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It’s 7-0 against BDS on ‘New York Times’ opinion pages

on 9 Comments

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.

Emily Shire of Bustle magazine, from her twitter feed

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?

Benjamin Pogrund, from Vimeo His op-ed in the New York Times, (3/31/17) argues that Israel isn’t like apartheid South Africa, in part because while “most Arabs are exempted from military service, thus losing veteran benefits…Druze Arabs are conscripted like Jews, and Bedouin can volunteer”—as if doling out privileges based on ethnic distinctions weren’t a hallmark of apartheid.

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 [email protected] (Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.”

Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for You can see him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.

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9 Responses

  1. Maghlawatan on April 8, 2017, 4:07 pm

    The NYT will spin for Zionism until the people turn against it.

  2. pabelmont on April 8, 2017, 5:50 pm

    First, Israel punished people for comparing (not equating — just comparing) it to Nazi Germany. OK, I get it, it’s thin-skin-time where the Nazis are concerned. But now, Israel punishes people for comparing it to apartheid-South-Africa. No reason for a thin-skin there, so I guess Israel is just like all other nations (not a light unto, but just like): doesn’t like to be criticized.

    No surprise. And BDS doesn’t even compare Israel to anything — it merely describes and asks its friends and neighbors to help change what it doesn’t like about Israel.

    And, would you believe it, Israel doesn’t even like that!

    I guess Israel and its supporters at NYT and elsewhere think that Israel is just about perfect — nothing about it to complain of, not really — so cool it everybody and mind your own business.

    And that is the whole point: human-rights work is precisely and wholly the business of outsiders getting into other people’s business, like Trump (a great exponent of human rights!) attacking Syria’s Assad regime — Trump an outsider minding other people’s business.

    I guess it’s OK to attack Syria — folks widely recognized as being Arabs and having dark skins after all — but not OK to attack Israel, not even with op-eds in NYT, because Israel is widely (if falsely) recognized as not being Arab, not even a little, and not having dark skins, not even a little.

    After all, human-rights work has got to be racist or else we’d all be targets of someone else’s human-rights outrage, if not outright attacks.

    Hope that makes it clear why I stand behind the NYT on BDS, way behind, as far behind as I can get.

    • RoHa on April 9, 2017, 12:04 am

      “I guess it’s OK to attack Syria — folks widely recognized as being Arabs and having dark skins after all”

      Let’s be precise here. It’s OK for Americans and their Arab proxies to attack folks widely recognized as being non-American-supported Arabs, but it isn’t OK for Russians and non-American-supported Arabs to attack the American-supported Arabs.

  3. RoHa on April 9, 2017, 12:55 am

    “The most important editorial space in the English-speaking world ”


  4. Citizen on April 9, 2017, 1:04 am

    Nov 12, 2016 – New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. sent out a memo to subscribers yesterday, saying that the Grey Lady would re-commit itself to fair reporting. He was referring to political campaign reporting. He was afraid of loss of subscribers. Seems he’s not worried about such loss due to 7:0 biased reporting on BDS. Why is that?

  5. Ossinev on April 9, 2017, 12:29 pm

    My take on the intrinsic bias or lack of bias in a newspaper is whether it allows readers comments on a news article or an opinion piece. This would invite disagreement with , criticism of or complete debunking of the views expressed in the article. To be fair I have seen NYT articles regarding the I/P scenario where there have been readers comments and to my surprise a significant proportion of them have been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and a lot of them have been definitively anti – Zionist. So it would appear:
    1) That in certain circumstances the NYT does allow criticism of Zionism
    2) A lot of its readers are anti- Zionist

    As I say I am not an American and am not a regular NYT reader so happy to be set to rights if needs be.

    I have yet to see viewers comments affixed to an article specifically relating to BDS. Perhaps I have missed one or more ? Again happy to be corrected

    I can`t find any comments affixed to the seven articles referred to above.

    Perhaps when it comes to BDS allowing its readers the option of commenting is a red line for Mr.Sulzberger.

    PS I was particularly impressed by the article from that nice liberal Zionist Mr.Pogrund and learned a lot. E.G. it is only Apartheid when it is done ” intentionally ” so the discrimination and segregation in Israel proper can`t be classed as racist Apartheid as it is ad hoc (FFS).As for the occupied territories well they are temporarily (sic) occupied and controlled by Israel silly so there is no question of it being an Apartheid situation because the Palestinian Arabs there are not part of the non – Apartheid State of Israel.

    He then goes on bless his cotton socks to state in effect that Israel was is is and forever will be by definition an Apartheid state ie one which is based on separateness:
    ” A mass return (of Palestinian Arab refugees) would destroy Israel as a Jewish state, which is the whole purpose of its existence”

    I thought the whole purpose of Apartheid South Africa was to maintain it as a white Afrikaans State ?

    So only Jews with no connection can “return” but the original expelled inhabitants cannot be allowed to because that would destroy the whole purpose of Zioland`s separate existence which is to maintain it as a Jewish State (see maintain as an white Afrikaans State above).

    All this comes from a supposed expert who “saw Apartheid” up close.

    He claims:
    “Use of the apartheid label is at best ignorant and naïve and at worst cynical and manipulative.”

    Quite the opposite Mr.Pogrund – denial of Israeli Apartheid is at best ignorant and naive and at worst cynical and manipulative.

    Perhaps when Palestinian Arab citizens in his beloved Israel are forced to carry passes he may eventually see the light. Somehow I doubt it.

    Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive ourselves Mr.Pogrund.

  6. Boomer on April 10, 2017, 11:23 am

    NYT on Palestine/Israel reminds me of NYT on attacking Iraq. In particular, it reminds me of Bill Keller’s long thumb-sucker to justify NYT’s war coverage as he left his job, years after we invaded. “Putting aside those who opposed the war from the beginning . . . ” he says, as I recall. Naturally, we put them aside, as we assess things with hindsight: they don’t matter. Only the VSPs (the “Very Serious People” as Paul Krugman would say) matter. To be serious, one must be in favor of a “muscular” foreign policy. Being serious is more important than being right.

    So it is, for NYT, with Palestine/Israel. To be “serious” one must be a Zionist. Actually, one must be a Jewish Zionist; other kinds of Zionists are useful to have around, but aren’t among the “serious.” What miracle would change that attitude? It will take more than a burning bush in front of NYT, I suspect. Perhaps a pillar of fire by night and of smoke by day?

    PS: it’s OT, but for those who care for a trip down memory lane:

  7. Mayhem on April 30, 2017, 11:54 pm

    “Israel’s massive surge in settlement activity in the past ten years ”
    How we like to exaggerate to support our biased agenda.
    Israel has not built a new settlement in more than two decades.

    • talknic on May 1, 2017, 9:04 am

      @ Mayhem April 30, 2017, 11:54 pm

      //“Israel’s massive surge in settlement activity in the past ten years ”//

      “How we like to exaggerate to support our biased agenda.
      Israel has not built a new settlement in more than two decades”

      ‘new’ wasn’t the claim. How Zionists like/need to put words into other folks mouths in order to make a false accusation.

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