April 2, 2020

5 Questions for Rabbi Block on the New York Times

Dear Rabbi Block:

Today you announced you were cancelling your subscription to the New York Times because of what you call its biased and unfair coverage of Israel during the Gaza War.

In an op-ed in Tablet, you wrote: “I am a lifelong Democrat, a political liberal, a Reform rabbi, and for four decades, until last week, a New York Times subscriber. What drove me away was the paper’s incessant denigration of Israel, a torrent of articles, photographs, and op-ed columns that consistently present the Jewish State in the worst possible light.”

As evidence you cite numerous headlines of stories you feel betrayed a bias against Israel. You also condemn the Times for publishing numerous photos of Palestinian children injured or killed by Israeli military action.

Judging by the comments that followed your post, the vast majority of readers agree with you.  The most common response (I’ll paraphrase) was, “Now you just noticed?  What took you so long?”

But, I have some questions.  Just 5. Here goes:

1) Are there no examples of good, even excellent New York Times reporting on Israel?  Are you aware that Judi Rodoren’s early reporting on the discovery of Hamas tunnels from Gaza into Israel has been attacked by anti-Israel groups as fanning baseless fears?  Take this example from Mondoweiss

Yesterday the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer both did long reports on their visit to a tunnel in Israel just outside the border of Gaza. Neither reporter went on through to Gaza. Nope, both reports echoed Israeli fears of the tunnels and the mayhem they could unleash in Israel.

Blitzer’s report on the tunnels was promptly sent around by the Israel lobby group AIPAC, in a fundraising appeal about the “immense danger Israel is facing.” You can read the AIPAC letter below. (By the way, Blitzer once worked for AIPAC.)

That’s right, the Times' reporting was good enough for Aipac to send out to its supporters.  But it doesn’t meet your standards?

2) Are you saying that we should boycott all institutions that offend us in one way or another, even if we value them in other ways? I have tremendous problems with much of the text in the Bible—should I toss the whole thing, or argue with it? I find a lot to disagree with in American foreign policy—should I stop supporting my country, or argue to change it?  I find a lot of Jewish services dull and lifeless, even spiritually offensive—should I stop paying temple dues, or work to make them better?

3) Are you aware that Israel’s harshest critics share your view that the Times is horribly biased—but against Palestinians?  Have you read any anti-Israel web site or literature?  They claim the New York Times ranks right up there with Fox news for pushing a pro-Israel agenda.   Here is a quote from a an anti-Israel website, ifamericansknew.org:

A 2007 study of the Times’ coverage of various international reports on human rights violations by Israelis and by Palestinians found that the Times covered reports condemning Israeli human rights violations at a rate only one-twentieth the rate that it covered reports condemning Palestinian human rights violations. The investigation found that during the study period there had been 76 reports by humanitarian agencies condemning Israel for abuses and four condemning Palestinians for abuses. The Times carried two stories on each side.

Over at electronicintofada.com, Ali Abunimah regularly slams the Times for suppressing the Palestinian story.  

“It will not be news to regular readers of The Electronic Intifada that The New York Times systematically excludes all except token Palestinian voices from its coverage,” he writes.

Would you be willing to share a panel with Abunimah at electronicintifada on New York Times bias?  I’ll moderate.

4. Are you aware the New York Times unsigned editorials are consistently pro-Israel?  “There was no way Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was going to tolerate the Hamas bombardments, which are indiscriminately lobbed at Israeli population centers,” reads a July 18 editorial. “Nor should he. As President Obama said on Friday, “No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders, or terrorists tunneling into its territory.”  What part of that do you find offensive?

5. You say in conclusion that you don’t expect your cancellation will matter to the Times at all.  Then why do it?