In January, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon delivered a speech to the Security Council about, as he put it, violence “in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory,” noting that “Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half century of occupation” and that “it is human nature to react to occupation.” His use of the word “occupation” was not remotely controversial because multiple UN Security Resolutions, such as 446 (adopted unanimously in 1979 with three abstentions), have long declared Israel the illegal “occupying power” in the West Bank and Gaza. Unsurprisingly, newspapers around the world – such as Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, BBC, LA Times – routinely and flatly describe Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza in their news articles as what it is: an occupation.
In fact, essentially the entire world recognises the reality of Israeli occupation with the exception of a tiny sliver of extremists in Israel and the US. That’s why Chris Christie had to grovel in apology to GOP billionaire and Israel-devoted fanatic Sheldon Adelson when the New Jersey Governor neutrally described having seen the “occupied territories” during a trip he took to Israel. But other than among those zealots, the word is simply a fact, used without controversy under the mandates of international law, the institutions that apply it and governments on every continent on the planet.
But not The New York Times. They are afraid to use the word. In a NYT article by Jason Horowitz and Maggie Haberman on the imminent conflict over Israel and Palestine between Sanders-appointed and Clinton-appointed members of the Democratic Party Platform Committee, this grotesque use of scare quotes appears:
A bitter divide over the Middle East could threaten Democratic Party unity as representatives of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont vowed to upend what they see as the party’s lopsided support of Israel.
Two of the senator’s appointees to the party’s platform drafting committee, Cornel West and James Zogby, on Wednesday denounced Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza and said they believed that rank-and-file Democrats no longer hewed to the party’s staunch support of the Israeli government. They said they would try to get their views incorporated into the platform, the party’s statement of core beliefs, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.
The refusal to use the word occupation without scare quotes is one of the most cowardly editorial decisions the NYT has made since refusing to use the word “torture” because the Bush administration denied its validity (a decision they reversed only when President Barack Obama in 2014 gave them permission to do so by using the word himself). This is journalistic malfeasance at its worst: refusing to describe the world truthfully out of fear of the negative reaction by influential factions (making today’s article even stranger is that a NYT article from February on settlers’ use of Airbnb referred to “illegal settler outpost deep in the occupied West Bank”). And the NYT’s editorial decision raises this question, posed this morning by one man in the West Bank:
The cowardice of the NYT regarding Israel is matched only by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Clinton has repeatedly vowed to move the US closer not only to Israel but also to its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Pandering to Israel – vowing blind support for its government – is a vile centerpiece of her campaign.
The changes to the Democratic Party platform proposed by Bernie Sanders’ appointees such as Cornel West, Keith Ellison and James Zogby – which Israel-supporting Clinton appointees such as Neera Tanden and Wendy Sherman are certain to oppose – are incredibly mild, including echoing the international consensus in condemning the Israeli occupation. As the Israeli writer Noam Sheizaf put it this morning, the NYT’s use of scare quotes is “just as pathetic as the Democratic fear that their platform would actually say Palestinians deserve civil rights.”
This craven posture is particularly appalling as Israel just this week has taken an even harder turn toward extremism, prompting its former prime minister, Ehud Barak, to warn that Israel has been “infected by the seeds of fascism.” While the former Israeli prime minister issues warnings that grave, establishment Democrats are petrified of even the most tepid stances.
But Democratic Party cowardice on Israel is nothing new. In 2003, the pre-lobbyist-money-infected Howard Dean was publicly mauled by top Democrats – led by Nancy Pelosi – for the crime of saying the US should be “even-handed” in its attempts to forge a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Even worse was the disgraceful scene from their 2012 convention: the Platform Committee had omitted any reference to “God” and, worse, had decide not to say that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. Obama campaign officials were eager to rectify this blasphemy, so arranged for an “amendment” to the platform to be introduced to the full convention, which required 2/3 approval from the delegates. When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa came to the podium to ask delegates to vote, it was obvious that the majority was opposed. Confused and bewildered at the refusal of delegates to obey the script of party leaders, he asked for a vote three separate times and on the third time, even when it was clear that they did not have the votes, he simply lied and proclaimed the pro-Israel and pro-God amendment passed with 2/3 approval:
That is the level of Orwellian distortion needed to maintain the blatantly false narratives about Israel that have prevailed for so long as bipartisan US orthodoxy. As today’s article demonstrates, the New York Times not only submits to that propagandistic orthodoxy but plays a leading role in sustaining it.
UPDATE: After publication of this article, the NYT edited their own to remove the scare quotes around “occupation,” though did so quietly, with no editorial explanation or note. The original version, however, appeared on A1 of this morning’s print edition.