Another Dispiriting Lesson from the New York Times

In a staff-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times, editors argue that a “dispiriting lesson” from Chuck Hagel’s nomination process is that “the political space for discussing Israel forthrightly is shrinking.”

But a deeper look at the language the Times’ uses in the editorial reveals another dispiriting lesson – the Times continues to apply a double standard to Israel and the Palestinians.

According to the editorial, Hagel’s opponents had no interest other than “bullying him on Israel. It also says he was “forced to defend expressions of support for Palestinians.

Considering the process being described is a confirmation hearing for one of the most important and responsible jobs in government, it’s inappropriate to describe asking sharp questions as either bullying or forcing someone to defend past statements. It’s more accurate to describe it as checking the worthiness of the candidate.

The editorial also compares the process to recent efforts to block an appearance by two leaders of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler, who are slated to appear at Brooklyn College.

It notes that the college’s president has come under “withering criticism” for letting the event go forth, and some City Council members have threatened to withhold funding. The Times refers to the campaign as “intimidation” that ”chills debate and makes a mockery of the ideals of academic freedom.”

But if protesting against the appearance of Barghouti and Butler harms the ideals of the academy, which ostensibly supports a robust inclusion of all ideas, the Times should be particularly offended by the BDS leaders.

They not only support an academic boycott against Israeli academics – which is the ultimate mockery of academic freedom – but also actively and intentionally bully any artist or cultural figure away from visiting Israel. When an artist gives in to the group’s pressure, BDS leaders trumpet it as an achievement for their cause.

So what kind of language does the Times see fit for these bullies and violators of academic freedom? It simply describes their movement as espousing “nonviolent punitive measures” to pressure Israel. In other words, Barghouti is Gandhi, when it comes to the New York Times. Where is the critical analysis of BDS tactics? It doesn’t seem to be of much concern.

It may be that the space for discussing Israel is narrowing, as the Times says. But that’s not the real problem. What would really make a difference to those who seek peace in the region is recognition that it takes two sides to make peace. And the space for discussing the Palestinians is no longer shrinking, because it has already shrunk to nothing at all.