NYT caves in to Israeli pressure

April 20, 2017
Sarah Benton

Israeli hypocrisy: 1) +972; 2) Gush Shalom.

Marwan Barghouti in court in 2002. Photo by Flash90

Will the NYT start noting the violent pasts of Israeli contributors, too?

There was much uproar from the Israeli government and its supporters following the publication of a Marwan Barghouti op-ed in the New York Times. But where was the outcry when the paper published op-eds by Israelis with violent pasts?

By Lisa Goldman, +972
April 18, 2017

On Sunday the New York Times published an op-ed by Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader who has been in an Israeli jail since 2002. In his article, Barghouti explains that over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to launch a hunger strike to protest the Israeli authorities’ policies of mass arrest and systematic mistreatment.

The newspaper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, published a response on Tuesday titled “An Op-Ed Author Omits His Crimes, and the Times Does Too.” Addressing a wave of angry statements, Spayd writes that the newspaper should have spelled out the crimes for which Barghouti was convicted.

In response to her query, the New York Times‘ Opinion editor Jim Dao wrote her that while “the piece does say the author received multiple life sentences,” it does not “state the crimes for which he was convicted.” Dao then appended the following note to Barghouti’s op-ed:

This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offences of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defence at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy.

Marwan Barghouti declined to offer a defence in an Israeli courtroom because he was not a citizen of Israel, but rather a stateless resident of the Palestinian territories, which are under Israel’s military occupation. As such, he argued that the court had no legal jurisdiction over his case. And so he was convicted based solely on the prosecution’s evidence, although international experts expressed concern it was “flimsy” and obtained using “questionable methods.” Nonetheless, the judge sentenced Barghouti to five consecutive life sentences plus forty years.

The life sentence of Marwan Barghouti, as a potential national Palestinian leader, has provoked widespread interest and support.

Barghouti’s case was somewhat unusual, in that he was tried in a civilian court; the vast majority of Palestinians from the occupied territories are tried in military courts, where the conviction rate is 99.74 percent. In other words, to say that a Palestinian is guilty of the crimes with which he was charged because he was convicted in an Israeli military court is the same as saying that a Soviet citizen sentenced to the gulag during the Stalinist era must be guilty because he confessed during interrogation. This is one of the reasons for the prisoners’ hunger strike Barghouti describes in his op-ed for the Times.

Obviously, the Israeli government and its supporters have a political interest in denying Barghouti credibility to write for the New York Times, as evinced by some of the responses to the op-ed: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describes Barghouti, in a Facebook status posted on Tuesday, as an “arch terrorist” who is no more a “political leader” than Bashar al-Assad is a “paediatrician.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely describes Barghouti, in an email sent to the international media, as “a convicted murderer and a terrorist,” adding: “When a major newspaper with a reputation for responsible journalism becomes a platform for murderers, it provides legitimacy for terrorism.”

Barghouti is certainly a proponent of political violence as a means of resisting military occupation. But he has also been referred to by columnists in the Israeli and international media as the “Palestinian Mandela,” and even the late Shimon Peres reportedly said that Barghouti was “the man who should lead the Palestinians.”

Ariel Sharon, then Israeli Defence Minister, at an IDF command post outside Beirut (in the background), September 15, 1982. The Sabra and Shatila massacre started the day after this photo was taken. Photo by Uri Dan, The Israeli Defence Forces Archive/CC 2.0

Furthermore, despite the protestations of Israeli politicians and the tone of Liz Spayd’s response, the New York Times has, in fact, provided a platform for several Israeli op-ed contributors who committed acts of terrorism or war crimes, without acknowledging that fact.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s byline appears, for example, on this piece published in August 1982. That was 29 years after he led the Qibya massacre, during which Israeli soldiers killed 69 unarmed Arab Palestinian villagers — two thirds of whom were women and children.

Less than one month after he wrote that op-ed, while serving as defence minister, Sharon allowed Lebanese Phalange forces to enter the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Israeli-occupied Beirut. Over the course of three days the Phalangists tortured, raped and murdered Palestinian civilians in the camps, leaving approximately 800 dead, including children and the elderly.

Israeli soldiers set off the flares that provided illumination for the Kataeb militiamen, as they rampaged through the dark, narrow alleys of the camps. The Kahan Commission, appointed by the Israeli government to investigate the massacre, found Sharon’s “disregard” for the Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila “impossible to justify” and recommended his dismissal as defence minister.

The young Arab-killing Naftali Bennett, invited to write an Op-ed for the NYT.

Naftali Bennett, the chairman of the ultra-right Jewish Home party and Israel’s minister of education, wrote in a 2014 New York Times op-ed that Israel should annex the West Bank and declare an end to the two-state solution. This is the same Bennett who said, “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life — and there’s no problem with that.” And yet the bio blurb for this confessed murderer notes only that, “Naftali Bennett is Israel’s minister of the economy and the leader of the Jewish Home Party.”

Meir Kahane never hid his racism or propensity for violence – which didn’t stop the NYT from publishing his letter calling for ethnic cleansing.

Meir Kahane’s 1990 letter to the New York Times, in which he calls for the annexation and ethnic cleansing of the occupied Palestinian territories, was published two years after his party was disqualified from the Israeli elections on the grounds that he incited to racism and rejected the democratic foundation of the State of Israel. But his bio line reads: “Meir Kahane heads the Jewish Defence League and the Kach movement in Israel.” This is the same movement whose followers called Baruch Goldstein a “hero” and a “martyr” after he murdered 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron in 1994.

It seems that the New York Times is willing to publish op-eds by Israeli Jews who advocate or have committed murder of Palestinians, without mentioning that fact in their bio blurbs. So the question, without taking a position on whether or not political violence is ever justified, is why the Times feels compelled to take a different stance when it comes to Palestinian contributors.

Barghouti got five life terms? Begin would have got 91!

By Gush Shalom, undated

Indeed, the Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, now heading a mass hunger strike in the Israeli prisons, was sentenced by an Israeli court to five life terms. The New York Times was ready to publish this fact after the high-level protests made by the Government of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ministers should be reminded of some more facts. For example, in the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, carried out on July 22, 1946, by the Etzel (Irgun) underground organization headed by Menachem Begin, 91 people were killed. Of them, as reported at the time, 28 were Britons, 41 Arabs, 17 Jews, and five others.

This means that according to the current rules prevailing in the Israeli judicial system, the Etzel commander Menachem Begin, who personally ordered and supervised this attack, deserved to be sentenced to 91 cumulative life terms – in addition to dozens more life terms for dozens of other killings carried out by Etzel members under Menachem Begin’s command and leadership.

Despite all this – as PM Netanyahu knows very well – Menachem Begin was accounted in Israel to be a gifted parliamentarian and a leader of great stature. The fact that the British government defined him as a terrorist and placed a big prize on his head did not prevent him, at a later stage, from holding a state visit to Britain as Prime Minister of Israel and being received officially at 10 Downing Street. Likewise Yitzhak Shamir, who was likewise designated a terrorist by the British, and who also ultimately held a state visit to Britain as Prime Minister of Israel. All this is not unusual or exceptional – many of the independent states now existing in the world were established by those who took up arms to fight for independence and were therefore considered to be terrorists.

Gush Shalom opposed the show trial of Marwan Barghouti, held in the Tel Aviv court, in which the verdict was clear from the outset. Gush activists, headed by Uri Avnery, at the time carried out protests at the courtroom and were removed by police. But perhaps there was one good result: Marwan Barghouti’s long imprisonment has brought him great sympathy among the Palestinian public, bringing him closer to a leadership position in which he could become a partner in making peace with the State of Israel. That is, of course, if and when an Israeli government is formed which is seriously interested in peace and is ready to end the occupation rule in the Palestinian territories.

In themselves, most demands of the hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners are simple and elementary, and there is no reason to reject them. For example, in all prison wings of criminal prisoners held in Israel there are public telephones through which prisoners can regularly speak with their families. This right is given also to cruel murderers and to the leaders of organized crime gangs who are known to be still directing criminal activities even from inside prison. On the other hand, Palestinian prisoners who are defined as “security prisoners” are denied the right to maintain contact with their families by means of a public telephone, even though the prison authorities and security services can monitor all such calls. This increases the motivation to smuggle mobile phones to jail – as was highlighted in the Bassel Ghatas affair.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017