Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who succeeded his father-in-law Adolph S. Ochs as publisher of The New York Times in 1935, embraced Ochs’s determination that the Times would never appear to be a “Jewish newspaper.” It would publish “all the news that’s fit to print.” A month before Israel declared independence Sulzberger lamented: “JEW is to be the common denominator for everything we do. God help us!”
The Times remains faithful to Ochs-Sulzberger dogma. The unrelenting Hamas missile assault against Israel, punctuated by deadly tunnel invasions of Israeli territory, provoked a fierce – and eminently justified – Israeli air and ground response. It also triggered the repetitive Times story line of moral equivalency that equates Israeli retaliation with Hamas provocation.
The Gaza war afforded the Timesa perfect opportunity to highlight Palestinian suffering from Israeli responses to Hamas assaults. The benefit to Hamas from using human shields to protect its command centers and rocket storage sites was evident: Israel would be blamed. As Prime Minister Netanyahu declared: “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using civilians to protect their missiles.” The Times carefully ignored that distinction.
Israel received little credit for warning Gaza civilians to evacuate neighborhoods where Hamas fighters sought refuge and rocket launchers were stored, often adjacent to – or inside – hospitals, mosques and schools. While a bevy of Times journalists reported from Gaza not one was posted in Sderot or kibbutzim in southern Israel, the constant target of Hamas rockets long before the current attacks began.
Neither combatant, the Times inaccurately reported (7/14), was prepared to “signal interest in international appeals for a cease-fire as they continued their barrages.”
In fact, Israel accepted the Egyptian cease-fire proposal that Hamas instantly rejected. Times reporter Anne Barnard reported (7/15) that Israel was to blame (so her Palestinian sources asserted) for its continued “occupation” of Gaza – which, Barnard failed to note, ended nearly a decade ago.
Times columnist Nicholas Kristof demonstrated his mastery of moral equivalency. It is “hard-liners on each side,” he wrote (7/16), “who are driving events.” To be sure, he conceded to Israel “a right to respond” to Gaza rockets – but only “with some proportionality” that he did not demand from Hamas, which launched rocket attacks unprovoked by anything other than Israel’s existence. Only a “minimalist response” from Israel to Hamas rocket attacks could end the conflict. He imposed no such constraints on Hamas.
The Times became so transfixed by Gaza suffering that even its photographers became partisan journalists. Tyler Hicks’s self-proclaimed responsibility “to document… the news” expanded to include editorial commentary. After photographing the tragedy of four young boys killed by an Israeli missile, he wrote (7/17): “Children, maybe four feet tall, dressed in summer clothes . . . don’t fit the description of Hamas fighters.”
The Times refrained from exploring in any depth the location of Hamas missiles in civilian neighborhoods, in or near schools, hospitals and mosques, the better to trigger wrath against Israel for the civilian casualties that inevitably resulted from its retaliatory strikes. Indeed, it was revealed that United Nations Relief and Works Administration representatives discovered rockets stored in a Gaza school, only to turn them over to Hamas.
After enduring nearly two weeks of constant rocket assaults, the Israel Defense Forces spotted armed Hamas terrorists exiting a tunnel inside Israel to attack a nearby kibbutz. Israel then launched a ground assault into Gaza to destroy the tunnels. The Times response, co-written by Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren (7/18), predictably focused on the toll exacted on Palestinian civilians by Israeli retaliation for the Hamas invasion. Hamas responsibility for the suffering of its own people was ignored.
About the Author: Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy,” to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.
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