by Hugh Fitzgerald
An editor at the New York Times has recently apologized for having written several anti-Semitic and racist tweets. Tom Wright-Piersanti is a senior staff editor at the Times. In the years 2008-2010, Wright-Piersanti wrote several offensive tweets, which were uncovered by the website Breitbart.
On New Years’ Day 2010, Wright-Piersanti tweeted, “I was going to say ‘Crappy Jew Year,’ but one of my resolutions is to be less anti-Semitic. So… HAPPY Jew Year. You Jews.”
The previous month, during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, Wright-Piersanti shared a picture of a car with a lit menorah on its roof and wrote, “Who called the Jew-police?”
“I have deleted tweets from a decade ago that are offensive,” Wright-Piersanti tweeted after the Breitbart article was published. “I am deeply sorry.”
He also mocked Native Americans, and Afro-Americans, for which no doubt he is also “deeply sorry.”
Amazing how “deeply sorry” people are about so many things the minute they are found out, but not one minute earlier. Perhaps he is “deeply sorry” only because those tweets came to light. They were not just “offensive,” but disgusting. In any event, Wright-Piersanti apparently needn’t worry about his job. As of this writing, he’s still at the New York Times, a paper that has a Jewish, and latterly an Israeli, problem. It recently published two antisemitic cartoons in its international edition. The more offensive of the two depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog (a dachshund) wearing a Star of David collar and leading President Donald Trump, who is wearing a black kippah. Anyone of sense would have seen this cartoon as antisemitic, save apparently the editor at the Times who approved the cartoon. And the Times, just like Wright-Piersanti, said it was “deeply sorry.” Yes, it was “deeply sorry for the publication of an anti-Semitic political cartoon” that appeared in its international print edition. And the Times has decided to stop publishing cartoons from non-staff members. It has also said that it will also overhaul its bias training to have an emphasis on antisemitism, according to an internal note from the Times’s publisher, A.G. Sulzberger. What about training on how to bring a modicum of fairness to reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or would that be asking too much?
The Times has had a “Jewish problem” ever since Hitler came to power in 1933. So let’s go back to the 1930s and 1940s, before there was even an Israel for the Times to be anti-Israel about, to see how, and to ask why, the most influential paper in the world, owned by Jews, paid so little attention to the murderous threat of Hitler and the Nazis as it grew throughout the 1930s. It was precisely because the paper was owned by Jews, who were determined not to have their paper be thought of as an organ of special pleading about Jewish suffering, that the New York Times failed so miserably, in its under-reporting of the Holocaust and the antisemitic crimes during the 1930s that led up to its final, murderous efflorescence. In her brilliant Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper, Laurel Leff notes that Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who became the publisher in 1936 (though he was effectively the publisher from 1933, because of the illness of the previous publisher, Adolph Ochs) and continued in that post until 1961, at the most critical period for the Jews of Europe, had studiously refrained from having anything to do with Jewish organizations or causes. He (Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times) refused to donate to the United Jewish Appeal or the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He wrote in 1934, “I am a non-Zionist because the Jew, in seeking a homeland of his own, seems to me to be giving up something of infinitely greater value of the world. … I look askance at any movement which assists in making the peacemaker among nations merely a national Distribution Committee, favoring instead the National Missions of the Presbyterian Church.” In 1948, he wrote, “I know of no difference in my way of life than in that of any Unitarian.”
Sulzberger was committed to an odd definition of journalistic balance. The Times refused to run letters to the editor that attacked the rise of antisemitism in Germany, so that it would not also have to offer space to those supporting antisemitism.
Instead of speaking of Jewish refugees, Times editorials tended to speak of German refugees. Arthur Hays Sulzberger refused to intervene with American officials to get a visa for a cousin, Fritz Sulzberger, advising him in 1938 to stay in Germany. So indifferent was he to what was going on in Germany, apparently, that he thought as late as 1938 that Jews should remain in Germany and ride out the storm. His misreading of reality was astonishing. By that year, it should have been clear that staying in Germany amounted to a death sentence. In 1933, Jews had been discharged from all universities, and then from all civil service jobs. Long before Kristallnacht, there were boycotts of Jewish shops, Jews were attacked, even beaten to death, on the street, Nazi rallies were held where Jews were hysterically denounced; a phrase from a 19th-century antisemite, Heinrich Treitschke, was recycled for use by the Nazis: “Die Juden sind unser Unglück!“(“The Jews are our misfortune”).
Yet in 1938, the publisher of the New York Times was advising a relative to remain in Germany. A. H. Sulzberger didn’t want to hear about all the atrocities German Jews were enduring. And he didn’t want his paper to make too much of such things either.
The threat to Jews was always minimized by the Times. Early in the war, the Times ran a campaign of nine editorials and three front-page stories that urged Congress to allow British families to send their children to safety in America, but made no such campaign on behalf of the Jews. Those British children might have been in danger from V-2 rockets, if they lived in the East End of London, but the Jews in Nazi-occupied countries faced certain death if they were not brought to America. The New York Times – under Arthur Hays Sulzberger – didn’t care enough to call for their admission.
Nor did the Times think helping Jews find refuge from the Nazis outside of America was a cause to promote in its editorials. When the British issued the White Paper of 1939, restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine to 15,000 a year for five years, the Times ran an editorial praising the move as necessary “to save the homeland itself from overpopulation as well as from an increasingly violent resistance on the part of the Arabs.” That White Paper effectively kept hundreds of thousands of Jews, who might have escaped from Europe in time, from being admitted to Mandatory Palestine. Churchill thundered against it as unjust and cruel. But not according to the New York Times; its editors thought the White Paper was perfectly correct in permitting no more than 15,000 Jews a year to find refuge in Palestine from the Nazis. Otherwise, the editorial absurdly claimed, Mandatory Palestine would be “overpopulated.” On what basis did the Times editors make that claim? Israel now has a population that is six times the population of Mandatory Palestine in 1939, and it is still not overpopulated. And the Times actually thought that it was preferable in 1939 to keep Jews in Europe, where they were almost certain to be killed, in order not to anger the Arabs in Palestine. The Mandate for Palestine’s provisions, that required Great Britain, as the Mandatory authority, to “facilitate” Jewish immigration and “encourage close settlement by Jews on the land,” were to be ignored so as not to upset the local Arabs.
Arthur Hays Sulzberger lived among, and wanted to be accepted by, other people of great wealth, including many non-Jews, and he did not wish to be thought of as caring too much for the fate of Europe’s or Palestine’s — Jews. In that he succeeded, and for that he deserves endless obloquy in the history books. Assimilated and anti-Zionist, he instructed his editors to downplay news about the suffering of Europe’s Jews so that the newspaper would not appear to be too concerned with Jewish matters. He was a horrible man.
There was very little reporting in the Times on the rising antisemitism in Nazi Germany all through the 1930s. Atrocities against Jews in Germany, which began in the streets soon after Hitler took power in 1933, were mentioned intermittently, almost always in a few paragraphs deep inside the paper. Even Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938, when Jewish homes, hospitals and schools were demolished by Nazi attackers using sledgehammers, received less treatment in the New York Times than it did in many other newspapers around the world. The rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany and Austria and the Sudetenland. Over 7,000 Jewish businesses were damaged or destroyed; 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Hundreds of Jews were murdered, often beaten to death by mobs. This had no visible effect on the editorial and reporting policies set down by Arthur Hays Sulzberger.
Why did this underreporting at the Times matter so much? It mattered because it had a direct effect on the sense of urgency among American Jews, and on the attitude in the government about rescuing Jews from the Nazis.
When the Holocaust began in earnest, and news about the roundups of Jews sent to concentration camps – labor and death camps were distinguished, though in the “labor camps” the inmates were often worked to death — managed to filter out, the New York Times continued to give such reports a few paragraphs deep within the paper. It did the same with reports from the Eastern Front, about the gassing of Jews in the mobile gas vans, about the mass shootings right on the edge of open pits into which those killed would topple. The paper never connected the dots of the Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jews of Europe, never presented it as part of a comprehensive genocidal plan. Its coverage of the murders of six million Jews was absurdly small, given the world-shattering size of the atrocity; this “Jewish news” from Europe was most often covered in a few paragraphs in the back; more attention was given in the Times to business, movies, golf championships, and racing news than to the Holocaust. Sulzberger, the publisher, was not haunted by what was going on in Europe. He gave his own attention to such pleasures as vacationing at Knollwood on Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks. Knollwood was an enclave consisting of seven or eight luxurious “rustic cottages” that belonged to leading members of “Our Crowd,” that is, the assimilated and rich German Jews of New York, members of the Harmonie Club, families who had arrived in the 19th century from Germany and looked down on the recent Jewish arrivals from Eastern Europe. They were glad to host a celebrity refugee from Germany – Einstein went twice to Knollwood, and his photograph is still on display in one of the “cottages” – but didn’t want to be unduly bothered with unpleasant news from Europe. And Sulzberger was one of them.
Under-reporting by the New York Times on Nazi antisemitism, and the deliberate placement of such abridged stories deep inside the paper, had terrible consequences for the Jews of Europe. First, American Jews who relied on the Times for their information, in that pre-television era, had no clear idea of the extent of the antisemitic horrors being perpetrated, and how, as the Nazi war machine extended German rule over much of Europe, Jews trapped in those occupied lands were being systematically slaughtered – gassed in camps or mobile vans, shot, burned alive, worked deliberately to death — in the Endlosung, or Final Solution to the “Jewish problem.” Had they been better informed, and in a timelier fashion, American Jews — properly alarmed — would have made much greater efforts to rescue their relatives, and other Jews, too. They would have sent money, and money given to bribe the right rat in the right office might mean that life-saving visas could be acquired, both for exit and entrance. That money could also pay for transportation out of Nazi-occupied Europe, and for the services of passeurs who could smuggle Jews into such safe havens as Switzerland or Spain or Turkey. Such sums from America could prove useful for desperate Jews, too, in other ways — to pay for lodging, food, and transport – if they were on the run. Suppose that the New York Times had all through the 1930s, instead of scanting on its coverage of Jews in Germany, devoted many pages to their situation, culminating in Kristallnacht? Suppose the Times had reproduced the pages of Der Stürmer, published photographs of burned-out synagogues, reported on Jews who had been fired from their jobs, had their shops destroyed, were beaten to death on the streets of Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Nuremberg? What if the readers of the Times, the “newspaper of record,” had learned early on about the first camps that opened, at Dachau and Buchenwald? What if the Times publisher had been someone who thought the Nazi persecution and murder of Europe’s Jews was, after the world war itself, the most important story in the world, and did everything he could to make sure it was given the prominence it deserved? Between the outbreak of World War II, on September 3, 1939, and its end on September 2, 1945, there were 2,190 days. What if there had been a Times story about Europe’s Jews on every single one of those 2,190 days? Surely American Jews, and not only Jews, would have done much more, if they had been properly informed. They could have held rallies, raised money, pressured their Congressmen to open the gates to Jewish refugees – damn the peacetime quotas! — and made the rescue of Europe’s Jews, those that had not yet been killed, a central issue, a moral and political issue, a campaign issue.
Had more been known, and known earlier about the German murders, then many Jews (but not only Jews) in America would have gone all out to rally support in Washington, enlisting the aid of those who, such as Senator Robert Wagner of New York, already were aware of what was going on in Germany. The Roosevelt Administration might then have been persuaded to pressure the British, who knew they would need American aid and goodwill in the mighty contest to come, to end the their illegitimate blockade that prevented Jews from reaching Palestine. Had American Jews been better informed by the powerful New York Times, the paper they relied on, more of them might have mobilized their financial power, and found ways to send money to Jewish organizations in Europe, for distribution to those trying to escape. Some Jews might have evaded the British blockade and entered Palestine. It is too often forgotten that ships could still leave from the Rumanian port of Constanta, on the Black Sea, throughout the war. And money could ensure that harbor masters looked the other way as ships left their ports with their human cargo. Jews might then have made it, if they had the money to buy the right visas and to pay for that transport, all the way to North Africa, where Vichy French officials were not able to police the populace as easily as they did in France itself. It was possible for Jewish refugees to disappear from view in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, where hundreds of thousands of Sephardic Jews lived and could help them. Franco’s Spain, though Fascist, was another place Jewish refugees would not be harmed, but they needed money both to buy their entry visas, and to live on while searching for work. Turkey was another possibility, a place where some Jews found refuge, and many more might have, had they had sufficient means for travel, entry visas, living expenses. The most famous German literary scholar of the 20th century, Erich Auerbach, a Jew who had fled Nazi Germany in 1935, wrote his masterpiece Mimesis while living securely in Istanbul during the war. Some Jews managed to get to Egypt, and from there they went through the Sinai Desert, by motorcar or horse or camel or even on foot, pedibus calcantibus, and made it — despite the British blockade — to Palestine.
All these conceivable avenues of escape required money, not just for transportation, and food and lodging while on the run, but always for bribes to the right rat in the right office who – for a price — could supply the right papers. Had the antisemitic attacks in Germany in the 1930s, and the first news of mass murdering of Jews in the camps, been fully reported on by the New York Times, American Jews would surely have raised huge sums and sent money to those in peril. Money could buy lives: the Cuban president, Federico Laredo Bru, who prevented the German Jews on the ship St. Louis from disembarking at Havana in May 1939, forcing the ship, with its Jewish passengers, to then try American and Canadian ports, where the ship was turned away. Ultimately the St. Louis returned to Germany, and the would-be refugees were imprisoned by the Nazis and many, of course, were then killed. The Cuban president might have changed his mind had he been offered enough money. And had the chorus of rage and pity for the refugees been heard loud enough in Washington, perhaps the St. Louis would have been permitted to dock at an American port, and its desperate human cargo permitted to disembark. But the Times did not make clear what the inexorable fate for those refugees would be; the chorus never became loud enough. Washington, shamefully, failed to act.
Second, the under-reporting of the Holocaust by the Times also affected official Washington. Few American politicians in the late 1930s realized the full extent of the antisemitic persecution by the Nazis. Had the antisemitic attacks, had Kristallnacht and then the beginning of the mass roundups for the camps been extensively covered, there might have been more calls from Congress to admit Jewish refugees. And those in the government who opposed the admission of Jewish refugees, who met with little opposition, could more effectively have been countered. Instead, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, the antisemitic Breckenridge Long, who had been put in charge of all matters related to war refugees, did everything he could to prevent Jews from being admitted to the U.S. Ultimately, the effect of the immigration policies set by Long’s department was that, during American involvement in the war, ninety percent of the quota places available to immigrants from countries under German and Italian control were never filled. If they had been, an additional 190,000 people could have escaped the atrocities being committed by the Nazis. Had the New York Times reported fully and truthfully on the Nazi murders, it is even possible that political pressure from Congress would have forced the dismissal of Breckenridge Long, and thereby not just hundreds of thousands of Jews could have filled the refugee quotas for Germany and Italy that had been closed to them, but other Jews might have been helped by an American government now willing to expand its refugee program beyond the quotas set earlier, for those in the greatest peril – i.e., Jews in Europe. The American government might also have used its influence to persuade other countries in this hemisphere – Mexico, Brazil – to take in Jewish refugees. The Americans also could have used their ships to transport desperate refugees from European ports. In the Dominican Republic, where the dictator Rafael Trujillo said he would welcome Jews to the city of Sosua where, he believed, they would help build the country’s economy, only several thousand could take advantage of this offer; there were not enough vessels to transport the Jews eager to resettle.
The New York Times has never adequately examined its own role in reporting on the antisemitism of the 1930s and the mass-murdering of Jews in the 1940s known as the Holocaust. The paper has reported on Laurel Leff’s study, Buried With the Times, and recognized the truth of the indictment she presents. But that is not enough. The Times should dedicate an entire issue, or more if necessary, of its Sunday Magazine to a thorough self-study, quoting in their entirety the Times reports (and where they were placed in the paper) on the attacks on German Jews throughout the 1930s, including Kristallnacht on November 9-10, 1938, and then, it should also reprint those those articles — where there were any – which it published about the Holocaust itself. How did the Times cover the roundup of Jews at the Vel d’Hiv in Paris, of the reports by Jan Karski, who had learned in detail about the death camps in Poland, had visited the Warsaw Ghetto, and who came to Washington to inform President Roosevelt about what he had seen and heard? On July 28, 1943, Karski personally met with President Franklin Roosevelt in the Oval Office, telling him about the situation in Poland and becoming the first eyewitness to tell him about the Jewish Holocaust and the Warsaw Ghetto. During their meeting, Roosevelt asked about the condition of horses in Poland. According to Karski, Roosevelt did not ask one question about the Jews.
How was the farce of the “model camp” at Theresienstadt (the camp where the Nazis showed “happy, healthy Jews” with their orchestra, and painting classes, to visiting Red Cross personnel) presented in the pages of the Times? What did it let its readers know about the numbers of Jews being sent to the death camps of Auschwitz, Belzec, Treblinka, and what exactly happened in those camps? The Times has a duty not merely to endorse Laurel Leff’s study, but to show how badly it covered the Holocaust by reprinting what it reported at the time.
Take, for example, the story published in the paper on July 29, 1942, about the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. The story bore the headline “Warsaw Fears Extermination” instead of “Jews in Warsaw Fear Extermination.” It was published on Page 14, and was not even a stand-alone story; it consisted of a handful of paragraphs next to an ad for Emerson spinet pianos. The Times should reprint that story in all its nauseating brevity. It should reprint the other stories in the Times – the handful of disjointed reports, a few paragraphs here or there, about the labor camps, and the death camps, about the mobile gassing vans, about the Jews burned alive, about the mass shootings of Jews on the Eastern Front. And it should list the many examples of anti-Jewish “actions” that were known at the time, but that the Times chose to ignore altogether.
In 1944, for another example of minimizing Holocaust news at the paper concerns how it reported on Hungarian Jews. The Nazi regime, in its death throes, set about deporting to the concentration camps the Jews of Hungary, the last large group of European Jews who had remained mostly untouched by Hitler’s extermination campaign. In July 1944, the Times published an article of only four column inches citing “authoritative information” that 400,000 Hungarian Jews had already been forcibly transported to their deaths and an additional 350,000 were to be killed in the next few weeks. It ran on page 12.
Only four column inches, on page 12, were devoted to the fate – the murder — of 750,000 Hungarian Jews. What if the story had been on page 1, and given not four column inches but fifty, or one hundred column inches? What if there had been photographs of Hungarian Jews, starving and exhausted, waiting to be transported to the death camps? Surely there would have been a furor in Washington, and a renewal of previous appeals for the American Air Force in Europe to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz, to save the 350,000 Jews who had not yet been killed but soon would be? Such a suggestion, to save Jews from mass murder, had been made months before about a different group of Jews, and had been rejected by Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy as too “disruptive to the war effort.” Perhaps with more coverage of the Hungarian Jews in the Times, instead of a handful of paragraphs on page 12, McCloy would this time have been forced to agree.
Neil Lewis damningly notes:
From a journalistic standpoint, it is perplexing, if not stupefying, years later to see how the Times covered the attempted annihilation of European Jewry. The paper published many articles, several of which recounted precisely the horror of what was happening, while at the same time egregiously underplaying them—even given the context that much else was occurring because most of the world was at war. Thus, the historic horror was never meaningfully conveyed because it was reported only in unrelated bits and pieces, and relegated to inside pages.
Lewis is too mild in his criticism here. It is not true that the Times “published many articles” about the Holocaust. And certainly not the thousands the subject deserved.
It would be salutary for the New York Times to begin its inquest into its own journalistic performance with a sincere mea culpa. Something like this:: “Between 1939 and 1945, the New York Times published more than 23,000 front-page stories. Of those, 11,500 were about World War II. Twenty-six were about the Holocaust. Now we will show you exactly what was reported by the paper, and what was minimized, or downplayed, and what was ignored. And we will attempt to tell you why.”
That is the reckoning with its past that the New York Times owes to posterity.
The New York Times failed in its duty to inform, and to warn, in its coverage of both Nazi antisemitism in the 1930s, and of the genocide of Europe’s Jews, from 1939 on. Its coverage of Israel, especially in the last two decades, also leaves a great deal to be desired. The paper has increasingly been systematically unfair to the Jewish state. It was not always thus. In the first few decades of Israel’s existence, the Times was reasonably fair.
Again, Neil Lewis:
In those early decades, the bulk of the news about and from Israel was distinctly favorable, sometimes even admiring. Israel was depicted as a nation created justifiably as a Jewish state in the aftermath of World War II in which Hitler had almost succeeded in wiping out Europe’s Jews. And many articles celebrated the impressive ways in which the society, a hybrid of European refugees and Jews native to the British mandate territory of Palestine, had created a modern, flourishing state. During this period, several Times executives developed friendly relationships with Israeli leaders.
But, beginning in the late 1960s, the narrative began to change to a second, more equivocal phase. The template of the small nation battling a Goliath no longer fit after Israel prevailed handily in the Six-Day War in 1967. And over time, the situation of the Palestinian refugees began to emerge.
What happened to change the narrative? The Six-Day War happened. Israel had won it, in spectacular fashion. And even though Israel remained under threat – and would always be under threat from Arabs and Muslims who took the Qur’anic commands to wage Jihad to heart, and were determined to wipe out the Jewish state, however long it took — that threat was given less credence by reporters and editors at the Times and elsewhere who were, and still are, ignorant of Islam. It doesn’t take long to read the Qur’an and to grasp the doctrine of Jihad. Yet no one on the Times has apparently thought that task worthwhile. As result, the paper’s readers suffer. Ever since 9/11, how many of these important Qur’anic passages — 2:191-193, 3:100, 3:151, 4:89, 5:51,8:12, 8:60, 9:5, 9:29, 47:4, 98:6 — that help us to understand the Muslim mentality and behavior, have been reprinted by the Times? None. How many of the important Hadith, such as Muhammad’s remarks “War is deceit” and “I have been made victorious through terror,” been quoted in the Times? None.
The narrative also changed when, after 1967, the “Arab refugees” were successfully re-branded as the “Palestinian people.” This had been suggested before the war by KGB advisers to Arafat. The notion was simple: the conflict would no longer be seen as one of many Arab states ganging up against tiny Israel. Now the Jihad could be presented as a case of mighty Israel suppressing the rights of the small “Palestinian people.” The head of the Palestinian terror group As Saiqa, Zuheir Mohsen, famously explained, in an interview he gave to the Dutch newspaper Trouw, that: “Between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese there are no differences. We are all part of one people, the Arab nation […] Just for political reasons we carefully underwrite our Palestinian identity. Because it is of national interest for the Arabs to advocate the existence of Palestinians to balance Zionism. Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity exists only for tactical reasons.” The New York Times has never seen fit to print this truthful, and telling, statement by Zuheir Mohsen. Why?
And the Times has never discussed what features — religion, language, ethnicity, folklore — that distinguish the “Palestinian people” from other Arabs? Why not?
The early leaders of Israel knew many of the Times’ men personally; they saw them when they were in New York. There was the dashing general, Moshe Dayan, and the suave Cambridge-educated diplomat Abba Eban. There was also the straight-talking Jewish grandmother from Central Casting, Golda Meir. These were attractive people. But Menachem Begin was not a crowd pleaser; he was dour, homely, and easy to paint as an unyielding ideologue, though at Camp David he yielded a great deal. President Carter and his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski both disliked Begin; they much preferred Anwar Sadat, who was treated by them, and consequently by much of the American press, including the New York Times, as a large-hearted, even heroic, figure, though it was Begin who was giving up a huge territory – the entire Sinai – and Sadat who graciously deigned to receive it. While Begin’s role as a young man in the Irgun, a Jewish paramilitary group, was held against him, Sadat’s history was whitewashed; nothing was reported about his participation in pro-Nazi activities, for which the British jailed him during the war. And he was lionized as a Prince of Peace, while Begin, who was the one making the territorial sacrifices, was treated most unsympathetically in the American, and world, media.
When the talks between Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak sponsored by President Clinton took place in 2000, and soon failed, almost everyone in the American media blamed Arafat. One journalist who did not was Deborah Stern of the New York Times. On the one-year anniversary of the talks’ failure, Stern wrote a long piece denying that Arafat had been at fault, explaining that having been involved in war-making for so long, he was not made to negotiate a peace, or – she gave another excuse — because he was fearful that others, more hardline, would use any deal to discredit him. But those were reasons – highly implausible reasons – for why Arafat refused to deal. Stern overlooked the fact that, after all, Ehud Barak had spent his entire life in the Israeli military, but that did not stop him from wanting to negotiate a peace; it was Barak, too, who made an offer that was so absurdly generous that many in Israel were outraged, but he was not worried about being “discredited” by Israeli hardliners in the way that Palestinian “hardliners” — Stern claims – so worried Arafat. Stern was virtually alone, and distinctly unconvincing, in providing excuses for Arafat’s pulling out of the talks. But her bosses at the paper did not seem to mind.
So one-sided did the coverage of Israel by the New York Times appear to be that in 2001 a well-known rabbi, Haskell Lookstein, called for a boycott of the paper. It was not successful; too many Jews, including Lookstein’s own wife, as he bemusedly admitted, could not do without their daily fix of the Times.
One of the many charges made against the Times is that it does not give sufficient attention to the antisemitic and anti-Israel hysteria to be found in the Arab media. Such material can now be found at the website of MEMRI.org. But not everyone is familiar with that indispensable site. And its existence does not excuse the Times for its failure to cover sufficiently, or sometimes to cover at all, this Muslim antisemitism and its Qur’anic roots. The Times has never published what Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, or Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Bin Baz, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia until his death in 1999, or the most famous Sunni commentator in the Muslim world, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, have routinely disseminated about Jews. Someone who relied only on the Times would never understand the depth and virulence of Muslim antisemitism.
Nor has the New York Times covered itself in glory in the fleeting coverage it has given to the antisemitic and anti-Infidel passages in Palestinian schoolbooks, or to the bloodcurdling sentiments about “killing the Jews” that Palestinian children sweetly declare on their television programs. Why?
The Times has given more attention to what it sees as Palestinian suffering, compared to that given to Jewish civilians who are deliberately targeted by terrorists and rockets. This often reflects nothing more than the fact that Palestinian casualties outnumber those of the Israelis. What matters is not numbers, but who is being targeted. Hamas and Hezbollah routinely target civilians; Israel tries always to minimize civilian casualties, if at all possible. In the hot wars Israel fought against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, Israeli civilians were deliberately targeted by rockets. Many Israeli houses have bomb shelters attached, and this has saved Israeli lives. Are we to judge Israel to be more at fault if it happens to have prepared its civilians with these shelters, and thus has suffered fewer casualties? Sometimes the coverage of Israel/Palestine seems only to be a matter of numbers; whichever side has the most casualties occupies – as a result of this confused calculus — the moral and political high ground.
Has Israel been wanton in its attacks? Does it deliberately target civilians, or does it try to minimize civilian casualties? Israel knows that its enemies deliberately store their weapons in schools and houses and mosques, and launch rockets from such places. Hamas and Hezbollah hope thereby either to prevent Israel from attacking those sites, in order to avoid the resulting civilian casualties or, in the alternative, they hope that if Israel strikes these “civilian” sites, and cause civilian deaths that can be widely publicized, Israel can be made to look bad. Israel’s answer to this has been to employ its “knock on the roof” technique, dropping non-explosive or low-yield devices on the roofs of targeted civilian homes (and other buildings) in the Palestinian territories, as a prior warning of imminent bombing attacks, to give the inhabitants time to flee. Similarly, during the Gazan Great March of Return, Israel has used tear gas and rubber bullets long before permitting any live fire by its soldiers. When those Palestinians who have been lobbing Molotov cocktails, grenades, incendiary kites, with their aim ever better, at soldiers on the other side of the security fence, or manage to make it right up to Israel’s security fence which they are in the process of breaching, in 99% of the cases, the Israelis direct non-lethal fire at the legs of those they are targeting. The Times’ coverage has never made that clear.
Here are some other examples of carelessness – or bias — in covering Israel. Several years ago, Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, was quoted in an Op/ed piece in the Times as saying: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.” This “quote” promptly was picked up and repeated around the world by blogs, news broadcasts, and other papers, all of them assuming that the Times must have checked on the authenticity of the quote before publishing it. But the Times had not done so, and the “quote” which turned out to be false, was endlessly repeated to make Israelis appear as callously triumphalist, determined to beat down the defeated and helpless Palestinians.
In 2014, Margaret Sullivan, then the Times’ “public editor” (a kind of ombudsman who monitors her own paper), called on Times reporters to remember that the Palestinians “are more than just victims.” That gentle reproof was welcome, though it seems not to have been followed very closely in the five years since. The Palestinians are too often still presented as victims, while the Israelis must be the aggressors. If a few Israelis are killed, while 170 Palestinians die as a result of the Great March of Return, then some naturally conclude that Israel must be in the wrong. The Times has not made clear what the Great March is all about – the destruction of Israel and not merely the ending of a “blockade” of Gaza (a “blockade” that allows in food and medicine and only keeps out dual-use materials that can be used in a war effort, such as concrete to build bunkers) as the Times seems so often to think. Hamas has made no secret of its intentions. And the Times also appears to think the Great March of Return is about ending the “occupation.” It can’t be the “occupation” of Gaza; Israel withdrew completely in 2005. It can’t be the “occupation” of the West Bank; Israel has a legal claim to that territory, which was assigned to be part of the Jewish National Home, based on the provisions of the Mandate for Palestine. When Hamas talks about ending the “occupation,” it means ending the state of Israel, all of which is located, according to Hamas, on “stolen Palestinian land.”
The Great March was started by, and continues only because of, the terrorist group Hamas; its immediate goal is to breach the security fence, in order to have Palestinians, guided by Hamas fighters, invade Israel in order to kill as many Israeli soldiers and civilians as they can. Israel’s only aim is to stop the marchers from achieving that goal. Israel did not start, nor does Israel want to continue, this confrontation at the security fence. Israel is only defending itself. How else should it proceed? What would another country, another army, do in its place, if facing the same violent challenge to its existence? Israel should not be demonized because it turns out to be very effective at that task of self-defense. The minute Hamas stops trying to have its violent rioters (not “peaceful protesters”) breach that security fence, Israel will gladly stop its efforts to protect that fence.
Another example of misreporting by a Times journalist comes from Nellie Bowles, who (according to a report from CAMERA) described the Palestinian Authority’s payments to the families of killed or imprisoned terrorists – the infamous Pay-For-Slay program – “as a figment of right-wing imagination. Facebook, she lamented, has been ‘flooded with far-right conspiracy programming like “Palestinians Pay $400 million Pensions for Terrorist Families.”‘” There has been nothing secret about the “Pay-For-Slay” program; Mahmoud Abbas proudly proclaims that nothing will make him stop it. Nellie Bowles must be one of very few who think it a “figment of right-wing imagination.” CAMERA did in this case contact the Times editors. They issued a correction: “That is not a conspiracy theory.” But how did such an absurd claim by Bowles make it past the layers of editors who are supposed to read every story before it is published?
Then there is the curiously kid-glove treatment of Mahmoud Abbas. CAMERA reminds us that when on March 20, 2019, Abbas called David Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel, the “son of a dog,” the New York Times made no mention of this, the cause of a diplomatic dust-up. However, when the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had a few years earlier described a statement by Dan Shapiro, the American ambassador to Israel, as “unacceptable and incorrect,” his remark appeared both in a news story and in an editorial, where the Times thundered that Netanyahu had been “unusually personal and unfair.”
Another example from CAMERA of the Times’ coverage of Mahmoud Abbas:
This protective censorship of Abbas’s words is part of a pattern. After the Palestinian leader delivered an inflammatory address to the PLO Central Council in which he slandered his Jewish neighbors, recited conspiracy theories, and rewrote history, the American Jewish community was united in outrage. Adding his voice to the condemnation from the left and the right, Aaron David Miller, a longtime U.S. peace negotiator, called the performance an “unhinged speech” that “veered into rank anti-Semitism.” Shapiro, the former ambassador, dubbed elements of the lecture “outrageous,” “bizarre,” and “shameful,” and concluded that Abbas was “out of the peace talks game.”
And the Times? A story on the speech by Jerusalem bureau chief David Halbfinger ignored nearly all of Abbas’s incendiary claims—that Israel traffics in drugs to debilitate Palestinian children, that European persecution of Jews wasn’t religious discrimination but instead a product of the Jews’ “social function,” and that Israel was the secret hand behind the expulsion of Jews from the Arab world, to name but a few examples.
The paper’s omissions were dramatic, but not surprising. Just a month earlier, Abbas had delivered another speech citing specifically anti-Jewish passages from the Koran while telling his audience that “no one is better at falsifying history or religion” than those people. Again, the New York Times reported on the lecture. And again, its article, by Istanbul bureau chief Carlotta Gall, ignored Abbas’s casual anti-Semitism.
This same newspaper thought it was newsworthy, in 2018, that the Israeli prime minister’s wife had lost her temper nearly a decade earlier. Why doesn’t it feel the same about destructive hate speech, today, by the actual Palestinian leader?
Mahmoud Abbas need not worry about revelations in the Times concerning his theft of hundreds of millions of dollars — possibly as much as $1.3 billion — in aid meant for the “Palestinian people” he claims to lead. Nor has the Times ever mentioned the $300 million business empire of his two sons, which they owe entirely to their doting father and his connections. One columnist – Roger Cohen, no friend of Israel – has in the past suggested Abbas should go, but the paper’s reporters appear dead set on protecting Abbas’ image. The Times under-reports his tantrums, his hysteria; they fail to convey the vicious antisemitism he so often displays. The New York Times has failed to give adequate attention to Abbas’ doctoral dissertation, a Holocaust-denying horror that deserves the world’s attention; the Times alludes, in a general way, to Abbas’ corruption, but fails to mention the staggering sums involved. Some day, another Laurel Leff will take apart how the Times covered the “Palestinians” and their Jihad against Israel; part of that dismaying story will be its failure to have properly reported on the deplorable Mahmoud Abbas.
Ever since March 30, 2018, much of the New York Times’ coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian war has focused on the Great March of Return in Gaza. For that was the day this ballyhooed march began, which takes place every Friday, where sometimes thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands, organized and led by Hamas fighters, march toward Israel’s security fence. Their goal is simple: to breach the fence, enter Israel, and kill as many Israelis, civilian and military, as they can. They are sometimes described as “peaceful protesters.” But “peaceful protesters” do not throw Molotov cocktails, grenades, and other explosives, nor do they have guns with which they shoot at Israelis, nor do they prepare and set loose incendiary kites and balloons. These are murderously-inclined rioters, not “peaceful protesters.” The fact that the Israelis have been successful at stopping them does not make them any less murderous in their intent.
The Times’ coverage of the Great March has been taken apart by CAMERA:
Consider this headline, published during the wave of Palestinian riots along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel: “Battle Weary, Hamas Gives Peaceful Protests a Chance.”
Hamas is the internationally designated terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip. Only a day before the Times headline described the group with language from John Lennon’s classic anti-war anthem, Israel had uncovered a Hamas attack tunnel leading from Gaza into Israel. A few days before that, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar declared to Palestinians gathered at the Israeli frontier, “We will take down the border, and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies”—a chilling and illuminating threat that Times reporters opted not to report.
That tunnel and those words are not peaceful. Nor were the rocks, firebombs, and explosives hurled at Israeli targets during what another article by Halbfinger, the Jerusalem bureau chief, nonetheless insisted was Gaza’s “experiment with nonviolent protest.”
The impulse to soft-sell border riots as supposedly peaceful protests was so strong that the newspaper chose to describe well-armed Palestinian combatants as “protesters.” After eight Hamas gunmen and three bomb-planting operatives were killed while attacking Israel, Times Cairo bureau chief Declan Walsh —and correspondents Iyad Abuheweila, Isabel Kershner, Megan Specia, Marlise Simons, and Alan Cowell —repeatedly included the attackers in a count of 60 purported protesters shot by the army. When editors were made aware that the casualties included at least 11 armed assailants, the paper’s standards editor Rogene Jacquette stood by their language. Why?
The Times left no stone-throwing unturned. Under a photo of Palestinian rioters, a caption insisted that “Palestinians threw stones in response to Israeli forces’ intervention during an anti-occupation rally near the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.”
The caption, it turns out, was cribbed from a Turkish state-owned news agency. The so-called rally wasn’t about the occupation, but rather focused on tearing down Israel’s borders. And the stone-throwing was not a “response” to Israeli forces’ intervention. To the contrary, as a Palestinian reporter noted in a piece by Germany’s Deutsche Presse-Agentur: “The demonstrators threw stones and burned tires close to the fence of the border. Israeli soldiers responded with force when the protesters tried to cut the fence’s barbed wire.”
Of course, the Palestinians did not throw stones “in response to Israeli forces intervention.” The Times’ caption had it backwards. It was the Israelis who used rubber bullets and tear gas “in response” to the Palestinians, who were not just throwing stones, but also Molotov cocktails, grenades, other explosive devices, incendiary kites and balloons, and sometimes even gunfire at the Israelis, who were merely trying to prevent the security fence from being breached by those, including suicide bombers, who were hellbent on entering Israel and killing Israelis. Furthermore, this was not an “anti-occupation rally” — Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 – but an effort to breach Israeli security, and then once in Israel to kill whomever they could. The Hamas organizers made no secret of this. See Yahya Sinwar’s threat to Israelis just above, about “tearing out their hearts from their bodies.” But the Times chose to ignore what Hamas said.
The Times repeatedly reports, especially in covering Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, that the aim of BDS is to “end the occupation” of the West Bank; it continually returns to the subject of those “settlements” which the Times believes are “illegal” and obstacles to peace. But even a left-wing Americans for Peace Now official has written that “BDS’s prime motivation, if their messaging is to be believed, is not to end the occupation [of the West Bank] at all; rather, it is to end Israel.” Similarly, J Street, a group which spends all of its time criticizing Israel, has acknowledged that BDS “does not…recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state.” This isn’t about “settlements.” It’s about Israel’s existence. But the Times prefers to avoid that inexorable conclusion.
CAMERA notes that when Lara Alqasem was kept out of Israel temporarily because of her former position as a leader of Students for Justice in Palestine, a pro-BDS campus group which crows that Israel’s “days are numbered,” the Times’ bureau chief in Jerusalem, David Halbfinger, described her as having been barred “over a stint as an advocate for Palestinian rights.” Is the elimination of Israel a “Palestinian right”? Another Times correspondent, Isabel Kershner, insisted that Alqasem’s “credentials as an anti-Israel activist are far from clear-cut.” The Anti-Defamation League calls the SJP, which Alqasem led, the “primary organizer of anti-Israel events on U.S. college campuses” and “has consistently demonized Israel.” Not clear-cut enough for Kershner, or the Times?
The U.N. Human Rights Council relentlessly pillories Israel, the only county which has a permanent place reserved for it on the UNHCR agenda. In a story about the UNHCR, the Times reporter Gardiner Harris claimed that “conservatives have been complaining about the council since its inception in 2006.” He then mentioned such critics as George Bush, Benjamin Netanyahu, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, and Ellliot Abrams. This was intended to make readers think that only “conservatives” deplore the UNHCR’s obsession with Israel, and therefore their criticisms can be dismissed as partisan. But the UNHCR has also been condemned for its kangaroo-court treatment of Israel by Obama administration ambassadors Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe; by Democratic senators Jeff Merkley and Bill Nelson; by UN Secretaries Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan; by senior officials from Human Rights Watch; and even, in 2006, by the New York Times editorial board itself, which criticized the UNHCR’s “shameful pattern” of bias against Israel. One must wonder why it was that Gardiner Harris chose not to mention a single one of those – Obama administration appointees, Democratic Senators, UN Secretaries, NGO officials, even members of the Times’ editorial board – who have criticized the Council, but who could not be plausibly labelled as “conservatives.”
Oh, and while we are at it, we’d still like to know why the Times allowed Rebecca Flint Marx to describe Rasmea Odeh, the convicted murder of two Jews, as merely a “controversial activist.”
This year, while the Great March of Return has not been overlooked, the main story about Israel in the Times focuses on Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, two Muslim congresswomen who are virulently anti-Israel, believe that all American aid to Israel should be ended, and want Americans to see Israel not as an ally, but as an enemy of American ideals. When anti-BDS legislation was being considered by Congress, on Twitter Tlaib said of the anti-BDS congressmen that “they forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality.” U.S. Senator Marco Rubio responded at once: “This ‘dual loyalty’ canard is a typical anti-Semitic line.”
In the New York Times, reporter Catie Edmondson wrote this: “Ms. Tlaib took a swing at anti-B.D.S. legislation this month, writing on Twitter that ‘this is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality.’” Note what Edmondson carefully left out: that “antisemitic canard” about dual loyalty. Times’ readers would not know that Rashida Tlaib had tweeted that anti-B.D.S. congressmen “forgot what country they represent.” She did report Marco Rubio’s response, but because she had left out the very thing he was denouncing (Tlaib’s antisemitic canard about “dual loyalty”), Rubio’s criticism was made to appear nonsensical.
There are several subjects that in its coverage of the Israel/Palestine war, the New York Times fails to adequately cover. The first is the massive scale of the corruption by leaders of both Hamas and of the Palestinian Authority. Although there are occasional vague allusions to “corruption” as a general problem in the PA, the Times has never deigned to give us the figures that would make a deep impression.
The amount Abbas has stolen from the Palestinian Authority is staggering. Muhammad Rashid, Arafat’s economic and financial advisor and head of the Palestinian Investment Fund, said that in 2012, Abbas has a net worth of over $100 million. In the last seven years, that $100 million has surely increased, and not just through inflation. $200 million is a low estimate, counting both inflation and further “deposits” Abbas made from 2012 to 2019. Another PA official, former security minister Mohammed Dahlan, has claimed that $1.3 billion vanished from the Palestinian Investment Fund since it was turned over to Abbas’ control in 2005. Depending on your Palestinian source, Abbas has managed to accumulate between $200 million and $1.3 billion, all of it diverted from the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians know he is corrupt; they are long inured to leaders who steal from them; they may not, however, have realized the full extent of Mahmoud Abbas’s grand theft. And what has made the New York Times so strangely unconcerned with this story which tells us so much about Abbas and the other Palestinian lords of misrule?
It’s not only what he has secretly stolen from the foreign aid given to the PA, but the further sums Abbas has officially allocated to his own well-being, that rankle ordinary Palestinians and that the Times should report on. Abbas had the PA spend $50 million, for example, on a private jet so he could travel in the same style as world leaders. He had also been building a lavish presidential palace in Ramallah, costing $13 million, but following an uproar over the expense, Abbas prudently decided that his planned “palace” would instead become the National Library. None of this was reported in the Times. Why not?
And then there is the wealth of his sons Tarek and Nasser. They have amassed personal fortunes through such things as monopolies on American-made cigarettes sold in the territories; USAid funding; public works projects, such as road and school construction, on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, and special preferences for their own retail enterprises. They have won these contracts through the intervention of their doting father. The estimated net worth of Abbas’ sons, from their business empire, is at least $300 million. Surely their story, too, should be covered in the Times, if it wants readers to understand the deep unhappiness among Palestinian Arabs with Abbas and his family.
Abbas has had quite a run, though as a crook he is not a patch on Yasir Arafat, who spirited away between one and three billion dollars when he was the PLO head. Did the New York Times run stories on the billions that disappeared when Arafat was alive? Or tell readers the amounts that went to his high-living widow in Paris? Why not? Perhaps most telling of all, why did the New York Times not let its readers know about two former leaders of Hamas, Moussa Abu Marzouk and Khaled Meshal, each of whom has amassed a fortune of at least $2.5 billion? The parlous economic state of the Gazan Arabs is the result of many things including, especially, the Grand Theft of more than five billion dollars, by just two Hamas leaders. There are also said to be 600 Hamas “millionaires” in Gaza. But not a word about any of this hallucinatory level of corruption has appeared in the New York Times. Again one has to ask: why?
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