New York Times doubles down with anti-BDS hit jobs

Omar Barghouti (intal)

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.

That’s frequently not the case.

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.




It's precisely because so-called progressive hacks and politicians reserve an exception in this instance while occasionally lamenting U.S. foreign policy "blunders", that we should regard Palestine as key to understanding their real views. Whenever a person purports to give up every vice but one, we must ask why that one is so vital and necessary in comparison with all others? So it is with the Palestinian exception.

Support for Israel has become a hardened repository nurturing the seeds of every other element of U.S. imperialism and the neoliberal order. The sacred status of Israel contains the assurance that its social model of racism, plunder and war- by no means a merely localised phenomenon- will remain viable on a global scale. As Israel goes, so goes the empire. And if Israel goes, America will go with it, because Israel is America's reliable paladin in the Middle East, and because the two operate according to identical precepts.

At the same time, Israel is an avatar, a glimpse at everybody's future, and our rulers like what they see. Which is why advocates for equality, opponents of racism, and campaigners for a just peace recognise in Israel the clearest embodiment of the forces they're fighting around the world. And why Israel's defenders will stop at nothing to maintain those ruthless standards of privilege and misery. One breech of those walls could flood all our fields.


You're quite right. Israel is the paradigm. If it can be done to the Palestinians, it can be done to any of us.
The British were defeated by the Zionist terrorists (and by their own weaponry to some extent). The US, fearing the Zionist lobby at home, threw in its lot with tyranny abroad. The one exception was Eisenhower after Suez. He stood firm against the Israeli occupation of the Sinai. Though Ben Gurion shifted into victim mode and complained that Israel was small, weak and isolated, he was forced to back down when Eisenhower refused to. The example is telling: the US can stop Israeli oppression of the Palestinians whenever it chooses. It was said, at the time of partition and after, that US foreign policy was being made by Israel. There is still truth in that.
Israel is an example of how a lawless minority can wield huge power in a rule-based system when, for reasons of pusillanimity, they are permitted to ignore the rules. Double standards don't work. There have to be common standards and impersonal values. Israel remains a country with rubber borders. It defies international law. It founds its demands not on international law but on messianic entitlement, a position which would permit anyone to demand anything on the grounds that their deity has given them the right to it. The point about messianic entitlement is it can't be confirmed. It is extreme subjectivism. It fulfils the primary rule of injustice: we are a special case. Israel has been allowed to be a special case, principally by the US, which has the power to change this quickly. Ben Gurion was right, of course, in pointing out that Israel is a small and relatively weak country. Then why is it permitted to defy the international rules? To remind us all of what can be done by cynical, vicious regimes and to cow us into submission. We must do the opposite.


"throw Palestinians under the bus"
The US politicians and most of the Western world ,for that matter ,have been trowing the Palestinians under the bus since the early 1900s .
The zionists have been obfuscating the reason and the meaning of BDS since it's inception and they are running scared .This is why they have gone all out to discredit the movement using the antisemitic card . BDS is a non violent method to inform the world and bring the world citizens on side with the movement ,as it was used in South America .Nothing less and nothing more . The theft of Palestinian land with impunity must stop.


ABsolutely agree. It seems to be the new litmus test for ALL candidates . Do you support the zionist actions and are you against BDS and will do all you can to stop the movement.


Thank you for full statement by Omar Barghouti.
Another problem with article: refers to international law for statement on
statement of Israel. Says nothing about international law regarding Israel's illegal settlements post 1967 war+++


That The Nation harbors such a dishonest writer, let alone an opponent of Palestinian rights and the application of international law to Israel, is disgusting -- and revealing.


The antisemitism charge, old, weary, in its wheelchair, dribbling and incontinent, (which is not to denigrate in any way the old who should have the best care taxpayers' money can buy) will always be wheeled out at the slightest criticism of Israel or Zionism. The best argument against it is Zionist antisemitism. The evidence piles higher than the Empire State. Since its inception Zionism has, and still does, make use of antisemitism of the worst kind: stereotype, abuse, murder. Indeed, Zionism is antisemitic by definition because it subsumes all individuals to a category. To be Jewish is to be a Zionist. How does that differ from saying to be Jewish is to be a financier? The Zionists get away with it only because the media suppress the evidence. Circulate it. It's easy to find. In particular read Thomas Suarez's, State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel. The Zionists are hoist by their own petard when they accuse their critics of antisemitism.

Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.