“The New York Times” building in Midtown Manhattan. Credit: Ajay Suresh via Wikimedia Commons.
by Gilead Ini
(CAMERA) — It’s all Israel’s fault. It’s all Israel’s fault. It’s all Israel’s fault.
One way to get people to believe what you want them to believe is to tell them only what you want them to hear.
It’s all Israel’s fault. It’s all Israel’s fault. It’s all Israel’s fault.
It’s all Israel’s fault. It’s all Israel’s fault. It’s all monstrous Israel’s fault.
So there can be little doubt about the message New York Times Opinion editors were intent on sending, or the conclusion they wanted readers to reach over the past few weeks, as Israeli civilians were under attack by Hamas rockets and Jews around the world were being harassed and assaulted. From the day Hamas first opened fire on Israel on May 10 until today, when a Florida Holocaust museum was defaced with the phrase “Jews are guilty,” the newspaper published nine anti-Israel Guest Essays about the alleged misbehavior of Israeli Jews; three evenhanded Guest Essays that criticized and empathized with both Israeli Jews and Arabs; and not even a single Guest Essay that was primarily critical of Hamas or Palestinian behavior in the conflict.
Already during the first five days of fighting, the paper published four Guest Essays about the conflict. Each promoted Palestinian narratives or demands. On May 11, editors ran an Op-Ed by Rula Salameh who described herself as someone who for years has been “part of the Palestinian struggle,” and who wrote her essay accordingly. The piece was titled, “Palestinians Under Siege.”
On May 12, they published an essay by Peter Beinart charging Israel with crimes and promoting the Palestinian demand for a so-called “right of return” — a demand for the influx of millions of Palestinians to Israel rather than to a future Palestinian state, which is broadly understood as a call for the elimination of the Jewish state. The piece was titled “Palestinians Deserve to Return, Too.”
On May 13, they published a piece by Refaat Alareer, a Gaza resident, in which he gave an emotional account of the impact of the fighting on his children, and called on readers to picture Israeli military commanders drawing straws or rolling dice to decide which city block to destroy, for no other reason, we’re told, than their “annoyance” at the existence of Palestinian homes full of family stories. He concludes by stating, “Israel presumably will go on destroying our buildings until there is nothing left.”
On May 14, they published a piece by Bernie Sanders downplaying Hamas’s responsibility for the fighting, ignoring the group’s extremist ideology, and excoriating the Israeli government. “Palestinian lives matter,” he concluded.
After four anti-Israel essays in a row, the newspaper paused for the weekend. And the following week, the pattern was briefly broken. On May 17, Yossi Klein Halevi focused on cooperation between, and extremism by, both Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. He gave voice to the concerns of both parties, and highlighted bad behavior by both parties, in precisely equal measure. “Arab mobs and Jewish mobs roamed the streets, beating and lynching, destroying ‘Jewish’ shops and ‘Arab’ shops, destroying a fragile but enduring equilibrium.”
On May 18, a piece by Israeli trauma surgeon Adam Lee Goldstein talked about casualties from “rockets headed our way” — he took care not to mention the source of the rockets — before focusing, like Halevy, on cooperation and extremism among Israel’s Arabs and Jews. Rioting in Israel saw “Jewish extremists pulling Arabs from their cars and Arabs doing the same to their Jewish neighbors,” while in the hospital Jews tended to Arabs and Arabs tended to Jews. The evenhanded precision was worthy of a surgeon.
After these cautious pieces by Israeli moderates, which focused neither on extremism by Gaza’s terrorist groups nor on the trauma of Israel’s children living under fire, the paper reverted to its familiar pattern. On May 19, anti-Israel activist Yousef Munayyer, charging Israel with “oppression,” “apartheid,” and “brutality,” called for no less than wiping the Jewish state off the map.
On May 20, Al Jazeera reporter Laila Al-Arian gave a personal account from the perspective of her late grandfather. From that view, every war since 1948, every battle in Gaza, involved only one party: Israel. Israeli planes over Gaza in 1948 weren’t firing at the Egyptian army — the Egyptian army is excised from her picture — but rather at her grandfather. In 1967, Israel occupied Gaza for no apparent reason. In 2009 and 2014, there were again only Israeli planes and her grandfather, and none of the Hamas rockets that preceded Israel’s counterattack. The one-sided, anti-Israel message is summed up by her concluding sentence: “We build, they destroy, and we build again.”
That same day, editors also turned to an Israeli, Dahlia Scheindlin, for an essay. It wasn’t a counterpoint to Al-Arian, though, but rather a criticism of Israel from a different angle. The newspaper’s own summary of the piece reads: “Our politics are stalled. Our democracy is in tatters. Blame the occupation.”
With seven lopsided anti-Israel essays now published, it was time for another carefully calibrated Op-Ed. Congressman Jerry Nadler weighed in to state that “both Jewish and Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and security,” and to support “the humanity on both parties in the conflict.” He unequivocally condemned Hamas terrorism. He even less equivocally condemned Benjamin Netanyahu. And he concluded by calling on citizens to “simultaneously reject the transgressions of Mr. Netanyahu’s government, validate Palestinian suffering and support their right to self-governance, all while opposing efforts meant to challenge Israel’s right to exist.”
On May 24, it was time for another extreme anti-Israel essay. Basma Ghalayini’s piece, titled “A Gazan’s View on Hamas: It’s Not Complicated,” was indeed not complicated. It told readers that “resistance” — violent resistance, she made clear — is legitimate. Yes, there was a throwaway line about Hamas’s mistreatment of Gazans (not of Israelis), but the author’s central point was that Hamas’s attacks on Israelis (with what she dismissed as “rickety rockets” despite their heavy payloads, and long range, and deadly effect) are appropriate.
The author scolded those who might think Hamas’s war crimes are a problem: “Legitimate resistance cannot be a right only for those Palestinians who believe exclusively in nonviolent self-defense,” she said. It was nothing less than a call to support the murder of Jews, published in the pages of the New York Times.
But this wasn’t enough. The very next day, editors turned to Diana Buttu, a former advisor for the Palestine Liberation Organization, to continue their Op-Ed assault on Israel. The veteran anti-Israel activist came through with a litany of accusations and falsehoods, including the absurd charge that Israel has “enacted more than 60” laws that discriminate against its Arab population.
The list of laws that purportedly discriminate (but in fact do not) includes, for example, a law to encourage vaccinations; a law describing Israel’s flag; an anti-terrorism law; a law that requires foreign funded NGOs to detail their funding sources; a law that strips payments to parliamentarians who flee justice when charged with a crime; a law that states that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel; a 1939 British law that bars people from commerce with foreign countries at war with Britain; and other such mundane laws.
These are not the only distortions in Buttu’s essay. She claims, to highlight one of several examples, that “the expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah are part of the broader expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland,” as if the few Palestinian families in question, who may be evicted from their apartment for non-payment of rent, are actually being shipped across the border to some foreign country. (They are not.)
Nor are Buttu’s distortions the only ones in the series of anti-Israel Op-Eds. Salamah’s piece, for example, wrongly describes Gazans killed by a misfired Palestinian rocket on the first day of fighting as having actually been killed by Israeli airstrikes.
Times opinion editors didn’t merely allow their contributors to mislead readers. They actively took part in the distortions by accompanying Buttu’s article with an illustration of a widely debunked series of maps that purport to show disappearing Palestinian land. A Times opinion editor defended the paper’s reuse of the disinformation maps by insisting they were merely “art,” and that they weren’t meant to represent “a literal, factual map.”
In communication with CAMERA, another opinion editor defended the egregious skew of the Guest Essays, suggesting that the somewhat broader range of opinions among staff columnists somehow justifies the onslaught of extreme anti-Israel Op-Eds. But the pieces by the newspaper’s columnists, whom the current set of Opinion editors did not hire and whose content they have little control over, hardly necessitate the avalanche of anti-Israel Op-Eds, any more than they would justify an endless stream of anti-Palestinian pieces.
At any rate, Times columnists, too, skew anti-Israel. One column the editor pointed to as supposedly providing balance, a piece by Michelle Goldberg, expressed opposition to antisemitic assaults in the U.S. but was distinctly anti-Israel in tone. The editor also suggested that because Ghalayini’s essay included a passing reference to Hamas’s mistreatment of Palestinians in Gaza, it somehow qualifies her piece as an anti-Hamas Op-Ed. But as noted above, the central point of the essay is that we shouldn’t pay too much attention to Hamas, because the anti-Israel violence advocated by the author is also supported by other Palestinian groups.
The assault on Israel from the Opinion pages over the past few weeks may possibly be the most flagrant display of anti-Israel bias we’ve seen from those pages. But the idea of stacking the deck to steer readers to a conclusion isn’t new, and isn’t limited to the Opinion pages. A December 2017 news story about American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, for example, quoted eleven critics of the U.S. policy and only one supporter. Likewise, a feature about the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Accords quoted eleven Palestinians and only two Israelis. A story about Palestinian payments to anti-Israel terrorists similarly minimized and downplayed Israeli views. This is what the paper does.
By publishing one anti-Israel essay after another after another, New York Times editors were taking advantage of a persuasion technique. The “mere-exposure effect” describes how people develop preferences for ideas that they’re more exposed to. By repeating anti-Israel messages, newspaper also manufactures “social proof” — the persuasive phenomenon in which people tend to drift toward positions or behaviors that they believe many others are also engaged in. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman wrote that “a reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition.” And as a trio of German researchers recently noted, although “information repetitions constitute redundancy and, hence, should not affect the recipient’s decision,” in practice repeating information helps persuade people to change their minds in favor of what’s being repeated.
Beyond trying to steer people toward the Palestinian narrative, though, Times Opinion editors are guilty of curating a lack of empathy for Israeli Jews. Even as Israeli families were traumatized by emergency runs to bomb shelters as Hamas strove to kill them, their experiences and emotions were largely missing from the Opinion pages.
To wit: In the 12 Guest Essays about the conflict published since the start of the rocket attacks, readers got to know to Refaat Alareer’s wife, Nusayba, and their children, including 6-year-old Amal and 8-year-old Lina. They were intimately introduced to Laila Al-Arian’s grandfather, Abdul Kareem, and her grandmother, Inaam. They were told of Diana Buttu’s 82-year-old father and her 7-year-old son.
Israelis, on the other hand, had no ages and no faces. No brothers or sisters. No Holocaust-surviving grandparents. They were doctors for a moment. Nameless victims for a paragraph or two. But mostly oppressors, attackers, shooters, racists — and generally heartless. While a Palestinian told readers not to pay attention to Hamas, an Israeli told them (wrongly) that Israelis are adept at coping with rocket fire.
That the newspaper encourages lack of empathy for Israeli Jews is bad enough. Their safety, their children, matter. But the empathy deficit doesn’t stop at Israel’s border. A majority of Jews across the world care about Israel. They are more inclined, then, to care about the Hamas rockets, which readers of the country’s most influential paper learn are “legitimate”; or to support Israel’s efforts to stop that rocket fire, which readers are told isn’t really an effort to stop the attacks, but rather to arbitrarily oppress Palestinians. Their opposition to terrorism by Hamas and other antisemitic groups in Gaza is also being demonized on the pages of the New York Times.
So vocal supporters of Israel are bullied online. And worse. As the New York Times news section noted this week, the recent surge in antisemitic violence in the U.S. has mostly been at the hands of “perpetrators expressing support for the Palestinian cause.” Opinion editors might consider what their role is in cultivating an atmosphere in which attacks on innocent Israeli Jews, and on innocent American Jews, are viewed as justified.
Gilead Ini is a Senior Research Analyst at CAMERA. His commentary has appeared in numerous publications, including the Jerusalem Post, Christian Science Monitor, Columbia Journalism Review and Commentary, and has been featured on national and international radio programs. He has lectured widely on media coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Ini is co-author of the monograph “Indicting Israel: New York Times Coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.” On Twitter: http://twitter.com/GileadIni