The New York Times ran a hit piece on BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement last week.
Yes, marginal improvement can be seen in the newspaper.
At least it notes the three principal goals of the movement: end the occupation, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and right of return for Palestinian refugees.
But the framing seems intended to put BDS on the defensive.
Writing for The Times, David M. Halbfinger, Michael Wines – the focus of a 2002 Electronic Intifada critique – and Steven Erlanger claim: “The movement’s supporters are routinely accused of anti-Semitism. Opponents are accused of trampling on free speech.”
True enough that these claims are frequently leveled.
But, in fact, opponents of BDS are not merely accused of trampling on free speech. The more pressing concern is that BDS opponents are engaged in anti-Palestinian racism and weaponizing the charge of anti-Semitism against people who support equal rights for Jews and Palestinians.
BDS opponents are putting themselves on record as against equal rights for Palestinians.
Yet when The New York Times asks in its headline “Is BDS anti-Semitic?,” it is prioritizing a claim and not asking whether Israel’s occupation and ethnic cleansing constitute anti-Palestinian racism. The framing is the takeaway.
Palestinian citizens of Israel disappeared
The writers – or their editors – normalize anti-Palestinian discourse not just with the headline, but also with a section titled “How do Israelis view BDS?”
Their answer? “Not kindly, though some are happy to exploit it.”
Palestinian citizens of Israel are simply disappeared from the equation.
This is akin to asking Southerners in the 1950s about the civil rights movement as a response to Jim Crow, but only asking white respondents while excluding the views of African Americans.
Similarly, media often report on polls purportedly representing the views of all Israelis. But when the fine print is read, it turns out the pollsters only queried Jewish citizens of Israel.
The views of the one in five Israeli citizens who are Palestinians are therefore simply ignored.
Churches and pension funds omitted
Another glaring problem is the article’s omission of how American churches are moving toward and embracing BDS in the same way that some churches did regarding apartheid South Africa.
“Is BDS working?” the authors ask. “In the most tangible ways, not so much.”
Yet this ignores the tumult within various churches over the moral necessity of taking a stand against decades of Israeli and American support for the oppression of the Palestinian people.
Mennonites, Quakers, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA), Unitarian Universalists and the Evangelical Lutheran Church have all been seized with the issue.
Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, noted not just the omission of church efforts, but the failure to discuss other big successes such as “some of [the] largest European pension funds divesting” and “major companies like Veolia pulling out of projects.”
But aside from these successes – and many others – the writers’ definition of what is “tangible” is also selective.
There is no doubt that regardless of how much divestment there has actually been, BDS has contributed to a dramatic and tangible change in the US national discourse on Palestinian rights – especially on the left.
Israel and the Israel lobby consider this change in discourse to be a major strategic threat.
Eric Alterman enters one-sided fray
Doubling down on the issue, just two days later, The New York Times ran Eric Alterman’s criticism of both BDS activists and the movement’s opponents.
With the attack coming from a writer with The Nation, it can be read as an attempt to undermine BDS with progressives.
Alterman makes sure to highlight an AIPAC talking point against BDS movement cofounder Omar Barghouti by cutting short a quote from him.
Citing two of the most anti-Palestinian Republicans in Congress, Alterman writes that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy “are not wrong to remind us” that Barghouti “proclaimed in 2013 that ‘no Palestinian – rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian – will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.’”
But Barghouti’s full and moving quote is not cited. It’s parsed in an effort to undercut Barghouti and the movement for equal rights for Palestinians and Israeli Jews.
What Barghouti actually said is that: “A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the land’s indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically.”
He added: “As we would oppose a Muslim state or a Christian state or any kind of exclusionary state, definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian – rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian – will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
Barghouti then asserted: “Accepting modern-day Jewish Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new shared society, free from all colonial subjugation and discrimination as called for in the democratic state model is the most magnanimous, rational offer any oppressed indigenous population can present to its oppressors.”
That’s a far cry from the impression AIPAC and Alterman evidently hope to convey, that Barghouti and the BDS movement are seething with anti-Jewish bigotry.
AIPAC has repeatedly tweeted the partial quote in recent weeks.
In response, Barghouti has accused Israel lobby groups of using a “butchered” quote “to smear me and malign the BDS movement at large,” a case of what he calls “propaganda-aided deception.”
The misrepresentation of Barghouti’s words is a long way from January 2014 when The New York Times and several other American publications opened the gates to pieces in support of BDS nationwide.
The Times even published an op-ed by Barghouti explaining the movement.
The embrace of equality and justice for Palestinians is not inevitable, and some want to turn things back.
In Donald Trump’s America, Alterman seeks to cut Barghouti and the BDS movement down to size by twisting his words.
And by publishing such attacks, The New York Times – which markets itself as part of the anti-Trump resistance – is signaling to progressives that in the run-up to the 2020 elections Democratic candidates and voters should throw Palestinians under the bus.
- The New York Times
- David M. Halbfinger
- Michael Wines
- Steven Erlanger
- Palestinian citizens of Israel
- Jim Crow
- church divestment
- apartheid South Africa
- Mennonite Church USA
- United Church of Christ
- Presbyterian Church USA
- Unitarian Universalist Association
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
- Rebecca Vilkomerson
- Jewish Voice for Peace
- Eric Alterman
- Omar Barghouti
- Mitch McConnell
- Kevin McCarthy
- Donald Trump
- US Civil Rights movement