NY Times: Biased in favor of Israel?

NY Times: Biased in favor of Israel?

On Tuesday, Dec. 11, I attended a debate at the Alwan Middle East (basically Arab) arts center in downtown Manhattan, about how the New York Times covers the Israeli-Arab conflict. Sponsored by the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association, it pitted Howard Friel (the co-author of two books published by Verso, which argues a far left-wing critique of how the NY Times “misrepresents” US foreign policy) against Ethan Bronner, deputy foreign editor for the Times and designated to be its Jerusalem bureau chief in the spring.

Despite the heavily pro-Arab leanings of the audience, Bronner defended the Times quite ably. Basically Friel argued that the Times doesn’t use the only fair objective criteria for covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would be the standard of international law. To Friel, the be all and end all of the issue is that Israel violates international law (specifically, Article 49 [paragraph 6] of the Fourth Geneva Convention) by the building of settlements and other structures (such as the security barrier) on occupied Arab lands in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Bronner does not dispute this and cited frequent editorials and articles in the Times that criticize Jewish settlement activity in these areas.

But Friel expects a certain ideological purity and political engagement that would not be suitable for a general newspaper. I’ve always found the NY Times imperfect but fair-minded and well-intended in its coverage, which is why it’s subject to such strident and emotional attacks from extremes on both sides.

Friel was arguing the conflict instead of looking at what is proper journalism. Like Bronner and Friel, I too believe that settlements are illegal under international law, but articles become dry repetitive propaganda if they constantly repeat this refrain instead of covering real news as Bronner surveyed from examples of recent NY Times coverage.

Friel also knows nothing about the Israeli government. He evidently has no idea that the weak coalition framework that defines Israel’s proportional representation system produces governments in which ministers are free to spout errant nonsense that has nothing to do with actual government policy. Hence Lieberman has views that are generally deplorable, but he has in fact also endorsed a two-state solution, including the incorporation of Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem into a Palestinian state. He may be too fond of the perks of power as a minister to oppose an agreement.

And, contrary to Friel’s assertion (and a further example of his arguing about the conflict instead of journalism), Israel has not rejected the Arab League/Saudi peace plan; that’s what’s on the table in the negotiations inaugurated at Annapolis. In fact, sources close to us say that a Geneva-style agreement is in the offing, if only Olmert and Abbas would have the political courage to follow through. Click for Part 2.

By | 2007-12-19T05:41:00-05:00 December 19th, 2007|Blog|8 Comments


  1. Marcelo December 20, 2007 at 5:21 am - Reply

    Ralph is right on target here. If anyone is interested in seeing Friel’s entire “case” against the Times, just check out the book he co-authored with Richard Falk: “Israel Palestine on Record”…it’s a far- left ideological screed…that only people with a simple,one dimensional view of not only the Middle East – but of the whole world – can take seriously.

    Ken Brociner

  2. Seth December 23, 2007 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    You write:

    “Hence Lieberman has views that are generally deplorable, but he has in fact also endorsed a two-state solution, including the incorporation of Arab neighborhoods into a Palestinian state.”

    I read that as meaning that you view favorably Lieberman’s support for “the incorporation of Arab neighborhoods into a Palestinian state”. Is that correct?

  3. Anonymous December 24, 2007 at 7:35 am - Reply

    Well, actually Ralph must have slept through the talk, and Ken apparently didn’t read the book.

    Among many things Friel pointed out quite definitively, as have many others, that the New York Times rarely refers to international law in reporting on Palestine and Israel. Bronner hemmed and hawed but essentially refused to acknowledge international law. That’s the “liberal” New York Times, no international law. Only a few steps left of Bush and Cheney.

    At one point, when Friel pointed out that every country in the world except for Israeli acknowledges that numerous elements of international law apply to Israel’s occupation, Bronner sank to about the lowest most embarrassing level possible, and I’d be surprised if Ralph wasn’t even disgusted with this. Bronner responded that “every country” includes Syria, Libya, etc.. Of course he avoided that every country includes the US, Sweden, Norway, the UK, etc. etc.. Seems Bronner just wanted to try and discredit the application of international law to Israel by slinging mud and avoiding facts.

    In response to a comment from Friel that the Times rarely reports on reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and B’tselem, Bronner claimed they cover almost all of those organizations reports!

    Bronner was either flat out lying, or Bronner he is incredibly ignorant or deluded. Friel and many others, including me have documented that the Times rarely covers the reports of those three organizations. Bronner later gradually backed away from that claim, perhaps when he recognized that Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director was in the audience and had her hand up to ask a question.

    He reponsed to her later question that the Times had made a mistake in not covering HR Watch’s detailed report this summer that proved definitely that Hezbollah did not use human shields and that, contrary to Israeli claims, human shielding was not the reason Israel killed so many Lebanese civilians. Ho hum, the Times ignored the human rights organizations’ detailed research again.

    Bronner was defensive, petulant, impolite and arrogant. He cut off one audience meber who was politely asking him a perfectly respectful question and the man then man responded angrily (and appropriately), look we didn’t interrupt you while you gave your presentation.

    Bronner was pressed over and over to reveal what standards or criteria the Times uses to ensure that their coverage was balanced, and Bronner refused repeatedly to answer the question. The only thing he could say is that they try to tell good stories.

    He read excerpts from about eight earticles by Steven Erlanger in an effort to prove that the Times’ covers “Palestinian suffering.” The Times does about one news story for day on Israel and Palestine, so selectively reading eight of 365 articles from a year does not say much.

    It was an embarrassing and arrogant performance from a man who had absolutely no defense for the Times’ failure to significantly include international law or human rights reporting in their coverage of Palestine and Israel.


  4. Ralph Seliger December 24, 2007 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    Ted, we very much disagree. But I wonder if you could send a message to Mail@MeretzUSA.org, indicating who you are, i.e., what you write, etc.

    Seth, I don’t know where you’re coming from with your question, but yes, I definitely support the incorporation of Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem into a Palestinian state– aka the “Clinton Parameters” and the Geneva Initiative.

  5. Anonymous December 24, 2007 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    I prefer to remain anonymous. Nonetheless, I would request that you respond to the substantive points that I made previously about Bronner’s responses. Do you see them as accurate representations of what transpired or not?

    I do not remember that Bronner ever conceded that the settlements are illegal under international law, by the way. He said the Times opposes the settlements and read editorials on that, but I do not remember that he ever endorsed international law. In fact I think eh did his best trhoughout to avoud endorsing international law.

    You are also sidestepping Friel’s points re the Saudi initiative. Friel pointed out the Times’ never endorsed international law, never conceded that Israeli settlements are all illegal, has never endorsed full withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, a position implicitly in opposition to the Saudi Initiative which are based on UN resolution. This was my reading of Friel’s point.

    Instead, The Times takes positions along the lines of the Geneva Initiative which will allow Israel to maintain settlement blocs, a further recipe for the disaster we continue to see now with Israel attempting to expand the size and scope of settlement blocs as fast as possible, rendering the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. The Times, endorsed Israel holding onto settlement blocs again in an editorial again about a month ago. Both the Times and Meretz are very generous in enabling Israeli settlement expansion within the settlement blocs and conceding more and more of the West Bank to Israel (of couse we are reassured that the Palestinians will get some wonderful land somewhere in Israel as compensation).

    Evidently asking for Israel to withdraw from all the Occupied Territories, not keep the rapidly expanding settlement blocs, comply with international law and accept a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and Gaza, 22% of historic Palestine, is a far-left, extreme position! Facilitating an Israeli land-grab and forcing Palestinians to give up more and more of the West Bank (ie, the expanding “settlement blocs”) and live in bantustans is Bronnerian and Meretzlike – moderate and reasonable – however.


  6. Anonymous December 25, 2007 at 2:52 am - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    Again, if you’d like to see another typical, documented avoidance of applying international law to Israel and Palestine by Bronner and the Times, this is from the Times’ Public Editor in 2005:


    Last Tuesday, “Israel, on Its Own, Is Shaping the Borders of the West Bank,” by Steven Erlanger, angered Michael Brown for its unelaborated statement that Palestinians “argue that all Israeli settlements beyond the green line are illegal.” The Times, Brown believes, is obligated to note that “it’s not just the Palestinians who say it’s illegal, but U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

    Ethan Bronner, the paper’s deputy foreign editor, counters:”We view ourselves as neutral and unbound by such judgments. We cite them, but we do not live by them.” He adds, “In 1975, when the U.N. General Assembly labeled Zionism as racism, would it have been logical for The Times to repeat that description as fact from then on? Obviously not. We take note of official views, but we don’t adopt them as our own.”

    Bronner again plays the same game he played at Alwan. He refuses to commit the Times to international law with regard to the settlements, or anything else for that matter (the Times is not bound by it).

    Then, because the UN was cited as a source on the illegality of the settlements (omitting all world governments, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, B’Tselem, the ICJ and all credible legal scholars, NB: Dore Gold is not a credible legal scholar)Bronner plays the a similar smoke and mirrors trick to the one which he used at Alwan. To try to discredit the international consensus on the illegality of the settlements, he tries to insert the UN General Assembly’s Zionism is Racism statement into the equation.

    Again, essentially dishonest on Bronner’s part, and not worthy of a media outlet that attempts to portray itself as “the gold standard”, and objective.


  7. Seth December 25, 2007 at 9:57 pm - Reply


    Regarding your favorable comments about Lieberman’s support for incorporating “Arab neighborhoods into a Palestinian state”:

    I am somewhat taken aback by your favorable comments regarding Lieberman. I think a good response to this type of reasoning was recently put forward by Nadim Rouhana in The Nation, available here:

    We are referred to by leading Israeli politicians as a “demographic problem.” In response, many in Israel, including the deputy prime minister, are proposing land swaps: Palestinian land in the occupied territories with Israeli settlers on it would fall under Israel’s sovereignty, while land in Israel with Palestinian citizens would fall under Palestinian authority.

    This may seem like an even trade. But there is one problem: no one asked us what we think of this solution. Imagine the hue and cry were a prominent American politician to propose redrawing the map of the United States so as to exclude as many Mexican-Americans as possible, for the explicit purpose of preserving white political power. Such a demagogue would rightly be denounced as a bigot. Yet this sort of hyper-segregation and ethnic supremacy is precisely what Israeli and American officials are considering for many Palestinian citizens of Israel — and hoping to coerce Palestinan leaders into accepting.


    Seems like a reasonable analogy. Since when is it “progressive” to kick people out of the country because they are the wrong ethnic background?

    Along these lines, I am wondering what you think of Olmert’s recent comments that if Israel does not agree to relinquish control of Palestinian areas, “the idea of one state for all residents with equal rights to vote threatens the existence of the state of Israel.”


    and that

    “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished,”


    In particular, I am wondering about Olmert’s comments in light of our exchange about a year ago, in which you wrote:

    I understand why Seth thinks that the Meretz position for a Jewish AND a democratic Israel is “a self-contradictory slogan.” But it’s programmatic, not just sloganeering. Meretz has a political program to work for equal rights for non-Jewish and Jewish citizens under law, while also supporting Israel as a place of refuge for Jews when necessary and one in which Jewish culture (i.e., the rhythms of the Hebrew calendar) also predominates as the majority culture. This should not be so difficult to understand.

    So Meretz supports “equal rights for non-Jewish and Jewish citizens under law”, while Olmert considers that that would be the end of Israel?

  8. Ralph Seliger December 25, 2007 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    I’m responding to Ted’s most recent comments in a new post I’m planning for tomorrow. As for Seth, he’s confusing Lieberman’s support for incorporating Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem into a Palestinian state (people who have chosen not to be citizens of Israel) with his idea of transfering Israeli-Arab towns (populated by Israeli citizens) to Palestine. This latter notion is opposed and condemned by Meretz.

    Olmert is finally facing up to a complex truth: that to retain their right to self-determination as a people, Israeli Jews must endorse that same right for Palestinian Arabs in a state alongside Israel. If Jews lose their majority in Israel, the one Jewish state in the world will be lost and a 23rd Arab state will rise in its place. It is only through two states that Jews and Palestinians can achieve a win-win.

    Olmert has not been the champion of equal rights for Israeli Arabs that Meretz has been, but he’s not opposed to them in principle. Otherwise, the prospect of apartheid-style rule by a minority would not bother him. He understands the implications of a future majority electorate that doesn’t identify with Jewish concerns and interests.

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