looked the other way, and reported only the following on Abbas’s remarks:
“This resolution represents a recognition by your organizations of the ongoing historic injustice that fell on the Palestinian people in 1948 and before that date, and that continues after,” Mr. Abbas said. He added that it was also a rebuttal “for the first time by you of the Israeli Zionist narrative that denies this Nakba.”
Mr. Abbas called for the suspension of Israel’s membership from the United Nations, saying that the Jewish state never “fulfilled nor respected its obligations and commitments” as a prerequisite to its membership, and had violated resolutions.
Mr. Abbas received a standing ovation and two rounds of long applause after his speech, which lasted over an hour. Chants of “free Palestine” and “end the occupation now” were shouted from the audience.
Unlike the extremism, conspiracism, and anti-Jewish historical revisionism in Abbas’s remarks, reporters deemed the “two rounds of long applause after his speech” following the speech newsworthy — though video posted by the UN suggests their description may have been exaggerated.
This isn’t the first time Abbas, whose doctoral dissertation and subsequent book trafficked in Holocaust denial, has spewed hate and conspiracies. Nor is it the first time the Times has covered up his rants. At a December 2017 meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Mahmoud Abbas cited anti-Jewish verses in the Koran to substantiate his claim that “no one better at falsifying history or religion” than “them.” The Times covered the meeting but kept readers in the dark about his bigoted remarks.
A month later, at an address to the PLO Central Council, Abbas’s speech about Jews was so extreme — he insisted Jews were persecuted in European not because their religion but because their role in society, fabricated conspiracies by Oliver Cromwell, insisted European leaders planted Jews in the Middle East to prevent Arab civilization from surpassing Europe, fabricated quotes by Theodor Herzl, lied about Jews trapped in Holocaust-era Europe, and blamed Israel for planning the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries — that American Jewish organizations from left to right, former peace negotiators, and past US ambassadors condemned Abbas’s antisemitism and argued that he was disinterested in peace.
But the New York Times cast the speech and its unhinged accounts of history as, at best, relatively moderate, and at worst, a “boring history lecture.”
When Abbas hurled insults at a US ambassador to Israel, the New York Times wasn’t interested in the story, though it had broadly covered Benjamin Netanyahu’s earlier, and much milder, criticism of an American ambassador.
After years working as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, Matti Friedman called out his former employer’s dishonest reporting:
Our narrative was that the Palestinians were moderate and the Israelis recalcitrant and increasingly extreme. Reporting the Olmert [peace] offer—like delving too deeply into the subject of Hamas—would make that narrative look like nonsense. And so we were instructed to ignore it…
It’s a media-wide problem. The pipeline of information from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, Friedman later argued, “is not just rusty and leaking, which is the usual state of affairs in the media, but intentionally plugged.”