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Those Calls For A Boycott Of The New York Times

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One reading Deborah Sontag's front-page article in the July 26th issue of The New York Times could well understand the calls one hears lately for Jews to suspend their Times subscriptions over its outrageous coverage of the Middle East. Ms. Sontag's piece is transparent revisionism which well serves the seeming omnipresent effort to shift the blame for the collapse of Camp David from the Palestinians to something systemic to the Middle East conflict. It almost seems that Ms. Sontag and others now hawking the same line are following a scenario scripted by Arafat lieutenants intent on minimizing Israeli concessions at Camp David and thereby set the stage for the next phase of negotiations.

It will be recalled that several weeks ago, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Manhattan's Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and the Ramaz School announced a campaign for a 10 day suspension of subscriptions to the Times during the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. More recently, the president of Brooklyn's Yeshiva of Flatbush wrote to parents informing them that the school was “suspending all of the school's subscriptions to The New York Times and notifying the paper that we are doing so as a direct result of the distortions.” Similar calls abound on the Internet.

Ms. Sontag's piece was entitled “Quest For Mideast Peace: How And Why It Failed,” and carried the sub-heading, “Many Now Agree That All The Parties, Not Just Arafat, Were to Blame.” Early on in the article, she fleshes out what she is about:

During the largely ineffectual cease-fire now under way in the Middle East, peace advocates, academics and diplomats have begun excavating … to see what can be learned from the diplomacy right before and after the outbreak of violence. Their premise is that any renewal of peace talks, however remote that seems right now, would have to use the Barak-Clinton era as a point of departure or as an object lesson ? or both.

In the tumble of the all-consuming violence, much has not been revealed or examined. Rather, a potent, simplistic narrative has taken hold in Israel, and to some extent in the United States. It says: Mr. Barak offered Mr. Arafat the moon at Camp David last summer. Mr. Arafat turned it down, and then “pushed the button” and chose the path of violence. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insoluble, at least for the foreseeable future.

But many diplomats and officials believe that the dynamic was far more complex and that Mr. Arafat does not bear sole responsibility for the breakdown of the peace effort.

Sontag's reference to “peace advocates, academics and diplomats” and her use of the phrase “many diplomats and officials believe” should have been fair warning of what was to come. But after all, her story was on the front page of The New York Times and surely we were to be given newly discovered facts.

Unfortunately, in her article, which runs over three pages and is longer than anything in memory since the Pentagon Papers story almost thirty years ago, Ms. Sontag offers up a one-sided pastiche of amateur psychology, anecdotes, dinner stories, opinion, speculation, innuendo and conclusions from an array of second and third tier officials apparently chosen because of their support for her thesis. The public statements of Messers. Clinton and Barak are cavalierly dismissed. That Arafat offered no counter proposal to the Israeli offer is not addressed. Nor is the fact that Palestinian violence erupted promptly after the collapse of the talks. Nor does she mention the public statements of Palestinian officials which confirmed that resort to violence was a calculated Palestinian tactic.

In an editorial several days later, “Looking Back At Camp David,” The Times continued the outrage even as it implicitly acknowledged the shortcomings of the Sontag article:

An article by The Times's Deborah Sontag this week reported on some newly revealed aspects of last year's failed search for a negotiated agreement. The story suggests that both Ehud Barak, who was then the Israeli prime minister, and Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, made political and diplomatic miscalculations, as did President Bill Clinton and his aides….

Mr. Arafat did not offer any proposals of his own at Camp David. When the talks failed, he condoned the violent uprising that broke out in late September. (Emphasis ours.)

Suggests? A news report deemed worthy of the front page of The New York Times suggests? There is nothing to remark about the intentions and motives of someone who does not even respond to an offer? And in context, was the choice of the word condoned really an honest one?

In giving prominence to Sontag's astonishing contrivance and attempting to make it more digestible, The Times, perhaps more vividly than ever before, revealed its pro-Palestinian partisan agenda. So it should not be surprised at the growing feeling in the Jewish community that The Times should not be supported while it pursues that agenda.

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