Last Saturday, Israel arrested Majd Kayyal, an Israeli Palestinian journalist who works for the human rights group Adalah, after he had visited Lebanon, then detained him incommunicado.
Matt Lee of the Associated Press brought up the journalist’s arrest at the State Department briefing on Monday, and Ali Abunimah reported on the case for several days running at Electronic Intifada, noting:
Israeli media are strictly prohibited from publishing any details about Kayyal’s detention under the terms of a Shin Bet gag order approved by the judge.
The Times reported on the case yesterday, when Kayyal was released to house arrest, and referred to the gag order in passing– “A court-imposed gag order on the case was lifted on Thursday.”
Now it turns out that the New York Times also abided by that gag order.
Today the Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, published an article about the gag order, stating that the Times bureau accepted it. Sullivan reports considerable confusion inside the Times about whether it does such things. The piece is highly embarrassing to the Times. As Abunimah summarizes the matter: “The New York Times agrees to be gagged by Israel.”
Sullivan quotes Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren saying that the Times wouldn’t have covered Kayyal’s arrest very much anyway: “We probably would have written a modest story or brief about this arrest earlier if there had not been a gag order.”
But Sullivan isn’t buying. It doesn’t matter how big the story was, “I find it troubling that The Times is in the position of waiting for government clearance before deciding to publish.” And in giving credit to EI, Sullivan makes clear how important a story this was for Palestinians:
Meanwhile, an online publication called The Electronic Intifada published a number of articles about Mr. Kayyal’s detention over the past several days.
The author of those articles, Ali Abunimah, said in an email that “readers have a right to know when NYT is complying with government-imposed censorship.”
And Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center, wrote to me that this seems to go against journalistic principles: “It would seem to me that a story that a state specifically wants to prevent from seeing the light of day is something that should make a journalist’s mouth water. That’s what journalism is all about, isn’t it?”
Sullivan goes on to quote foreign editor Joseph Kahn questioning why readers weren’t informed of the gag order in the article yesterday.
Rudoren, shown above speaking to an American Jewish Committee group on its visit to Jerusalem this year, justified the policy in this manner to Sullivan:
The Times is “indeed, bound by gag orders,” Ms. Rudoren said. She said that the situation is analogous to abiding by traffic rules or any other laws of the land, and that two of her predecessors in the bureau chief position affirmed to her this week that The Times has been subject to gag orders in the past.
Is it really like a traffic light? No one could possibly object to a reporter obeying traffic rules.
Abunimah, the author of a new book, “The Battle for Justice in Palestine,” writes sensibly that the Times should have challenged the gag order by publishing news of Kayyal’s detention and risked getting tossed by Israel, an unlikely scenario indeed. It’s hard not to agree with his conclusion:
But that would take a very different kind of Times bureau – one prepared to challenge Israeli government actions rather than serve as Israel’s chief explainer and apologist. I’m not holding my breath.
(I believe this is yet more evidence of Israel-centrism at the New York Times. Lately Rudoren said she first visited Israel with United Synagogue Youth and “I come [to Jerusalem] knowledgeable about the Jewish American or Jewish Israeli side of this beat.”)
Update: The Kayyal story was also closely covered by Richard Silverstein, who broke important news last week as the Times was donning the gag. I should have mentioned his work in this post initially.