Reading the New York Times op-ed pages recently, one can’t help thinking the paper has launched a deliberate smear campaign against Israel. Consider just two examples:
This week, it published a piece called “In Israel, Press Freedom Is Under Attack” by Israeli journalist Dimi Reider. Reider lambastes the 4.5-year sentence a court just imposed on Anat Kamm, claiming the former soldier has been punished “for leaking documents containing evidence of what she suspected might be war crimes committed by her commanders.” Since journalists worldwide rely on whistleblowers, he charged, this undermines press freedom:
The verdict sends several chilling messages. To young soldiers it says: shut up, even if you suspect your commanders of violating the law; they will go unpunished and you will go to jail if you leak. To the source it says: no one will protect you; don’t be a self-sacrificing fool. And to the journalist it says: know your place; cover what we tell you to cover, print our news releases, and keep within your bounds.
But here’s what the court said actually happened, as reported by the very newspaper to which Kamm gave the documents: Over the course of her army service, Kamm betrayed her oath as a soldier by “systematically” stealing everything she could get her hands on – 2,085 documents in all, including “plans for military operations, information on troop deployments, summaries of various internal discussions, military targets and intelligence assessments.” For similar crimes in America, WikiLeaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning now faces life in jail.
She then gave 1,500 documents to Haaretz journalist Uri Blau, who sorted through and found a handful that, in his opinion, showed the army was violating Israeli Supreme Court guidelines on assassinating terrorists. But as Reider himself admits, Israel’s attorney general – presumably a greater legal expert than journalists Reider and Blau – reviewed the material and concluded otherwise.
All this was widely reported in Israel’s English-language media, so the facts were easily checkable. But the Times preferred printing an anti-Israel smear.
Two months earlier, the Times published an op-ed by Israeli professor Carlo Strenger entitled “Netanyahu’s Partners, Democracy’s Enemies.” Strenger accused the Knesset of having “proposed and passed laws that seriously endanger Israel’s identity as a liberal democracy,” including “a law forbidding public commemoration of” the Nakba (literally, “catastrophe,” the Palestinian term for Israel’s establishment) and a “demand for all new Israeli citizens to swear a loyalty oath to a Jewish and democratic country.”
I’ve argued before that the proposed loyalty oath is no different than the pledge of allegiance required of American immigrants. But in any case, the bill died in the Knesset: Lacking a parliamentary majority, it wasn’t even brought for a vote.
As for the Nakba proposal, the Knesset itself concluded (correctly) that the original bill was undemocratic. Hence the law actually passed merely prohibited state funding for public commemorations of the Nakba. And while democracies must permit offensive speech, no democratic principle requires a state to finance public calls for its demise.
Again, all this was widely reported in Israel’s English-language media, so the facts were easily checkable. But the Times preferred printing an anti-Israel smear.
There’s been much talk lately about liberal American Jews “distancing” themselves from Israel. But that’s really not surprising when you consider that most liberal American Jews get their (dis)information about Israel from The New York Times. Hence American Jewish leaders concerned about this trend must start challenging the Times on these smears. And they must also start educating their public not to believe everything they read in its pages.