NY Times Public Editor's Sad Joke: Paper Is Fair in Israel-Palestinian Coverage

New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan reluctantly waded into the Israel-Palestinian conflict, at least as it relates to Times coverage, in her latest Sunday Review column, relaying criticism from both sides.

One organization, Camera, even pays for a billboard across the street from the Times building to accuse the paper of regularly attacking Israel. And pro-Palestinian websites like The Electronic Intifada have detailed the ways in which, as they see it, Times coverage fails to do justice to an outcast people.

Sullivan threw around some reader quotes from each perspective, then threw up her hands and defended her paper:

My strong impression is that The Times does everything it can to be fair in its coverage and generally succeeds. Does it have a worldview that underlies its coverage? Yes, the coverage seems to reflect baseline beliefs that Israel has a right to exist and that Palestinians deserve a state of their own.

While those core beliefs may hold true (certainly the paper's support for Palestinian statehood), the idea that the paper is balanced in its Israel coverage is a sad joke.

Exhibit A: Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, who recently used the massacre of five Jews at a synagogue by  Palestinians only as a chance to criticize "extremists on both sides." Rudoren's reporting has long been criticized by pro-Israel readers, and in her latest, "Mistrust Threatens Delicate Balance at a Sacred Site in Jerusalem" on Sunday, she suggested Israel shared blame for recent Palestinian terrorist acts, citing Palestinian suspicions that Jews want to take over the Temple Mount. In fact Jews are rebelling against their own government, which forbids them to even pray there, the holiest spot in Judaism, because Muslim worshippers forbid it. Rudoren also falsely accused former israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of helping to "set off the second intifada."

Amid roiling unrest over a contested Old City holy site, the Palestine Liberation Organization this month declared that the name used for the site by Jews, the Temple Mount, was “null and void.” Instead, the group said, the compound -- “a symbol for all Palestinians” -- must be called Al Aqsa Mosque or the Noble Sanctuary.


The real struggle over the site, however, is not over semantics but over sovereignty, between two peoples who seem unable to find a way to simply share. After triumphantly seizing the site during the 1967 war, Israel quickly turned back all but security matters to the Islamic Waqf authorities.

Now, as more and more Jews challenge Israel’s prohibition on their prayer in their religion’s most sacred space, many Palestinians fear that what they really want is to take over the entire compound and replace its Dome of the Rock with a third temple.


Palestinian leaders, and relatives of the perpetrators of the five terrorist attacks that have killed 11 Israelis in the last month -- including Tuesday’s deadly storming of a synagogue -- contend that threats to the holy site were the prime motivation of the violence. The attacks, along with an attempted assassination of a leading agitator for Jewish presence at the site, have shattered Israelis’ sense of security but in many cases only strengthened their assertions of ownership.

While Rudoren let Israeli Jews have their say, she told a historically inaccurate whopper about a visit by Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in 2000.

And four years later, a visit by Ariel Sharon, then a candidate for Israeli prime minister, helped set off the second intifada.

In fact, PLO terrorist leader Yassir Arafat had planned to resume deadly attacks on Israeli civilians several months before. Sharon's visit was nothing more than a convenient pretext for terrorist attacks already planned.

Steven Erlanger was author of an odd story Sunday that assumed Europe has always been a staunch ally of Israel, prodding the European Union to impose sanctions on Israel, a country surrounded by hostile foes, for its treatment of Palestinians (but not Arab nations that actually commit atrocities against Musilms). (Ask Jews in France today how supportive Europe is.)

European nations, Israel’s largest trading partners and a historical bastion of support, are taking stronger measures to support Palestinian sovereignty and condemn what many see as aggressive, expansionist Israeli policies.

After years of mounting frustrations widely expressed but rarely acted on, politicians from Britain, France, Spain and Sweden have embraced symbolic steps to pressure Israel into a more accommodating stance toward the Palestinians.


The tone sharpened in response to the war in Gaza this summer and to continuing Israeli settlement expansion, which European leaders call illegal.

European diplomats have been discussing what actions the European Union might take -- in addition to recognizing a Palestinian state, symbolically or otherwise -- to promote a two-state solution in the absence of negotiations toward that end.


“Most of Israel cares very much,” said Shlomo Avineri, a former diplomat who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “There’s nowhere else in the world where people wake up and are disturbed by what a newspaper in London or Stockholm says.”

At the same time, Mr. Avineri said he was alarmed by how some Israeli hard-liners disregard the shift in tone in Europe.

“There are people in the Israeli government for the first time who are messianic fanatics,” he said. “They don’t care what the world thinks, either because they believe God is on their side, so who cares what Brussels thinks, or because they want Armageddon, after which all will be fine.”

Israeli leaders reject much of the European criticism of their policies as betraying a deep bias or lack of understanding. It is Palestinian leaders, not Israelis, they say, who have declined to engage substantively in the peace process. They argue that radical Islamists among the Palestinians, including Hamas, conduct armed struggle and terrorist attacks against Israelis, leaving the country no choice but to take tough security measures. Some blame an increasingly organized and vocal subset of Muslims for the shifting opinions in Europe.

Erlanger was cavalier in warning of potential European boycotts against the only democracy in the region:

So far, symbolic gestures like recognizing Palestine or limiting academic cooperation to pre-1967 Israel have had little impact.

“But the next time the European frustration or egregious Israeli action hits a certain bar, then you’ll start to hit tangible issues and not just symbolic ones,” Mr. Levy said. Some suggest that European actions might include visa restrictions for Israeli leaders who reject a two-state solution, or even economic sanctions against companies doing business on occupied land.

The United Nations, which is notoriously hostile to Israel (issuing 22 condemnations of Israel in 2006-2007, while completely ignoring Sudan's genocide in Darfur and refusing to condemn actual repressive regimes) is given unearned credibility by Erlanger as well.

At the United Nations, too, there are European efforts, led by Britain and France, to draft a Security Council resolution urging talks. The French ambassador to the United Nations, François Delattre, told the Council this month that Europe must “assume its responsibilities” and work to give Palestinians a more equal status with Israelis.

“It is no longer acceptable for the Security Council to remain a bystander to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Mr. Delattre said. “Of course, if nothing can replace the negotiations between the parties, Security Council action to establish a balanced framework for the negotiations must be seriously considered.”

Nigel Sheinwald, a former British ambassador to the United States and the European Union, recalled growing up Jewish in North London when Israel was revered as a plucky, brave outpost of the West that had arisen from the ashes of the Holocaust. That image is long gone.

Israel's stand is even partly to blame for the rise of the fanatical terrorist group ISIS.

European officials also worry about some young Muslims’ attraction to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, which they say is partly inspired by sympathy with the Palestinian cause.

For now, symbolism rules. Sweden in October granted recognition to a Palestinian state. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in a recent visit to the United Nations that the move was not intended to take sides in the conflict, but to spur talks.

Israel/Palestine Double Standards War on Terrorism Judaism New York Times Steven Erlanger Jodi Rudoren
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