Media Analysis

‘The New York Times’ runs Israeli propaganda on ’67 War: It was ‘defensive’

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Yesterday’s international edition of the New York Times contains a scandalously counter-historical article by David Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner, entitled “Netanyahu sees a principle in taking Golan”, which accepts as given, without the slightest historical corrective or nuance, contentions by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the 1967 Arab-Israeli war was a “defensive” war on Israel’s part.

Netanyahu’s statements:

“When you start wars of aggression, you lose territory, do not come and claim it afterwards…

“Everyone says you can’t hold an occupied territory, but this proves you can. If occupied in a defensive war, then it’s ours.”


“Israel was fighting a defensive battle to save its nation, and it cannot be the case that a U.N. resolution is a suicide pact.”

The article contains extensive commentary on whether international law actually justifies acquisition of land by conquest, but there is no hint in this article of any fundamental — or even potential — historical reality problem with these assertions from the willfully deceitful Netanyahu and the utterly clueless Pompeo.

Surely Halbfinger and Kershner (as well as Netanyahu though probably not Pompeo) must know that Israel attacked first in 1967. That’s how it destroyed virtually the entire Egyptian air force on the ground in the first hours of the war.

For many years, Israeli generals and political leaders have argued that their attack was “preemptive”, since they believed that the Arabs were about to attack them. However, some generals subsequently admitted that they did not really believe this but, rather, simply saw an opportunity and seized it — hence a “preventive” war, the trendy euphemism for a war of aggression.

Mehdi Hasan revisited this subject in the Intercept on the 50th anniversary of the day when Israel launched its “Six-Day War”. He quoted prominent and knowledgeable Israelis confirming that this war was a war of choice initiated by Israel. Notably, Prime Minister Menachem Begin stated publicly in 1982: “We must be honest with ourselves. We chose to attack them.”

At the time, this admission was duly and accurately reported by the New York Times.

In an interview by James North on the 50th anniversary, Norman Finkelstein also took apart historical myths about the war:

* Egyptian president Gamal abdel Nasser and the other Arab leaders had absolutely no intention of invading Israel in June 1967.

* Israel’s existence was never in the slightest doubt, as both Israeli and American leaders knew that Israel could easily win any conflict, even against a coalition of  Arab states.

* The U.S. agreed with Israel that Nasser had no plans to attack.

* The U.S. tacitly gave Israel permission to start the war, or at least indicated there would be no repeat of Eisenhower’s repudiation after the 1956 Suez invasion.

Furthermore, the most widely believed reason why on June 8, several days after starting the 1967 war, Israel tried to sink the American spy ship USS Liberty, killing 34 Americans and wounding 171, was that Israel suspected that the ship might be overhearing Israel’s communications about its plans to attack Syria, which could have led the U.S. government to lean on Israel not to attack Syria. Israel took the Golan on June 9-10.

The Times has been showing some encouraging progress of late on Israel/Palestine, but this article is a reversion to the worst days of propaganda and disinformation.


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It happens quite often here at Mondoweiss that there is an article in which the author is just stunned that the NY Times actually published an article that does not present the anti-Israel narrative. All the writers seem to be very intelligent people, however they just don’t understand that there are others who see the world differently. Yes, in the anti-Israel perspective, Israel fired the first shot and therefore she is the aggressive power. However,… Read more »

You only need to see Isabel Kershner’s name in the byline to know that what follows will be 100% unadulterated hasbara.

“Israel was able to launch its surprise attack against Egypt and Syria at the beginning of the Six-Day War thanks to information provided to Mossad by an intelligence network of former Nazis, according to a book by an Italian who claims to have played a role.“

A blockade is an act of war. Egypt must therefore take responsibility for starting the war, even if the actual shooting was started by Israel. Having said that, let me also quote a top Israeli general:- “The thesis that the danger of genocide was hanging over us in June, 1967, and that Israel was fighting for its physical existence is only bluff, which was born and developed after the war.” Israeli General Matityahu Peled, March… Read more »

This entire argument is born of the old axiom, “In war, the victor gets to write the history.” It worked until humans developed media systems capable of shining a light on the truth that it’s never so simple as “he started it, mommy!”