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‘NY Times’ downplays Netanyahu’s political motivation for ordering the latest attack on Gaza

Media Analysis
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Today’s New York Times report on the latest Israeli escalation of violence in Gaza at first raised the hope that the paper might be suspending its chronic bias.

Right in the second paragraph, the Times did note that the “timing of the attack…led some critics of Benjamin Netanyahu to charge that it was politically motivated.” 

But the paper did not quickly follow up on this tantalizing suggestion. Instead, it waited until the 25th paragraph to raise the point obliquely, noting briefly that the Israeli attack “occurred in a moment of political tension, as Mr. Netanyahu fights for his political life.”

And only in the 30th paragraph did the Times even briefly quote the political leader Ayman Odeh, who leads the Joint List, which represents Palestinian citizens of Israel, 20 percent of the population. Odeh and the Joint List are at the heart of the political maneuverings that Netanyahu’s attack on Gaza was arguably designed to sabotage. 

(At least the Times mentioned Netanyahu’s political calculations. The Washington Post report ignored them completely.)

Netanyahu’s political calculations are no secret in Israel. This site reported yesterday that Moty Cristal, a former lieutenant colonel in the Israeli army, said on television the prime minister had a “strong combination” of political motives to attack Gaza.

Here’s part of the reason. After two inconclusive elections, Israel is mired in political stalemate. One possible solution is a minority government, led by centrist former general Benny Gantz, which would have to rely on the tacit support of the Palestinian Joint List and exclude Netanyahu. This prospect terrifies the beleaguered prime minister; he quite possibly faces jail if he fails to earn immunity by participating in the next ruling coalition.

Netanyahu’s response has been to step up his trademark anti-Palestinian racism, nastiness that goes nearly unreported in the Times and other mainstream U.S. media. Afif Abu Much, writing in Al-Monitor, indicts “Netanyahu’s successful campaign of delegitimization against Israel’s Arab citizens, claiming that they should not be able to impact the formation of the government.” 

Amos Harel, the hard-headed realist who covers the Israeli military for Haaretz, agrees that Netanyahu’s attack yesterday on Gaza does mean that “the notion of a minority [Gantz] government supported from outside the coalition by the Arab Joint List seems more and more unlikely.”

Instead, Netanyahu hopes to intimidate Benny Gantz into forming a grand coalition with him (which will keep him out of jail). Abu Much notes that across Israel Gantz is greeted by Jewish hecklers who shout at him, “Go to the Arabs! You’re joining up with the Arabs! Just Netanyahu!”

Chemi Shalev, the respected Haaretz columnist, also has deep doubts about Netanyahu’s motivation in ordering the attacks on Gaza. He argues that Netanyahu “has proven time and again over the past year that his own survival overrides any and all national values or accepted norms — and that lying about it is second nature.” 

Meanwhile, what does Ayman Odeh, who leads the Joint List, the third-largest force in Israel politics, think of all this? Today’s long Times report gives him only one sentence: he says Benjamin Netanyahu is “a cynical man who lost two consecutive elections [and who] will leave only scorched earth in a desperate attempt to remain in office.”

Surely Ayman Odeh had more to say? (And when will the New York Times do a profile of this courageous man, a pivotal figure in Israeli politics who says Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is his hero?)

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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3 Responses

  1. Misterioso on November 14, 2019, 10:15 am

    The conniving look on Netanyahu’s face says it all.

  2. pabelmont on November 14, 2019, 12:17 pm

    Some reports say (not only that Netanyahu acted for personal political reasons but) that there was a cease-fire in place when the triggering assassination was perpetrated.

    Was there a cease-fire? Between which parties? All (important) Palestinian parties? etc. clarification would be welcome.

    Because if there had been a cease-fire in place, and given Israel’s certain knowledge that rocket fire would respond to the assassination, Israel’s entire attack on Gaza was unprovoked and deliberate and thus not merely disproportionate but without anything to be proportionate to.

    I suppose I’m wrong about the cease fire. Anyone know?

  3. James Canning on November 14, 2019, 5:07 pm

    Anyone familiar with Netanyahu’s career can confidently assume political calculations drove the decision to attack Gaza.

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