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New York Times editor admits holding Palestinians to a lower standard

Editor Matt Seaton tweeted he'd publish op-eds on Palestinian discrimination as soon as they have a state

A favored topic at The New York Times is the purported racism of Israeli society at large. It has been the topic, again and again, of Op-Eds, editorials and news stories.  Conversely, Times editors seem ever reluctant to approach the subject of Palestinian racism, although there is no dearth of material there.

Why this discrepancy?

Times opinion editor Matt Seaton today provided a window into the mindset of the editors in his response to a query by this media analyst about whether readers “can expect two hit pieces on Palestinian racism in the next month” in keeping with the pace of the publication of (error-ridden) screeds about Israeli racism, both real and imagined.

Seaton, a former editor at the Guardian, known for its hostile treatment of Israel, tweeted back that The Times opinion pages would cover Palestinian racism as “soon as they have [a] sovereign state to discriminate with.”

The editor’s stunning admission that he considers Palestinians exempt from scrutiny due to their stateless existence followed the publication of yet another Op-Ed which accused Israeli society as being racist. About Rula Jebreal’s Oct. 27 Op-Ed (“Minority life in Israel”), Seaton tweeted: “Often overlooked, an insight into the life of one-fifth of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian.”


“Often overlooked?” The Times last devoted an Op-Ed to alleged Israeli racism on the part of Israeli society at large barely a month ago (“How Israel Silences Dissent,” Sept. 26). A mere four weeks ago, Mairav Zonszein wrote in The Times: “Israeli society has been unable and unwilling to overcome an exclusivist ethno-religious nationalism that privileges Jewish citizens.” (Emphasis added.)

This week, Rula Jebreal, an Arab Israeli-Italian journalist, closely echoed Zonszein’s language: “Israel is increasingly becoming a project of ethno-religious purity and exclusion.” (Emphasis added.)

Last month, Zonszein wrote that the Jewish state “has systematically discriminated against non-Jewish citizens.”

This month, Jebreal wrote: “a program of discriminatory legislation, designed to curtail the civil rights of Palestinian Israeli citizens” is central to the politics of the governing coalition dominated by “[r]eligious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox parties.”

In September, Zonszein wrote that extremist Israeli Jews in Tel Aviv chanted “Death to Arabs.” In October, Jebreal wrote that “Death to Arabs” was spray-painted on her family home in Haifa.

Far from ignoring racism on the part of Israeli extremists, The Times opinion and news pages have obsessively focused on it. In fact, Israeli calls of “Death to Arabs” were noted 10 times in Gray Lady in 2014.

Before Zonszein and Jebreal, there was contributing editor Ali Jarbawi who wrote in August about “an extremist, racist ideological current in Israel” and a “complete shamelessness in mainstream Israeli rhetoric about Palestinians.”

When challenged about his indefensible assertion that the issue of Israeli racism is “often overlooked,” Seaton attempted to dodge the question: “it’s equal opportunity here: aim to give voice to all sides of a debate over time.”

But, of course, “all sides” of the debate do not get an equal voice at “The Paper of Record.” Indeed, as Seaton today confirmed, the paper’s inexcusable downplaying of Palestinian racism and genocidal rhetoric is apparently a question of policy on the part of an ideologically-driven editorial board.

Consider the July 7 editorial “Four horrific killings,” which followed the brutal murders of three Israeli Jewish teens and one Arab teen from Jerusalem. The editorial started off with the pro forma 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.” The piece then detailed four specific examples of alleged Israeli racism. It did not cite a single example of Palestinian racism – though there was no shortage – and, almost as an afterthought, settled for the vague reference to unidentified Palestinian “hateful speech against Jews.”

While the July 7 piece was one of the many instances in which The Times cited calls by Israeli extremists of “Death to Arabs,” it failed to note, for example, the official Fatah Facebook page which warned Israelis “to prepare all the bags you can for your body parts.”

There has not this year – forget this month – been a single Times Op-Ed devoted to Palestinian racism. So much for “equal opportunity” for all voices.

Falsehoods and truth are equally welcome at The Times when it comes to Op-Eds with gross slurs against Israel. Indeed, The Times has been compelled to publish correction on all of aforementioned pieces – the editorial, along with the Op-Eds by Zonszein and Jebreal.

Too many errors, however, stand uncorrected. For instance, in the latest anti-Israel polemic, Jebreal falsely asserts that there are “more than 50 discriminatory Israeli laws documented by Adalah, the Haifa-based Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights,” a falsehood that previously surfaced in a 2012 Op-Ed (“Not all Israeli citizens are equal”).

As CAMERA’s Gilead Ini wrote to Times editors the night before Jebreal’s Op-Ed appeared in print, Adalah’s claim of 50-plus discriminatory laws does not stand up to scrutiny. Among the allegedly discriminatory legislation are laws stipulating that, in Adalah’s own words, “if a child does not receive vaccinations mandated by the Health Ministry, his/her state-funded child allowance payments will be decreased by 60 percent,” and a law that “Provides that the state stamp shall be placed on all official documents.”

At times, one wonders if fact-checkers are simply asked to take a coffee break when it comes to the most nonsensical anti-Israel allegations. Jebreal claims that, in practice, it is “virtually impossible for a Palestinian to buy or rent a home in any majority-Jewish city.”

A “majority-Jewish city” is a city in which more than 50 percent of the population is Jewish. Among Israel’s larger cities, they include Jerusalem, where 300,200 Arabs (36.8 percent of the total population) rent and own homes; Tel Aviv-Yaffo, where 17,200 Arabs (4.2 percent) dwell; Beer Sheva, home to 3,800 Arabs (1.9 percent); and Haifa, where 28,800 Arabs (10.6 percent), rent or own homes. Jebreal’s own family is among them.

Such absurdities are of course necessary to prop up Jebreal’s—and The Times’ – imagined Israel of “ethno-religious purity and exclusion.”

On the flip side, it is now official that the Times Op-Ed pages are not interested in Palestinian racism, incitement, discrimination and ethno-religious purity. As stateless victims, they are beyond scrutiny.

Even their blatant acts of belligerence are downplayed, including in the news pages. A particularly euphemistic headline (later changed) this summer: “Rockets Said to Be Fired from Gaza Strip Puncture Latest Cease-Fire.”

“Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate,” observed former AP journalist Matti Friedman. “The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.”

Seaton couldn’t agree more.

Learn more about New York Times coverage of the summer conflict between Hamas and Israel at a Nov. 9 panel in Jerusalem, “War By Other Means: Israel, Hamas and Media Coverage of Gaza.”

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