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The New York Times and Israel: A Story of Prejudice From the Nakba to the Gaza War

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
19th May 2024
The New York Times and Israel: A Story of Prejudice From the Nakba to the Gaza War
The newspaper adopted biased coverage regarding Palestine and Israel (Getty)

Since the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, The New York Times has made no secret of its bias in favor of the occupation. The moment David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the Jewish state, the newspaper published an article entitled ‘Zionists Proclaim New State of Israel; Truman Recognizes it and Hopes for Peace.’ The piece reiterated phrases such as ‘the suffering of the Diaspora’ to characterize the establishment of the new state, emphasizing in press releases ‘the call to aid the children of Jewish immigrants.’

Unilateral Coverage of the Palestinian Nakba Events

Based on Misbar’s analysis of a sample of six articles published by the renowned American newspaper in 1948, it was found that there was a notable absence of any mention of Palestinians in its coverage of the Nakba. Palestinians were marginalized and overlooked, whether civilians or fighters. Instead, the newspaper focused on the "proclamation of a Jewish state called Israel" on Palestinian land to "gather the Jewish Diaspora," without acknowledging any of the crimes committed by Zionist militias, which were not hidden at that time.

Moreover, the newspaper equated both sides in its coverage of the 1948 Nakba, despite the significant power imbalance between them. It portrayed the Nakba as a "war" rather than an occupation, attempting to equate the comparatively modest Palestinian forces with the powerful Zionist militias. This portrayal potentially criminalized the Palestinians as a party in the conflict, thus creating a misleading narrative.

Misrepresentation in the Western Media Coverage of the 1948 Palestinian Nakba

In one of its articles published in June 1948, the newspaper described the agreement to end the fighting as a "truce" in accordance with a United Nations Security Council resolution. This term was used despite the significant disparity in strength, with Zionist forces being far better equipped and more numerous than Palestinian forces. Furthermore, immediately following the declaration of the establishment of the Jewish state, the newspaper adopted the narrative of armed gangs, which advocated for "suppressing the hands of Palestinians and Arab Rescue Forces" in favor of Jewish immigrants.

On the other hand, the newspaper, according to the same sample, neglected to report on the plight of displaced Palestinian families, omitting their identities and narratives. Instead, its coverage predominantly featured images of Jewish families and their children, attributing responsibility for the Jewish Diaspora to Arabs while asserting Jewish entitlement to the land.

The New York Times’ Coverage After 76 Years: Has Anything Changed?

Since the beginning of the Israeli war on Gaza on October 7, following Operation Al-Aqsa Flood launched by the Hamas military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, targeting settlements and military installations in the Gaza Envelope, The New York Times has emerged as one of the media outlets most clearly biased towards the Israeli narrative of the events. This bias is evident in the language used, which frames the conflict as a 'war between Israel and Hamas,' thus creating a false sense of parity between the two sides while masking the disproportionate impact on civilian populations. Furthermore, the newspaper has been criticized for repeatedly quoting statements from the Israeli army media office and providing more platform space to Israeli opinion writers, often at the expense of Palestinian voices.

One of the most prominent examples is their report on sexual violence. On December 28 of last year, the newspaper published one of the most controversial journalistic stories in recent months, an investigative report titled “Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7,” presenting alleged stories from various kibbutzim and settlements attacked at that time about systematic rapes of Israeli women by Hamas fighters during the Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.

How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7

The plot thickened shortly thereafter, as discrepancies emerged within days. Multiple individuals whose narratives featured prominently in the report refuted the depicted events. Relatives of the woman referred to as "the woman in the black dress" (with burned body), a focal point occupying a significant portion of the investigation, spoke to Yedioth Ahronoth. They disclosed that journalists from The New York Times had reached out to them on multiple occasions, stressing the necessity of publicizing the story to bolster Hasbara, the Israeli propaganda machinery.

Simultaneously, the report faced criticism from other media outlets, fact-checking platforms, and feminist organizations, questioning the journalistic integrity of the investigation, which lacked forensic evidence or testimonies from forensic experts. This led the newspaper's editorial board to assign the main report’s author, Pulitzer Prize-winning international editor Jeffrey Gettleman, to prepare another report addressing these criticisms.

The issue escalated into an internal dispute within the newspaper regarding the report's professionalism and readiness for publication in its existing state. This led to the production of an unreleased episode of the newspaper's highly popular podcast, "The Daily," slated for January 9. The podcast team suggested a different approach to the sexual violence narrative, allowing for scrutiny of the testimonies and details outlined in the newspaper's report. However, CAMERA, an Israeli lobby group seeking to inculcate the Israeli perspective of events in the Western media, prevented the episode from being aired.

As the events unfolded, senior officials in the New York Times confirmed, last Sunday, that they are investigating "journalist" Anat Schwartz, who contributed to the mentioned investigation on the alleged sexual violence attributed to Hamas on October 7, and several other reports for the newspaper. This came after it was revealed that independent Israeli filmmaker Schwartz had liked a post by Israeli editor and radio host David Mizrahi Wertheim on X (formerly Twitter) calling for Israel to turn the Gaza Strip into a "slaughterhouse," without adherence to established guidelines, among other content advocating genocide and mocking Palestinians.

Israel to turn the Gaza Strip into a "slaughterhouse,"

Schwartz's social media activity has cast doubt on her impartiality and adherence to general journalistic principles of integrity and neutrality. These developments have sparked inquiries into the rigor of The New York Times editorial standards as perceived by its readers. Questions began to arise about Schwartz's credibility, who works as a film director at the Israeli Broadcasting Authority (IBA), according to her LinkedIn profile, and her nephew Adam Sella, a young journalist who graduated less than two years ago.

Despite the publication's defense of the investigative report and its acclaim by some of the newspaper's leadership, such as executive editor Joseph Kahn, who lauded it as "true journalism," doubts persist alongside recent revelations. These ongoing developments raise questions about The New York Times' overall impartiality, particularly evident in its coverage of the Israeli war on Gaza, suggesting a recurring bias in its reporting.

Firstly, instead of beginning to correct its report into sexual violence during the Hamas attack on October 7, the newspaper is conducting an internal witch hunt, targeting its Middle Eastern and Muslim staff to trace the sources of leaks about the scandal. Secondly, the newspaper continues to blame the victims in Gaza for the "Flour Massacre" on February 29, in which Israeli soldiers fired on a crowd of starving Palestinians, killing more than a hundred and injuring 700 others.

In early March, The New York Times published a "news analysis" authored by Patrick Kingsley on the Flour Massacre, a piece that garnered attention for its apparent exoneration of Israel. The headline, "Lack of Plan for Governing Gaza Formed Backdrop to Deadly Convey Chaos," set the tone for Kingsley's narrative. In the article, he stated, "Gazan health officials said more than 100 were killed and 700 injured after thousands of hungry civilians rushed at a convoy of aid trucks, leading to a stampede and prompting Israeli soldiers to open fire on the crowd." However, scrutiny arose as Kingsley himself was situated in the newspaper's Jerusalem office and did not provide direct quotes or sources from individuals present at the scene to validate the claim of a "stampede." Moreover, there was a notable absence of explanation regarding how a rush for food by unarmed civilians justified the use of lethal force, resulting in 100 fatalities out of 800 individuals shot. The article's framing primarily focused on portraying Gaza health officials as manipulative, while the presence of the Israeli army at the scene was mentioned briefly and cursorily.

Gazan health officials said more than 100 were killed and 700 injured after thousands of hungry civilians rushed at a convoy of aid truck

Despite facing extensive criticism over the past seven months for its perceived biased coverage of the war, The New York Times has persisted in its editorial approach. Recently, amidst the Israeli military's operation in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where over 1.3 million people have been displaced, forcing them to relocate towards Deir al-Balah and Al-Mawasi towards what it called the "humanitarian zone," the newspaper initially published an article titled "As Israel Steps Up Attacks, 300,000 Gazans Begin to Move,” which sparked significant backlash. In response to the criticism, the newspaper amended the headline to "As Israel Steps Up Attacks, 300,000 Gazans Are Forced to Evacuate."

As Israel Steps Up Attacks, 300,000 Gazans Begin to Move
As Israel Steps Up Attacks, 300,000 Gazans Are Forced to Evacuate

The New York Times’ Historical Approach

Shortly after the war erupted, some editors and journalists at The New York Times raised concerns that the publication's guidelines prevented them from labeling Hamas as a "terrorist organization." The standards department, overseen by journalist Philip B. Corbett for 14 years, argued that since Hamas governed a specific territory with political representation, it couldn't be classified simply as a stateless terrorist group. This rationale posited that the act of intentionally killing civilians alone was insufficient to designate a group as a terrorist, as this criterion could broadly apply to numerous international entities in diverse situations.

Several sources indicated that Corbett defended this policy despite facing pressure after October 7, but he ultimately stepped down. On the 19th of that month, an email from executive editor Joseph Kahn announced Corbett's request to relinquish his role. The New York Times administration stated, "After 14 years as the embodiment of Times standards, Phil Corbett has told us he’d like to step back a bit and let someone else take the leading role in this crucial effort." Insiders within the newsroom suggested that his departure was linked to the pressure to bias coverage in favor of Israel, particularly as the newspaper had faced criticism and pressure from Israeli organizations since the beginning of the war.

The most prominent evidence of how the newspaper reached this juncture lies in examining executive editor Joseph Kahn. His father, Leo Kahn, was a long-time board member of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA). For decades, CAMERA has aimed to enforce a pro-Israel perspective in media coverage by discrediting journalists who diverge from their perspective and initiating boycotts and defamation campaigns against news organizations that do not comply with their demands "sufficiently respectfully."

According to a profile published by The Times when Joseph Kahn became executive editor in 2022, Kahn and his father frequently "dissect journalism coverage together." While The Times denies that CAMERA wields any special influence over its reporting, CAMERA cites dozens of corrections made by the newspaper at its behest, the most recent being on April 30.

Moreover, this family connection is not the only one that raises serious questions about the paper’s ability to cover Israel/Palestine in a way that comports to its aura of stodgy journalistic integrity. Investigative journalists Daniel Boguslaw and Ryan Grim revealed that “Over the past 20 years, the children of three Times reporters enlisted in the IDF while the parents covered issues related to the Israel–Palestine conflict.” 

According to Zev Chafets, who served as media advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in the 1970s and led the Government Press Office during his administration, The New York Times has long been regarded by Israeli decision-makers as the most crucial media outlet that should always be thought about in terms of how to deal with and contain it.

The bias can be traced back to influential figures such as Abraham Rosenthal, who served as the editor of the newspaper during a critical period. Rosenthal was known for his staunch support of Israel, a stance that likely influenced the newspaper's editorial policies. His successor, Max Frankel, who served as the executive editor during the First Intifada, was even more devoted to Israel. Frankel admitted in his memoirs, “I was much more deeply devoted to Israel than I dared to assert," as Eric Alterman quotes in his book, We Are Not One.

For decades, The New York Times steered clear of using significant terms related to the Palestinian struggle, the Palestinian people, and their land, foremost of which is the word "Nakba." The term didn't appear in any article until 1998, within a special issue marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the occupation state. This is despite the term's prevalence in public discourse in the United States regarding Palestine, especially within academia and among university students.

As per a study released by Harvard University's Shorenstein Center, The New York Times' coverage of the Palestinian issue showed a conspicuous absence of the term "Nakba." This absence mirrored its non-inclusion in the White House and successive American administrations' discussions. This pattern is reflected not just in The New York Times but also in official U.S. government dialogue and wider media discussions, given The New York Times' significant role in shaping public opinion and setting the language for discussing current issues.

Israel in The New York Time Over the Decades

However, under these superficial layers of prejudice against Palestinians, there may be a deeper and simpler issue. As Noam Chomsky and his late partner Edward Herman argued in their book "Manufacturing Consent," one of the distinctive biases of the mainstream media, in general, was deep respect and ideological convergence with U.S. national security interests. This historical trend was evident during the Vietnam War, when The New York Times covered actions by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon without questioning their bombing campaign aimed at suppressing a peasant revolution. Similarly, during the Iraq War, The Times published the George W. Bush administration's false claims about "weapons of mass destruction" without scrutiny or accountability, albeit later apologizing. Therefore, it is not surprising to find a similar pattern during the ongoing war on Gaza.

Read More

The New York Times Admits to the Unreliability of Key Sources in Its Sexual Violence Investigation on October 7

The Palestinian Nakba: A Case Study of Disinformation and the Power of Language