The most important editorial space in the English-speaking world dedicates a lot of column inches to the topic of Israel, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but hasn’t provided any space to a pro-BDS voice on the topic in over three years.
The last opinion column on the topic by a BDS supporter to appear in the New York Times was “Why Israel Fears the Boycott” by Omar Barghouti in January 2014 (1/31/14)—paired with an anti-BDS op-ed, “Losing the Propaganda War” by Hirsh Goodman (1/31/14). Since then, the Times has published seven opinion columns that took a clear position on BDS, all of them in opposition:
- “The BDS Threat” (Roger Cohen, 2/10/14)
- “Breakfast Before the MOOC” (Thomas Friedman, 4/5/14)
- “Let It Bleed” (Roger Cohen, 6/9/14)
- “The BDS Movement and Antisemitism on Campus” (Eric Alterman, 3/26/16)
- “Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel/Palestine” (Thomas Friedman, 5/25/16)
- “Does Feminism Have Room for Zionism?” (Emily Shire, 3/7/17)
- “Why Israel Is Nothing Like Apartheid South Africa” (Benjamin Pogrund, 3/31/17)
The most recent two examples, by Shire and Pogrund, offer up boilerplate critiques of Israel’s critics. Bustle politics editor Emily Shire, positioning herself as the true victim of the Palestinian issue because she is asked “to sacrifice my Zionism for the sake of my feminism,” lamented:
It is strange to see academic groups supporting the BDS movement, which stifles the free flow of knowledge. But regardless of your opinion on the BDS issue, it has nothing to do with feminism.
The compartmentalization of leftist causes, like an ideological line-item veto, is reminiscent of an infamous 1967 New York Times editorial (4/7/67) scolding Martin Luther King for tieing the fight for civil rights at home to opposition to the war in Vietnam abroad:
This is a fusing of two public problems that are distinct and separate. By drawing them together, Dr. King has done a disservice to both. The moral issues in Vietnam are less clear-cut than he suggests; the political strategy of uniting the peace movement and the civil rights movement could very well be disastrous for both causes.
Shire’s argument, such as it was, was that feminism exists in isolation to all other causes—most notably the subjugation of Palestinians.
Would this pro-Israel spin be followed by a strong pro-BDS voice? Perhaps by the Palestinian feminist Rasmea Yousef Odeh, whom Shire singles out for criticism? Nope. The Times next opened up its opinion section to another anti-BDS voice, this time Benjamin Pogrund, dusting off an op-ed he’s written at least five times in as many years (emphasis added):
The occupation is an oppression. No rule over an unwilling and resistant people can be pleasant, and enforcement is harsh. But from my perspective, there is none of the institutionalized racism, the intentionality, that underpinned apartheid in South Africa. So why does the BDS movement insist otherwise?
You see, the 50-year occupation of Palestine was an accident, so the West Bank’s systematic ethnic segregation, complete with separate roads for Jews and Palestinians, somehow doesn’t count as apartheid. Despite the fact that Israel’s massive surge in settlement activity in the past ten years belies the reluctant occupier mythology, Pogrund only briefly touches on this subject, calling the West Bank settlements “ammunition for critics”—an incredibly glib way of referring to evidence of institutionalized bad faith.
As Dahlia Scheindlin (972, 4/3/17) noted in a rebuttal to Porgrund’s piece, the word “Gaza” doesn’t appear once in the Times op-ed. Erasing the 1.8 million Palestinians who live in what Noam Chomsky calls the “world’s largest open-air prison” when discussing the legal status of Palestinians is essential to fudging the definition of “apartheid.”
The New York Times has run a letter to the editor by BDS co-founder Barghouti (3/16/17) and provided him space in a “Room for Debate” web-only feature (5/11/15), but has not run an op-ed on the topic of BDS by him since his 2014 op-ed. In “Netanyahu’s Win Is Good for Palestine,” the Times gave op-ed space to BDS supporter Yousef Munayyer (3/18/15), but not in the context of defending BDS.
The Times has also run op-eds by Eyal Press (1/26/17), Kenneth Stern (12/12/16) and Daniel Sieradski (6/12/16) that were sympathetic to BDS on free speech grounds but did not, at least outwardly, support the movement as such. Indeed, Sieradski’s op-ed went out of its way to note that the author himself does “not support a boycott that targets Israel as a whole.”
While principled free-speech arguments are welcomed, one would think the Times could find at least one BDS supporter to write against increasing efforts to blackball the movement from public life.
In the past month alone, the Times has provided the most cherished op-ed space in US media for two Israel supporters to complain that the global community has been too tough on Israel and its scrappy band of defenders. Perhaps in the coming months, they could provide a little more balance and find someone who supports the BDS movement to write on the topic.
This post first appeared on FAIR’s website two days ago with the headline, “NYT’s BDS Debate Excludes BDS Proponents,” and is republished with permission. It appeared with this postscript: “You can send a message to the New York Times at firstname.lastname@example.org (Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.”