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?

29 Responses

  1. Oscar Romero
    February 8, 2010, 10:55 pm

    Reminds me of Linda Gradstein of NPR. See link to nigelparry.com

  2. yonira
    February 8, 2010, 11:05 pm

    Hi Ali, I saw you speak in Minneapolis a few years ago, you look a lot like my cousin.

    You probably don’t remember all of your speaking engagements but I was NOT old guy w/ horrible english who tried to have an argument with you that nobody understood.

    • Chaos4700
      February 8, 2010, 11:20 pm

      Oh for heaven’s sake, yonira. You make a “Hi! I was there!” post and even here you can’t restrain from making disparaging comments about someone (in this case, whatever old guy you were referring to). What, is it like a reflex to your hands whenever you type anything?

      • yonira
        February 8, 2010, 11:26 pm

        fuck you chaos, you are a douche.

      • Cliff
        February 9, 2010, 4:52 am

        I don’t think yonira was insulting anyone actually.

      • Seham
        February 9, 2010, 11:21 am

        I know. Shocking.

      • Chaos4700
        February 11, 2010, 2:21 am

        Gee, way to refute my observation about you, yonira. Stay classy.

  3. bob
    February 8, 2010, 11:33 pm

    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.

    Interesting. Here’s CAMERA’s complaints of bias against Maureen
    link to camera.org
    Jerusalem Post
    Jerusalem post again

    link to jweekly.com

    There’s so much more on this. Thank you for pointing this out.

  4. Richard Witty
    February 8, 2010, 11:52 pm

    El-Khodary does periodically write about issues concering Israel and Israelis.

  5. VR
    February 9, 2010, 12:10 am

    The fact of the matter is that everyone is supposed to accept the privilege and impunity of these reporters. It is assumed that everyone “should know by now” how unbiased they are, and really deep down, how their narrative is much more acceptable and truthful than the Palestinian narrative.

    In fact, it even goes deeper than this – it is supposed to imply that a Palestinian is incapable of reporting on the entire situation, and if one is placed in a position like this and asked to reflect on both sides, it will remove all of the hard work of painting the Palestinians as wholly other. You might begin to admire a Palestinian, and think twice about the” facts” that maybe, just maybe, there is as much to offer from him or her as the classic white mans version of the situation (or so-called history for that matter).

    So, the NYT works hard to convince people of the Ubermensch quality of the Ethan Bronner, supposedly facing all adversity and surrounded by savages (or so the story has been told) to pour out his “untainted” version for the readers. That is because it goes much deeper than merely an obvious conflict of interest, but represents the a series of last stands, of the ever present and purposeful illusion in this colonial showdown.

  6. yonira
    February 9, 2010, 2:28 am

    Feeling the Hate @ UC Irvine (again)
    link to jpost.com

    • VR
      February 9, 2010, 2:50 am

      Aww, too bad yonira, they know who asshole Oren is. Feeling the hate my ass, it is called free speech, and for a good cause, against genocide. Did you notice the teacher threatening to flunk out the students for their protest yonira, at the end? Yeah, that is the way to get adherence to their wishes – by threatening to flunk them because of a protest.

      Actually, I covered the first instance of what was called “feeling the hate” on my blog, where strangely enough the students said those outside agitators who wanted to defend them and to accuse the University of guess what? You guessed it – antisemitism, did not know what they were talking about –


      See, there you go again yonira, no knowledge whatsoever but a lot of attempts to paint things the wrong way.

    • Cliff
      February 9, 2010, 4:55 am

      I don’t mind heckling. Fink get’s heckled A LOT – but he handles it well…most of the time.

      This is a parallel. It happens on both sides.

      However a parallel does not imply equality.

      So it can happen on both sides, but we still have to judge the CONTENT of the opinions being heckled.

    • Shingo
      February 9, 2010, 5:34 am

      Yes, that would be the same Oren that blew off J Street in favor of John “Hitler was an agent fo God” Hagee.

  7. PauldeRooij
    February 9, 2010, 5:23 am

    Richard Curtiss writes:

    As managing editor and subsequently executive editor, the posts he held from 1969 until 1986, Rosenthal reversed one of the Times’ final, unspoken limitations on Jews. Because the Times was reputed to be a Jewish-owned publication, there was an unwritten rule that no Jew could report on Israel, in order to avoid the charge of dual loyalties.

    Source: Richard Curtiss, “New York Times Editor Abe Rosenthal Had A “Passionate Attachment” to Israel” Washington Report, July 2006, pages 34-35.

    So even the NYT was aware at one point about a Bronner-type bias.

  8. PauldeRooij
    February 9, 2010, 5:51 am

    During the Bosnia vs. Serbia war the BBC stated that it would be unethical to employ a Serbian to report on Bosnia. The issue came up because at that time the BBC employed a British citizen of Serbian origin. A good case can be made that it is unethical to employ a journalist of an oppressor nation to report on the oppressed. It is one thing for the likes of Gideon Levy or Amira Hass to report on the Palestinians because they make it abundantly clear that they are Israeli Jews (in Israel there is a distinction between nationality and citizenship); it is another when Rafi Berg, a journo for the BBC, reports on Palestinians without revealing his origin. Berg refuses to reveal his nationality and the BBC doesn’t provide that either; however, given that he reports mostly on Israeli/settler issues, it is a good bet that he is an Israeli Jew. Will the BBC now accept that it is unethical to employ Berg to report on Palestinian issues? The same thing goes for Tim Franks (BBC), a Zionist who graduated from Habonim Dror, a Zionist youth bootcamp.

  9. Richard Parker
    February 9, 2010, 8:31 am

    Gideon Levy and Amira Hass work for Ha’aretz, an Israeli Jewish newspaper, and contribute mightily to the sense of balance that Ha’aretz gives to the Israeli media (where you can read stories you’ll never find in American media).

    Ethan Bronner, with his Israeli wife, and IDF son, is the Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the ‘newspaper of record’ , the NYT, and thus gets to censor any stories put out by his juniors. That puts him in an unprecedented position to slant American news, which he may be doing subconsciously.

    He should resign or be re-assigned, pronto.

  10. Richard Parker
    February 9, 2010, 8:41 am

    Read Gideon Levy’s latest piece here, where he attacks the enfranchisement of foreign-resident Israelis:
    link to haaretz.com

    and Richard Silverstein’s take here:
    link to richardsilverstein.com

  11. Chu
    February 9, 2010, 2:16 pm

    Thanks for the reality check, Ali. Without Mondoweiss and other sites making this information more commonplace, I don’t have to feel like I’m crazy to believe anything other than what the major newspapers have to dish out.
    The pendulum blade is coming close to the NY Times and it’s long overdue that they stop pretending to be a prestigious paper, when they are as bad as the NY Post with the Middle East coverage and balance.

    • Citizen
      February 9, 2010, 6:20 pm

      Hey, more and more Americans are realizing that the NYT is a yellow rag–the internet has a lot to do with this perception. Always nice to hear from people with the gag out of their mouths and the Goebbels family radio rejected.

  12. Les
    February 9, 2010, 8:08 pm

    How about if the Times replaces Bronner with another American Jew, Jared Malsin?

  13. Tuyzentfloot
    February 12, 2010, 4:46 am

    Jonathan Cook posted a valuable reply to Abunimah’s post over here link to jkcook.net explaining the huge difference in responsibilities and freedom between local reporters and western reporters . Should be posted as an article on here if possible.

    Cook also says My impression is that most of the NYT’s senior reporters over the past two decades have been Jewish or Israeli.. Like Abunimah, I am uncomfortable judging a journalist’s record of reporting based on his or her ethnic identification. But these scruples should not blind us to the danger that the apparent long-term structural bias in the NYT’s selection processes may have contributed significantly to distorting Western understanding of what is going on in the conflict.

    I pointed out elsewhere that Keller would be concerned with containment of the problem. The NYTimes is authoritative. It doesn’t want to end up being tagged a Jewish – pro-Israel paper. I don’t want to see that happen either. But the NYTimes, and not only them, should correct its structural bias.
    You can replace the Jewish reporters by non-jewish reporters and it won’t fix anything. Some people have a larger impact though, they’re the gatekeepers who control the attention, the focus. Bronner is such a person.
    Note that Cook himself is married to a Palestinian, therefore he should abstain from reporting on Palestinian issues. Right?

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