The NY Times’ unbalanced coverage of the BDS movement (Updated)

Israel/Palestine
on 11 Comments
New York Times headquarters. (Photo: Wikipedia)

New York Times headquarters. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Yesterday Phil commented on a New York Times debate between two Zionist Jews on BDS. Here is a related letter from Patrick Connors to the Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan on the anti-boycott views in the paper’s coverage of the BDS movement:

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

I am writing to express concern about the strong predominance of anti-boycott views in The New York Times’ two most recent news articles about the movement to boycott Israel, by White House correspondent Mark Landler on February 28 and Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren on February 11. According to my attempt at a word count (see table below), the two articles provided 2.6 times as much space for arguments opposing a boycott of Israel as they did for arguments supporting a boycott. In the two articles eight people or groups were quoted opposing a boycott, while only two were quoted supporting a boycott (the same individual in each article, Omar Barghouti). On top of an unbalanced presentation of the arguments for and against a boycott of Israel, the articles misrepresent the history and rights of Palestinian refugees and lack vital background information on the movement to boycott Israel.

As more and more people come to appreciate its focus on nonviolent pressure to realize human rights and equality, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is growing worldwide, including in the US, despite Mr. Landler’s effort to minimize its importance here. After years of neglect of the boycott movement by the paper, I strongly hope that these two articles do not represent a developing New York Times position that views the matter as one that can be reported as news as long as pro-BDS views are marginalized and misrepresented. Surely the expectation should not just be that The New York Times report on BDS, but rather that it should cover the movement fairly

Dominance of anti-boycott views

Ms. Rudoren’s February 11 “Letter from the Middle East” entitled West Bank Boycott: A Political Act or Prejudice? in The International New York Times, featured quotes from four different people opposing a boycott of Israel, juxtaposed against a single quote supporting a boycott. My effort to quantify the views in the article showed 430 words opposing a boycott, including the quotes, versus just 182 words supporting a boycott (see summary table below). On top of these disparities, letters to the editor published in The International New York Times appropriately criticized the article’s content, taking Ms. Rudoren to task for comparing a nonviolent movement rooted in universal human rights principles that targets government policies to Nazism and anti-Semitism.

Mr. Landler’s February 28 “Listening Post” article, entitled Countering Israel Boycotts, With Glamour in The New York Times features quotes from three people and an organization opposing a boycott of Israel, plus an anti-boycott propaganda photo of Scarlett Johansson, while including just a single quote supporting a boycott from Omar Barghouti’s earlier New York Times op-ed. I counted 330 words of anti-boycott views, compared to 113 words supporting a boycott of Israel. Despite the attention it is garnering in the US and worldwide, Mr. Landler also disparages the significance of the boycott movement, saying that John Kerry’s statements “have made B.D.S. look like a more imminent threat than it is,” “it remains largely a nonstarter in the United States,” that the American Studies Association boycott vote “was widely derided by other American scholarly groups.”

Jodi Rudoren article

February 11, 2014

Mark Landler article

February 28, 2014

Total for both articles

Anti-boycott quotes (words)

135

(by 4 speakers)

65

(by 4 speakers)

200

(by 8 speakers)

Pro-boycott quotes (words)

59

(by 1 speaker)

12

(by 1 speaker)

71

(by 2 speakers)

Ratio of Anti-boycott quotes to pro-boycott quotes

2.29

5.4

2.82

Anti-boycott views, including quotes (words)

430

330

760

Pro-boycott views, including quotes (words)

182

113

295

Ratio of Anti-boycott views to pro-boycott views

2.36

2.92

2.58

Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees: Factual error, plus omission of international law

Unfortunately, Mr. Landler also distorts an important component of the BDS Movement, as well as history, when he writes that the movement “aims to allow Palestinians to return to places from which they were displaced in 1948 after the founding of the state of Israel.” In fact, it is well-documented by Palestinian and Israeli historians like Salman Abu SittaIlan Pappe and Benny Morris that around one-third to one-half of all Palestinian refugees were driven from from their homes prior to the founding of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, as a result of attacks or threats of attacks by Zionist paramilitaries. Well-known events like the Deir Yassin massacre and the expulsion of most Palestinian residents from Haifa and Yaffa occurred before May 14. The large-scale expulsion of Palestinian refugees before May 14 is even confirmed by The New York Times own reporting at the time. Perhaps unintentionally, Mr. Landler, like other New York Times reporters including Ethan Bronner, appears to be repeating a popular, but false narrative put forth by supporters of Israel who wish to deflect responsibility by claiming that Palestinian refugees fled only after five Arab armies chose to attack Israel after it declared statehood on May 14, 1948. Editors should ensure that they put an end to the repetition of this historical misrepresentation in The New York Times.

On top of this factual error, Mr. Landler reports on only one aspect of the discussion of refugee rights, a concern that “the movement’s demand for a right of return for dispossessed Palestinians… if carried out, would effectively end the viability of a Jewish state, in the view of Middle East experts.” The article fails to note that refugee return is a right guaranteed by international law. Right of return was enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 13), and the right of return for Palestinian refugees was affirmed by UN Resolution 194 in 1948. Major human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International state that the right of return of Palestinian refugees is protected by international law.

Missing background and contacts on BDS movement

It is a sign of progress that more than eight years after the BDS movement was founded The New York Times has begun to cover it, but these two articles suggest that perhaps New York Times’ reporters lack background about the movement and contacts to be able to provide balanced reporting and analysis. Mr. Landler was only able to quote a single pro-boycott argument taken from an op-ed printed in his newspaper, and to cite two boycott successes, while he contacted a number of boycott opponents for quotes. This might not have been the case, if, as just one of many examples, The New York Times had not chosen to steadfastly ignore a successful six-and-a half-year campaign initiated in New York City to boycott the companies of Israeli settlement-builder and billionaire Lev Leviev. The New York Times has not published a word about the successes of this campaign despite tens of press releases that the volunteer group I am with, Adalah-NY, has sent to NY Times Jerusalem and New York City-based reporters about street protests at Leviev’s Manhattan store, and the decisions beginning in 2008 by UNICEFOxfam America, and CARE; the governments of Norway, the UK, and most recently Luxembourg; by New Zealand’s pension fund, and the by largest Danish bank to all publicly distance themselves from Leviev’s companies, which have a major presence in New York City. If The New York Times had covered this and many other BDS campaigns in the past, perhaps Mr. Landler would have been able to find more commentators and cite more successes than just the recent ASA and Dutch pension fund decision.

While I understand that The New York Times feels it has put in place safeguards to ensure that the strong public opposition of the husband of New York Times reporter Isabel Kershner to a boycott of Israel will not influence its coverage, there appear to be other impediments that the paper must address to ensure fair reporting on the movement to boycott Israel. These impediments include, but may not be limited to, Ms. Rudoren’s expressed lack of Arabic language skills, residence in West Jerusalem and her regret that she does not spend “much more time in the West Bank than I do [she does],” and quite possibly the entrenched views of some New York Times staff. I hope that future New York Times news articles on the boycott of Israel will not replicate the quantifiable bias against a boycott of Israel evident in these two news articles, nor repeat their factual errors or their omission of important background information.

Thank you,

Patrick Connors
New York, NY

Update:

Sullivan has responded to Connors’s letter:

From: “nytimes, public” <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Last 2 NYT news articles on Israel boycott dominated by anti-boycott views & include misinformation
Date: March 4, 2014 11:41:22 AM EST

Dear Mr. Connors,

Thanks so much for taking the time to write. I am interested in what you have to say and certainly hope to take a broad look at this issue at some point in the not-too-distant future. Thanks again for taking the time to contact me, and please feel free to continue to point out what you feel may be problems related to coverage of this issue.

Best Wishes,

Margaret Sullivan

About Patrick Connors

Patrick Connors is a member of Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel.

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11 Responses

  1. bilal a
    March 4, 2014, 9:12 am

    It is difficult to find out what is actually going on by reading the NYT of WaPO; I suggest RT and Jewish magazines to triangulate on actualities, case in point, Ukraine:

    A Democratic Coup?

    After the courts annulled Yanukovych’s fraud-marred victory, his opponent, the pro-Western Orange candidate Viktor Yushchenko was elected president in a repeat vote. He picked Yulia Tymoshenko, Pinchuk’s business partner-turned rival, as prime minister and Pinchuk’s fortunes started to dim—literally. After annulling the Krivorozhstal sale and auctioning it off to Mittal Steel, Tymoshenko went after Pinchuk’s Nikopol plant—a key piece of his business empire. But after less than a year in office, Tymoshenko—recognizable to many in the West for her the blond braid she wears coiled around her head—was fired amid accusations that she was lobbying in the interest of Pinchuk’s rival Ihor Kolomoisky, Ukraine’s third richest man. (Both denied it.) A protracted and messy ownership dispute with Kolomoisky over Nikopol ensued, leading to a shaky settlement in 2006. (The truce hasn’t lasted: This past spring, Pinchuk filed suit in London against Kolomoisky and his partner Gennady Bogolyubov—both, like Pinchuk, Jewish oligarchs from Dnipropetrovsk—over the rights to a major ore-mining company.)
    http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/155976/ukraines-western-face/3

    Rule by oligarchs: Kiev appoints billionaires to govern east
    Kolomoysky has a dual Ukrainian-Israeli citizenship and controls his business empire from Switzerland.
    http://rt.com/news/ukraine-oligarch-rule-governors-512/

  2. seafoid
    March 4, 2014, 9:12 am

    The NYT is like comical Ali at this stage.
    Denial is pointless. The FT is on the ball. Israel faces a very bleak future

    • Krauss
      March 4, 2014, 10:58 am

      He’ll get never an answer, in part because he is correct, because the subject is touchy and because you’re right about the inherent NYT bias, too.

      Those who still delude themselves that the media isn’t biased should have woken up by now.

      Even “liberal” newspapers have their deep-seated biases and not always on the left-wing causes.

  3. mondonut
    March 4, 2014, 10:09 am

    The article fails to note that refugee return is a right guaranteed by international law. Right of return was enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 13), and the right of return for Palestinian refugees was affirmed by UN Resolution 194 in 1948. Major human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International state that the right of return of Palestinian refugees is protected by international law.

    False.

    The UDHC is not law, UNGA 194 is both non-binding and provides no rights and the opinions of human rights groups do not constitute law. And none on the above even begin to address the Palestinian’s unique definition where both descendants of citizens of other counties both remain “refugees”.

    • Hostage
      March 4, 2014, 5:24 pm

      The article fails to note that refugee return is a right guaranteed by international law. . . . False.

      You need to brush-up on your international law. See International Humanitarian Law Customary Rule 132. Displaced persons have a right to voluntary return in safety to their homes or places of habitual residence as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease to exist. http://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_cha_chapter38_rule132

      The obligation to respect the family rights of persons and their relations to one another, as a legal unit, together with their property and homes in occupied territory was already recognized in the Lieber Code, the Brussels Declaration and the Oxford Manual. It was codified in a single article regarding family honor and non-expropriation of private property and estates the Hague Regulations. See Rule 105. Respect for Family Life http://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_cha_chapter32_rule105

      173 counties and *Palestine have ratified Article 85 of the 1st Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (1977) which declared that unjustifiable delay in the repatriation of prisoners of war or civilians is a grave breach and a war crime.
      http://www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Article.xsp?action=openDocument&documentId=73D05A98B6CEB566C12563CD0051E1A0

      * Palestine : On 21 June 1989, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs received a letter from the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Office at Geneva informing the Swiss Federal Council “that the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, entrusted with the functions of the Government of the State of Palestine by decision of the Palestine National Council, decided, on 4 May 1989, to adhere to the Four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the two Protocols additional thereto”.

      On 13 September 1989, the Swiss Federal Council informed the States that it was not in a position to decide whether the letter constituted an instrument of accession, “due to the uncertainty within the international community as to the existence or non-existence of a State of Palestine”.
      http://www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/States.xsp?xp_viewStates=XPages_NORMStatesParties&xp_treatySelected=470

      On 4 December 2012, the General Assembly adopted a resolution which 1) recalled that it had acknowledged the 1988 Declaration of the State of Palestine; 2) observed that the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in accordance with a 1988 decision by the Palestine National Council, is entrusted with the powers and responsibilities of the Provisional Government of the State of Palestine; 3) Recognizing also that, to date, 132 States Members of the United Nations have accorded recognition to the State of Palestine; 4) Decides to accord to Palestine non-member observer State status in the United Nations, without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinian people, in accordance with the relevant resolutions and practice; http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/19862D03C564FA2C85257ACB004EE69B

  4. Hostage
    March 4, 2014, 10:30 am

    Perhaps unintentionally, Mr. Landler, like other New York Times reporters including Ethan Bronner, appears to be repeating a popular, but false narrative put forth by supporters of Israel who wish to deflect responsibility by claiming that Palestinian refugees fled only after five Arab armies chose to attack Israel after it declared statehood on May 14, 1948.

    The Foreign Relations of the United States series is the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions that have been declassified and edited for publication. Here is what it says on that subject:

    Arab refugee problem is one which, as you quote PGI [Provisional Government of Israel] as saying, did develop from recent war in Palestine but which also began before outbreak of Arab-Israeli hostilities. A significant portion of Arab refugees fled from their homes owing to Jewish occupation of Haifa on April 21-22 and to Jewish armed attack against Jaffa April 25. You will recall statements made by Jewish authorities in Palestine promising safeguards for Arab minority in areas under Jewish control.

    Foreign relations of the United States, 1948. The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Part 2, Page 1367 link to digicoll.library.wisc.edu

  5. David Doppler
    March 4, 2014, 10:48 am

    I think the public editor owes us a comprehensive look at bias on this and related issues at the New York Times. Many of its readers lived through de-segregation in the South, and know how insidious bias is, how anger rises in response to its criticism by those who call it out among an establishment that harbors it below the surface of their collective consciousness. This is the most important job of a public editor; otherwise, she’s just enabling that same bias, deferring timidly to the anger of prejudice.

  6. Citizen
    March 4, 2014, 11:34 am

    I applaud Mr Connors for taking the time, and using his educated knowledge and writing ability, to write to the NYT’s Ms Sullivan regarding this latest rendition of the “paper of record,” NYT aka Old Gray Lady, giving Dick and Jane “All da news gud fed youse.” (As an aside, I really can’t see how anybody who may be of Irish heritage, and know Irish history, and who is also an American embed with American values (as taught through K-12) can be on the side of the Zionist occupiers and land grabbers. More, the Talmudist approach may be similar to Jesuitical approach, but certainly not to the Irish poetic & literary spirit, nor the reason why so many Irish died have died in America’s wars.

  7. LeaNder
    March 4, 2014, 12:01 pm

    Great job, Patrick.

  8. Henry Norr
    March 4, 2014, 1:36 pm

    Kudos to Patrick Connors for producing this analysis – careful, diplomatically phrased, yet devastating in its content. I’m sure that’s why it got such an ostensibly receptive response from Ms. Sullivan. I can’t say I have any confidence that it will have much effect on the Times’ coverage, or even that Ms. Sullivan will write anything about this issue in her column – after all, we all know that Zionism is by now very deeply entrenched at the Times – but at least you’ve exposed their slant with exceptional clarity.

  9. David Doppler
    March 4, 2014, 2:12 pm

    Re: the update and KS’s form letter, I’m reminded of the old joke about the person who complained to railroad about a cockroach in her food on the dining car, and got a very solicitous letter from the President of the RR apologizing and reciting all their efforts to ensure highest standards of cleanliness, etc., etc., and to which was clipped a note from the President to his secretary, “Send this jackass the cockroach letter.”

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