The New York Times ran two very different stories recently related to Israel. An analysis of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement titled "Campus Debates on Israel Drive a Wedge Between Jews and Minorities," portrays the nonviolent campaign to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law as a cause of tensions between ethnic groups. Several days later, the Gray Lady printed "Israel Says Hezbollah Positions Put Lebanese at Risk," uncritically repeating Israeli propaganda justifying a future violent, illegal invasion that would likely kill thousands of civilians.
Writing in Salon, David Palumbo-Liu calls the piece "race-baiting." Ali Abunimah writes that Jewish students involved in the BDS movement were interviewed by the Times but "when their words didn't fit a preordained story, their voices were excluded altogether." Even the Times' Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote that interview questions subjecting Jewish BDS supporters to a "Jewish litmus test" were "unprofessional and unacceptable."
By pursuing this particular angle, the Times is following the ideological position of the Israeli government, which claims BDS is an attack on Jews. This is a position explicitly stated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech last year during which he mentioned "BDS" 18 times: "Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot."
The Times says college officials are trying to determine how to draw a line between opposition to Israel's policies and "hostility towards Jews." They write that "opponents of divestment sometimes allude to the Holocaust."
"What bothers me is the shocking amnesia of people who look at the situation of American Jews right now and say, 'You're privileged, you don't have a right to complain about discrimination,' " a freshman named Rachel Roberts is quoted as saying. "To turn a blind eye to the sensitivities of someone's cultural identity is to pretend that history didn't happen."
Norman Finkelstein, whose mother and father both survived the Warsaw Ghetto and Nazi concentration camps, describes this type of argument in The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering as "crass exploitation of Jewish martyrdom." Finkelstein writes that he grows indignant about the exploitation of the Nazi genocide because "it has been used to justify criminal policies of the Israeli state and US support for these policies."
This is exactly what Roberts is doing by invoking the "sensitivities" of her "cultural identity" to implicitly claim that they have anything to do with the legitimate criticisms the BDS campaign makes against Israeli state policies. The Times doesn't bother to point out that their is no conceivable connection between divestment and the Holocaust. Instead they provide a platform for dishonest and cynical distractions from substantive debate.
Conflating criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism is a well-established phenomenon on college campuses. This year alone, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support has documented 60 incidents of accusations of anti-Semitism and 24 incidents of accusations of support for terrorism that were based on nothing more than speech critical of Israeli policies.
"False accusations of anti-Semitism are being employed as a strategy to pressure campus authorities to suppress speech that is critical of Israel," said Maria LaHood of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The intimidation of BDS supporters and false accusations against them produces a chilling effect severely damaging to participation in the democratic process and to academic freedom. This would be a story well worth exploring, but apparently not for the editors at the Times.
The Times article states that swastikas have been painted on the doors of Jewish fraternities. These are despicable, hateful actions to be sure. But the fact that a divestment resolution was taking place on campus no way implicates members of the movement. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise. The BDS campaign has been explicit and forceful in its rejection of racism in all forms.
At the end of the article, the writers find common ground between both sides: "One of the few things both sides seem to agree on is just how divisive the issue has been," So was apartheid. So was slavery. It is divisive politically. This is very different than being divisive ethnically.
In the article "Israel Says Hezbollah Positions Put Lebanese at Risk", Times reporter Isabel Kershner provides a platform for Israeli officials to rationalize in advance their criminal aggression that will lead to massive civilian casualties.
Since nonviolence is not an option for them, Israeli officials need to lay the groundwork to deflect any responsibility for the killing they plan to carry out. This P.R. strategy is a calculated response to the worldwide popular backlash after Israel's slaughter of more than 2,100 Palestinians, including nearly 600 children, in Gaza last summer. The Times obliges with uncritical stenography of Israeli military propaganda, accepting the word of state power at face value.
"As Israel prepares for what it sees as an almost inevitable next battle with Hezbollah, the Shiite Lebanese organization that fought a monthlong war against Israel in 2006, Israeli military officials and experts are warning that the group has done more than significantly build up its firepower since then," Kershner writes.