On Monday Phil Weiss noted that The New York Times had just run a “Room for Debate” opinion discussion about a settlement boycott, but The Times had found no room in the debate for Palestinians or supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Also Monday morning, I emailed a letter about a similar issue on the reporting side of The New York Times to Public Editor Margaret Sullivan (@sulliview), and cced to reporters Mark Landler (@marklandler), Jodi Rudoren (@rudoren), Foreign Editor Joe Kahn and Assistant Managing Editor for News Susan Chira, critiquing two recent New York Times news articles about BDS by Jodi Rudoren and Mark Landler. My letter noted that Rudoren and Landler’s two February articles on BDS together gave a disproportionate amount of space (760 words) to eight opponents of boycotts of Israel, while providing much less space (295 words) to a smaller number of supporters of a boycott (one in each article). The articles also misrepresented the history of the expulsion of Palestinian refugees, ignored related international law, and minimized the importance and achievements of the BDS movement.
On Tuesday, Mondoweiss posted my letter, a number of people tweeted it at Margaret Sullivan, and she then responded to me by email saying that she “certainly hope[s] to take a broad look at this issue at some point in the not-too-distant future.”
Tuesday evening The New York Times posted a new article by Landler and Rudoren covering Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech that day at the AIPAC convention, entitled Netanyahu Promotes Efforts Toward a Peace Deal. While the title of the article and the portrayal of Netanyahu as a possible peacemaker are disingenuous given his record and the vitriolic content of his speech, the article’s content related to BDS represents a marked improvement over the two previous, very poor BDS-focused articles by Landler and Rudoren. In this new Tuesday article I counted 110 words summarizing and quoting Netanyahu’s over-the-top attack on BDS, and 158 words summarizing and fairly quoting the responses to Netanyahu’s speech in general and his attack on BDS specifically by Omar Barghouti, a founder of the BDS movement, Rebecca Vilkomerson, Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, and Hanan Ashrawi of the PLO.
Here’s the section of the article on BDS:
Still, Mr. Netanyahu delivered a lengthy condemnation of the boycott-Israel movement, which has gotten traction lately, with a Dutch pension fund cutting ties to five Israeli banks and with the American Studies Association voting to shun Israeli academic institutions.
The movement — known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or B.D.S. — was anti-Semitic, he said, and would fail to stop companies like Apple, Facebook and Google from setting up shop in Israel.
Mr. Netanyahu also praised the actress Scarlett Johansson, who refused to give up an endorsement contract with SodaStream, an Israeli company that operates a factory in a Jewish settlement on the West Bank. Her stance cost her the post of global ambassador for Oxfam International, which objected to SodaStream’s factory.
“Scarlett, I have one thing to say to you,” Mr. Netanyahu said, twisting Rhett Butler’s line from “Gone with the Wind.” “Frankly, my dear, I do give a damn.”
Palestinian leaders and others who support the boycott said the time Mr. Netanyahu devoted to it in his speech suggests he recognizes the momentum it has recently generated.
The prime minister “protests too much,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, an American organization that is part of the movement, said in a statement. His focus on it “shows that the power of B.D.S. is growing, and Israel is feeling the pressure,” she said.
Labeling it anti-Semitic, Ms. Vilkomerson and others said, was a scare tactic to divert attention from Israel’s policies, particularly its occupation of the West Bank. Omar Barghouti, who helped found B.D.S. in 2005, said the speech was “a mix of bigotry and hypocrisy taken to the next level.”
“It is like a Jim Crow leader calling Martin Luther King racist,” Mr. Barghouti wrote in an email. “The B.D.S. movement categorically and consistently rejects anti-Semitism as it does Israel’s racist laws and policies.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Mr. Netanyahu’s focus on the boycott “means he is taking it seriously.”
“He’s reacting so hysterically because this is a turning point,” Ms. Ashrawi said in an interview. “People are saying enough is enough, and you cannot keep pulling the wool over the eyes and playing the victim.”
For reasons none of us can really explain, an improvement occurred. And while it’s important to acknowledge the change, this is just a single article. In following mainstream media reporting on Palestine and Israel in outlets including The New York Times, I’ve seen what looked like positive short-term trends that ended abruptly. Overall, I think that the level of poor, biased reporting has remained largely unchanged for years. Nonetheless, I maintain the belief, granted without much evidence to support it, that persistent follow-up by many of us over a long period of time can make a difference in US reporting on Palestine and Israel.
To that end, I’m awaiting a response to my three emails to the corrections editor, Margaret Sullivan, Mark Landler and his editors about the mistaken claim in Landler’s February 28th article that Palestinian refugees “were displaced in 1948 after the founding of the state of Israel.” A number of historians, and The New York Times own reporting from the time show that prior to the founding of the state of Israel around one-third to one-half of all Palestinian refugees were driven from their homes by attacks or threats of attacks by Zionist paramilitaries.
And I look forward to Ms. Sullivan’s promised “broad look at this issue at some point in the not-too-distant future.” She has done a good job in critiquing The New York Times on some other issues.