Last week, the commentator Tom Friedman published an article in the “New York Times”, in which he called on US President Joe Biden to give some “tough love” to Israel. In his opinion, Israel could lose the liberal values that connect it to the US, and become a fanatical fortress under the current government.
Brett Stephens, a generally pro-Israel commentator, compared Netanyahu to Victor Orbán of Hungary and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, and argued that Netanyahu is worse than former President Richard Nixon, because Nixon had limits to the damage he was willing to do to constitutional rule just to hold on to it.
The articles were sharp and harsh, but what – these days it is also difficult to criticize the criticism in the “New York Times” about Israel. After all, half of the country would probably agree with a large part of what Friedman wrote, and even more so with over 130 thousand citizens attacked by existential anxiety who flooded the streets of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva on Saturday night. And perhaps this is the most important finding that you should start with when summing up an annual, strict and daily monitoring of the coverage of Israel in the New York Times.
The unfortunate conclusion is that the severe negative bias is rooted in the New York Times, and it doesn’t really matter which government is ruling Israel. After all, during most of 2022, a government of change is in place here, which united right-wing, center and left-wing parties, and for the first time in history added one Arab party as well. Shouldn’t we have been applauded by a liberal paper in a year like this? So that’s it, no.
During the first ten months of the year, Israel received coverage of which 51% was negative, and only 11% was positive. Israel is indeed divided and divided, but the negativity exists towards all of us and in every constellation. Maybe we should stop for a few moments from the destructive infighting that our politicians have fallen in love with, and realize that even when we fight, we are in the same boat.
A two-story problem
The biased coverage is only the first floor of the problem, and it is obvious. The second floor is deceptive, because it is invisible. Along with the coverage, the study also examined what was not published in the “New York Times” regarding the Israeli side of the conflict. Every such event, which was of sufficient importance and widely published by the main media in Israel, was documented. In addition, it was checked that the event was published in at least three Israeli media outlets in English (“Haaretz”, the “Jerusalem Post”, “Times of Israel”, ynet and “Israel Hayom”), which are aimed at a foreign audience.
377 such events were widely published in Hebrew and 272 of them were published in English. Of the events published in English – 63% were Palestinian threats against Israelis. 22% were Iranian threats, mainly through our northern neighbors Syria and Lebanon. The remaining 15% mainly concerned hostile international actors and incidents of intra-Palestinian violence that shed light on the nature of the leadership with which Israel is expected to enter the negotiations.
This self-censorship is particularly jarring in the year when terrorist incidents reached their peak, which even exceeded the record recorded in 2015. According to the Shin Bet’s data, their number reached 2,613, of which 204 were significant attacks (stabbing, running over, detonating a bomb or shooting). 472 attacks Other significant ones were thwarted and did not come to fruition. These numbers were not reflected in the “New York Times”, although 152 articles were published that covered the conflict.
The report was reduced to only attacks with many casualties, and fortunately – there were not many of those. But even in the few reports that were, the word “terror” was often not mentioned, as well as the names of the terrorist organizations that are behind the initiation of the activity and incitement or their connection with Iran. Most of the coverage focused on the impact of the anti-terrorist operations on the Palestinians, while at the same time there was no follow-up on the never-ending chain of events from the Israeli side. In fact, the graph showing the number of headlines points to the imbalance in the coverage of our story: Israel’s actions are covered extensively and with intense criticism, while the reasons for Israel’s actions are hardly covered at all.
The “New York Times” reported last year on Israel as if there is no Hamas, no Jihad and no Hezbollah. The gap in the graph is so big, that for a moment it can appear as fake news or as an error. But it’s real. These are the numbers.
The government of an explanatory attack
The negative tone was evident in the coverage throughout the year, with the death of journalist Shirin Abu Aqla in May, and Operation Dawn in August giving the most negative tones. But it is interesting to note that the month in which Israel received the largest amount of negative coverage this year is actually November. Netanyahu’s return from reinforcements in Smotrich, Ben Gvir and Haredim began as an propaganda attack even before the government was sworn in.
Even in January 2023 (after the official research period ended), 14 out of 19 stories about Israel were negative. The good news is that recently an article was finally dedicated to Avra Mengistu, who has been held captive by Hamas for eight years, cut off from any human rights organization.
The new government is indeed attracting fire, but last year, as I recall, a completely different government ruled here. This fact did not stop the “New York Times” from omitting hundreds of stories about Palestinian terrorism, dozens of stories about Hezbollah’s threats to the Israeli oil fields, all the headlines about the Iranian terrorist cells that were thwarted in Turkey and all the headlines about the incitement to Palestinian terrorism that was rampant on social media.
At the level of commenting on the events, the “Times” ignored the strategy of Hamas to create peace in Gaza and transfer the chaos to the West Bank and Israel, and only marginally mentioned the fact that Iran is the one that suppresses the terrorist organizations. The “Times” also obsessively repeated the Palestinian claims (occupation from 1967, “Nakba” in 1948), and completely neglected the Israeli claims (the peace efforts repeatedly rejected by the Palestinians, and especially the disengagement).
The new government can be blamed for generating bad media energy, which also radiates outward and makes Israel look worse than ever. But the other side of the equation must be remembered: even if the Times’ criticism of the new government is correct, that does not justify the continued omission of half the story of the conflict. This is not journalism, but withholding information from readers. This is exactly what distinguishes legitimate critical coverage from critical coverage that simply generates hate.
What does the negativity come from?
So how were the events that caused the most negative coverage this year reported? The coverage of Shireen Abu Aqla’s death, for example, is difficult to logically explain. Is what happened in Israel worse than what happened this year in Ukraine? Because no less than 15 journalists were killed in Ukraine. Is Abu Aqla important because she was an American citizen? This explanation also does not hold, because some of the journalists killed in Ukraine were Americans, and in the USA itself a journalist was murdered this year, with the main suspect being a politician from Las Vegas.
Nevertheless, of the 65 journalists killed this year around the world, only 8 received any coverage in The Times. The deaths of all of them together received 16 headlines, while the case of Abu Aqla received 24 headlines, which included a special investigation and three opinion articles that made Israel very angry.
Is Abu Aqla a symbol of the important issue of journalists who are killed in their line of duty? Sounds like a good excuse, but the annual report detailing the cases of journalists killed in the world in 2022 was not found to be interesting enough to report in the “New York Times”.
Regarding the negative coverage of Operation Dawn, it was admittedly dwarfed compared to Operation Guardian of the Walls in 2021, and still the initiative of the conflict was attributed to Israel and not to the mass attack planned by Islamic Jihad and which the operation came to prevent; The 5-year-old daughter of a senior jihadist who was killed in the bombing was mentioned in a separate headline that did not mention her father; At the same time, no title was devoted to ten Palestinian children who were killed by failed Jihad rockets; And the one item that purported to explain to readers “who Islamic Jihad” seems to have been commissioned by the organization’s publicist, because it omitted any information about its radical Islamist aspirations or murderous past.
The rise of the right-wing government was covered with 34 headlines dedicated only to this issue. To be honest – this is also a bit obsessive. After Italy elected Giorgio Maloney, Mussolini’s successor, in September, two opinion pieces on the subject were published in “The Times” and they were not so negative. On the Netanyahu and Ben Gabir government, on the other hand, 13 opinion articles have been published since its election, 11 of which were very negative.
Israel is constantly accused of a disproportionate response to Palestinian attacks, but it turns out that there is also disproportionate coverage of Israel’s actions. Most of all – without adequate coverage of terrorism and threats to Israel, there is no context for the other three events: terrorism explains both the accidental death of Abu Aqla, both Operation Dawn and the inability of the government of change to deal with the events, and as a result – the rise of the government the right
Israel is far from perfect, and there is room to criticize it. But a person who does not live here has no way of understanding the scenarios without the information about terrorism, even if in retrospect he chooses not to justify us.
About two weeks ago, I sent the main points of the research in a respectful, non-aggressive article to the opinion section of the “New York Times”. I offered to share the data with their readers, especially considering that it would be published in a joint scientific article with Prof. Eitan Gilboa from Bar-Ilan University, and they politely refused. It’s a shame, but you can understand them. The data is very confusing. How do you explain to the readers, for example, that from January 1, 2022 to January 22, 2023, 13 negative opinion articles about Iran were published in “The Times” in light of the women’s protest and the nuclear agreement, but 19 negative opinion articles about Israel?
The proportion alone is problematic, and when it is added to the omissions of information – Israel is portrayed as the worst country in the world. It should be remembered that the way in which an Israeli newspaper such as “Haaretz” treats the conflict should not be compared with a foreign newspaper. Even if “Haaretz” harshly criticizes and excessively covers negative events, it does not ignore the existence of terrorist attacks and threats, but reports on them at the same time. In the New York Times, readers receive the review without receiving information that reflects everything that is happening.
In each of the omission decisions of the “Times” one can find some logic, and it is clear that not every terrorist attack must be reported. But you also need to see the cumulative result of the basket of individual decisions.
Over time, such coverage leads to perceptions that transform the creator. When Israel’s human rights violations are widely reported, but harsh reports about human rights violations in the Palestinian Authority and Gaza are ignored – a feeling arises that these respect human rights and only Israel does not.
When reporting on killed terrorists as “Palestinians”, they avoid reporting on Hamas establishing themselves in civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals, ignore the number of Israelis who stayed in shelters because 1,227 rockets were fired at them this year and avoid reporting on the essence of jihad and the failed missiles that fell in Gaza and killed adults and children, The impression is created that the terrorist organizations are protecting civilians, while Israel is targeting them.
When the Shireen Abu Aqla incident is obsessively reported and the state of press freedom in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority is ignored, the false impression is created that it is the Israeli regime that is dangerous to journalists.
This means that many liberals in the US (including 70% of Jews) are exposed to partial information about Israel, which intensifies their sense of distance and even disgust from it. It is clear that this is not the only reason for the distance between the two main Jewish communities in the world – Israel’s policies in the last decade also have Little is to blame for this phenomenon. The question is whether a newspaper like the “New York Times” or any media outlet that values morality and minorities, should act to intensify this phenomenon.
Antisemitism is on the rise
This week, the Anti-Defamation League announced that the number of Americans who hold anti-Semitic prejudices has doubled since 2019, reaching the highest levels in decades. The Jewish Agency reported a 50% (!) increase in anti-Semitic incidents on campuses since the beginning of the academic school year.
According to the World Zionist Organization, the cases of anti-Semitic violence stabilized at the record numbers recorded last year. The Diaspora Ministry is expected to publish similar findings next week.
There is no point in basing conspiracy theories on anti-Semitism in a newspaper, and certainly no point in stating that everyone who writes in it is anti-Semitic. This is absurd. The “New York Times” is also not solely responsible for these phenomena, but it makes no effort not to contribute to them. That’s actually the problem.
The disproportion creates a distorted image that corresponds with old anti-Semitic concepts, which at their core speak of excessive control and excessive power attributed to the Jews. A similar thing is happening with Israel. She is seen as much stronger and domineering than she really is, as much less vulnerable. Her reactions to the environment (even if they are misguided) are portrayed as self-initiated actions without reason.
The world is going through many changes. Social networks have allowed deranged voices to take over the public discourse, causing radicalization that has permeated traditional media as well. Even the quality press channels succumb to clickbait and provocations in order to remain relevant in a changing world, and are less responsible and restrained than they once were.
The press needs to adapt itself to the changing world, because the more comfortable we are with the continuum of change, the greater the danger of becoming too distant. That is, for the thread that connects the report to reality to be torn and disconnected. This is a real danger. I personally followed the coverage of Israel in the “New York Times” for a whole year during which I also lived in Israel and experienced what happened here, and the feeling I got was that they were reporting on a parallel universe. Not about Israel.