NYT Moment of Truth-Finally

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Sunday’s New  York Times break with decades of obvious pro-Israel bias was finally shredded by Michelle Alexander’s column which laid out in stark terms both the obvious massive suffering of Palestinians and the prevailing fear of naming this obvious obscenity. Breaking the Silence has been percolating steadily below the surface for many years. Now it’s flowing more freely over the top. The elephant in the room is becoming more visible except in most synagogues and excessively tribal Jewish organizations. This is clearly a watershed moment

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Human Rights lawyer Robert Herbst in a Mondoweiss column  helps us understand this sordid history, one which shames a serious newspaper supposedly committed to pursuing the truth.

For over a decade the journalist Chris Hedges  a former Times Pulitzer prize columnist  has been slagging his former employer whom he admits did run his stories on Gaza but overall the  papergives a lot of play to what the Israelis want to be reported….the Israelis and the Israeli lobby in the United States are powerful, deceitful and ruthless.”

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Hedges  had little time for the craven reporting he witnessed in Gaza:

If the Israelis bombed Gaza, I’d go into the streets and count the bodies. The Israelis were furious. But what could they do? I was there. It blew a hole in the fiction they put out about surgical strikes.

So Israel’s official reports would minimize the casualties?

They lied. Constantly. They claimed not to target civilians while using their air force, tanks, naval gunships and heavy artillery to obliterate civilian neighborhoods. Their dishonesty is quite breathtaking.

The Israeli government is hypersensitive about anyone, including Israeli reporters, who challenge the official narrative. The Israeli reporters Gideon Levy and Amara Hass are routinely harassed by the Israeli government, have received death threats and are publicly vilified as accomplices of terrorists for writing the truth about the occupation.

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Post 1948 the Times had  an “Exodus” coverage, broad sympathy for Jewish suffering. Holocaust Christian guilt  reflexively favored the putative underdog.That Israel was founded on the dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian community did not even factor in this equation. This began to change after the 6 Day War of i 1967 as Israel was becoming more Goliath-like than David.

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In 1982 the ugly face of Israeli state power was  seen in Lebanon. Israel now could be criticized and hundreds of thousands of Jews marched in disgust Here we begin to see the Arab-hating face of Ariel Sharon an apt symbol for the racism that dogs modern Israel today.Sharon was described by  Ronald Reagan’s America Middle East envoy Philip Habib as “a killer obsessed with the hatred of Palestinians,” A hero with the illegal settlers Sharon an Israeli Prime Minister(2001-2006)  was more accurately described  by Max Blumenthal as a man ‘who destroyed entire cities and wasted countless countless lives.”

By the mid 80’s  pictures of refugee camps  coincided with the  regular appearance  of articulate Palestinian voices and new research  of  Israel’s “new historians” who exploded the myths surrounding the Nakba the dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians of 1948.

In the late 80s the computer changed everything. Instant transmission of Palestinian suffering began to waken the western world yet the state’s  smooth propaganda machine  was able to cloud the injustice on the ground. The Times struggled to reflect this.

Neil Lewis, a Times foreign correspondent makes this point:

The New York Times has long played a singular role for its Jewish readers. It is no exaggeration to say that for a century it has served, in effect, as the hometown paper of American Jewry. First, it is published in the city and region with the nation’s greatest collection and concentration of Jews.

One needs to understand  the tension then in covering “the Jewish state.” Herbst quotes New Yorker Max Frankel who admitted the bias when he was editorial page editor. In his memoir (as quoted in “The Israel Lobby”), he wrote:

‘I was much more deeply devoted to Israel than I dared to assert … Fortified by my knowledge of Israel and my friendships there, I myself wrote most of our Middle East commentaries. As more Arab than Jewish readers recognized, I wrote them from a pro-Israel perspective.’

A.M. “Abe” Rosenthal became managing editor in 1969.Herbst writes:  Rosenthal was unashamed about his Judaism and unapologetic in his support for Israel.”Over the decades, Rosenthal was a lucid and persuasive pro-Israel voice at The New York Times.

Complaints about distorted news coverage of events in Israel-Palestine have been a staple on this site for years.  Former Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren palled around with Abe Foxman and showed cultural indifference toward Palestinians. At least four reporters for the paper have had sons serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. As a reader of the paper for the last 60 years, I know that Palestinian voices describing their struggle for human rights and dignity have rarely appeared in its the pages, while reliably pro-Israel commentary has come for years from Zionist Times columnists David Brooks and Tom Friedman, and more recently from Bret Stephens,(former editor of the Jerusalem Post) Bari Weiss, Shmuel Rosner and Matti Friedman.

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Weiss is particularly appalling, trashing the pro-Palestinian movement as vicious anti-Semites. She needs to hear a far wiser Jew who lives among Palestinians, Haaretz writer Amira Hass:  “Young Palestinians do not go out to murder Jews because they are Jews, but because we are their occupiers, their torturers, their jailers, the thieves of their land and water, their exilers, the demolishers of their homes, the blockers of their horizon.”

Herbst concludes

In giving Alexander’s piece prominence on the first page of the Sunday Review, it may be that A.G. Sulzberger’s Times is serving notice that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, Jews and Gentiles, free to debate this perspective without fear or favor,  notwithstanding the influence of those who would declare it anti-Semitic or otherwise illegitimate.  If so, this could be a breakthrough moment not just for the Times, but for all of us involved in the struggle for Palestinian rights and dignity.