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Reader Post: NY Times Sees, Hears And Speaks No Evil

New York TimesDear Mr. Sulzberger, Ms. Sullivan and company (please excuse me for not knowing all your names),

I do hope that you take the time to read all of this. When I started to think of writing this, it came out much shorter, but as I have worked on it the letter has grown. Please bear with me.

During and following the most recent Israeli military operation, even though the NY Times noted such facts as an Hamas video openly directing citizens to use the phrase “innocent civilian” when referring to any casualty, it has held back from telling the whole story, e.g. how that same video also instructs Gazans “Avoid publishing pictures of rockets fired into Israel from [Gaza] city centers“, a statement that essentially proves that Hamas is intending to fire rockets from civilian areas and is openly instructing its citizens on how to create an atmosphere in which they can deny doing so. Similarly, while another article acknowledges that there is a tendency to hide combatant status, as seen in a statement from Mr. Samir Zaqout, of the Al Mezlan Human Rights organization, that Arab children will often deny that their deceased family members were combatants, the article then attempts to deny that any such practice has diminished the count by quoting Julie Webb, who says “The resistance factions claim their dead, and they have big funerals. They would never hide it, because it’s a thing of pride.” The fact that Ms. Webb is not involved in collecting casualty statistics nor is in the leadership of any “resistance faction” does not seem to be reason to question the validity of her statement at all, nor to even ask if such factions might not change their practices if there was a higher purpose being promoted by Hamas. The reporter of this article also fails to follow up on an interesting note from Mr. Zaqout, that sometimes a hospital worker can tell them that someone came in to the “emergency room with a weapon in hand” and thereby confirm his identity as a combatant. The question that remains unasked is that if the only way to confirm combatant status is the presence of a weapon, why is that person not in a uniform of any form, as required by the international rules of conduct in combat?

For the past few months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been speaking out about the increased incitement from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. There are longstanding practices that openly encourage violence against Israelies, such as the finanacial incentives that the P.A. gives to terrorists or their families, the hero’s welcome that is provided to released prisoners, and the periodic dedications of public buildings and spaces to murderers such as Dalal Mughraibi, whose primary accomplishment was leading a team that slaughtered 38 people, 13 of them children. Recently, Abbas has been openly encouraging the belief that Israel is attempting to take the Al Aqsa compound from them and that they must use all means necessary to defend it, has referred to the Israelis as “cattle” and has made it a religious struggle to protect the holy site from “desecration” by a Jewish presence. The Fatah party has also been praising those who have attacked Israelis, including the murderer of a 3 month old baby girl. The NY Times has typically limited its reporting on this, noting only that “Israel accused President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority of incitement to violence after he called on Muslims to defend Al Aqsa “by all means”” and how Netanyahu has “accused his Palestinian counterpart of inciting violence, pointing to a recent speech in which President Abbas called on his people to defend the mosque compound from Jewish encroachment “by all means.”” This focus on the statement asking Arabs to “defend Al Aqsa” seems to disagree with the more expansive references Netanyahu is quoted as making in the Israeli media, as well as the more explicit Arab calls for violence that he has complained about, such as this statement which was made at the same time as is referenced in the article by Ms. Kershner. As is noted here, Netanyahu stated, “It is impossible to stop the violence if the incitement that leads to the violence is not stopped. … Within 24 hours of the meeting in Amman, official Palestinian Authority media outlets called for a day of rage in Jerusalem. Abbas must stop this incitement that leads to violence.” For some reason, the NY Times’ reporters do not find it necessary to acknowledge how Abbas has used epithets such as referring to Israelis as “settlers” and “cattle”, how he seeks to appeal to religious outrage by calling any Jewish presence a “desecration” of the Mosque Plaza, or even to note such specific acts as Fatah calling for a “day of rage.” Why not?

For the past few days a new form of incitement has been making the rounds. Comparable to the blood libel of the 19th century and earlier, this is a false accusation that the Israelis opened dams or floodgates and flooded Gaza. It is not entirely new. Al Jazeera published an op-ed by Dr Vacy Vlazna, the Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters, accused Israel of flooding Gaza. While op-eds are not held to the same standard as news, one would have hoped that a news agency that seeks to be reputable would not publish such unfounded accusations. Although flash flooding is common to desert regions, the idea that this flooding was purposefully committed by Israel has been making the rounds of the mainstream news. The AFP, Press TV, Russia Today, The Daily Mail in the UK and Al Jazeera promptly reported this ‘Flood Libel’ as if it were fact, only sometimes noting that Israel denied this. Even Pres. Abbas’ and Fatah’s own Ma’an News reported the horrific Israeli deed. Some who reported this have now altered their original posts, some have included statements to suggest that this is about Gaza accusing and Israel denying without any acknowledgement that one side is quite clearly and factually correct, and some have simply removed the post entirely. Impressively, Al Jazeera published a retraction. I have to say that this is remarkable coming from Al Jazeera, and will also say that this is a far better acknowledgement of error than that used by the NY Times. However, that is not the point of this letter.

This is the point. I am grateful that the NY Times Bureau Chief in Jerusalem and her reporters have not automatically jumped on the bandwagon and accused Israel of flooding Gaza with (non-existent) reservoirs and dams in the Negev. I will even graciously attribute this to the presence of good judgement on the part of the Bureau Chief, who recognized promptly that this was not a real story. However, why has there been not a single report in the paper on how the Palestinian Arab governments, both in Gaza and the West Bank, have been instigating what is possibly a world-wide campaign to demonize Israel by claiming that the Israelis flooded Gaza. This is not some small story that is only being passed around on social media and had been started by a small group of people, this is a story that has been promoted by Hamas and Fatah and has been picked up by mainstream media across the world. This is exactly the sort of incitement to violence by the Palestinian Arab leadership that P.M. Netanyahu has been complaining about, and the NY Times, a paper of record in so much of the world, has not explored this phenomenon in depth, has not noted it in a briefing, has not discussed it in an editorial, and has not devoted even a single sentence to it, not even one buried obscurely in an article on another topic. If there is any event which demonstrates how the failure to provide detailed and balanced coverage in the Arab-Israeli conflict is bias, this is it.

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