Abunimah: Jews can report on Palestinians, but the other way ’round?

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 29 Comments

I have been of course following all the absurd defenses and excuse-making from Jeffrey Goldberg, Ron Kampeas, Andrew Sullivan, Joe Klein, etc for Ethan Bronner and the New York Times, as well as your recent comments. They insist that there is no bias in Bronner’s reporting and that his son’s service in the occupation army presents no conflict of interest. Here are the issues they seem to avoid:

-The New York Times has a long history of appointing reporters who are Jewish and/or Israeli to the Jerusalem bureau – Friedman, Sontag, Erlanger, Bronner, Kershner (etc. correct me if I am wrong on any of these). Whether Jewish or not they tend to live as middle class Israelis do, in West Jerusalem (like Bronner in an ethnically cleansed Palestinian neighborhood) or perhaps Tel Aviv, but never in Ramallah, Nazareth, Gaza or Hebron. So they have a structural identification with Israeli Jews — the privileged segment of the population living between the Med and the Jordan River.

Now let me be clear that I do NOT assume that being Jewish, or even having family ties to Israel, or being Israeli, automatically results in bias. Amira Hass of Haaretz is an excellent reporter. She’s an Israeli Jew whose parents were Holocaust survivors. Deborah Sontag of the New York Times was one of the best reporters on the conflict ever –  she was there during the second Intifada. So was Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian. So anyone who says that being Jewish automatically leads to pro-Israel bias is wrong. So on this point those criticizing and defending Bronner and the NYT should find a lot of common ground.

But here’s the issue that sticks. Is the NYT really defending some sort of universal principle? Can anyone seriously imagine that if it had been revealed that Bronner’s son had joined the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades (the military wing of Hamas), we would be hearing these sorts of defenses? Of course one reason is it’s so hard to imagine is because the New York Times has never had a Palestinian, Palestinian-American or Arab-American reporter of stature report on the conflict.

Yes, recently they have had Taghreed El-Khodary in Gaza  — who some like (Weiss for instance), but others (such as As’ad AbuKhalil) have strongly criticized. But here is a crucial point: El-Khodary is allowed to report only on Palestinians. Neither she nor any other Arab reporter is allowed to report on Israeli Jews. While Jews/Americans may report on Palestinians, the converse is not true. Why is this? It must be — I assume — because there is an inherent, perhaps unacknowledged assumption that an Arab/Palestinian is or will be automatically biased against Israelis/Jews. Whereas, we are supposed to accept that in no case is a Jewish reporter who identifies with Israel biased even when his son has joined an occupation army that is raiding Palestinian refugee camps and communities dozens of times per week. Seriously?

To what can we attribute this double-standard? I am afraid it smacks of racism.

I also have a long memory — Back in 1995, NPR fired Maureen Meehan because it was claimed she had not adequately disclosed that her husband had worked as an adviser to the Palestinian Authority. Of course we did not have blogs in those days, but I still do not remember an outpouring in her defense from the mainstream media. Hmmm. I wonder why?

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