I’ve been reading the NY Times for a long time. My father did before me. I read every article published there about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and often write about them here. I have a long and deep respect for the wonderful reporting that has come out of Israel in its pages. Steven Erlanger, the Jerusalem bureau chief, has, until now, been in that august tradition that included David Shipler, (the early) Tom Friedman, Deborah Sontag, James Bennett and Serge Schmemann. But he really let himself and his predecessors down today.
He wrote a terribly imbalanced story about incitement against Jews fomented by Hamas, which practically gave over his article to promote the views of propaganda outfits like MEMRI and Palestine Media Watch. In doing so, Erlanger touted them as if they were dispassionate, professionally competent observers of the Arab media. Nothing could farther from the truth. This sentence in particular is problematic:
Along with Mr. Marcus’s group, the Middle East Media Research Institute, or Memri, also monitors the Arabic media. But no one disputes their translations…
How can a journalist writing for as distinguished a newspaper as the Times make such a statement? For one, Brian Whitaker, an editor of The Guardian’s Comment is Free blog, has written regularly about MEMRI’s distorted translations of Arab media–translations which are designed more to prove ideological points rather than provide an well-grounded, proportionate picture of what the media is actually saying. These are a few of the columns he’s written over the years:
And Whitaker is not the only one. Any Google search would uncover multiple reputable media critiques of MEMRI and Palestine Media Watch.
Several images accompany the story including one with this caption:
In a play staged at a Gaza cultural center this month, a Palestinian farmer pulls his dead child from a house bombed by Israel.
I have no idea about the content of this play, but why would such a work be seen as an impermissible expression of anti-Jewish incitement? Are Gazans not allowed to dramatize their suffering as peoples of most other nations of the world do? Personally, I think Erlanger and his editors really lost their way on this story.
Let me take a slight detour by acknowledging there is hate and incitement against Israelis and Jews in Gaza. Hamas is an organization riddled with anti-Semitic attitudes. This is real. This is troubling. It is rightly written about in the Times and condemned by all who support tolerance and respect between both peoples and religions. But the grievous problem with Erlanger’s story is that he completely omits any context for it.
Why do Gazans hate Israelis and Jews? Could it possibly have a wee bit to do with Israel’s strangulation of the Gaza Strip and the privation that this has caused for the 1.5 million people who live there? If Steven Erlanger lived on handouts, couldn’t afford to feed his family, couldn’t get any medical treatment if his children became ill, couldn’t leave his home to travel anywhere for business or pleasure, and was treated as the enemy by an occupying power–might he not harbor deep hatred for those he blamed for such treatment? Might his hatred possibly even be irrational, prejudiced and grossly distorted? I don’t know. That’s for Erlanger to say. But if he’s honest and recognized human frailties shared by many of us, he might acknowledge this as a distinct possibility.
Erlanger also commits a sin of omission. He bangs on the incessant drumbeat of Muslim hate without acknowledging a problem as deeply troubling on the Israeli side: Jewish incitement against Arabs. I know something about this subject since I’ve just published a Comment is Free essay on it. There is a long tradition within Israel of such hatred against Israel’s perceived Arab enemies. And it is more than just words. It is hatred that has led to violence. Haaretz reported this week that a prominent Israeli Orthodox rabbi called for the children of Palestinians who murder Israelis to be hung from trees. Not the murderers, but their CHILDREN!
Erlanger somehow believes that this phenomenon is less pressing, less prevalent and less problematic than the hatred he wrote about in Gaza’s mosques. I beg to disagree. Such incitement led to the assassination of an Israeli prime minister who many serious analysts believe would have succeeded in resolving the I-P conflict had he lived. Jewish hate is no less poisonous and deadly than Muslim hate. Discount it at your peril.
I want to make clear that my purpose here is not to minimize or justify Palestinian hate. It is to point out that hate is not a one-way street, as Erlanger implies. It is a two-way street. And as long as journalism like this passes for fair and balanced, no one will be able to address the problems and divisions keeping both sides apart in order to bridge them.
Those like Erlanger who allow you to believe that only one side are to blame in causing this bloody mess of a conflict are doing a deep disservice to truth and history. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are imperfect. Both sides hate. Both sides must acknowledge their errors and turn away from them in a mutual compromise.