NYT's Vendetta Against Netanyahu

December 30 was a traumatic day for Israel as authorities released another batch of Palestinian terrorist killers -- 26 in all. They comprised the latest installment in an Israeli promise to free more than 100 Palestinian murderers -- a step reluctantly taken under pressure from President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, purportedly to advance the peace process and lure Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table. Yet, so far, Israel's concession has been fruitless. Abbas' Palestinian Authority continues to disseminate vile anti-Semitic incitement in PA schools and media, while promoting an agenda for a single Arab state that would swallow all of Israel.

Given this context, release of Palestinian prisoners became a bitter pill to swallow for Israeli families of terror victims and, for that matter, for all of Israeli society. There were many up-close and personal accounts of the vicious brutality of these killers and, compounding the pain, jubilation on the Palestinian side, with Abbas hailing such murderers as heroes worthy of emulation.

All these developments cried out for media coverage of contrasting Israeli hurt and Palestinian gleeful satisfaction.

But that's not the way the New York Times saw fit to report what happened. Instead, Times correspondents Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner used, or rather misused, the freeing of Palestinian killers as a pretext to advance their own agenda -- outright overkill in bashing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. In an 18-paragraph story, they used no fewer than nine paragraph to savage Bibi, including the first four paragraphs -- with a lead that reads that Netanyahu faced "sharp criticism from all corners, including conservative members of his own coalition." The latter reportedly took umbrage at Netanyahu for seeking to lessen the pain by twinning prisoners' release with plans to build 1,400 new housing units in East Jerusalem and close-in settlements -- all on land that Israel would keep under any peace agreement. ("Israel's Pairing Prisoner Release and Settlements Angers Many" Dec. 31 edition, page A4).

There's no question that Times readers needed to know about criticism of the prime minister for letting killers loose to return to their murderous ways, along with objections to tie their release to additional Jewish construction in East Jerusalem and nearby settlements. But, as they say in the trade, these were secondary developments. Release of Palestinian prisoners, heart-wrenching Israeli reactions, twinned with Palestinian elation -- these were compelling topics that deserved top coverage.

Instead, Rudoren and Kershner -- who usually give higher priority to Palestinian suffering than to Israeli pain -- fed Times readers with an all too familiar Bibi-bashing dispatch. Their piece cites more than half a dozen Israelis -- from politics, media, and think tanks -- all slamming Bibi. That's pure overkill by Times reporters, so obsessed with twisting the knife into Bibi that more important and compelling developments get back-of-the-bus treatment. We have here a perfect example of a totally unbalanced piece of writing.

Rudoren and Kershner quote Eitan Haber, a veteran Israeli commentator; Lizi Hameiri, a volunteer of the Israeli victims' group; Isaac Herzog, head of the opposition Labor Party; Yaakov Peri, a centrist minister, Orit Struk, a member of a right-wing party; David Weinberg of the Begin-Sadat Center of Bar-Ilan University, and Shim Shifter, a columnist for the Israeli daily Yediot Aharanot, which is fiercely anti-Netanyahu. Without exception, they all slam Bibi. And can be safely relied on to feed the Times' own agenda.

While the prime minister is a proper target for criticism, the Times' account is way over the top. Can anyone imagine that the Times would ever unleash a blast of similar bile and magnitude against Mahmoud Abbas? I rest my case.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers