Journalists on major papers are blocked from truth-telling about Palestine and the apartheid practices of Israel. Such pro-Israel censorship in top American newspapers is troubling – and not unprecedented.
by Michael F. Brown, reposted from Electronic Intifada, February 15, 2021
We’ve had an instructive few days in how US media look at Israeli apartheid and Palestine. Too often, they suppress.
It’s been a few days and still no mention of the @amnesty report on Israel’s apartheid on the pages of the @nytimes as far as I can see. This is so outrageous that I hear Bari Weiss now wants her job back. https://t.co/1CmSyuVGL0
— Jareer Kassis (@JareerKassis) February 6, 2022
— Adalah-NY (@AdalahNY) February 11, 2022
This omission from the world section is profoundly disturbing. It points to anti-Palestinian racism at the newspaper being more virulent than I had imagined.
As a college student, I knew I could turn to The New York Times for updates on the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Students today must turn elsewhere for important Palestine-related news. This only hastens the newspaper’s irrelevance and heightens the importance of alternative news sources.
Nevertheless, Danielle Rhoades Ha, vice president for communications at The New York Times, stood up for the newspaper in a Saturday email to The Electronic Intifada.
“We have covered the debate over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, both the accusations by rights groups that Israel practices apartheid as well as with on-the-ground reporting of the underlying conditions that give rise to these arguments. While it is not our practice to cover every report published by NGOs, these issues have been and will continue to be an essential part of our Mideast coverage.”
But it’s not an “essential part” of their coverage if one of the most important human rights reports on Israel’s apartheid practices is simply disregarded. Current self-censorship cannot be excused because of earlier articles she points to.
It’s painful to see a communications professional carrying water for apartheid. Who wants to spend a Saturday afternoon sharing a quote that downplays Israeli apartheid (and ignores questions about anti-Palestinian racism at the newspaper)?
Patrick Kingsley, Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times, did write this interesting sentence over the weekend: “The settlers benefit from a two-tier legal system in which settlers who commit violence are rarely punished, while Palestinian suspects are frequently arrested and prosecuted by military courts.”
Human Rights Watch used very similar language in a 2010 report, “Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
HRW described “the two-tier system of laws, rules, and services that Israel operates for the two populations in areas in the West Bank under its exclusive control, which provide preferential services, development, and benefits for Jewish settlers while imposing harsh conditions on Palestinians.”
This suggests that Kingsley may be seeking to insert descriptive language about Israel’s apartheid without actually being permitted to use the term. We don’t know for certain because The Times has not yet responded directly.
Today in “not apartheid” – “The settlers benefit from a two-tier legal system in which settlers who commit violence are rarely punished, while Palestinian suspects are frequently arrested and prosecuted by military courts.” https://t.co/nN3P4h0wti
— Lara Friedman (@LaraFriedmanDC) February 13, 2022
Rhoades Ha wrote again Monday stating that her comment Saturday “represents the editors’ response.”
Today, Kingsley reported on Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to Bahrain. In his final paragraph, he quoted Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, advocacy director at the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, on the visit.
“This is the most important date in Bahrain’s recent history, when Bahrainis stood up against an autocracy – and 11 years later they have invited the head of an apartheid state.” That is surely a reference to Amnesty’s report which has gone uncited by The New York Times.
Kingsley is not responding to questions from The Electronic Intifada. Consequently, it’s unclear how hard he is pushing for the Amnesty International story – or if he has moved on while trying to tell the story for attentive readers in other ways. Either way, this episode speaks very poorly for the newspaper and its resolve to fully address Israeli apartheid.
But it’s not just The Times falling short.
Now, The Washington Post is coming under scrutiny for changing a Democratic Socialists of America reference to the “Palestine solidarity movement” to the “Palestinian territories solidarity movement” as if activists are for Palestinian freedom and equal rights only within the occupied territories and not between the river and the sea.
Olivia Katbi, who organizes with the DSA, asked: “Are they not allowed to say Palestine in The Washington Post?”
Washington Post article which touches on DSA’s endorsement drama changes the word Palestine from DSA’s statement to Palestinian territories. “The Palestinian territories solidarity movement” LOL. Are they not allowed to say Palestine in the Washington Post https://t.co/BKjVaECMy7 pic.twitter.com/hvfzo7Wh7K
— Olivia Katbi 🌹 (@oliviakatbi) February 9, 2022
A correction soon appeared: “In an earlier version of this story, a reference in a DSA statement was changed from ‘Palestine’ to ‘the Palestinian territories’ because of a technical error.”
Dave Weigel, the author of the article, tweeted his thanks for flagging the quotation. “That quote never should have been altered; it was a copy-editing mistake that got corrected, with a note explaining what happened.”
That elicited guffaws – along with further examples.
“Copy-editing mistake” 😭😭😭 https://t.co/Mr2kCRgo37
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) February 10, 2022
Other than in quotes, we are not allowed to say Palestine in the LA Times. Policy, codified in a 2005 memo, directs Palestine be used “only to describe the territory that existed from 1923 to 1948, or the historical region (the land of Palestine). It is not a recognized nation.” https://t.co/2AreeK6F1S
— suhauna hussain (@suhaunah) February 9, 2022
Adam Elmahrek, an investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times, weighed in with pertinent questions of US media: “Are they studying whether it’s time to call Israel an apartheid state … in order to most accurately reflect the reality of the situation?” He added, “That is why we don’t say Palestine, right?”
If so, are they studying whether it’s time to call Israel an apartheid state… in order to most accurately reflect the reality of the situation?
That is why we don’t say Palestine, right?
Not holding my breath.
— Adam Elmahrek (@adamelmahrek) February 10, 2022
Saying “Palestine,” literally a banned word in US newsrooms, is so controversial an AP reporter was once fired for accurately and objectively calling the ban a political choice https://t.co/52ctPpN8Du
— Adam Elmahrek (@adamelmahrek) February 9, 2022
The prohibition on the word Palestine in U.S. media suddenly got lots of attention here. So it's a good time for a full explanation.
News orgs articulate various reasons for not saying Palestine. I've heard them all.
Here's why they're wrong. (A thread)
— Adam Elmahrek (@adamelmahrek) February 10, 2022
Of course we need to be careful about how we use the word, like we are with all words. But a blanket prohibition on Palestine has problems that outweigh this concern.
If we can’t ever say Palestine, it gives the impression Palestine doesn't exist. A fake people from a fake land
— Adam Elmahrek (@adamelmahrek) February 10, 2022
Concerns about attacks on Elmahrek are not misplaced. He is on record multiple times supporting equal rights for Palestinians in one state.
That is a possible “violation” of the deeply problematic IHRA definition of anti-Semitism which provides as one example: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Elmahrek’s tweets indicate he doesn’t support subjecting Palestinians to inferior rights in Israel. He believes Israel practices apartheid, which suggests “a racist endeavor.” Terming this anti-Semitic is absurd, but a path that could be pursued against Elmahrek in the ongoing effort to silence critics of what Israel is doing.
I'm proud to stand with more than 200 current and former journalists in calling for U.S. media to reform how we cover Israel/Palestine.
For decades, the reporting has obscured Israel's military occupation and system of apartheid.
We have to change. Nowhttps://t.co/scOJlIkMML
— Adam Elmahrek (@adamelmahrek) June 9, 2021
Excising Palestine from the conversation is, of course, not confined to US media. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation apologized in 2020 for using the word Palestine.
Israel’s refusal to leave the West Bank has in many ways backfired by providing time for many to understand that the issue isn’t just the occupation of 1967, but the dispossession in 1948 of some 800,000 Palestinians. Over 70 years of Israeli apartheid are now on the table. This is reflected in the current discussion over Palestine that Elmahrek is promoting.
But there’s a larger point here that shouldn’t be missed. This sort of pushback to excluding mention of Palestine wasn’t really happening 30 years ago and certainly wasn’t getting as much traction. A decade or two from now, one wonders if it will be Elmahrek writing a prominent newspaper’s editorials, including on Palestine.
First, he’ll have to survive the attacks of groups such as media monitor HonestReporting.
An internal political fight is on the way, not merely about free speech rights, but about Palestinian freedom and equal rights and how to get there in a country with congressional leaders who have promoted Israeli apartheid at practically every turn having learned very little from the struggle against Jim Crow segregation and South African apartheid.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will lead a congressional delegation of Democrats to Israel this week, including Ted Deutch, Bill Keating, Ro Khanna, Andy Kim, Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell. It would be surprising if a single one of them spoke out against Israeli apartheid during the visit. Progressive except on Palestine is alive and well in the Democratic Party.
ESSENTIAL READING ON MEDIA BIAS:
- Associated Press Double Standard in Israel-Palestine Reporting
- Off the Charts: Accuracy in Reporting of Israel/Palestine – The New York Times
- The Coverage and Non-Coverage of Israel-Palestine
- Study finds 50-year history of anti-Palestinian bias in mainstream news reporting
- Sheikh Jarrah: How the US media is erasing Israel’s crimes
- The Washington Post Redacted Facts About Israel’s Destruction of COVID-19 Clinics
- Israel, Washington Post teach Americans: Palestinian lives don’t matter
- New York Times staff writer praises AIPAC for its work supporting Israel
- HRW: Facebook, Instagram restrictions facilitate Israel’s abuses of Palestinians
- How the Media Cracks Down on Critics of Israel
- Israel aims to silence Palestinian journalists
- The Magic of Israel: Censorship, Now you see it, now you don’t
- Flashback: NY Times Lied That Hamas Had Been Firing Rockets at Israel
- Media ignore, disparage, or misrepresent Palestinian Right of Return