Does a speeding truck plowing into a group of uniformed, armed Israeli soldiers constitute terrorism, while a high-tech missile fired from a fighter jet at a group of police cadets – or civilians in their home – in Gaza is not?
Such are the double standards apparently at work at The New York Times.
On Tuesday, New York Times correspondent Isabel Kershner labeled as “terrorism” a Palestinian attack on a group of Israeli soldiers south of Jerusalem’s Old City two days earlier.
“Israel buried its latest terrorism victims on Monday, the day after they were run down by a Palestinian man in a truck, enveloping them in the country’s familiar outpouring of love for its service members,” her story states, echoing Israeli leaders’ characterization of Palestinian resistance against occupation forces as “terrorism.”
Asked by The Electronic Intifada to comment why The New York Times used that term to characterize an attack on soldiers, Jodi Rudoren, deputy international editor and former Jerusalem bureau chief, replied, “A truck ramming into a crowd felt like terrorism.”
Rudoren’s response – based as it is on a feeling – suggests imprecise guidelines prevail at The New York Times, and that personal bias may unduly influence language used in news stories.
Rudoren was heavily criticized for bias in November 2012 when she wrote on Facebook that while “death and destruction is far more severe in Gaza … it seems like Israelis are almost more traumatized.”
Palestinians in Gaza – with whom Rudoren, who lived in a bubble in Jerusalem during her years as bureau chief, had far less interaction – are “used to it from Cast Lead and other conflicts, and they have such limited lives than [sic] in many ways they have less to lose.”
She added: “I’ve been surprised that when I talk to people who just lost a relative, or who are gathering belongings from a bombed-out house, they seem a bit ho-hum.”
Why does The New York Times deem Palestinian violence directed at soldiers as “terrorism” while the term is not applied to Israeli military violence against Palestinian civilians?
Yet a close reading of Okrent, in particular, suggests that he would not have used the term “terrorism” to describe Sunday’s attack, as he states: “an act of political violence committed against purely civilian targets is terrorism; attacks on military targets are not.”
The truck incident is not the only time this week that The New York Times invoked “terrorism/terrorist” to refer to a Palestinian suspected of attacking an Israeli soldier or soldiers.
The blurb introducing Kershner’s story on The New York Times website also labels the incapacitated Palestinian man killed by Israeli soldier Elor Azarya as a “terrorist.” That term was not, however, applied to Azarya by the newspaper, either before or after Azarya was convicted of manslaughter earlier this month.
“As funerals were held for victims of a truck attack Sunday in Jerusalem, Israelis remained divided over a soldier’s conviction for killing a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian terrorist,” the blurb reads.
Kershner’s article, linked to from the blurb, refers to the assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as a “right-wing Jewish extremist,” but does not refer to him as a “terrorist.”
Reality in the eye of the beholder
When asked whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unsupported claim that the Jerusalem truck attacker was connected to Islamic State influenced the Times’ language, Rudoren replied with a simple “No.” Nor, she indicated Tuesday afternoon, had the newspaper been presented with any evidence of a connection.
Rudoren did remark that as “Islamic State is a terrorist group, not a state,” their “attacks are terrorism, no?”
By this logic, any attack by Hamas, including within Gaza against invading Israeli soldiers, could be labeled by The New York Times as “terrorism” as Hamas is on the US government list of terrorist organizations.
Yet international law has long recognized Palestinians’ right to resist military occupation.
Meanwhile, the US government’s designation of Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization is regularly mentioned by the newspaper, but serious human rights concerns from credible human rights organizations are not routinely cited in reference to the Israeli government.
Under Rudoren’s standard, reality is in the eye of the beholder. If it feels like “terrorism,” then it is terrorism. To date, this has meant applying the term to the actions of Palestinians, but not to Israeli occupation forces.
The separate and unequal reality endured by Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and apartheid is all the harder for readers to understand when the newspaper pushes terminology indicating that Palestinian violence against soldiers is “terrorism” while Israeli military violence, even against civilians, is something altogether different.
Seeing people run over in Jerusalem, including soldiers, is no doubt a horrible thing for many people – this writer included – to view. It likely felt awful to Rudoren and to many others.
But classifying it as terrorism before classifying attacks on Palestinian civilians as terrorism, raises profound concerns about the capacity of the newspaper to see Palestinians as anything close to equal human beings.