Mondoweiss / February 18, 2022
The Amnesty apartheid report is fading from view because The New York Times has refused to cover it.
Bret Stephens, the pro-Israel New York Times columnist, is in an excruciating dilemma. Stephens, who has lived in Israel and edited the right-wing Jerusalem Post, never loses an opportunity to jump to the country’s defense. So when Amnesty International issued its February 1 report charging that Israel is characterized by “apartheid,” Stephens must have fired up his computer to respond.
But then he must have paused — and recognized that in fact the best way the Times could counter Amnesty was to pretend the apartheid finding had never happened. So although he has published two columns since February 1, he hasn’t said anything. He must be grinding his teeth in frustration.
But Stephens is not alone. The New York Times has yet to publish a single word about Amnesty’s landmark report. It is now 18 days, and still nothing has appeared anywhere in the paper about a report that politicians, the State Department and many Jewish groups have gone out of their way to condemn.
What’s fascinating is that The New York Times does continue to rely on Amnesty International for information about human rights violations in other countries, as long as they aren’t Israel/Palestine.
So far this month, Times reporters have quoted Amnesty in three separate articles — after relying on the organization seven times in January.
In December, Times reporters cited Amnesty nine times. That’s nearly once every three days.
Thomas Friedman is another Times columnist, a supposed expert on the Middle East, who has also kept his trap shut about Amnesty’s apartheid verdict, but his silence is less surprising. This site has already noted that Friedman has a habit of hiding when the news from Israel/Palestine is not good.
The New York Times’s suppression of the news matters even more than it would have as recently as a couple of decades ago. Back then, a number of regional U.S. newspapers maintained foreign bureaus, which provided alternate outlets. Today, most of those have closed. Television coverage of foreign stories, whether on the networks or on cable, is laughably inadequate or nonexistent. (National Public Radio, which boasts endlessly about its quality news programming, included precisely one report about Israel’s apartheid on its website. Its announcers have said not a word on air.)
The Times sets the agenda, at least inside the U.S. If the paper had published even one single story, or run just one opinion piece, the Amnesty report would not be fading from view.
One Times reporter did apparently try to hint at the Amnesty news. Patrick Kingsley, the Jerusalem bureau chief, did a valuable report on violence by Israeli “settlers” in the West Bank. Both sides-ism required him to also include accounts of Palestinian attacks on settlers, but then he added this extraordinary sentence:
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.
This was the ideal spot to introduce the Amnesty report. What Kingsley described — “a two-tier legal system” — is a textbook example of “apartheid.” But, nothing.
Kingsley is like a member of the Soviet Writers Union after the mild thaw there during the early 1960s. He is allowed to hint at truths, as long as he remains vague and oblique.
Meanwhile, we can sympathize with Bret Stephens. He’s squatting on one of the most valuable pieces of journalistic real estate on earth — but he can’t say a word about his favorite subject.
James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large