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‘NY Times’ makes up news about ‘a new group of Arab thinkers’ who want to end the Israel boycott

Media Analysis
on 14 Comments

The New York Times Jerusalem correspondent David Halbfinger hit a new low yesterday with his article contending that “a new group of Arab thinkers” want to abandon the boycott of Israel. Normally, Halbfinger slants the news from Israel/Palestine; this time he basically just made much of it up.

His article is long by newspaper standards — 25 paragraphs — and accompanied by a couple of photographs. It starts off dramatically, by saying that the new group

has brought together Arab journalists, artists, politicians, diplomats, Quranic scholars and others who share a view that isolating and demonizing Israel has cost Arab nations billions in trade.

This new group, which calls itself the Arab Council for Regional Integration and just held its inaugural meeting in London, may sound plausible, but the devil is in the details. First, Halbfinger reveals that it only has “a few dozen members,” (or scarcely more than the number of paragraphs in his article). But he contends that the small membership “includes more than a few well-known figures in places as far ranging as Morocco, Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and the Persian Gulf.”

The problem is that genuine Mideast experts barely recognize any of their names. Gregg Carlstrom, who is a correspondent for The Economist based in Cairo, tweeted, “Not to spoil the party here, but aside from Sadat [Anwar Sadat, a nephew of the late Egyptian president of the same name] I’ve never actually heard of these people, nor has anyone I’ve asked.”

There is worse. Halbfinger reports that the little group’s first meeting “received piped-in encouragement from Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. . . ” The reader doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Blair’s full-throated endorsement of the disastrous 2003 U.S./British invasion of Iraq has made him a hated figure in the Mideast, not someone “Arab thinkers” should be taking advice from.

There’s a comical aside. Halbfinger reports that

the group met privately, citing security concerns, but allowed The New York Times to monitor the proceedings. . .

That “allowed to monitor the proceedings” is a nice humorous touch. This tiny conference was actually staged mainly for the benefit of the The New York Times, its prime audience.

Then, buried in the 22nd paragraph, is the real news: Halbfinger does have enough residual integrity to admit that the conference was “funded strictly by American donors,” by a “Washington think tank,” which turns out to be “the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.”

By this stage, experienced Mideast watchers are laughing out loud. It was the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Israel lobby’s central organization, that set up the Washington Institute, or WINEP. M.J. Rosenberg, who was a lobby insider until his change of heart, says, “I was in the room when AIPAC decided to establish WINEP.” No wonder the new group of “Arab thinkers” could only attract “a few dozen members” to their founding conference.

What’s more, as Rebecca Vilkomerson, the remarkable former Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, noted with some justified anger on Twitter:

also interesting that a small inaugural meeting of what sounds like at most a few dozen gets coverage in the NYT with the byline of the Jerusalem bureau chief. If only our orgs with tens of thousands of members got that kind of coverage

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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14 Responses

  1. Kay24 on November 22, 2019, 4:59 pm

    These zionists will do and say anything to justify the occupation, land theft, and killing of innocent civilians. The NYT does not have any credibility anyway when it comes to Israel.

    • eljay on November 22, 2019, 5:50 pm

      || Kay24: These zionists will do and say anything to justify the occupation, land theft, and killing of innocent civilians. … ||

      “Liberal Zionists” have a cute name for it: “necessary evil”.

    • Misterioso on November 23, 2019, 2:29 pm

      @Kay24, etal

      More proof that the Zionists are in panic mode because the BDS movement is rapidly gaining ground in the U.S. and around the world. No surprise given “Israel’s” litany of accelerating crimes committed against the indigenous Palestinians.

  2. hfouda on November 22, 2019, 8:50 pm

    NYT added a correction that the article misidentified a sponsor of the event. It was the Center for Peace Communications, not the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. It is worth noting that the Center for Peace Communications Board of Directors include the infamous Dennis Ross.

  3. Tom Suarez on November 23, 2019, 4:41 am

    When the NYT piece came out, I stared at the screen wondering which superstate to run to — Oceania, Eurasia, or Eastasia. But beyond the obvious farce, I did not have the ability to sort it out. Thanks to James North for untangling it.

  4. pgtl10 on November 23, 2019, 9:13 am

    The NY Times closed the comment section after only 27 comments. Guess they realized people figured out the sham pretty quickly.

  5. JLewisDickerson on November 23, 2019, 11:59 am

    I suspect The Arab Council for Regional Integration is just another part of Kushner’s grand plan for the Middle East. Likewise for The Center for Peace Communications.*

    * SEE: “Jared Kushner is deploying a data operation to sway Arab media on Middle East peace”
    By Michael Wilner | | July 23, 2019

    (EXCERPT) At Jared Kushner’s direction, U.S. government agencies have combined data tools and human expertise for the first time to officially rank Arab media outlets over their coverage of the Middle East peace process.

    Roughly 50 regional media organizations have been assessed by the government for their influence and attitudes toward U.S. policy in the Middle East, according to sensitive interagency reports exclusively reviewed by McClatchy.

    Three senior administration officials said the purpose of Kushner’s project is to connect with local populations as effectively as possible – to better understand “what’s driving the street” across the Arab world, so that he and his team can target their communications with greater precision. . .


  6. pabelmont on November 23, 2019, 1:53 pm

    Makes you wonder what other topics of general interest the NYT has chosen to become a propagandist, mouthpiece, liar in regard to besides I/P.

    But to be charitable, NYT here may have been hoodwinked. But if so, doesn’t NYT presumably have both a “duty” and a “capability” for fact checking, getting opposing views, etc. Who’s better, more reliable, more careful, more cautious, more honest: NYT or FOX?

    • RoHa on November 24, 2019, 1:16 am

      “Makes you wonder what other topics of general interest the NYT has chosen to become a propagandist, mouthpiece, liar in regard to besides I/P.”

      A lot, if not most. If a newspaper or other MSM outlet promotes a popular and widely held idea, it is almost certainly peddling propaganda. If it is peddling an idea you agree with, you should repudiate it at once.

  7. Tuyzentfloot on November 24, 2019, 5:09 pm

    So for the Palestinians any form of resistance is never acceptable.
    It is too (subliminally)antisemitic, too violent, too unfriendly.
    This is just a way to give the Palestinians a persistent bad reputation.
    I have just been reading about Gene Sharp who wrote a’bible’ of nonviolent resistance and he has quite a record. This is a very good article by Marcie Smith:
    He has been mentioned here at the time of the Arab Spring , for which also provided inspiration although it may go a bit far to conclude the Arab Spring was US approved/US enabled.
    In Hong Kong, where the protesters are very much aligned with the US, a more aggressive, more violent variant of Sharp’s methods is used. To give an idea we’re talking tens of thousands of molotov cocktails here.
    Sharp has not been mentioned here concerning IP since Max Ail in 2010. It may be worthwhile. In the article I see Sharp advised the Israelis about flaws in the Palestinian nonviolence approach.
    So I wonder where the book of countermeasures is against Sharp’s methods, because the approach of ‘it’s never nonviolent enough’ surely is a countermeasure.
    Finkelstein wrote a book about Gandhi. He must be very aware of Sharp.

    • zaid on November 24, 2019, 8:10 pm

      “The only Lebanese who attended this conference of unknown Arabs just released a statement that he is opposed to normalization with Israel and that any calls for normalization with Israel don’t represent him. Hilarious. Arab thinkers, my potato.”

    • Tuyzentfloot on December 20, 2019, 9:53 am

      In followup of the Marcie Smith article there have been multiple replies in defense of Sharp.
      I will address what I consider the main issue, and my reply is TASERS.
      Sharp offers a neutral set of tools as an alternative for violent insurgence. This is like offering tasers as an alternative to guns. In principle it is an improvement but what we see is that tasers are in fact used as an alternative to nonviolent conflict resolution. Sharp deserves praise for offering a nonviolent toolkit but when you see Sharp participating in the Venezolan ‘resistance’ you have a situation where a minority is not happy with the existing state and its conflict resolution mechanism, in this case a democratic state, and chooses to overthrow it instead of participating, without leaving openings for negotiated outcomes. In Hong Kong you have the same. Pressure is applied not to settle things with a negotiated outcome, but to overthrow the system. Including scenarios where overthrowing the system is followed up by a violent dictatorship.

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