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Following criticism, ‘NYT’ quotes Barghouti, Vilkomerson and Ashrawi on BDS

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New York Times headquarters. (Photo: Wikipedia)

New York Times headquarters. (Photo: Wikipedia)

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.

Patrick Connors
About Patrick Connors

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

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10 Responses

  1. annie
    March 6, 2014, 10:07 am

    For reasons none of us can really explain, an improvement occurred.

    i really appreciate your eagle eye for detail and continued persistence/pressure for truth and accuracy Patrick. it’s you and people like you who make it happen. thank you.

    • Krauss
      March 6, 2014, 11:15 am

      I can only add to Annie’s praise by giving my own thanks to your yeoman’s work on this issue.

      But I share your pessimism/realism that we’ve seen positive trends in the past and then see them abruptly end. The Times’ Israel coverage has in the past 6-12 months been more Likudnik than “liberal” Zionist, frankly. The BDS = Nazis article from Rudoren could have been pulled out of a settler newspaper. And even before that, she had racked up one Likudnik article after the other.

      So while some change is welcome, you’re right to warn us about overinterpreting any of these developments.

    • March 6, 2014, 9:55 pm

      labeling antisemetic, ms volkomerson, is the decietful ol tactic to try to totally discredit the bds movement.
      i’m sorry omar feels he has to explain bds is not antisemetic. he’s bowing down to their abusive power. by now, it’s been so utterly ridiculously overused and innapropriately used its risen to the “boy that cried wolf” level.
      responding to the antisemetic charge just gives it credibility. it should be ignored and laughed at.
      as far as the deliberate truth-perversion of israhel’s american paper of record, it’s too bad they couldn’t let the world’s premier expert on such a matter, illan pappe, teach the times, and the overall brainwashed american people, a lesson;
      allow him to write a whole series of front page articles condensing his seminal work, the ethnic cleansing of palestine.
      but, i’m quite sure that that other ridiculously truth-perverting cry will be shouted out loud; self-hater!
      the psycho-zios have an excuse for everything.

  2. peterfeld
    March 6, 2014, 11:17 am

    This is really a marvel of media activism and shows there is a very good return on investment for persistent but professional direct contact along with thorough public documentation.

  3. pabelmont
    March 6, 2014, 11:27 am

    Thanks for pushing on this. One idea I had recently, after reading about the rabbi who quit Hillel over the censorship, is that MAYBE the club of big-money folks who we call collectively AIPAC or The Lobby are like otehr folks in that they like to feel approved of by their friends (here, other big-money Zionists) and “go along” with the Israeli hard-line just to keep their own friendships in order — rather than from hard-line ideology.

    If that is true, it follows that an interesting (and RISKY) strategy for smaller Jewish organizations to take (in spite of worrying about funding from the biggies) would be to PROCLAIM THAT JEWISH VALUES/ETHICS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN ISRAEL and that free speech is a Jewish value. And then just take a blatant position that the censorship opposes and ask donors to ignore pressure from friends to remain hard-line Zionists when that conflicts with Jewish values.

    It is risky. Imagine if NPR or WNYC were to start being even-handed and all their largest donors quit on them! Wow!

    But also imagine if NPR or WNYC were to start being even-handed and many of their large donors kept right on giving, or even gave more, AND SAID SO.

    I’m waiting for the day.

  4. thankgodimatheist
    March 6, 2014, 6:56 pm

    The NYT, I believe, is pressure prone and can be in the right direction. They, so far, had it good and safe kowtowing the pro-Israel line with no significant push back to worry about. Not anymore, too much noise is disturbing their goodnight sleep. Have to do something to stop alienating more Jews who refuse to have any of that. Give them crumbs for starters and let’s see.

  5. ToivoS
    March 6, 2014, 9:03 pm

    Thanks for your efforts trying to keep the NYT’s honest. One tiny quibble: Overall, I think that the level of poor, biased reporting has remained largely unchanged for years. Perhaps the level of bias hasn’t changed but there has been a huge change in the the level of acceptance of racist and right wing policies.

  6. Clif Brown
    Clif Brown
    March 7, 2014, 12:04 am

    Thank you, Mr. Conners, for putting the effort into this.

    It seems a perfect occasion to acknowledge the long time work of Alison Weir at If Americans Knew who has been documenting the lopsided reporting in the news media for many years now, presenting in in graphical form at the If Americans Knew website.

    BTW – I dumped my ten year subscription to the NYT when the editors decided that the Snowden revelation that the NSA was sharing intelligence on Americans with Israel with essentially no restrictions, was not news worth reporting.

    • Citizen
      March 7, 2014, 6:33 am

      Agreed. Mr. Connors is brave, persistent, a truth seeker, and Ms. Alison Weir has been poking a stick in the eye of the Zionist dragon for many years; her aptly titled organization/web site If Americans Knew should be referenced constantly:

  7. RFS
    March 8, 2014, 4:25 am

    “…one-third to one-half of all Palestinian refugees were driven from their homes”

    The IDF files on which Benny Morris’s scholarship is based yield much higher results – 70% of Palestinian refugees were in direct attacks alone by Zionist militants.

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