Whitewashing Palestinian incitement
How the New York Times got it wrong on Itamar
The murders of the Fogel family, including three children stabbed to death in their beds, obviously posed a dilemma for the New York Times. Fixated as it is on a story line in which Israel, and especially Israeli settlers, bear central responsibility for ongoing tensions with the Arabs, the Times covered the killings with the strained circumlocutions, omissions and colored language typical for the paper's editors and reporters when addressing peril to Jews and the Jewish state.
The first major account of the carnage by reporter Isabel Kershner appeared on March 13 — on page 16 with no photo. A day later, updates on the story appeared closer to the front of the paper, on page 4, as the focus turned to Israel's announcement of renewed construction in several settlements. Two photos ran that day of the Fogel funerals. A telling caption read: “About 20,000 attended the funerals for the Fogels, whose deaths outraged settlers.”
Did the Times think only “settlers” were outraged over slitting the throats of children in their beds? Israel's leading columnist, Nahum Barnea, who's not a settler, had written:
“The murder in Itamar is so shocking, so horrible, that it makes the debate over settlements irrelevant. Against the murderer, who pulls out a knife and butchers in cold blood three children in their sleep, the difference between Tel Aviv and Itamar is erased.”
The Fogel horror had to be reported, of course. But what to call the killings and how much to communicate about their instigation rooted in relentless dehumanizing of Jews throughout Palestinian culture — in media, mosques, schools and political discourse — were the question.
Alterations in wording of the Times account on its Web site over the first hours after the event suggest editorial interventions to mute even minimal references to the Israeli Prime Minister's strong language denouncing Palestinian demonizing of Israel and to the appalling terrorist attack.
A version posted at 23:02 GMT included Benjamin Netanyahu's statement: “A society that permits such wild incitement is one that eventually brings about the murder of children.”
That charge, expressing the core of Israel's belief about the consequences of the pervasive, bigoted assault on Jews by Palestinian leaders and their social, religious and political institutions, was excised. What remained was language that reverted to the paper's characteristic distancing from the realities of anti-Jewish incitement. The final text read:
“Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pointed a finger at the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, blaming it for what he described as incitement in the schools, the mosques and the news media it controls.”
Omitted is the strong connective tie between anti-Jewish propaganda and killing children and inserted is the reference to the Palestinian Authority as “Western-backed.” The message shifts; a finger-wagging leader of Israel, seemingly out of step with the West, is “blaming” the PA leadership – not for demonstrably instilling Jew-hatred, which is a moral outrage – but only for what the Israeli leader “described as incitement.”
On March 15, the Times was seemingly compelled to touch fleetingly on the issue, as Israeli leaders pressed their denunciations of the Palestinian Authority's incitement to violence and muted condemnations of the murders. Once again, though, the information was minimal and colorless, subsumed in a story strenuously emphasizing and repeating that PA leaders condemned the Fogel atrocity.
Moreover, the reporter hastened to interject what is likely a partial underpinning of the Times agenda in whitewashing Palestinian incitement:
“The new focus on incitement against Israel, together with Israeli dissatisfaction over the Palestinian response to the brutal attack, seemed to pose a question about the Israeli government's readiness to deal with Mr. Abbas as a serious peace partner – even though Mr. Abbas and Mr. Fayyad are widely considered moderates who have repeatedly said they would never resort to violence.”
That is, if Israel insists on drawing attention to the demonization of its people by its peace partner, what might this portend for their “readiness to deal with Mr. Abbas,” who is, after all, “moderate” and “would never resort to violence”?
For Times writers, “resort to violence” seemingly does not include raising generations imbued in the belief they're honor-bound to destroy Israel and in which even babies like the Fogel's three month old Hadas are deemed targets.
In the category of what's newsworthy and what's not, the naming of summer camps, sports events, streets and public squares in honor of terrorists such as Dalal Mughrabi, Wafa Idris and Yeyhe Ayyash prompts no serious, focused attention on the part of the Times. As it happens, Mughrabi's murderous rampage along the Tel Aviv coastal road in 1978 included the killing of at least ten toddlers and children, ages 2-14. Is it surprising that her elevation to icon status for killing demonized Jews would encourage others to seek similar fame by a similar route?
But any formulation that casts deep onus on the Palestinians is essentially foreign to the paper's story line, centered, as it is, on faulting Israel.
Kershner's original account of the Fogel murders included another editorial modification of note. A quote by Israeli military officials about their determination to apprehend the killers originally included the following:
“The military called the killings a terrorist attack, indicating that it held Palestinians responsible.”
A few hours later all mention of the “t” word was deleted — even as an indirect quote from the Israeli military. Nowhere in the coverage were the killings of the parents and three children characterized as a terrorist attack or even an apparent terrorist attack.
To put this in the context of other use of the term “terrorist” by the Times, just four days earlier on March 9, a story about Arid Uka, who shot two American military men in Germany, referred to the event as a “terrorist attack.”
On March 4, a story about the arrest of New Jersey men seeking to join a radical Somali group referred to “terrorists born or raised in the United States.”
A February 21 story about an attack on an Islamabad bank referred to a perpetrator as part of a “terrorist group.”
A February 18 story referred to “Somali terrorists” who had bombed crowds in Kampala.
On February 11, a story referred to “terrorist groups that threaten India.”
On January 29 and 25, multiple references were made to “terrorist” acts in describing a bombing at a Moscow airport.
A January 24 story about an attack on an Alexandria, Egypt, church referred to “the terrorist strike.”
And so it goes.
“Terrorists” kill people across the globe, civilians and military, and are rightly called what they are by the Times. But those who entered the Fogel house and stabbed to death sleeping children were termed “intruders” in the bizarre logic and language of the Times.
A follow-up story on March 16 returned to Itamar, focusing on the fervent religious attachment of the residents to the area and noting the communities are deemed a violation of international law by “most of the world” – but not mentioning the traditional counter-view of the United States that they are legal. And, of course, rather than finally probe the malevolent forces in Palestinian culture that nurture and drive actions such as the stabbing of babies, and inspire Gazans to distribute candy and rejoice on hearing of the killing, that whole subject was left untouched. Again.