On March 17, the day of the 2015 Israel election, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned Jewish Israelis that Arabs were voting “in droves” (alleging, in a conspiratorial manner reminiscent of white supremacists in the US Jim Crow South, that “Left-wing organizations are busing them out”). Second-class Palestinian citizens voting is supposed to be a very bad thing in Israeli democracy.
The New York Times published an article about the incident—and more generally about Netanyahu’s bigoted, jingoistic, far-right tactics to attract more votes—titled “Netanyahu Expresses Alarm That Arab Voter Turnout Could Help Unseat Him.” The piece was written by Isabel Kershner and Rick Gladstone. At least, for the moment, that was the case.
Several hours later, the NYT published a rewrite of the article—a rewrite not just of parts of it, but of all of it. According the the website NewsDiffs which tracks edits to “highly-placed articles on online news sites,” between 5:13 pm and 9:08 pm on March 17 100% of the article was re-written to mostly erase the focus on Netanyahu’s racism.
The new title? The much more innocuous “Deep Wounds and Lingering Questions After Israel’s Bitter Race” (itself a modification on a previous headline of “Deep Wounds in Bitter Race”)—now, with just one author, Isabel Kershner.
The former article used the words “racism” (twice), “racist,” and “racial fearmongering.” The second line of the piece read “Opponents accused Mr. Netanyahu of baldfaced racism that smacked of desperation.” It included statements and quotes such as:
- The Zionist Union alliance denounced Mr. Netanyahu’s language as racial fearmongering.
- “No other Western leader would dare utter such a racist remark,” Shelly Yacimovich, a senior member of the bloc, wrote on Twitter. “Imagine a warning that starts, ‘Our rule is in danger, black voters are streaming in quantity to the polling stations.’”
- “A prime minister who conducts propaganda against national minority citizens is crossing a red line of incitement and racism,” said Dov Hanin, a Joint Arab List candidate. “Such a message, voiced by a prime minister on the very day in which citizens are supposed to be encouraged to go out to vote, is testimony to a complete loss of compass and his preparedness to smash all principles of democracy just for the sake of his own leadership.”
The latter article removed the quotes from Netanyahu’s opponents, leaving only the line “Opponents accused him of baldfaced racism.” And, no longer at the beginning of the piece, this sentence is now buried in the middle, where studies show most readers will not see it.
Netanyahu is quite simply whitewashed in the second article. This new draft—doubtless penned when NYT editors realized Netanyahu would likely be the next prime minister—is significantly kinder. Its thesis is essentially that Netanyahu is not actually a racist and that he does not truly unequivocally oppose the two-state solution. It features lines such as:
- Mr. Netanyahu has a long history in power and has in the past demonstrated that he can change positions from campaigning to governing. His record is as a pragmatist, analysts said.
- “I am sure that Netanyahu, with his broad historical perspective, if he is prime minister again, will be thinking long and hard about what legacy he will want to leave behind with regard to the demographic makeup of the country and its standing in the world,” said Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Reut Institute, an Israeli strategy group. “In the end I would not rule out his going back to the two-state solution.”
Euphemistically, the esteemed publication writes “In the final days of a closely fought election race, Mr. Netanyahu threw all political and diplomatic niceties to the wind.” That is one way of saying that, in order to attract votes, the right-wing Israeli prime minister resorted to base racism, fear-mongering, and—in what Ali Abunimah pointed out is strikingly reminiscent of early-20th-century anti-Semitic tropes—conspiracy theories about powerful foreign interests supposedly conspiring to unseat him.