The publication of an op-ed by Palestinian prisoner and leader Marwan Barghouti in the New York Times in its international edition last weekend surely marks a new high point in Israel’s international isolation — Barghouti called Israel a “moral and political failure” — but the enraged response by Israeli politicians in turn marks a new high point in hasbara, or propaganda. One Netanyahu minister has accused the newspaper of a “journalistic terror attack,” while another accused Barghouti of staging a “suicide terror attack” for leading the hunger strike that was the subject of his article.
A roundup of some of the reactions. First, here is Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on his Facebook page, waxing righteous about Barghouti’s op-ed, which was titled “Why We Are on Hunger Strike In Israel’s Prisons”:
I read, on Sunday, the article in the New York Times that presents arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti as a ‘parliamentarian and leader’. The paper recanted after we pointed it out to them.
Calling Barghouti a ‘political leader’ is like calling Assad a ‘pediatrician.’ They are murderers and terrorists. We will never lose our sense of clarity because we are on the side of justice and they are on the side that is neither just nor moral….
This Israeli TV report quotes Michael Oren, a deputy minister in the Netanyahu government, calling the article a “journalistic terror attack.” Oren says Israel should consider shutting down the Times’s Jerusalem bureau, and says the Times ran the article on the last day of Passover so as to mute an Israeli response:
Israel’s Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren.. called on the government to consider punitive action against the paper—including possibly closing its Israel bureau.
Speaking to Army Radio on Monday, Oren described the publication as a “journalistic terror attack”, and railed the Times for publishing “fake news” that was “full of lies.”
“As for the New York Times, if someone in the paper helped him [smuggle the op-ed out of prison], the New York Times should be held accountable,” Oren told Army Radio.
Acknowledging that such a move might “sound extreme”, he explained that there was precedent: “At the start of the Second Intifada, when CNN… helped terrorists,” he said, “Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not hesitate to close its bureau here.”…
Oren, until recently Israel’s ambassador to Washington, further accused the editors of the New York Times of running the piece deliberately on the last day of Passover in order to make it difficult for the Israeli government to respond.
Yousef Munayyer responded on twitter:
BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] is “Economic Terrorism”
Seeking UN membership is “Diplomatic Terrorism”
Writing an Op-Ed is “Journalistic Terrorism”
Larry Derfner responds to Michael Oren on his Facebook page:
A rabid, intolerant, ultra-nationalist, anti-democratic propagandist who grew up in America, and who has a Ph.D., and who publishes books, and who knows how to smile for the camera, is still a rabid, intolerant, ultra-nationalist, anti-democratic propagandist.
The Times of Israel has a big story on the New York Times’s own backtracking on the article, including its addition of a note laying out Barghouti’s alleged crimes. As well as the criticism of the article by Times public editor Liz Spayd. She wrote that the Times editors failed to carry out due diligence with respect to Barghouti’s backstory.
Do the authors of the pieces have any conflicts of interest that could challenge their credibility? Are they who they say they are, and can editors vouch for their fidelity?
I see no reason to skimp on this, while failing to do so risks the credibility of the author and the Op-Ed pages.
In this case, I’m pleased to see the editors responding to the complaints, and moving to correct the issue rather than resist it. Hopefully, it’s a sign that fuller disclosure will become regular practice.
Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, a strong Israel supporter, is also critical of the Times:
It’s debatable if Marwan Barghouti has a political future. Pals & Israelis debate it. But NYT was wrong not cite his terrorism conviction.
(P.S. Mandela had no political future till South African President FW de Klerk let him out of jail in 1990, after 27 years behind bars, a year after de Klerk had begun dismantling apartheid.)
The Anti Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt was also righteous about the Times’s alleged lapse. “Can’t happen.” (Sounds like Trumpspeak.)
Not all American Jews feel that way. Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace calls the Times’s shift an “infuriating collapse.”
Haaretz reports that an Israeli minister called the prisoners’ hunger strike that Barghouti is leading “a new type of suicide terrorist attack.”
The cabinet on Sunday approved a controversial bill allowing the authorities to force feed prisoners who are on hunger strike if their life is deemed in danger….
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is promoting the law, said after its approval that he seeks to get the legislation passed as soon as possible. “Security prisoners are interested in turning a hunger strike into a new type of suicide terrorist attack through which they will threaten the State of Israel. We will not allow anyone to threaten us and we will not allow prisoners to die in our prisons,” said Erdan.
This goes to Munayyer’s tweet: These guys sure don’t feel very secure about their state’s legitimacy!
Here is Lisa Goldman at +972 noting that the rectitudinous NYT policy on identifying Barghouti’s alleged crimes did not extend to Ariel Sharon and Naftali Bennett, when they published op-eds without the newspaper itemizing the blood on their hands.
It seems that the New York Times is willing to publish op-eds by Israeli Jews who advocate or have committed murder of Palestinians, without mentioning that fact in their bio blurbs. So the question, without taking a position on whether or not political violence is ever justified, is why the Times feels compelled to take a different stance when it comes to Palestinian contributors.
The answer to Goldman is pretty simple: the prominence of the Israel lobby in mainstream US institutions. Which is ebbing. The Times article is a reflection of the fact that the double standard for Palestinians is growing more and more problematic by the minute, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the occupation. The Israeli officials are aware of this crisis in legitimacy. Thus the crazy hasbara.
Thanks to James North and Scott Roth.