Insidious Propaganda

Karen Armstrong

by Phyllis Chesler

I have been reading the New York Times all my life—it is my hometown newspaper. Sometimes, I enjoy or agree with their opinions (and there are nothing but opinions there now); sometimes I cannot bear their biased and wildly unbalanced coverage of Israel and the Jews.

How does propaganda work? Sometimes, it consists of Big Brazen Lies, no apology, no context, no facts—it is all narrative-driven and has a malevolent purpose. More often, it is a steady, low-key diet of info-bits that are meant to normalize the larger lies. The New York Times does this brilliantly.

For example, in the Times’ September 11th Book Review, Karen Armstrong, who has been the go-to person on Saudi Arabia, is featured. An ex-nun, she cites a 14th century “mystical text by an English monk and a “great Muslim scholar and mystic, Ibn Al-Arabi (1165-1240)” who “sadly, is little known in the West.” She often quotes from him. Armstrong is emphasizing that people who are ignorant of other faiths will not understand that God cannot be “confined to one creed”—and to prove it, she quotes Al-Arabi who wrote: “Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah” (Quran 2:115). Her audiences in Pakistan are always “relieved to hear it.” Al-Arabi wrote “Allah” not “God,” but I quibble.

When Armstrong is asked “If she was organizing a literary dinner party, which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite? She answers: “My guests would be Confucius, Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammed because I would like them to tell me…what they had in common and what was most needed in our world today.”

Hmm…but there is no Moses, no Jewish ethics or laws, no desire to invite Moses for dinner.

Such a small thing, and something said by an interviewee, not by the interviewer—and yet, so many small things eventually add up to the disappearance of Judaism and Israel on the map of memory.

In the Times’ magazine issue, also on September 11th, Yotam Ottolenghi shares a recipe titled: “Journey to the Plate: The back story of this spicy dish of shrimp and greens traces a line of authenticity and discovery.” This is a Philippine dish in which taro leaves are cooked down with coconut milk. The leaves and other ingredients are not easy to find in The New World—but Elaine Goad, who grew up in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Britain, came to work in the Otttolenghi kitchen in West London. Elaine’s “comfort zone” are the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Korea.

Get ready for it.

“So to pair the laing (leaves) of her childhood with cod, she flicked through “Falastin,” the Palestinian cookbook written by my colleagues Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, and there she found a spice mix for fish. The mild sweetness of the mix, which has cardamon, cumin, paprika, and turmeric worked perfectly…”

Another very small thing but one that normalizes the narrative that there always was a “Falastin” and that the recipes of the indigenous Arab world, which consisted of Christians and Jews as well as Muslims, and a host of other religions, were somehow specific to “Falastin.”

By the way: Otollenghi wrote the introduction to the Falastin cookbook. There’s more from the Paper of Record.

On February 12, 2020, Ligaya Mishan, the Times’ food critic, reviewed the various and increasing number of cookbooks of Palestinian/Falastinian food. Rarely does one read food reviews that politicize recipes so extremely and so persistently. Mishan weaves one lie after another into her food narrative. She writes:

“How to speak of the cuisine, given the political context? Alongside recipes, must there be testimony to the daily tolls of life under Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza, the bulldozing of Palestinian homes and the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of local olive trees over the past half century? “

Mishan does ask whether the rockets lobbed into Israeli territory, the rise of antisemitism in the Islamic world, etc. “can make a case for suffering on both sides?” Still, she continues to refer to certain dishes as Gazan or Ramallah specific—which they may be—but this does not mean that they are Palestinian as opposed to regional Arab and Mediterranean dishes. Also, she pegs the alleged loss of a Palestinian food identity to an Israeli occupation in which land has been seized and “85 percent of Gaza’s fishing waters placed off-limits. Palestinian farmers have been separated from their fields by barrier walls; the flow of water is restricted and Palestinians are currently forbidden to dig or restore wells without a permit.”

Mishan also writes that “It’s worth noting that the term ‘Israeli cuisine’ is of fairly recent vintage…and appears to have more currency outside Israel…The Israeli journalist Ronit Vered, who writes for the newspaper Ha’aretz, suggested that because the country is so young, “we don’t know yet what is Israeli and what is just part of the region’s diet” — but there is a willful refusal by some Israelis, she said, to acknowledge Arab influences.”

Along the way, Mishan denigrates Jewish dishes in Israel that have European origins. But why? Finally, Mishan cites some demographics:

“Around 1.9 million Palestinians live within the borders of Israel, 2.8 million in the West Bank and 1.8 million in the breathlessly crowded 140 square miles of the Gaza Strip. Six million, nearly half the total population, make up the diaspora. They are a people who have no country to call their own, like the Basques in Spain, the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Roma in Eastern Europe and, for millenniums, the Jews.”

What is such propaganda doing in a piece written by a food critic? Is this now typical of all food writing—or is it specific to attempts to bolster a narrative that a country that has never existed—is really first among nations and has always existed?

On March of 2022, Mishan continued her politicized food column vis a vis Palestine in the NYT. She features the very creative food artist, Mirna Bamieh, who “stages dinner performances.” Bamieh accuses Israel of stealing or “appropriating” Palestinian cuisine: hummus, falafel, couscous, etc. We are not allowed to collect wild herbs…..”

Enough. Mishan and Bamieh are writing about a lentil dish. I noted previously that lentils were “one of the first farmed crops in the entire Middle East region.”

My God! Lentils are used in recipes by Lebanese, Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Saudis, etc. and by Jews in Israel and in the diaspora of all these countries.

But, more important, a reader does not have her guard up when she is reading a food column or a recipe. This means that dropping propaganda, drip by drip, like honey into a recipe, is more likely to enter one’s bloodstream. This is what makes the small info-bits quite insidious.



10 Responses

  1. I have a working hypothesis which I haven’t yet corroborated, but it goes like this:

    Christian ethics and morality, for the most part, are Jewish. Therefore, for the most part, Christianity is, in fact, Judaism.

  2. Sadly, this may be pure self-interest on their part. The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates “the share of the world’s population that is Jewish – 0.2% – is expected to remain about the same in 2050 as it was in 2010.” Compare this to the projected 35% growth in the Muslim population. Asian populations are also expected to grow along with the GDPs of their nations. The NY Times is pandering to whomever they think will have the most influence and money.

  3. Thank you for pointing this out, Phyllis! Too many Jewish people I know still look upon the NY Times as their “Bible” and refuse to see it for the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic newspaper it is!

  4. There should be an award for those who peddle piles of bovine fertilizer. Armstrong, ex nun, strikes me as simply another utopian supremacist- ala Allah, and his the whole world belongs to Allah and his Mohammed. Or else. We could call the award, the ‘or else’ award, in honor of the threats of raging violence if the ‘feeling’ of the oppressed muslims are demonstrated, or we might call it the Walter Durantly award. He, who earned his Pulizer, for reporting on the glories of soviet collective farms that instead of making the peoples utopia, created millions starving, and the owners starved out by the utopians. The world suffers under innumerable attacks by the Jihadists of Islam, but the only the cries that go out are that the world suffers from Islamophobia. Ah, but food. Yes, there are certainly more arab foods than Jewish foods. And palestinian foods are a sliver of arab foods. No one ‘stole’ any arab foods. The arabs stole the lands of the Greeks, the Christians, the Hindhus, and the Jews, etc etc and now the ideology commands projection about how those oppressive jews had better return it to the arabs. They deserve no sympathy. They do deserve the Walter Duranty award for their noble attempts to pile up bodies upon bodies, distortions upon distortions, and hatreds upon hatreds. They do not make peace, they do not pray for peace, they make prey out of all too much of everything. Yes, I digress…. too bad, I have no sympathy for the creaters of Jihad, for those who worship this, and fib and lie and distort, like K Armstrong and ‘food’ writers who embrace this poison and call it comfit.

  5. If you’re not familiar with this journalist, you may want to follow her. She has undertaken a project to track the NYT over one year and log their bias (or not) in reporting on Israel.

    Her name is Lilac Sigan. Twitter handle @LilacSigan.

  6. Thank you for sharing these revealing details and connecting some uncomfortable dots. Just as the NYTimes – which claims to print “all the news that matters” – chose to censor the Holocaust during WW2 and continually lied about Stalin’s famine in Ukraine, they have recently chosen to promote an odd anti-Israel tone. They have also ignored many physical assaults on Hasidic Jews while blaming Hasidic Jews for lowering New York State public education system. It’s an odd obsession for often perceiving Jews as the problem. What do we call this ancient bigotry?

  7. What dumb examples. Armstrong didn’t name a Hindu either. The older religions (like Hinduism and Judaism) are not the worh of one person, not in the way the Christianity and the other three Armstrong mentions are. And Falastin is the real name if a real cookbook about a real culture. And that culture is in fact a lot older than the political identity of being Palestinian. The right-leaning Jewish complaint about using the word Falastin/Palestinian is made even more ridiculous when one remembers that many many leading Zionist institutions were named after Palestine (like the Palestine Post, which became the Jerusalem Post). Really the author and her sympathizers should get a life. There are real things to complain about with the NY Times — these are not them.

  8. I grew up in Manhattan. I can’t imagine why anyone would read The New York Times. It’s 100% lies and Democrat Party propaganda 100% of the time.

  9. I loathe the NY slimes. It is and always has been anti-Semitic and anti-American. It’s historical legacy consists of covering up the holocaust, covering up stalin’s genocide of Ukranians and being a supporter of stalin, castro, the CCP et al. Let’s just state bluntly that the NYT is a MARXIST totalitarian rag.

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