Faux Fairness at The New York Times

The Times is an American icon and fairness is a core American value.

It’s no wonder then that The Times says it places a premium on fairness, a laudable journalistic value. Its Standards and Ethics guidelines state: “The goal of The New York Times is to cover the news as impartially as possible – ‘without fear or favor,’ in the words of Adolph Ochs, our patriarch.”

Maybe that’s why editors habitually issue a pro-forma condemnation of both Israelis and Palestinians – before it proceeds to single out Israel for real or perceived wrongdoings, while downplaying or ignoring foul play on the other side.  Today’s editorial (“Four Horrific Killings”) follows the familiar formula. First, the blanket exhortation to both sides: “It is the responsibility of leaders on both sides to try and calm the volatile emotions that once again threaten both peoples.”

After inserting additional background information (including an egregious factual error about the Israeli prime minister), The Times tackles its real beef. Editors provide a detailed litany of Israeli misdoings, followed by a perfunctory reference to “Hamas’s violence” and unidentified Palestinian “hateful speech”:

After the attack on the Israeli teenagers, some Israelis gave in to their worst prejudices. During funerals for the boys, hundreds of extreme right-wing protesters blocked roads in Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs.” A Facebook page named ‘People of Israel Demand Revenge’ gathered 35,000 ‘likes’ before being taken down; a blogger gave prominence to a photo, also on Facebook, that featured a sign saying: “Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values.” Even Mr. Netanyahu referenced an Israeli poem that reads: “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created.” Israelis have long had to cope with Hamas’s violence, including a recent increase in rocket attacks from Gaza. And Palestinians have been fully guilty of hateful speech against Jews.

While readers are treated to a four specific examples of Israelis succumbing to their worst prejudices, The Times does not identify even one single case of recent Palestinian incitement, of which there is no shortage. Palestinians celebrated the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaar and Naphtali Frankel with a social media campaign called “The Three Shalits” which went viral; hateful cartoons in a Palestinian Authority-controlled newspaper and on the Fatah Facebook page; and the distribution of sweets in Gaza. In recent days, Fatah, headed by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, warned Israelis to prepare body bags and declared “We wish for the blood to become rivers.”

After the grossly lopsided accounting, in which The Times deems examples of heated rhetoric worthy of specific mention only when uttered by Israelis, the “Paper of Record” reverts to its faux fairness, describing “an atmosphere in which each side dehumanizes the other.” The editorial closes with its formulaic parity: “These deaths should cause the two communities to think again about the need for a permanent peace, but the loss of four young men may not be motivation enough.”

Subtitled “Can Israeli and Palestinian Leaders End the Revenge Attacks?”, the editorial ought to have been particularly precise in reporting the leaders’ respective words and deeds. And, yet, the author/s grossly erred: “On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, after days of near silence, condemned that killing and promised that anyone found guilty would ‘face the full weight of the law.’”

Netanyahu did not remain silent for days concerning the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. The Israeli prime minister spoke out against the killing of Abu Kheir from July 2, the very same day of the murder.  As The Times’ own Isabel Kershner reported: “On Wednesday, after the body of the Palestinian teenager was found in the woods, the prime minister called on Israelis to obey the law, and asked investigators to quickly look into what he called ‘the abominable murder.’”

Netanyahu again denounced the murder Thursday, July 3 at the home of American Ambassador Daniel Shapiro during the July 4th celebration. As CNN reported:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Thursday to find the perpetrators responsible for the boy’s killing, an act Netanyahu described as “a despicable crime.”


Netanyahu made the comment during a speech at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv where he and Israeli President Shimon Peres attended the annual July 4 Independence Day party.

Given that The Times editorial writer did not accurately report events recorded last week in the paper’s own news pages, it’s unsurprising that s/he trips up on a Hebrew poem written more than a century ago.

Thus, The Times’ cites Netanyahu’s recitation of a line from Chaim Nachman Bialik’s poem “The Slaughter” as an indication that, he, like the crowds chanting “Death to Arabs” also gave in to his “worst prejudices.” In fact, Bialik’s lines, and Netanyahu’s quotation of them, are widely understood as a call for heavenly justice and a rejection of human vengeance for the killing of a small child. The full stanza in question and the preceding stanza (in translation), which Bialik wrote in response to the Kishinev pogrom) are:

And if there is justice – let it show
itself at once!  But if justice show itself
after I have been blotted out from
beneath the skies – let its throne be
hurled down forever!  Let heaven rot
with eternal evil!  And you, the arrogant,
go in this violence of yours, live by
your bloodshed and be cleansed by it.

And cursed be the man who says:
Avenge!  No such revenge – revenge for
the blood of a little child – has yet been
devised by Satan.  Let the blood pierce
through the abyss!  Let the blood seep
down into the depths of darkness, and
eat away there, in the dark, and breach
all the rotting foundations of the earth.

If there is fairness at The New York Times editorial page — let it show itself at once!

About the Author
Tamar Sternthal is the director of the Israel Office of CAMERA
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