The New York Times these days only rarely publishes staff editorials, and it saves the ones it thinks are most important for the Sunday newspaper, which attracts the largest readership. Writes Hugh Fitzgerald
The New York Times doesn’t much care for Israel. Its reporters always find some flaw to exaggerate, some Palestinian atrocity to explain away, some “settlers” in the “occupied West Bank” to denounce, some new way to libel the inoffensive, warmhearted, and permanently imperiled Jewish state. It recently ran a “staff editorial” on the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akhleh which, for connoisseurs of its anti-Israel slant, did not disappoint. A report by Ira Stoll on this editorial that lectured and hectored Israel on “what it must do,” is here: “New York Times Editorial Lectures: ‘Israelis Should Care More,’” by Ira Stoll, Algemeiner, June 9, 2022:
The New York Times these days only rarely publishes staff editorials, and it saves the ones it thinks are most important for the Sunday newspaper, which attracts the largest readership.
This past Sunday, which was also the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, the Times unleashed an editorial headlined “Who Killed Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh?” The question is rhetorical, because the Times editorialists have already clearly decided who is to blame. You guessed it, Israel. The Times insists: “Israel needs to ensure the safety of journalists in the country and in areas that it occupies, to ensure the safety of its own democracy.”
The New York Times assumes that we all agree on who killed Abu Akleh – Israel. But despite the claims of the Palestinians, and the Timesmen who parrot them, it is not known, and cannot be known, until the bullet that killed her can be subject to ballistic tests by forensic experts. Israel is not insisting that it alone must conduct those tests – they could be carried out jointly with the PA and the American government. However, the PA adamantly refuses to produce the bullet, without explanation. That apparently doesn’t bother the New York Times, which sees nothing suspicious in the PA’s failure to produce the bullet. So Israel will be forced to issue an incomplete report, unable either to implicate or exculpate itself, until that bullet can be made available for forensic analysis.
What’s more, the editorial, echoing classical antisemitic tropes, accuses Jews of being morally callous to the killing. “Israelis should care more about what happened to Ms. Abu Akleh,” the Times lectures. There’s no systematic data from the Times about how much Israelis do or do not care about what happened. There is no effort by the Times to empathize with Israelis who, after years of grieving their own soldiers and civilians lost in wars with enemies determined to kill the Jews and wipe the Jewish state off the map, might understandably have some compassion fatigue when it comes to a foreign journalist employed by a foreign government [Qatar] that, unlike many other Arab countries, has refused peace with Israel.
As Stoll says, how in god’s name does the New York Times know how much the Israelis care about the killing of Abu Akleh? The Israeli government has repeatedly expressed its sorrow over her death. How many times must it do so to pass muster with the Times? And while we are on the subject, how many times has the Times itself expressed sorrow over her death? Can we now conclude that the Times “should care more about what happened” to Abu Akleh?
Why does the Times care so much? The editorial concedes, “Ms. Abu Akleh’s prominence as a journalist and her American passport have served to focus broad attention on her death. But scores of other journalists lose their lives without public notice. According to a database maintained by the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists, 511 journalists were killed from 1992 to 2022 in crossfire or on dangerous assignments, 347 of them in wars. Journalists are dying in Ukraine, some presumably killed deliberately.”
What could account for the worldwide attention being given to this journalist’s death, when there have been 511 journalists killed during the last 30 years, in the line of duty, none of whom has received similar attention?
For all of Shareen Abu Akleh’s supposed prominence, a Times archive search showed no notable mention of her in the Times until her death. As for her American passport, well, it could be that does have something to do with it. The Times doesn’t even consider the additional possibility, though, that another contributing factor to the broad attention to her death is the opportunity to blame the Jews for it. It’s as if the Times had no awareness whatsoever of the destructive and age-old antisemitic pattern of falsely accusing Jews of intentional culpability or indifference to the death of a Christian.
If Israel had not been involved, Stoll argues, isn’t it likely that there would not have been such media attention lavished on the journalist’s death? The story fits, Stoll suggests, “an antisemitic pattern of falsely accusing Jews “ – Israeli Jews, in this case – of deliberately causing, and being indifferent to, the death of a Christian. But even if in the end Israel concludes that it was responsible for her death, it was certainly accidental, not deliberate. There would be no benefit to Israel in killing a journalist, which would be a club with which to beat the Jewish state. And the Israelis have not shown themselves indifferent, as the Times suggests, but have expressed their deep concern about that accident.
The Times editorial claims “Israel’s political right does not look kindly on investigating troops.” Actually, the Times itself reported in 2010, while Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister, “The Israeli military said Tuesday that it had indicted ‘a number of’ officers and soldiers for their actions during Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, including a staff sergeant accused of deliberately shooting at least one Palestinian civilian who was walking with a group of people waving a white flag.” The Times reported in 2022, while Naftali Bennett was prime minister, “Three Israeli military commanders have been disciplined after an investigation into the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian-American man.” Whether the right looks kindly or unkindly on such investigations isn’t so relevant; they do take place, and they sometimes find misconduct and result in disciplinary action or even criminal charges.
Israel investigates its troops whenever wrongdoing is suspected. History shows that the Jewish state’s “right-wing” leaders, such as Netanyahu and Bennett, are as prompt to initiate investigations of possible Israeli misconduct as any “left-wing” Israeli leaders.
The New York Times editorial makes a big deal that Abu Akleh “wore a helmet and blue body armor marked ‘press’ in large letters.” The Times also says that “Another journalist, Ali Samoudi, who was also wearing a flak jacket marked ‘press,’ was shot in the back and survived.” Recent Times news and opinion coverage has also dwelled on this point. Neither the news coverage nor the editorial, though, has noted the additional relevant fact that Palestinian terrorists frequently pose as journalists. A 2015 Times of Israel report on a stabbing of an Israeli soldier in Hebron, for example, reports, “The Palestinian attacker posed as a photojournalist, and was wearing a yellow “press” vest at the time of the attack, according to the IDF.”
A 2019 report by the Christian news outlet CBN said, “One Palestinian man said he was contacted on Facebook by someone named Muhammad al-‘Arabid, a Hamas operative in the Gaza Strip who posed as a journalist. The young recruit said he though al-‘Arabid’ was a media personnel because he was photographed wearing a ‘Press’ vest at a violent March of Return on the Gaza border. Some Hamas operatives wear “PRESS” vests at the riots to decrease the likelihood of being shot. The IDF is extremely careful to not harm media correspondents who cover the violence.”
A 2020 press release from the Israeli military said a senior Islamic Jihad operative in Gaza had disguised himself as a journalist: “The senior Islamic Jihad operative was targeted while driving a press vehicle. Muhammed Shamalah, commander of Islamic Jihad’s forces in the southern Gaza Strip and head of Islamic Jihad’s militant training programs, was targeted by an Israeli air strike. The strike occurred while he was driving a car clearly labelled ‘TV,’ indicating it to be a press vehicle and abusing the protection afforded to journalists.”
Where’s the NYT editorial denouncing Hamas and Islamic Jihad for endangering real journalists by deceitfully using press signs as camouflage?
Hamas and the PIJ have long histories of disguising their fighters as journalists, complete with press signs on their flak jackets, on their helmets, and on the cars they drive In so doing the terror groups endanger real journalists who might be suspected of being disguised fighters, and treated accordingly.
The NYT buys into the mythmaking, lauding, “brave, independent reporters like Ms. Abu Akleh” for “bearing witness to the violence that, in recent weeks, has escalated.” The Times asserts, “Democracies require a free press as a prerequisite for informed self-governance.” How “independent” and “free” really was Abu Akleh? She had worked for Palestinian-Authority owned Voice of Palestine before moving to Al-Jazeera, which is state-owned by non-Abraham-Accord-signer Qatar (or by the ruling Al Thani family that, Sulzberger-style, controls both the country and the media company as family-owned businesses). I guess it’s theoretically possible to perform independent “free” journalism at a state-owned media outlet like the BBC or Radio Free Europe. By not mentioning the government control, though, The Times is misleading its readers about how accurately “independent” or “free press” fits here. Was Abu Akleh functionally “bearing witness” or merely amplifying and publicizing the terrorist cause? As an analogy, think about journalists covering America for the Russian-owned RT media outlet. The Times was outraged about supposed Russian meddling in the 2016 election. If America cracks down on RT, is that interfering with “informed self-governance”? Or is it guarding the country’s democratic integrity and national security from foreign interference?
Al-Jazeera journalist Abu Akleh was never a “free” and “independent” journalist, as the New York Times optimistically describes her. She worked for two government-owned outlets: first, for the Voice of Palestine, owned by the Palestine Authority, which would never allow a story unfavorable to its cause, or even remotely fair to Israel, to be broadcast; second, for Qatari-owned Al Jazeera, which famously keeps a tight rein on its journalists, who must hew to the pro-Iran pro-Hamas line of the government in Doha if they want to keep their jobs.
None of this is a good reason to kill or shoot at Abu Akleh or any other journalist. It is worth figuring out what did happen. But if the Times really cared a whit about Israeli democracy or “self-governance,” it would have written a different editorial and published it on a different day (maybe one when observant Jews are permitted by Jewish law from participating in the online comments, which now are full of Times readers accusing Israel of intentionally murdering the journalist.) Instead of smearing Israel and its citizens as callous murderers, the Times editorialists might have tried harder to better understand, and convey fairly and accurately to readers, the context. The New York Times lectures: “Israelis should care more.” I would say the same thing back to Times journalists. They should care more.
If the PA finally produces the bullet it has heretofore been hiding from the world, so that it may be studied not by Israeli, but by American ballistics experts, and those experts conclude that the bullet came from an Israeli rifle, Israel will immediately admit its responsibility, express its sorrow, and agree to pay compensation to Abu Akleh’s family. Will the Times bother to praise the Israelis for this response, or instead take the occasion to berate Israel still further, along the lines of “by holding out for an American investigation, when it was clear to everyone that Israel was responsible for Abu Akleh’s death, the Israelis made Abu Akleh’s family needlessly suffer. Israel must take stock of its unacceptable behavior, and ensure that such things never happen again”?
But if the Americans find that the bullet could not possibly have been fired from an Israeli rifle, so that a Palestinian must have been responsible for the death of Abu Akleh, will the Times have the decency to admit that “so many of us, including the Times, rushed to judgment, simply assumed Israel must have been responsible, and continued to criticize it right up to the moment when the American results exculpating the Jewish state were made public.” Of course not. Could the New York Times, the paper owned by the “let’s-not-be-too-Jewish” Sulzberger family (see Laurel Leff’s Buried By The Times, a study of how the Sulzbergers forced The Times to downplay the Holocaust as it was happening), the paper that welcomes as a frequent contributor Peter Beinart, who, on May 8, 2020, proudly declared in the paper that “I no longer believe in a Jewish state,” ever treat Israel fairly? Alas, you know the answer to that.
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