I’ve written many times about the obscurantism in most NY Times news stories and editorials about Israel, so for awhile I swore off any more, especially since it’s endless and Sisyphyean. However,
in this case some seriously critical commentators on Israel and the usual Times coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were impressed by the paper's recent story on Breaking the Silence. My take on it is different. I read the story as classic NY Times obscurantism: just informative enough to pass for a fair and unbiased piece, when in fact it is grievously misleading in a number of ways.
First, it’s the usual he-says, but she-says story, reporting “perspectives” when there is not the slightest doubt that one of the perspectives is clearly true and other is clearly false. Yes, it’s a good thing that the Times is discussing the growing prominence of Breaking the Silence, and its support by some retired generals and Shin Bet directors--but then such statements are “balanced” by criticism from the attackers of BTS. What’s missing is a discussion of the incontrovertible facts. For example, in Friday's Haaretz, Zeev Sternhell, Israel’s most eminent political philosopher and commentator, says that “In not one case have reports and testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence have been proved wrong.”
Actually, Sternhell’s rebuttal of the critics of BTS could have gone much further: over many years dozens of impartial investigations and reports by human rights and international organizations, hundreds of news stories (even in the NY Times), and many long articles by journalists and academic specialists have made it absolutely incontrovertible that Israel repeatedly commits war crimes and acts of state terrorism. If anything, Breaking the Silence doesn’t go nearly far enough, though of course one can fully understand and sympathize with why it doesn’t.
Second, the Times story reports that BTS opponents "question" why it's not enough for the military to investigate itself, and quotes the Israeli defense minister as saying that it tries to, but has been "unsuccessful." The Times reports this with a straight face. Surely it knows that no serious observer thinks that Israel’s own “military investigations” of the kind of war crimes examined by BTS are anything but blatant white washes. When it comes to its methods, the “most moral army in the world” routinely lies about its behavior, and every serious, informed, and unbiased observer knows it. And of course it lies, what else can it do--the actions it purports to "investigate" are the consequences, and usually the intended consequences, of its own attitudes and policies. Not a hint of these facts in the Times' story.
Third, the Times story says that “critics [of BTS] emphasize that the group is partly funded by donations from European governments, which they say amounts to meddling in Israel’s internal affairs.” Well, what else can you expect from those nasty liberal Western democracies? They’re all just a bunch of anti-Semites, including the Jews.
Not only does the Times fail to note the irony of the light unto the nations’ contempt for western democracies, it also neglects to note that the U.S. government provides far larger and unconditional funding to the Israeli government and armed forces, despite the ongoing occupation and repression of the Palestinians, or that wealthy American right wing extremists, like Sheldon Adelson, provide far more funds to extremist Israeli groups than European governments give to BTS.
And I could add more. In the end, should we be grateful for some half-truths from the NY Times? Perhaps so, but that’s not how I see it.