The New York Times Covers Up Discrimination against Palestinian Citizens of Israel

One of the major developments in March 28th’s Israeli elections was the sudden rise of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party which became the fourth largest Israeli party.  Yisrael Beiteinu advocates transferring a number of Palestinian towns in Israel to Palestinian Authority control, thus revoking the Israeli citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.  The popularity of this proposal fits with the results of a poll released last week which showed that sixty-eight percent of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in the same apartment building as a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and forty percent of Israeli Jews believe the state needs to support the emigration of Palestinian citizens.[1] However, because of the way Israel is portrayed in the mainstream US media, such blatant discrimination would likely surprise the US public.
Israel’s obfuscation of the second-class status and even of the very existence of Palestinian citizens, 20% of Israel’s population, is a crucial component of a broader Israeli strategy of presenting the public face of a liberal democracy while simultaneously repressing Palestinians.  The US mainstream media, with the New York Times in a leading role, collaborates with this strategy.  The US media emphasizes the Israeli narrative and focuses coverage on Palestinian terrorism, while minimizing the central Palestinian experiences of Israeli occupation and seizure of Palestinian land, Israeli state terrorism, and systematic Israeli discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel, the Occupied Territories and the diaspora.
Three news articles on “Israeli Arabs” and the Israeli elections published in March in three of the most trusted and widely read US newspapers – The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post provide one example of US media support for the Israeli narrative.  Israel uses the term Israeli Arab rather than Palestinian citizen of Israel as one tool in the longstanding effort to “divide and rule”, and to cover up the familial, historical and cultural relationship between Palestinians living in Israel and those living under occupation.  None of the articles challenges the use of the term Israeli Arab, and none questions whether a Jewish state with a substantial non-Jewish minority can be democratic and ensure equal rights.  While mentioning discrimination, the three articles completely omitted Yisrael Beiteinu’s proposal to revoke the citizenship of many Palestinians.  
This disregard for Palestinian citizens of Israel is consistent with the findings of a recent research study I conducted on the publication of op-eds by Palestinian and Israeli writers over the last five years in the five US newspapers with the greatest circulation.[2] Though these newspapers published 201 op-eds by Jewish citizens of Israel, they published just a single op-ed by a Palestinian citizen of Israel currently residing in Israel.
However, The New York Times, commonly viewed as the most influential US newspaper, follows the discriminatory Israeli narrative on Israel’s Palestinian citizens to a much greater degree than the Washington Post and LA Times.  This also corresponds with my op-ed research findings.  From 2000-05 the New York Times published 3.4 op-eds by Israeli writers for every op-ed by a Palestinian writer, while the LA Times published 2.3 Israelis per Palestinian, and The Washington Post published 1.4 Israelis per Palestinian. 
Throughout Dina Kraft’s March 21 New York Times article, “Politicians Court a Not-so-Silent Minority: Israeli Arabs”,[3] Kraft maintains a rigid dichotomy between “Palestinians” and “Israeli Arabs.”  Kraft provides no hint of family ties, shared identity, history or culture between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.  Kraft describes Palestinians citizens of Israel as a distinct group from Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, “Almost 20 percent of Israel’s 6.8 million citizens are Arabs (a group distinct from the Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip)….”
In contrast, in the May 25 LA Times article “Israeli Arabs Feel Little Stake in Vote,”[4] reporter Laura King calls them “brethren”, noting “a central dilemma for Israeli Arabs: whether they should identify more strongly with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or seek to strengthen their own identity within Israel.”
The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson reports valuable information in his March 5 article, “Israeli Arabs See Lesson in Hamas Victory”[5] that “The Arab families who remained in their villages during Israel’s 1948 war of independence account for roughly 20 percent of the Jewish state’s 6 million people…  They are also viewed with suspicion by Israel’s security services, who fear they might be a Palestinian fifth column concentrated in a strip of towns running north from here along the 1949 armistice line into the Galilee region.”  
Kraft’s complete separation of “Israeli Arabs” from “Palestinians” is particularly audacious given her article’s dateline from “Baqa Al-Gharbiyeh,” a town which dramatically illustrates Israel’s systematic separation of Palestinians in Israel from those in the Occupied Territories.  Baqa Al-Gharbiyeh is a Palestinian town inside Israel, just west of the Green Line.  Connected, just east across the Green Line and inside the West Bank is the Palestinian town of Baqa Al- Sharkiyeh.  “West” and “East” Baqa in Arabic, are really one town straddling the Green Line, but now separated by a 25 foot high concrete Wall which divides families and friends.  Though from the same families, Baqa Al-Gharbiyeh’s residents are typically identified as “Israeli Arab” citizens of Israel, while Baqa Al-Sharqiyeh’s residents are “Palestinians” under Israeli military occupation.
In contrast to the other two newspapers, The New York Times describes discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel in an ambiguous manner.  In the LA Times, Laura King notes that:  “Joblessness and poverty rates are much higher among Israeli Arabs than among the Jewish majority. Arabs as a rule do not serve in the Israeli army, which gives many young Israelis a boost in their career prospects… Arab cities and towns inside Israel receive substantially less funding than Jewish municipalities. And a poll last week suggested that a majority of Israeli Jews regard Arab citizens as a threat to national security.”  Scott Wilson in the Washington Post mostly repeats these points, but adds discrimination in land ownership.  Wilson also mentions the Israeli police and military’s killing of 49 Palestinian citizens in 1956 during the 1948-66 period when Palestinians in Israel were under military rule, and the killing of 13 Palestinian citizens in 2000. 
The Washington Post and LA Times describe the discrimination as a fact outlined in the reporter’s seemingly objective voice, but in The New York Times a Palestinian citizen of Israel explains discrimination.  “People live under continued and planned discrimination when it comes to the economy, education and job…,” said Ali Haider, co-executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality.” 
Most American readers, accustomed to hearing competing viewpoints from “both sides”, are more likely to trust Kraft’s “objective” reporter’s voice which adds, “Arabs in Israel have higher levels of education, medical care and standards of living than their counterparts elsewhere in the Middle East. But they compare their lives with those of Israeli Jews, who are generally better off.”
Kraft’s statement reflects a startling tolerance of a discriminatory understanding of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel – that the rights of an ethnic or religious group in a “democratic” state should primarily be compared with ethnically or religiously similar people in other countries, and as an afterthought compared with the privileged majority in the same country.  Would the Times endorse ethnically or religiously differentiated citizens’ rights for other self-proclaimed democratic states?
The three articles exemplify how the US mainstream media collaborates in maintaining a fictional narrative of Israel as a liberal, democratic state inexplicably beset by Arab/Muslim terrorism.  Maintaining that narrative requires covering up the historical reality that in 1947-48 Israel drove over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in what is now Israel.  It necessitates denying that Palestinians who remained in what is now Israel are Palestinians, from the same families and sharing the same culture as Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories and the diaspora.  It involves whitewashing Israel’s systematic discrimination against all Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, simply because they are Palestinian Muslims and Christians and not Jews, and avoiding the central question of whether a Jewish state can provide equal and democratic rights to non-Jewish citizens.  
The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times news reports provide some information that allows a careful reader to question parts of the dominant Israeli narrative.  The New York Times, the US’ newspaper of record, chooses to swallow and sell wholesale the discriminatory Israeli understanding of Palestinian citizens of Israel.



[2] Israeli and Palestinian voices on the US op-ed pages: A Palestine Media Watch Report (PDF) Patrick O’Conner (28 February 2006)

[3] Politicians Court a Not-So-Silent Minority: Israeli Arabs, Dina Kraft, New York Times (21 March 2006)

[4] Israeli Arabs Feel Little Stake in Vote, Laura King, LA Times (25 March 2006)

[5] Israeli Arabs Reflect on Hamas Win, Scott Wilson, Washington Post (5 March 2006)

Patrick O’Connor is an activist with the International Solidarity Movement, and Palestine Media Watch.