Mondoweiss / April 28, 2021
Normally, The New York Times trusts Human Rights Watch. But not this time — after the group found that ‘Israeli officials have committed the crime of apartheid.’
Normally, The New York Times trusts Human Rights Watch and relies on the organization often. This April alone, for instance, the Times has already cited the group 12 times, using its expertise on rights violations in places as varied as Myanmar, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
But the Times’s respectful view disappeared suddenly yesterday — after Human Rights Watch released a landmark report finding that “Israeli officials have committed the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”
The Times’s article on the HRW finding is biased. It is supposed to be a news report, but it instead attacks the Human Rights Watch finding before even summarizing it properly. Patrick Kingsley, the Times‘s Jerusalem bureau chief, gave Kenneth Roth, executive director, a single sentence quote — and then jumped immediately into a 4-paragraph denunciation. First, Mark Regev, an adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, charged that Human Rights Watch “has been plagued for years by systemic anti-Israel bias.”
That wasn’t strong enough, so Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. got to add right away that the report “bordered on anti-Semitism.” Kingsley then smuggled in several paragraphs that started to summarize what’s actually in the report, which is, after all, 213 pages long and includes measured and complex allegations. But then, right away, he gave “Israeli officials” another 5 paragraphs to lambaste away. This barrage included an outright lie — that Human Rights Watch has been “actively seeking for years to promote boycotts against Israel.”
The Times then briefly quoted an Israeli general, who was uncomfortable about Israeli policy, before unearthing one Eugene Kontorovich, from a “Jerusalem-based research group,” who charged that the report was “an anti-Semitic slander” — just in case you had forgotten the earlier attacks.
You had to wait until the very end to hear from the single solitary Palestinian, Fakery Abu Diab, who said Israel was about to demolish his home in East Jerusalem and that he agreed that “we are living in an apartheid system.” This is the equivalent of writing a report on apartheid in South Africa and sticking in a single black South African.
If you are keeping score: here are the results.
Pro-HRW report: 2 sources (Director Ken Roth plus the Palestinian)
Anyone who follows the Times coverage of Israel/Palestine will recognize an anomaly. Kingsley’s report notes that other human rights group have earlier alleged apartheid in Israel: “In January, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem made the same charge.” What that statement leaves out is that this is news to Times readers; the Times totally ignored that B’Tselem report, even though it made news worldwide.
So far, other U.S. mainstream outlets are not doing much better. The Washington Post did a segment in its WorldView newsletter by Ishaan Tharoor, but still no actual news story from Israel/Palestine itself, (though the Post has quoted Human Rights Watch in other articles a whopping 26 times this month). National Public Radio’s website has a print story, but nothing on air yet.
Yet again, you could turn to the Israeli daily, Haaretz, to see how the HRW apartheid finding could have been covered fairly. Reporter Hagar Shezaf summarized the report at some length, got a statement from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, quoted Ken Roth — and, of course, let Israel’s Foreign Ministry chime in as well. But Haaretz didn’t let the Israeli critics level the dishonest, unproven charge of anti-Semitism.
James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades; he lives in New York City