NEW YORK TIMES CALLS EXTREMISTS "HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATES"
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
Sept 15 2008
When America’s leading newspaper, through its editorial decisions,
ignores, minimizes or whitewashes Israel’s adversaries, it can
seriously distort people’s understanding of the Middle East conflict.
The New York Times’ scant and belated coverage of virulent anti-Israel
incitement by Palestinian opinion-makers, for example, is likely
to have left many readers ill-informed about a key cause of hatred,
violence and instability in the region, and thus fostered the false
impression that responsibility for Palestinian extremism rests solely
Similarly, the newspaper has whitewashed Hamas’ terrorism,
anti-Semitism and open desire to destroy Israel with its on-again,
off-again description of the organization as a "military resistance"
group that is supposedly fighting not Israel’s existence but merely
"Israeli occupation." If the public doesn’t understand Hamas’s true
goals and tactics, it cannot understand Israel’s security concerns,
negotiating positions, or the Middle East in general.
Now once again, the Times is whitewashing Israel’s adversaries. This
time, it is lending undue credibility to the Free Gaza Movement, a
controversial group of extreme pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel activists,
by describing them not as a pro-Palestinian activist group – which
they undeniably are – but rather with the noble designation "human
rights advocates." This description, which appeared several times
in Taghreed El-Khodary and Isabel Kershner’s Aug. 24 story Rights
advocates defy Israeli blockade of Gaza, is prejudicial, subjective
and misleading, and should not appear in the news section of a serious
paper – certainly not to describe a group that includes people who
advocate against the existence of the Jewish state, accuse Israel of
genocide, and explicitly legitimize violence.
The problem is exacerbated by the Times’ failure even to identify by
name this supposed "human rights" group, thus preventing the public
from easily looking up the group and determining its true goals, and
by the newspaper’s inexplicable inconsistency in labeling advocacy
groups. (See below.)
The Free Gaza Movement’s Mission Statement makes clear their focus:
We want to break the siege of Gaza. We want to raise international
awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure
the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its
support for continued Israeli occupation. We want to uphold Palestine’s
right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers,
humanitarian aid workers, journalists, or otherwise.
Aside from this mission, which in effect amounts to support for the
Gaza’s Hamas government, the group also levels false and inflammatory
charges against Israel, such as the insupportable false claims that
Israel is engaged in "ongoing ethnic cleansing" of the Palestinians,
and that "the overwhelming majority of Palestinians were forcibly
evicted from their ancestral homeland to create the state of
Israel." At least two of the group members seek to convince the
public that Israel is engaged in "genocide" against Gazans. (See here
The group also includes a co-founder of the extremist International
Solidarity Movement, Huwaida Arraf, who has written in favor of
Palestinians resorting to violence alongside nonviolence and suggested
that suicide bombings are "noble":
Nonviolent resistance is no less noble than carrying out a suicide
operation. … The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of
characteristics — both nonviolent and violent. But most importantly it
must develop a strategy involving both aspects. No other successful
nonviolent movement was able to achieve what it did without a
concurrent violent movement …
Two other members of the group, Darlene Wallach and Donna Wallach,
have no qualms about openly describing themselves as "anti-Zionist
activists." (The latter adds that she feels "grief and outrage that
all historical Palestine is still occupied by the apartheid state
Apparently, the New York Times believes that being an advocate against
the existence of the Jewish state, hurling false accusations of ethnic
cleansing, apartheid and genocide, and calling for violence alongside
nonviolence is the same as being an advocate for "human rights." And
apparently this misguided classification is not merely a viewpoint
to be argued in the opinion pages, but, in the eyes of Times editors,
a fact that belongs in the news pages of the paper.
When CAMERA brought this issue to the attention of the foreign and
public editors, a staff editor defended the language as being an
"accurate, if blanket, description" because many passengers "also
belong to other groups involved in organizing the action."
CAMERA’s detailed rejoinder to this unsatisfactory reply has thus
far gone unanswered.
Key excerpts from the email exchange follow.
—– Excerpts from CAMERA’s initial letter
â[email protected]¢ Twice in the article, as well as in the headline, the Times
describes activists of the so-called Free Gaza Movement as being,
in fact, "human rights advocates." This assertion, however, is not
a fact but rather a dubious, subjective opinion. As such, it should
not appear in the newspaper except as an attributed viewpoint.
â[email protected]¢ The ships described in the story sailed under the auspices
of The Free Gaza Movement (a point inexplicably unmentioned in the
article). That organization’s Web site, not to mention its title,
clearly supports the notion that these are not so much human rights
activists as they are pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activists
concerned specifically with the Gaza Strip, and with breaking what
they describe as the "siege" of that Hamas-ruled territory. (Recall
that Hamas, as the Times article correctly notes, is seen by many
countries as a terrorist organization.)
â[email protected]¢ While some of the ships’ passengers purport to be human rights
activists – and this does not justify the New York Times reporting
their self-description as fact – others don’t hide that they see
themselves as "anti-Zionist activists." At least one admits to
seeing all of Israel as occupied Palestinian territory. (Couldn’t one
describe this as being against the human right of self-determination
for Jews?) Another passenger is a cofounder of the International
Solidarity Movement, which the Times has correctly described as a
"pro-Palestinian group." (See here for a partial list of passengers.)
â[email protected]¢ It would be more straightforward and much less debatable, then,
to describe the group as pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel activists —
descriptions that most would agree with.
â[email protected]¢ Presumably, and justifiably, the newspaper would refrain from
calling David Duke a "rights activist" even though he heads the
so-called European-American Unity and Rights Organization, which
purports to work against discrimination and for "rights." Similarly,
the newspaper should not have described members of the Free Gaza
Movement as being human rights advocates.
â[email protected]¢ We therefore urge the newspaper to publish a correction
noting that the article should not have described the passengers
as human rights activists, and that they were affiliated with the
pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement.
Excerpts of reply from New York Times Staff Editor
â[email protected]¢ Regarding your concern over the article published Aug. 24,
"Rights Advocates Defy Israeli Blockade of Gaza," please know that
we do our best to be careful in choice of terms. While the people
involved in the action were sailing under the Free Gaza banner, many
also belong to other groups involved in organizing the action. We
opted to give a generalized description. The term rights activists
seems like an accurate, if blanket, description.
Excerpts from CAMERA’s Rejoinder
â[email protected]¢ That some of the passengers participating in the Free Gaza
Movement’s activities are also members of other groups does not make
them, as a group, "human rights advocates." If anything, it underscores
that this phrase is not an accurate generalized description. Like
the Free Gaza Movement, the International Solidarity Movement —
one of those "other groups" — cannot objectively be called a human
rights advocacy organization. (As the Times has correctly noted in the
past, they are a "pro-Palestinian" group.) The only blanket term that
can unarguably be used to describe participants in a pro-Palestinian
mission — who are members of the Free Gaza Movement and also happen to
be members of the ISM, or self-proclaimed "anti-Zionist" activists, or
yes, self-proclaimed "human rights advocates" — is "pro-Palestinian."
â[email protected]¢ Does the Times have a consistent policy for determining whether a
partisan activist group qualifies as a a human rights organization? If
so, what is the criteria? Why is the Anti-Defamation League,
a mainstream organization that describes itself as "the nation’s
premier civil rights/human relations agency," described in the Times
as a "Jewish advocacy group" ("Armenian issue presents a dilemma for
U.S. Jews," 10/19/07) and not a civil rights group?
â[email protected]¢ … why are Israeli activists who infiltrated Gaza (despite
an Israeli ban on doing so) to protest the uprooting of Jewish Gaza
residents from their homes introduced as "right-wing Israelis" in the
newspaper ("Thousands Rally against the planned withdrawal from Gaza,"
8/3/05), but international activists who infiltrated Gaza (despite
an Israeli ban on doing so) to protest sanctions against the Hamas
government introduced as human rights advocates?
â[email protected]¢ It is simply unfair and prejudicial for the New York Times to
lend credibility to the controversial Free Gaza group by dubbing
them "human rights advocates" (even while failing to inform readers
of the name of the group). This problem is only exacerbated by the
inconsistencies in the newspaper’s use of this term.