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Racism in service of a pro-Israel agenda– two ‘NYT’ editors reveal a bias

Israel/Palestine
on 23 Comments

 

Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the NYT

Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the NYT

Last weekend was a busy one for me, or I am sure I would have noticed The New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan’s column, which mentioned my call for her paper to apologize for a racist statement contained in a letter to the Times Book Review.  

In that letter, Walter Schimmerling wrote,

“The ‘conflict’ exists because, by word and deed, Palestinian Arabs have avowed as their goal the killing of all Jews.”

As James North and I both said at the time, and I said in emails to Sullivan and the Book Review editor, Pamela Paul, this patently false and racist statement clearly has no place, even as opinion, in The NY Times.

And then last weekend Sullivan addressed my response in a column titled, “Reader Complaints, Behind the Scenes.”

Many readers were upset about a letter in The Times Book Review, which said in part, “Palestinian Arabs have avowed as their goal the killing of all Jews.” These readers, particularly Ira Glunts, called for an apology. I sent some of the complaints to Pamela Paul, the review’s editor. She told me that she did not think an apology was necessary, because the letter “accurately reflected the tenor” of many responses; she added that it might have been a good idea to insert a modifier, such as “many” or “some,” before “Palestinian Arabs” in the editing process. (That should have happened, in my view.) Ms. Paul invited Mr. Glunts to write a letter for publication in the Book Review. He hasn’t done so and continues to call for an apology.

Wow! In this brief paragraph, ostensibly written to show the behind-the-scenes workings of the Public Editor’s department in a favorable light, Sullivan implicates herself and The New York Times Book Review editor, Pamela Paul, as guilty of both pro-Israel bias and racism, to an audience whose magnitude I could never dream of reaching with my posts here.

I think it was very helpful that many Mondoweiss readers sent letters to Sullivan about the offending statement. I also believe that more letters were generated because the The Palestine Chronicle and its brilliant editor, Ramzy Baroud, published a version of my post that suggested that readers write to Sullivan. Without these letters, I doubt if Sullivan would have attended to this issue.

The New York Times is not a monolith.  Although the newspaper is, in many ways, a propaganda tool for the Israeli government and its pro-Israel supporters, it has recently shown signs of opening itself up to opposing points of view.

For instance, there is an editor at The Times who can take credit for enlisting the Palestinian political scientist, Ali Jarbawi, as contributing opinion writer for the newspaper.  And amazingly, on the same day that Sullivan’s column appeared in print, The Times published this remarkable letter by Julie E. Dinnerstein criticizing an article by star columnist and liberal Zionist icon, Thomas Friedman. In that pro-Israel puff piece, Friedman riffed on the oft-sung theme “this is not your grandfather’s Israel,” and then blamed current Israeli government policy on the recent growth of a small but vocal group of radical religious-settlers.  In stark contrast, Dinnerstein compares Israel, past and present, with the Eastern Europe that her grandfather fled in order to escape injustice and physical danger. So there is a letters editor at The Times who chose to print that letter and place it first in letters to the editor column last Sunday.

But let’s address the content of the short and truly remarkable paragraph that Sullivan wrote last Saturday.  James North, in a personal email to me, reflected on the fact that Pamela Paul told Sullivan that “she did not think an apology was necessary, because the letter ‘accurately reflected the tenor’ of many responses….”  North wrote:

The New York Times policy on letters to the book review editor seems to be as follows: The paper weighs the volume of letters, considers their “tenor,” and then picks a representative one for publication.  So if, say, the American Nazi Party conducted a letter-writing campaign responding to a review of another book about Adolf Hitler, the Times would definitely publish a letter that asserted that “Jews form an international conspiracy to control the world economy.”  In publishing letters, accuracy is not the Times’ major consideration.  The paper’s priority, if necessary, is making sure the bigotry of its readers gets into print.

My comment on North’s analysis is:  Paul would only do this “weighing” in the service of her paper’s pro-Israel agenda and to mollify the paper’s many rabid pro-Israel readers who write letters.

North has also written this satirical post on the extraordinarily bizarre idea that if The Book Review had modified “Palestinian Arabs with adjectives like “many” or “some,” any offense could have been avoided.  I recommend this post highly, as well as the insightful comments of many of the readers, especially Palestinian readers, who are often the target of The New York Times’ biased reportage and opinion pages.  And you should also read the comment of “bpm,” on the ethics of modifying, not the grammar or style, but the opinion in a reader’s letter.

It was startling to read that two prominent editors at The New York Times, in any way endorse this statement as opinion appropriate for publication:

The ‘conflict’ exists because, by word and deed, many Palestinian Arabs have avowed as their goal the killing of all Jews. [emphases mine, ig]

This statement is false, slanderous and meets any strict definition of racist.  Careers have been ended for far less.

Finally, it’s true that I declined Paul’s invitation to write a letter to the editor for publication. But I said I might do so later, and instead I chose to send Paul a lengthy email expressing regret that she had apparently chosen not to issue an apology and requesting that she refer the matter to others at The Times whose jobs deal directly with the issue of Israel/Palestine, or the many who write about the Jewish community both world-wide and in the New York City region.  And I cc’d Margaret Sullivan.

After it became apparent that Paul was not going to reply, I followed-up with an email addressed to Sullivan similar to the one I sent Paul, requesting that this matter be referred to her and to The New York Times staff, and, as in the letter to Paul, this email included three proposals which I recommended the Times adopt.

I have decided to now take Paul’s offer and send the following letter to the Letters Editor at The New York Times Book Review.  It is very similar to my earlier letters. I also sent copies of that correspondence to a high-ranking employee of The Times whose job involves the paper’s reportage on Israel/Palestine.  That person politely wrote me that she/he did not want to get involved in this matter.

This is the letter that I will send to The New York Times today in response to the invitation I received from Pamela Paul:

To the Editor,

In a letter to the editor of the Book Review published on March 19, Walter Schimmerling wrote the following:  “The ‘conflict’ exists because, by word and deed, Palestinian Arabs have avowed as their goal the killing of all Jews.”

This is a racist statement, even in the modified form, endorsed by your Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, and your Book Review Editor, Pamela Paul, as reported Sunday, April 20 in Sullivan’s column. Schimmerling’s statement and the ones endorsed by the New York Times editors are patently false and have no place in your newspaper, even as opinion. The test for The New York Times Book Review editors is to ask themselves whether they would have allowed another letter writer to tell similar sweeping lies about any other group of people, anywhere. Would the editors, to take just one example, permit a letter from India to state that “Pakistanis have avowed as their goal the killing of all Indians?”

Unfortunately, I can assure you that the racist, libelous and outrageous claim that Palestinians want to kill all (some or many) Jews will be a statement that other departments at your newspaper will be confronting shortly.  That is because that statement has become a “talking point” among a certain, not insignificant group of Israeli politicians, opinion makers and their pro-Israel supporters.

Michael Oren, the former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., has made a similar statement about the Palestinians in an op-ed.  So has Sheldon Adelson, at a recent public forum at Yeshiva University.  In my own writing, I reported on a  statement similar to Schimmerling’s that Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett made in a speech at an important public conference in Tel Aviv.

Thus I propose that The New York Times do the following:

  1. Apologize to its readers, especially its Palestinian readers, for printing the Schimmerling letter.
  2. Refuse to print similar offensive statements in letters and other opinion pieces such as op-eds.
  3. If this type of statement is reported as news, e.g., a prominent politician says it in a public forum; the offensive statement should be accompanied by a disclaimer, such as stating that the paper does not endorse or agree with the statement and that the statement is considered racist and offensive by most people.

In conclusion, it is going to be difficult enough for The New York Times to confront the growing criticism of its pro-Israel bias, but to compound the error by employing racism in the service of that bias is not something The New York Times should want to do.

Ira Glunts
Madison, NY

Update:  Julie Dinnerstein wrote to  point out that her letter only appeared online and in the International Edition of The New York Times.  This is important and we try the point out when columns and letters do not make the national edition of the newspaper.  Thanks to Julie for alerting us to this.

Ira Glunts
About Ira Glunts

Ira Glunts is a retired college librarian who lives in Madison, NY. His twitter handle is @abushalom

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23 Responses

  1. Sumud
    Sumud
    April 25, 2014, 9:09 am

    More racist propaganda from the NYTrash: Jodi Rudoren quotes Netanyahu making similar accusations – without comment – in her latest ‘effort’:

    Mr Netanyahu was emphatic in an interview on Thursday that Israel “will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas. These people are calling for the obliteration of the Jewish state [and were] openly, openly calling for the killing of Jews wherever you find them.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/25/world/middleeast/israel.html

    • John Douglas
      John Douglas
      April 25, 2014, 10:19 am

      Note that Netanyahu “… was emphatic …” It could have been “stated”, “claimed” “asserted” or, if this were in the anti-NY Times, “pretended”, “repeated the old saw that” or just “lied”.

      • Ellen
        Ellen
        April 25, 2014, 12:25 pm

        Even NPR reporting yesterday gave Netanyahoo’s false ranting and raving on the Hamas/Fatah agreement a platform of authority and truth without qualifiers. And no speech excerpts from a Palestinian representative, only Israeli.

        BTW, remember when the Israeli’s used to say the Palestinians are so divided there is no partner for negotiations?

        And keep in mind that the Israeli government funded Hamas in it’s early days. It is, after all, an Israeli creation to keep the conflict alive. Occupation and conflict is good business.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        April 25, 2014, 1:06 pm

        “BTW, remember when the Israeli’s used to say the Palestinians are so divided there is no partner for negotiations?”

        Exactly. And by finding so many excuses (often mutually contradictory ones) why the Palestinians are not “partners for peace,” the Israelis demonstrate that it was they who were not, all along.

  2. amigo
    amigo
    April 25, 2014, 9:19 am

    Ira, thank you for your efforts.

    Can you imagine just how much racist diatribe would be printed if people like you were not around to curtail it.My gratitude also to James North.

    A donation is on it,s way to MW and I dedicate it to Sullivan and Paul.

  3. American
    American
    April 25, 2014, 9:30 am

    Good effort Ira , but hoping to teach ethics or fairness to zionist is like trying to turn dirt into gold.
    They are what they, they arent going to change.

    • Abu Malia
      Abu Malia
      April 25, 2014, 11:12 am

      With enough heat and pressure, dirt could be turned into a diamond!

  4. John Douglas
    John Douglas
    April 25, 2014, 10:11 am

    Thanks, Ira. In Camus’ novel “The Fall” the main character has a voice on his shoulder that scoffs whenever he lies (mostly to himself). Mondoweiss and its dogged commenters too numerous to mention increasingly has the NY Times’ writers and editors looking over their shoulders. It makes a difference.

  5. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    April 25, 2014, 10:18 am

    I’m far from sure that (all or many) readers of letters in NYT or elsewhere read statements clearly intended by the writer to be read as statements of fact — gasp — as statements of opinion. I believe, to the contrary, that people “ready” to believe the worst of Palestinians, people raised on the mantra of “Palestinians are terrorists”, etc., and very likely also ANYONE WHO TRUSTS THE NYT, would read the racist blurf herein referred to as FACT. They have never heard the sensible question, “Do you believe everything you read in the newspaper?” They do not weigh. They believe.

    It would help if the NYT would print after the letter “This letter expresses the writer’s opinion which does not reflect the opinion or policy of NYT”. But that would not be sufficient, in my view, to undo the harm done by publication.

    Maybe if NYT appended a statement of this form

    The opinions presented in the foregoing letter were presented by its author as facts. The editors of the Times do not believe that they are facts and do not share them as opinions. This letter is, in our opinion, racist and unhelpful to any decent end where it says

    “The ‘conflict’ exists because, by word and deed, Palestinian Arabs have avowed as their goal the killing of all Jews.”

    . We printed this letter only because we got a lot of letters that expressed this horrible, racist view. The editors.

  6. aiman
    aiman
    April 25, 2014, 10:21 am

    Off topic but note to Mondoweiss. Here’s some update on Bob Carr in Australia on the QandA Debate: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3971827.htm

    Also check out the Middle East Reality Check analysis: http://middleeastrealitycheck.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/cleaning-up-mess-at-q-2.html

  7. The Hasbara Buster
    The Hasbara Buster
    April 25, 2014, 11:14 am

    @Ira

    The modifier “some or many” is misplaced in the phrase “the racist, libelous and outrageous claim that Palestinians want to kill all (some or many) Jews will be a statement that other departments at your newspaper will be confronting shortly.” It should come before “Palestinians,” not before “Jews,” to accurately reflect the editors’ proposal.

    Also, you could make the point that Schimmerling says “by word and action,” which implies he’s not merely citing the obscure reference to a hadith in the Hamas charter, but talking about real efforts made by the Palestinians to try and kill all Jews.

    • LeaNder
      LeaNder
      April 25, 2014, 1:44 pm

      Also, you could make the point that Schimmerling says “by word and action,” which implies he’s not merely citing the obscure reference to a hadith in the Hamas charter, but talking about real efforts made by the Palestinians to try and kill all Jews.

      as ira writes, you are riffing on the oft-sung. The problem is, it does not work anymore, since people start to understand that doesn’t come out of plain air or is the result of antisemitism but strictly is the response to the continued Palestinian dispossession. So come back, maybe after you changed your odd aka, one that does not immediately reflect your ideological origin, and offer a new tune.

  8. weareone
    weareone
    April 25, 2014, 11:27 am

    I wonder how many other opinions the NY Times has “modified.”

  9. LeaNder
    LeaNder
    April 25, 2014, 12:26 pm

    Great article, Ira, I am absolutely fascinated by your well-reflected work.

    And you should also read the comment of “bpm,” on the ethics of modifying, not the grammar or style, but the opinion in a reader’s letter.

    Well yes, strictly we have no rules for that. Since no doubt no one would like to “modify” anyone’s comment. The question is indeed why they surface and others don’t. Neither do we have a rule, although we may have adoptable rules like putting a comment in brackets behind or below, for distancing ourselves from a position. But that could well trigger question like: Well why do you publish it then to start with.

    This reminds me of my larger struggles with “objectivity” in the post 911 universe. And apparently this mental struggle reached parts of the academic authors and/or experts of journalism too.

    This statement is false, slanderous and meets any strict definition of racist. Careers have been ended for far less.

    It may interest you that I responded to James sarcastic article on the issue by posting a response to one of the “moral indignation camp” among those who got printed as response to Sullivan’s article. She empathized with Sullivan, since Sullivan, she felt, had to suffer all these snark attacks. She also pretended to be very, very concerned if Sullivan did get enough “beauty sleep” while having to deal with these horrible “snarkers”. I guess in this context, you.

    Now, following James# sarcastic lead, yes I have to admit, I wrote an ironic response to this lady. A mock pretense, admittedly, searching for her advise on the issue. I was aware of the core problem. The lady did not directly attack you and your special intervention and it was pushed down towards the end of the article. Strictly her idea of “snark complaints” could have addressed any other more generalized issue before you. But I am sure, I addressed that issue. I forgot about it after. As of today 27 people have been given a chance to respond. I am not one of them. Unlucky me. No problem though. My response was to Fredda Weinberg (that would be vineyard in German, by the way).

    Now this reminds me of the spiral of silence.. Which basically claims, as long as people have the impression that their opinions are not shared by many, they do not dare to speak out. This conforms with my life experience. It sometimes only needs one courageous voice to make a whole silent audience join that voice. As soon as it happens they know they aren’t alone.

    Which is why I think the comment section is not an unimportant issue at all. And it is great you addressed that issue.

    Last but not least, and I won’t have time to go back to proofread:

    perfect: I hope I am able to keep this coinage in mind, riffed on the oft-sung tune, if I do, I am not sure if a proper hat tip to you will also remain on my aging brain in connection with this phrase. ;)

  10. Ellen
    Ellen
    April 25, 2014, 12:31 pm

    A question is why would the NYT allow itself to be a platform for hate speech? The Schimmerling letter was clearly hate speech. The paper published it for the world to read.

    While the NYT has the right to publish hate rhetoric, does the claim that it captured the tenor of many letters received, justify publication of any hate speech?

    Or is the NYT really a modern Der Stürmer, dressed up as the Grey Lady?

  11. dbroncos
    dbroncos
    April 25, 2014, 12:40 pm

    This is a racist statement, even in the modified form, endorsed by your Public Editor, ‘Margaret Sullivan, and your Book Review Editor, Pamela Paul, as reported Sunday, April 20 in Sullivan’s column. Schimmerling’s statement and the ones endorsed by the New York Times editors are patently false and have no place in your newspaper, even as opinion. The test for The New York Times Book Review editors is to ask themselves whether they would have allowed another letter writer to tell similar sweeping lies about any other group of people, anywhere. Would the editors, to take just one example, permit a letter from India to state that “Pakistanis have avowed as their goal the killing of all Indians?”’

    Great stuff, Ira!

    suggestion:

    The first sentence of this paragraph is confusing and it doesn’t explain Sullivan’s suggested use of modifiers beyond refering readers to the April 20 NYT.

  12. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    April 25, 2014, 2:04 pm

    RE “The ‘conflict’ exists because, by word and deed, Palestinian Arabs have avowed as their goal the killing of all Jews.” ~ Walter Schimmerling

    THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: “The ‘conflict’ exists because, by word and deed, Israeli Jews have avowed as their goal the killing of all Arabs.”*

    * SEE – “Bibi’s Father’s Answer to the ‘Arab Problem’: Hang’ Em in the Town Square”, By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 4/04/09

    [EXCERPTS] Imagine, if you will, if Barack Obama’s real father was Rev. Jeremiah Wright and imagine, if you will, that Wright gave an eight-page interview to USA Today the week of Obama’s inauguration. Then you can imagine the “interest” with which such a ‘Maariv’ interview with Bibi Netanyahu’s father was met in Israeli circles.
    Noam Sheizaf, who works for Maariv, has translated portions of the interview . . .
    . . . And without further ado, I give you, Ben Zion Netanyahu, the father of the man:

    [EXCERPTS] . . . • Question: You don’t like the Arabs, to say the least.
    Benzion Netanyahu: “The Bible finds no worse image than this of the man from the desert. And why? Because he has no respect for any law. Because in the desert he can do as he pleases.
    The tendency towards conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won’t allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn’t matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetuate war.”. . .
    . . . • Question: Is there any hope of peace?
    Benzion Netanyahu: …No…The two states solution doesn’t exist. There are no two people here. There is a Jewish people and an Arab population… there is no Palestinian people, so you don’t create a state for an imaginary nation … they only call themselves a people in order to fight the Jews.”
    • Question: So what’s the solution?
    Benzion Netanyahu: “No solution but force… strong military rule. Any outbreak will bring upon the Arabs enormous suffering. We shouldn’t wait for a big mutiny to start, but rather act immediately with great force to prevent them from going on…
    If it’s possible, we should conquer any disputed territory in the land of Israel. Conquer and hold it, even if it brings us years of war. We should conquer Gaza, and parts of the Galil, and the Golan. This will bring upon us a bloody war. . .
    . . . There is valuable experience [on this matter] we don’t pay notice to. I mean the Ottoman rule over the Arabs. The Turks ruled over the Arabs for 400 years, and there was peace and quiet everywhere. The Arabs hated the Ottomans, but every little thing they did brought mass killings and hanging in towns squares. They were hanging people in Damascus, and Izmir… every town had hanging posts in its center…the Arabs were so badly beaten, they didn’t dare revolt. Naturally, I don’t recommend the use of hangings as a show of force like the Turks did, I just want to show that the only thing that might move the Arabs from the rejectionist position is force. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2009/04/04/bibis-fathers-answer-to-the-arab-problem-hang-em-in-the-town-square

  13. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    April 25, 2014, 2:39 pm

    Kudos to Ira Glunts for poking the Times for their printing of this letter to the editor. Non-kudos to MW for evading the facts of Islamic sources for hatred of Jews. Asserting once again that if I were prime minister I would talk to Hamas no matter their charter and the Hadith in question and I feel it is an evasion by Netanyahu to cite such things as his reasons for ceasing negotiations. But if one touts oneself as “the war of ideas” then it must be something more than just the war of letters to the editor, but at least an attempt (one paragraph or as much as 800 words) to explain that such a Hadith exists and even interview someone from a religious Islamic background to explain the Hadith. But this is not a war of ideas. This is a war of gotcha and ideas are cherry picked and largely irrelevant.

    So kudos to Ira Glunts and anti kudos to MW.

    • Sumud
      Sumud
      April 25, 2014, 3:21 pm

      … evading the facts of Islamic sources for hatred of Jews.

      Peculiar how these “Islamic sources of hatred” lay dormant for over a thousand years and didn’t activate until foreign zionist jews started committing terrible war crimes in Palestine against Palestinians.

      The less sophisticated among us might believe there to be a connection between the two.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      April 25, 2014, 3:32 pm

      “Non-kudos to MW for evading the facts of Islamic sources for hatred of Jews.”

      Yonah, you’ve been asked a number of times to give the name of the Palestinian person or persons who want to kill all of the Jews in the world, as this bigot suggests. If you believe that number to be more than zero, as you obviously do, then they must have names known to you (unless you’re making stuff up out of thin air), so please let us know who they are. If you can’t give names, then you should really apologize for your support for the proposition that the bigoted NYT reader advanced.

      As for the religious sources of hatred of Jews in Islam, that problem exists equally on both sides of the fight (which is one reason why religion has no place in any conflict or political issue); and, in fact, given the power disparity, the sources of hatred in Judaism are arguably worse.

      But since you seem to know all about these religious issues, why don’t you explore it from both angles — discuss both the Jewish and Muslim scriptures and how they foment hatred. Be sure to do both in equal depth and with equal passion (otherwise you would open yourself to claim of bigotry adn bias.)

      You can then start the conversation you seem to want to have. (But if you aren’t willing to put in the work, though, then you should really pipe down. No one is here to ensure that what you want to discuss is discussed when you want it discussed.)

    • amigo
      amigo
      April 25, 2014, 3:33 pm

      Does anyone here ever discuss the Likud Charter and the absence of recognition by Israel of a Palestinian State.Indeed , it is worse than a refusal to recognize a Palestinians State.The charter states quite clearly that they will never allow a Palestinian State.

      So please cut the BS about the Hamas Charter.

  14. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    April 25, 2014, 3:42 pm

    I think that bitter conflict naturally produces bitter hatreds on both (of course both) sides. I’ve sometimes mentioned Xenophon’s phrase, put in the mouth of an Inferior in Sparta, that all the various inferior grades ‘would willingly eat the Spartiates raw’ – he means that he senses that idea rolling around at the backs of many of their minds as they go about their daily business. It’s a very credible scene in 400-odd BCE and I don’t think human nature can have changed that much or have ceased to apply in Israel/Palestine, our Sparta. The important thing is not that these ideas do not exist or are never sensed at dark midnight hours or in the heat of noonday confrontation. It’s that they always coexist with other and more constructive ideas and that if more positive opportunities are offered then the most violent ideas may become inoperative. If positive opportunities are never offered then what Roger Cohen calls the corrosion of morality on both sides may proceed, gnawing away at everyone.

  15. Les
    Les
    April 25, 2014, 3:51 pm

    I have yet to hear of a single non-racist person who supports Israel’s efforts to wipe out the Palestinians.

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