Responding to New York Times Public Editor’s smear against me

I sent this letter to Margaret Sullivan, the Public Editor of The New York Times today:

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

As public editor of The New York Times, your role, as I understand it, is to advocate for the interests of readers and to be an arbiter of accuracy.

I welcome your examination in your column today of Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s dismissive and derogatory language about Palestinians, though it seems too much to hope that The New York Times can ever appoint a bureau chief that sees Palestinians as fully human.

I am disappointed however that in your comments about Rudoren’s use of social media you wrote the following about me:

Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic, summarized them: “She shmoozed-up Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian activist who argues for Israel’s destruction; she also praised Peter Beinart’s upcoming book (‘The Crisis of Zionism’) as, ‘terrific: provocative, readable, full of reporting and reflection.’ She also linked without comment to an article in a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper.” The headline on Mr. Goldberg’s article was, “Twitterverse to New NYT Jerusalem Bureau Chief: Stop Tweeting!”

In other words you laundered Goldberg’s inflammatory accusations against me as fact, and you never bothered to contact me to discern their accuracy or discuss them with me. What I advocate is full equality for Palestinians, full implementation of their human and political rights, and the abolition of all laws and practices by Israel that discriminate against them just because they are not Jews.

My views are well-laid out in numerous articles and in my book One Country.

That Goldberg, a former guard at an Israeli prison camp for Palestinian political prisoners, interprets my call for Palestinians to enjoy full human rights as advocating for “Israel’s destruction” tells you much more about his view of the nature of Israel – that racism is foundational and necessary – than it does about my views.

But what is clear is that by using such language, Goldberg seeks to smear and marginalize me and paint me as an extremist, and more importantly to place discussion of Israel’s racist and apartheid-like practices beyond the pale of debate and discussion.

It’s also notable that you quoted Goldberg’s characterization of me and described Phil Weiss as “the anti-Zionist Jewish-American journalist,” but did not characterize Goldberg’s ethnicity, religion or political views in any way, leaving the impression that he is some sort of neutral voice.

By quoting Goldberg’s views about me as if he were some kind of authority, you have assisted him in his campaign. By affirming that communicating with me was a “misstep” by Rudoren you are explicitly endorsing Goldberg’s view of me.

This being the case it is clear that your readers cannot rely on your ability to be fair and impartial when it comes to matters related to Palestine and the Israelis.

Sincerely,
Ali Abunimah

Update: 7 December 2012

After my letter above and subsequent exchanges, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan published a column today, “Some Second Thoughts and Reader Feedback About the Middle East and Social Media.”

Part of it addressed the concerns raised in my letter:

  1. As has been pointed out to me by a number of readers, I should have provided more context for the quotation from Jeffrey Goldberg, briefly describing him, as I did another source of criticism, Philip Weiss.

One reader (“freespeechlover” from Wichita, Kan.), made this comment:

“Jeffrey Goldberg is not labeled in the manner as is Philip Weiss. Why not? Why is Phillip Weiss an “anti-Zionist Jewish American,” while Goldberg is just Goldberg? Why isn’t he a “Zionist Jewish American, who served in the IDF as a prison guard during the 1st Intifada?” or even a “Zionist Jewish American who writes about the Middle East for The Atlantic?” Why is that missing parallel technique of representation absent?”

Those descriptions are accurate, to my knowledge, and at least some of that certainly would have been helpful for readers in evaluating his comments. I have also heard from the Palestinian-American journalist and activist Ali Abunimah, who was mentioned unfavorably in Mr. Goldberg’s quotation. He called Mr. Goldberg’s description of him as wanting the destruction of Israel “wildly inflammatory,” and also objected to the lack of context. Mr. Abunimah’s views on a one-state solution to the conflict are the subject of his 2006 book, “One Country,” and may also be found in this article on his Web site.

This response satisfactorily addresses my concerns and I appreciate Sullivan’s willingness to engage.

Comments

Well done Ali, you do a great thing, and them trying to demonize you says more about them, than it ever could about you, ElectronicIntifada is an important and critical part of Palestine's long fight, what with the JIDF and all, I find myself coming here a lot, and I am following and part of many different Pro-Palestine 'movements' online, I would be very disappointed if your website was no longer part of that, keep up the good work

you can't make comments on her article. gives a java script error, what a surprise.

" What I advocate is full equality for Palestinians,"

And in his last article Goldberg tells Palestinians to do exactly that:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/...

But you did it before Goldberg allowed you, therefore you are an extremist!

I was able to post a comment (not published yet though) without any difficulty. I suggest you try again.

Excellent response, Ali. Her infamous lies are damaging to the cause of peace. Sharing this to all my friends and the social media too.

What is truly troubling is that Margaret Sullivan is the Public Editor. Citing Jeffrey Goldberg on fairness is akin to citing Mitt Romney on conditions in homeless shelters. Surely both Ali and Phil Weiss have gravitas that should be respected. Two questions: since when is anti-Zionist a negative term? Who is the NYT editor who will filter Jodi Rudoren's tweets?

Still waiting for Margaret Sullivan to, I don't know, be a journalist. Character smears are not worthy of the NYT, especially when they are so clearly baseless and unsubstantiated. A published apology would be a basic first step to correcting this wrong.

Well put and laid at their doorstep, Ali!

I am afraid thge Zionist hysteria will only get worse. The Zionist project has ground to a halt. But even more alarming to the ringleaders of this borderless race colony is the patent fact that Israel's handler, the United States, is itself in dire straights, especially in the Middle East but also around the world. Almost a laughing stock, if it were not so dangerous.

I see everything the US does right now exactly as Zbigniew Brzezinski described it a day or two ago: this is the behavior of a "stupid mule."

With all the cards in his hands to cut the Zionist thieves and murderers to their actual size, Pres. Obama is prancing around--one threat here, one mass killing there, no to freeing the Palestinian people--ever. Oh, and yes to Jewish-only colonization, forever.

When one of the most respected National Security Advisors labels American Mideast policy as that of a stupid mule, we all kind get the picture. The truth is that America has entered a steep, irreversible decline. Being a mule implies the brain is operating at minimal speed, of course, but it is looking like it is congenital.

When a big power behaves as scandalously as the US, and very consistently at that, then it does not take a prophet to see the final outcome. Let us pray that the US will leave peaceably. Will it be with a whimper or a bang as big as the hollowness inside it? I wonder.

A well written and justified comment, Ali! We are closer to the Middle East over here in Europe and I wish articles on pro Israeli websites where only half as objective and balanced as the articles in the electronic intifada.

beautifully written Mr. Abunimah.

good work ali. i have admired you since my days at depaul when you would come and speak to students and debate all comers. your intellectual and moral integrity used to make them run for the hills and it seems like it still does. kudos.