Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Article on New York Times coverage of Israel/ Palestine

From: PLO Mission – Washington, DC

Blind New York Times Continues Attacks on Jimmy Carter. EXCELLENT!

by Patrick O’Connor; January 08, 2007

The assault on Jimmy Carter and his new book which criticizes Israeli policy, Palestine Peace not Apartheid, has been led by many of the usual, uncritical, knee-jerk Israel supporters - Alan Dershowitz, Martin Peretz and Abraham Foxman. However, the campaign to discredit Carter among more thoughtful, less partisan Americans is led by powerful, mainstream institutions like The New York Times, that are respected for their seeming objectivity and balance.

In the January 7, 2007 Sunday Book Review, after the dust settled from weeks of frenzied coverage by other major media outlets, the Times made its bid to pronounce the “final word” on Carter’s book. In the review Jews, Arabs and Jimmy Carter,[i][1]Times Deputy Foreign Editor Ethan Bronner rejected the more! hysterical claims that Carter is anti-Semitic, but simultaneously dismissed Carter’s book as “strange” and “a distortion,” and described Carter, the only US President to have successfully mediated an Arab-Israeli peace agreement, as suffering from “tone deafness about Israel and Jews”.

If Carter is “tone deaf,” Bronner’s review provides yet more evidence that The New York Times is willfully blind to Palestinians. New research detailed below shows that Times’ news reports from Israel/Palestine, which Bronner supervises, privilege the Israeli narrative of terrorism, while marginalizing the Palestinian narratives of occupation and denial of rights. Bronner himself has quoted eight times more words from Israelis than from Palestinians in 18 articles he wrote for the Times since mid-2000.

The Times paved the way for Bronner’s review with two news articles[ii][2]and a blog posting.[iii][3]While allowing Carter space to defend himself, the articles and blog posting focused on attacks on Carter by eight public figures, and included defenses by just two people. As usual, no Palestinians were permitted to comment. The Times’ blog posting noted that the controversy was unfolding during a holocaust denial conference in Iran, hinting at an unspecified link with Carter’s book.

In his review, Bronner constructs a deceptive sense of balance by rejecting both sides’ more controversial positions. He writes that Carter’s use of “apartheid with its false echo of the racist policies of the old South Africa” constitutes “overstatement” that “hardly adds up to anti-Semitism.”

Bronner derides Carter’s book as characterized by “misrepresentations”, and having “a Rip Van Winkle feel to it”, while simultaneously acknowledging that “Carter rightly accuses Menachem Begin … of deception regarding” settlement expansion, and that “his chapter on the endless humiliation of daily life for the Palestinians under Israeli occupation paints a devastating and largely accurate picture.”

Yet Bronner still minimizes Palestinians’ “endless humiliations” by devoting just two sentences to them, and he writes, with no sign of irony, “that Carter is right that insufficient attention is being paid, but perhaps that is because his picture feels like yesterday's story, especially since Israel's departures from southern Lebanon and Gaza have not stopped anti-Israel violence from those areas.”

Most of the world recognized that Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza did not end Israel’s occupation or control of Palestinian lives there, nor significantly lessen daily hardships. Bronner avoids addressing Carter’s central argument, that Israel's refusal to fully withdraw from the Occupied Territories is the main obstacle to a negotiated settlement.

Palestinians would be justifiably outraged to learn that their continued daily hardships are “yesterday’s story.” Mirroring elements of the arguments of Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League,[iv][4]Bronner seems to see “today’s story” as radical Islam and terrorism, as he laments that Carter’s book on Israel/Palestine fails to also cover the Iranian revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghani! stan, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban’s rise, Al Qaeda and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

One can only imagine the hysterics that would have arisen at the Times had Carter not ignored the right of return of Palestinian refugees and Israel's discrimination against its Palestinian citizens.

Bronner has written 18 articles on Israel and Palestine for the Times since July 30, 2000. In them he quoted 1226 words from Israelis, and just 145 words from Palestinians.[v][5]For example, in the Week! in Review on July 30, 2000, after the failure of Camp David, and two months before the outbreak of the 2nd Palestinian intifada which has continued for the last six and half years, Bronner counseled that “no explosion… occurred, nor is chaos expected any time soon.” The peace process’ “positive direction in the long term is clear.”[vi][6] Bronner quoted 228 words from Israelis and 67 words fr om a Palestinian in that less than prescient analysis.

During the same period, Amira Hass, an Israeli reporter for Ha’aretz Daily living in Ramallah, was comparing the situation to that before the outbreak of the first intifada, warning against the assumption that “confrontation is not feasible”, and arguing that “Rebellion is not planned from above, and the moment could come when the people who were not afraid of IDF rifles will not be put off by those wielded by Palestinian police.”[vii][7]!

In 2003, Bronner wrote a glowing review of The Case for Israel by pro-Israel hatchetman Alan Dershowitz.[viii][8]Assessing Dershowitz’s book, alongside a book by Yaacov Lozowick, Bronner called them “intelligent polemics.” He offered not a single criticism of Dershowitz, saying his book made many “well-argued points,” and Dershowitz “knows how to construct an argument.” He described Dershowitz! as a “liberal” “on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” In contrast, Professor Norman Finkelstein devoted an entire book, Beyond Chutzpah, to documenting the errors, fabrications and outright plagiarism in The Case for Israel. “Liberal” Dershowitz defends torture, and suggested Israel destroy entire Palestinian villages in retaliation for suicide bombings.

It’s no surprise then that the news reporting Bronner oversees leans heavily on the Israeli narrative. Searches with Lexis-Nexis Academic identify 935 articles published between December 1, 2004 and November 30, 2006 by the Times correspondents based in Israel/Palestine, Bronner’s area of oversight.[ix][9]Of those, 341 articles (37%) mentioned the word terrorism, 259 (28%) mentioned terrorist, 183 mentioned suicide bombing (20%), and 359 (38%) mentioned Palestinian attack(s).[x][10]In contrast, only 156 of the 935 articles (17%) included the dominant Palestinian experience of occupation, and 115 articles (12%) mentioned the word occupied. This overwhelming focus on terrorism, Palestinian attacks and su icide bombings occurred during a two-year period when Israel tightened its siege on Palestinians, sinking Palestinians further into poverty, and Israelis killed 903 Palestinians, approximately half civilians, while Palestinians killed 81 Israelis, 60 of whom were civilians, according to the Israeli human right organization B’Tselem.[xi][11]Palestinians committed eight suicide attacks that resulted in 34 of the 81 Israeli fatalities.[xii][12]

Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights are even harder to find than Israeli occupation in New York Times news reports. Over two years, the Times used the word illegal (as defined by international law or Israeli law) in just 55 articles to describe Israeli offenses against Palestinians[xiii][13](5.9%). International law relating to Isr! ael/Palestine was mentioned in only 14[xiv][14]of 935 articles (1.5%),[xv][15]the Geneva Conventions in one article (0.1%),[xvi][16]collective punishment in 12 articles (1.3%), right of return for Palestinian refugees in 14 articles (1.5%), discrimination against Palestinians in four articles[xvii][17](0.4%), and apartheid in three articles (0.4%). Though settlement(s) were mentioned in 318 articles (34%), as noted above, they were infrequently described as “illegal.” Settlement expansion and settlement growth appeared in just six articles each[xviii][18]! (0.6%). Even Palestinian poverty and unemployment were mentioned in only 13 and 18 articles respectively.[xix][19]

In short, the entire Palestinian experience is marginalized in New York Times news reports from Israel/Palestine. The words and concepts that Palestinians continually invoke to describe their lives, including apartheid, are almost never found in the Times. Jimmy Carter claims that Americans are poorly informed about Israel/Palestine in part because “the major newspapers and magazines” exercise “self-restraint” in their reporting. Therefore, anything other than denial of Carter’s thesis by the Times would constitute an admission of its own failure.

Despite a facade of balance and moderate positions, Ethan Bonner’s review of Jimmy Carter’s book represents yet another example of the mainstream US media’s willful blindness on Israel/Palestine. Bronner wields the Times’ power in a bid to restrict acceptable discourse on Israel/Palestine by hiding the Palestinian experience from the American public.

Fortunately, the US public seems not to be buying it. Instead, they’re buying Carter’s “strange” book, now number five on the Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction.

Patrick O’Connor is a New York City-based activist with Palestine Media Watch (www.pmwatch.org) and the International Solidarity Movement (www.palsolidarity.org).

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