The Electronic Intifada / December 14, 2019
The New York Times opinion section doesn’t play fair. That is not exactly a revelation but sometimes enough is enough and the newspaper’s anti-Palestinian bias needs to be reiterated.
A new executive order signed by President Donald Trump threatens the First Amendment rights of students. They could be punished merely for saying that Israel is a racist endeavour because it denies equal rights to all people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Trump’s embrace of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism means federal dollars could well be cut or pulled entirely over certain criticisms of Israel.
Students face the prospect, mind you, of being told it is anti-Semitic to advocate for equal rights for Palestinians or for advocating that Israel become a state for all citizens rather than an exclusivist Jewish state.
In the face of this emerging government attack on free speech, what does the newspaper of record do? It gives first word to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and courtesy of the administration’s nepotism a senior adviser to the president, providing space for an op-ed to defend the executive order.
Of course, Kushner is silent in the op-ed on his father-in-law’s own anti-Semitic speech from the prior weekend. That speech gave succour to the bigoted views of white nationalists with its suggestion of Jews as “brutal killers” driven by their wealth and indulged in misrepresentations of the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions.
For Trump and Kushner, the only good Palestinian is a quiet Palestinian – or a dead one as their support for Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza has made clear, along with their decisions to cut off vital aid to Palestinian refugees.
Kushner is clear in expressing the administration’s view that opposing Zionism – Israel’s state ideology – amounts to anti-Semitism.
If that’s the case, Palestinians and their allies will be expected to shut up about how Israel’s state ideology has dispossessed them or how they’re living under the boot of a racist state with discriminatory laws.
That’s the new anti-Semitism identified by the Trump administration – while no one in the administration seems to have ideas on how to stop violent anti-Semitic attacks from Jersey City to Pittsburgh to Poway.
One thought: Stop employing racist language to divide Americans and stop praising racists as “very fine people.”
Will intimidation work or backfire?
The Trump-Kushner tandem think they can intimidate their way to quiescent students on US campuses.
I suspect, however, that they’ve seriously miscalculated and will get more pushback than ever with louder calls than ever for equal rights for Palestinians. Government coercion intended to curtail calls for equal rights may well lead to students being more, not less, vocal about the injustices faced by Palestinians.
Students being told they need to keep quiet about Palestinian rights seems like a sure-fire means to produce the opposite result.
But that’s not certain. University action to kick student activists off campus will be closely watched around the country and could suppress opposition.
If government intimidation wins the day, with administrators helping carry out a silencing campaign, there’s no telling what might be ordered next.
But the assault on free speech rights is plenty alarming without speculating on whether or not it will work.
And in that effort, it must be said that James Bennet, New York Times editorial page editor overseeing the opinion department, is helping lead the way with the Kushner piece.
Kushner has been given first shot at defining the issue, much as cable news outlets consistently provide Israeli spokespeople with first go at framing the narrative around Israeli military attacks on Gaza.
Weiss, in particular, has pushed to the fore a crackdown on campus free speech, both from her days working against Palestinian academics at Columbia University and her more recent writing for The New York Times.
A freedom movement deserves better
The editorial rightly included mention of violent right-wing anti-Semites with their deadly attacks on American Jews and pointed to free speech concerns.
Yet it also found time to attack the BDS movement and misrepresent student actions at Emory University.
“Whatever its intent,” the editorial declared, “BDS has helped to create a hostile environment for Jewish students, most of whom support Israel. At Emory University, for example, students with mezuzot on their door posts were served with mock eviction notices.”
This is profoundly misleading, to the extent that a correction ought to be issued.
Secondly, what were these eviction notices? They were educational material explaining what happens to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
That critical detail goes unnoted.
Nearly simultaneous Islamophobia at Emory, meanwhile, passes without notice by The New York Times. Of course, that’s hardly surprising as Emory’s police somehow determined that the desecration of a Muslim ablution room was an “accident.”
The urine and faeces, however, suggest otherwise.
An article on the subject by The Emory Wheel reads like a subtle report on a police cover-up. Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of the Georgia Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Electronic Intifada that he was “sceptical” this was an “innocent mistake.”
A more thoughtful editorial from The Times would have covered events at Emory more fully and fairly and said far more about what the BDS movement is attempting to accomplish.
Such omissions are no surprise.
Just a day earlier, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman wrote an explanatory New York Times article on Trump’s executive order which described BDS as a “movement against Israel.” A different New York Times article published online Thursday evening referred to “the burgeoning anti-Israel movement on college campuses.”
Missing from both articles – the second article didn’t even reference BDS – were key facts. Namely, BDS is a nonviolent movement. It’s calling for equal rights for Palestinian citizens, an end to the Israeli occupation and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
A “movement against Israel” is more menacing, however, and so that’s what readers got.
Spin that emphasizes anti-Israel sentiment rather than calls for Palestinian freedom and equal rights is misleading and unfair. It keeps readers uneducated about a powerful social justice movement modelled on the effort to divest from apartheid South Africa.
This freedom movement deserves better, more honest coverage.
Where, it should be asked, are the Palestinian voices on the op-ed page who can raise profound concerns about government intimidation and the trampling of the First Amendment, while saying in their own words what the BDS movement advocates?
Or should would-be government censors always be given priority by the newspaper of record?
Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere