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The Israel you knew, has not ‘gone’ it never existed

December 20, 2022 at 4:45 pm

Far-right Israelis holding Israeli flags in Jerusalem on 15 June 2021 [Esat Fırat/Anadolu Agency]

Israel’s war on Palestine is not confined to the battlefield. It is also waged in the media, nowhere more prominently than in the New York Times. Long regarded within the industry as a national “newspaper of record”, its record on impartially reporting on Israel’s brutal military occupation and takeover of Palestine leaves a lot to be desired. Though widely considered to be a left-leaning newspaper, the pages of the NYT have been used to whitewash Israeli crimes. For instance, when Amnesty International published its landmark report which found that Israel practices “apartheid”, the paper took nearly two months to report on the findings.

The NYT’s news blackout sparked blistering criticism. With a reputation for being one of the most prestigious and high-profile newspapers in the world, ignoring the findings of a prestigious organisation like Amnesty – a group which the paper regularly cites in exposing the human rights violations of countries other than Israel – was a clear indication as any that the “newspaper of record” was wilfully failing to set the record straight when it came to its reporting on the Apartheid State.

Few in the NYT hierarchy have been criticised more than Thomas Friedman. The paper’s most well-known columnist on the Middle East and Israel and Palestine, has infuriated many over the years with his analysis. A cheerleader for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Friedman’s Orientalist conceptual framing of the region, was even the subject of a doctoral thesis which exposed the underlying prejudices that informed the views of one of the most influential commentators in the US.

READ: Israel’s Netanyahu accuses New York Times of ‘undermining’ incoming government

Despite the criticism, none will dispute that the NYT is a barometer in gauging the direction of public opinion in the US on Israel and Palestine. It may be slow to react, and the paper’s editorial stance may take longer than perhaps one expects in acknowledging the grim reality of Israel’s occupation, but it is nonetheless as good an indicator as any for gauging the views of the overwhelming majority of American liberals on Israel and Palestine.

The gap between the reality of Israel’s brutal military occupation and the media representation has always been a source of exasperation. Greg Philo and Mike Berry’s 2004 book Bad News From Israel is just one of many volumes to expose the media biases that for decades have perpetuated a false narrative about Israel. In the nearly two decades since, it seems that the gap between reality and media representation has arguably reduced to some degree.

A wall-wall consensus within the international human rights community over Israel’s practice of apartheid; an impending high-profile investigation into Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity including by the International Criminal Court (ICC); the rise of Israel’s far-right ultranationalists; are just some of the reasons for why publications like the New York Times are having to adjust their position on Israel and Palestine.

Several recent articles including an editorial piece in the NYT suggest that the paper has adjusted its position to present a narrative that is a more honest reflection of reality. “The Ideal of Democracy in a Jewish State Is in Jeopardy” is the latest in a series of articles that appears to be shattering liberal myths about the state of Israel. Published over the weekend, the piece written by the Editorial Board of the New York Times, issues a stark warning about the threat posed by the current Israeli government. Writing as a friend of Israel, the board laments that ultranationalist parties led by Benjamin Netanyahu pose a “significant threat” not only to Israel but also the idea of a “Jewish homeland”.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the board’s main concern is the fatal blow inflicted by Israel’s ultranationalists on the two-state solution. “The government’s posture could make it militarily and politically impossible for a two-state solution to ever emerge,” said the NYT board. Urging the administration of President Joe Biden not to accept this outcome, the NYT said that the White House “should do everything it can to express its support for a society governed by equal rights and the rule of law in Israel, as it does in countries all over the world. That would be an act of friendship, consistent with the deep bond between the two nations.”

OPINION: The rise of the far-right exposes the fallacy of Israel’s ‘values’

Saturday’s article reflects deep anxiety within the New York Times over the direction of Israel. It came two days after another piece, this time by the paper’s lead columnist Friedman. “What in the World Is Happening in Israel?” asked Friedman, echoing the sentiment of the paper’s board. He went on to say that “the prospect for a two-state solution has all but vanished. But no one wants to formally declare it dead and buried — because categorically ruling it out would have enormous ramifications. So, diplomats, politicians and liberal Jewish organizations pretend that it still has a faint heartbeat.”

A month before Friedman published his lamentations over Israel he wrote another piece in the NYT commenting on his realisation that “The Israel We Knew Is Gone.” Revealing his anxiety over the formation of a far-right Israeli government he went on to say that

“as that previously unthinkable reality takes hold, a fundamental question will roil synagogues in America and across the globe: ‘Do I support this Israel or not support it?’” This question, says Friedman, will haunt pro-Israel students on college campuses and anyone hoping to maintain a relationship with the Apartheid State.

Amnesty labels Israel an apartheid state - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Amnesty labels Israel an apartheid state – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

None of this should of course come as a surprise to anyone that closely follows the Israel-Palestine issue. Israel has always been a blind spot for self-proclaimed liberal proponents of the occupation state. Their flawed assumptions and belief in their own propaganda means that the likes of Friedman are incapable of seeing the reality of Israel’s takeover of Palestine for what it is.  Friedman acknowledges in his latest piece that what we are left with is “One Big Mess Solution.” He explains that the total mess “will leave Israel no longer being a bedrock of stability for the region and for its American ally, but instead, a cauldron of instability and a source of anxiety for the US government.”

What is interesting about such liberal confessions, as displayed by Friedman and to a lesser extent the New York Times – which in fairness has allowed space for critical voices on its platform – is the complete lack of accounting for views and narratives peddled for decades to ensure Israel’s victory in the media war. Their false assumptions about Israel and Zionism are the main reason for the shock and dismay that has become all too apparent in the writings of Israel’s liberal proponents in the New York Times.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.