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July 6, 2010
NYT Recycles Old News to Flog West Bank Jews, Evangelical Supporters In Sync With Bibi-Obama Summit
The New York Times, in its July 6 edition, devotes its main front-page article to an attack on pro-Israel groups, including Christian evangelicals, who funnel tax-exempt contributions to Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The article, with copious color photos and a map of West Bank settlements, continues inside the paper where it takes up two full pages. ("Tax-Exempt Funds Aiding Settlements in West Bank -- U.S. Gives Tax Breaks for Donations that Help to Sustain Efforts It Opposes," by Jim Rutenberg, MIke McIntire and Ethan Bronner, front-page, plus pages A10 and A11).
The article -- an all-out assault on Jewish communities in the West Bank and their U.S. supporters -- reflects a pro-Palestinian,anti-Israel agenda all too common in the "news pages" of the New York Times. Journalistically, it departs from objective, even-handed journalism on three major counts -- the lavish spread accorded by editors to a rehash of an old controversy, the timing of the article, and its misleading distortions of the "settlements" issue as an impediment to peace.
Let me explain the bias inherent in each of these three counts:
--The lavish space accorded to the article, which while dominating the front page, runs for more than 100 paragraphs.
A story given such prominence normally has to meet one of two tests -- either it's a report of the most important news event of the previous 24 hours, or it's a major scoop of some previously unknown affair of huge importance. This particular article doesn't meet either test.
Other news organizations weighed in long before the Times on pro-Palestinian advocates and groups criticising tax-exempt donations to West Bank settlements. The Jewish Daily Forward published such an article last Jan. 6. The Jewish Telegraph Agency focused on this issue in April of 2009. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius offered his version in March of 2009. The Reuters news agency covered it way back on Aug. 25, 2008. And these are only some examples of other media way ahead of the Times. So where's the beef -- or the scoop -- in the Times belatedly playing catch-up to warrant such a splash?
--The timing, just a few hours before President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu met in the Oval Office.
A mere coincidence? Forget it. This has all the earmarks of a premeditated attempt by the Times to arrogate to itself a third chair at the summit -- a blatant effort to shape its agenda to its liking. This is not news reporting; this is the Times injecting its opinions under the guise of news into the summit. In fact, the article lets the cat out of the bag when it tells readers that the settlements issue "is sure to be high on the agenda when President Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, meet in Washington on Tuesday." With an assist from the Times, this is bound to become a self-fulfilling prophecy -- or at least that's the hope of the reporters and editors who combined to produce this huge spread of an article as breakfast reading for President Obama and a way to coax White House correspondents to focus on "settlements" durng the Q&A session of the summit.
--misleading impressions and distortions:
The article starts with an unqualified attack on "Jewish permanence in the Israeli-occupied territory -- effectively obstructing the creation of a Palestinian state." It goes on to tell readers that a NY Times examination of records in the U.S. and in Israel identified some" 40 American groups that collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the West Bank."
Neither of these assertions stands up to closer scrutiny.
For starters, the article makes no mention whatsoever of the Ehud Barak-Bill Clinton 2000 offer to create a Palestinian state that would have entailed Palestinian rule over the great majority of West Bank settlements -- had Yasir Arafat not rejected it. Nor does the article mention that Israel again in 2008 when Ehud Olmert was prime minister offered a similar deal to abandon most West Bank settlements to Mahmoud Abbas, who also rejected it.
A close scrutiny of the article also shows that its main premise -- a big sum of $200 million in tax-exempt donations to settlements -- quickly falls apart. The authors themselves acknowledge that the money "goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law".
Plus they also have to concede that "most contributions go to large, established settlements close to the boundary with Israel that would very likely be annexed (to Israel in any peace deal.
So the impression that this is a really big deal evaporates fairly quickly. What's left is a very small part of the $200 million that goes to settlements Israel is not expected to retain under a two-state solution. But why blame Israel supporters, including Christian evangelicals who are thoroughly demonized by the article, when Israel itself on two occasions offered to give up these remote settlements -- but was rebuffed by the Palestinian leadership.
Finally, the article also turns against the misleading impression left by its main thesis -- and the headline -- when it acknowledges that "Americans also take tax breaks in giving to pro-Palestinian groups. For example, the Free-Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla seeking to break Israel's blockade of Gaza, says on its website that supporters can make tax-deductible donations to it through to American Educational Trust, publisher of an Arab-oriented journal (and) Israeli civil and human rights groups like Peace Now, which are often accused of having a blatant political agenda, also benefit from tax-deductible donations."
So why create out of pure cloth a bogus issue that quickly dissolves into what? Far less than meets the eye of Times readers who might look only at the headline and the top of the article.
A couple of questions: Would the Times ever run such a spread about financial support for pro-Palestinian groups? Or would it run, in the run-up to a U.S.-Israel summit, an equal-size spread on a continuing campaign of vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incitement on Palestinian Authority TV and other media as well as in sermons of Abbas-appointed clerics? Such incitement also goes against U.S. policy and poses just as much, if not more, of an obstacle to peace than a few million dollars to outlying West Bank settlements that may become part of a Palestinian state.