In its July 12 edition, the New York Times runs a piece by Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner about a new Isreli law that makes boycotts against Israel and West Bank settlements liable to financial penalties ("Israel Bans Boycotts Against the State" page A8).
Israel's Parliament, the Knesset, passed the legislation on a vote of 47 to 38 after lengthy and raucous debate. Another 35 legislators absented themselves when the roll was called, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Proponents argued that Israel should not tolerate boycotts in the face of widespread campaigns to weaken the state. Opponents countered that the law threatens freedom of expression. And some lawmakers tried but failed to make it less sweeping.
My point in writing about this is not to line up categorically on either the ''pro'' or ''con'' side -- unlike Kershner who tilts heavily "con," as one might expect. For what it's worth, from my readings of the legislation, I sense that it's overbroad in imposing penalties on both advocacy of boycotts as well as on actual engagement in boycotts, and it may well be struck down by Israel's Supreme Court.
If an individual, company or organization in Israel advocates a boycott of settlements, let the free market of ideas do its job. But when a publicly subsidized Tel Aviv theater company refuses to perform in Ariel or elsewhere in the West Bank, it should not be able to have its boycott and feed at the public trough at the same time. Ditto for any company that Israel permits to bid on a Palestinian Authority contract for construction in Palestinian areas of the West Bank on condition of formally pledging that it won't do any work for or in Jewish settlements.
That said, what actually brings me to my criticism of Kershner's piece is her gratuitous slaps against settlements -- slaps that the Times should confine to its editorial page and not allow to color news stories to conform to a reporter's ideological agenda.
Here's where Kershner grossly deviates from even-handed objective reporting. In her own words:
''Israel is facing increasing pressure over the West Bank settlements that Palestinians regard as part of the territory for a future state. Continued construction in the settlements has been a major impediment in attempts to resume stalled peace talks."
Three things need to be said about Kershner's exclusive focus on settlements as impediments to peace negotiations:
--Israel has been ready for months to resume peace negotiations immediately -- and without any pre-conditions. Kershner ignores this.
--History demonstrates that settlements do not constittue an obstacle to peace-making. There were Jewish settlements in the Sinai before Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat engaged in peace making. Once Israel and Egypt concluded a peace agreement, Israel removed every settlement from Sinai.. There were Jewish settlements in Gaza with some 8,000 Jewish settlers. Ariel Sharon, on a bad bet, removed every single one, hoping that getting rid of settlements would advance peace. The opposite,of course, happened. Kershner ignores all that.
--When Netanyahu did impose a 10-month construction freeze in West Bank settlements as an inducement to negotiations, Mahmoud Abbas still bided his time and didn't come to the negotiating table until the last hour. It is Abbas who, with his insistence on getting unilateral Israeli concessions before talks even start, who has thwarted peace talks, fearing that compromises he would have to make in actual negotiations would brand him a traitor by Hamas and probably make him ineligible for life insurance. Again, Kershner ignores all this.
Bottom line: NY Times is still miles away from balanced journalism about the Israeli-Palestinian conflcit.