Media Analysis

‘Kill. . . ‘demonstrators” — Shmuel Rosner pulled a Tom Cotton 2 years ago, without consequences at ‘NYT’

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As all media-watchers know today, The New York Times has been shaken up by an Op-Ed it ran that it later apologized for following a firestorm of criticism.

In that Op-Ed, Sen. Tom Cotton called for using soldiers against demonstrators. Headlined “Send In the Troops. The nation must restore order. The military stands ready,” the article asserted that the supposed protesters are rioters, who are carrying out an “orgy of violence in the spirit of radical chic.” Cotton dismissed the political ends of the demonstrations as violent extremist, saying, “nihilist criminals are simply out for loot and the thrill of destruction, with cadres of left-wing radicals like antifa infiltrating protest marches. . .”

The response to the Op-Ed was overwhelming and soon caused resignation and reshuffling at the NYT. Many Times staffers, including several in the Opinion department, tweeted, “Running this puts all black people in danger, including @nytimes staff members.” Columnist Michelle Goldberg called Cotton’s argument “fascist.” And the Times regretted its editorial process in a long mea culpa:

[G]iven the life-and-death importance of the topic, the senator’s influential position and the gravity of the steps he advocates, the essay should have undergone the highest level of scrutiny. . . [T]he published piece presents as facts assertions about the role of “cadres of left-wing radicals like antifa”; in fact, those allegations have not been substantiated and have been widely questioned. . . The assertion that police officers “bore the brunt” of the violence is an overstatement that should have been challenged. . . [T]he tone of the essay in places is needlessly harsh and falls short of the thoughtful approach that advances useful debate.

As we noted the other day, Cotton’s Op-Ed follows four justifications for Israel’s killing unarmed protesters that the NYT published in 2018 during the Gaza Great March of Return protests at the fence. Israel killed hundreds of demonstrators with live fire and maimed thousands more during the protests. Human rights groups denounced the response and characterized the shootings as a war crime, and the Times might be said to have abetted Israel. The newspaper has not stepped back one inch on these four opinion articles, though in tone and substance they resemble Cotton’s argument.

One op-ed in particular sounded very similar points to Tom Cotton. Shmuel Rosner, a regular contributor to the Times and an editor at the Jewish Journal, dismissed the Gazan protesters’ political ends and offered a fervent justification for slaughter in The New York Times in May 2018. Titled, “Israel Needs to Protect Its Borders. By Whatever Means Necessary,” the article said explicitly that Israel had needed to kill quote — unquote “demonstrators” — 59 in one day when the U.S. moved the Embassy that week. Rosner began “coldly.”

It is customary to adopt an apologetic tone when scores of people have been killed, as they were this week in Gaza. But I will avoid this sanctimonious instinct and declare coldly: Israel had a clear objective when it was shooting, sometimes to kill, well-organized “demonstrators” near the border. Israel was determined to prevent these people — some of whom are believed to have been armed, most apparently encouraged by their radical government — from crossing the fence separating Israel from Gaza. That objective was achieved…

Throughout the article, Rosner said that the demonstrators weren’t really protesters but terrorists.

Shmuel Rosner, from his twitter feed

Why so many thousands of Gazans decided to approach that fence, even though they were warned that such acts would be lethal, is beyond comprehension. Excuses and explanations are many. . . This was a provocation by an organization known to engage in acts of terrorism. . .

[Rosner claimed that his killing-to-be-kind policy was in the interests of Gazans, which they themselves do not understand.]

I believe Israel’s current policy toward Gaza ultimately benefits not only Israel but also the Palestinians. . . [I]t is the only way forward for those who have more realistic expectations. The people of Gaza are miserable. They deserve sympathy and pity. But looking for Israel to remedy their problems will only exacerbate their misery. Expecting Israel to solve their problem will only lead them to delay what they must do for themselves.

In the Gaza case, the Times‘s Op-Eds were effective; they allowed Israel to pursue a lethal strategy that killed medics, journalists, and even a double amputee with no consequences whatsoever. Israel’s most famous victim, Razan al-Najjar, a 26-year-old paramedic, was shot less than two weeks after Rosner’s article.

Such murderous condescension toward people of color has now caused an upheaval at the Times. Let’s hope that the paper is forced to scrutinize the Rosner piece (and the three other justifications of lethal force by Bret Stephens, Matti Friedman, and Thomas Friedman) in the aftermath.

Thanks to Donald Johnson.

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