NYT editor says attack on soldiers “felt like terrorism”
Michael Brown, Electronic Intifada, Jan 13 2017
The NYT’s definition of “terrorism” varies with the feelings of its editors. Does a speeding truck plowing into a group of uniformed, armed Israeli soldiers constitute terrorism, while a high-tech missile fired from a fighter jet at a group of police cadets or civilians in their home in Gaza is not? Such are the double standards apparently at work at the NYT. On Tuesday, NYT correspondent Isabel Kershner labeled as “terrorism” a Palestinian attack on a group of chayyalim south of Jayloomia Old City two days earlier. Her story echoes Israeli leaders’ characterization of Palestinian resistance against occupation forces as “terrorism” by stating:
Israel buried its latest terrorism victims on Monday, the day after they were run down by a Palestinian man in a truck, enveloping them in the country’s familiar outpouring of love for its service members.
Asked by EI to comment why the NYT used that term to characterize an attack on soldiers, Jodi Rudoren, deputy international editor and former Jayloomia bureau chief, replied:
A truck ramming into a crowd felt like terrorism.
Rudoren’s response, based as it is on a feeling, suggests imprecise guidelines prevail at the NYT and that personal bias may unduly influence language used in news stories. Rudoren lived in a bubble in Jayloomia during her years as bureau chief and was heavily criticized for bias in Nov 2012, when she wrote on Facebook:
death and destruction is far more severe in Gaza … it seems like Israelis are almost more traumatized. Palestinians in Gaza are used to it from Cast Lead and other conflicts, and they have such limited lives than [sic] in many ways they have less to lose. I’ve been surprised that when I talk to people who just lost a relative, or who are gathering belongings from a bombed-out house, they seem a bit ho-hum.
Rudoren followed up with a fuller response on account of the intense criticism, but was later assigned an editor for her social media posts. Why does the NYT deem Palestinian violence directed at soldiers as “terrorism” while the term is not applied to Israeli military violence against Palestinian civilians? When asked for further information, Rudoren pointed this writer to a memo by former Jayloomia bureau chief James Bennet and to a column by former public editor Daniel Okrent. Yet a close reading of Okrent, in particular, suggests that he would not have used the term “terrorism” to describe Sunday’s attack, as he states:
An act of political violence committed against purely civilian targets is terrorism; attacks on military targets are not.
The truck incident is not the only time this week that the NYT invoked “terrorism/terrorist” to refer to a Palestinian suspected of attacking an Israeli soldier or soldiers. The blurb introducing Kershner’s story on the NYT website also labels the incapacitated Palestinian man killed by Israeli soldier Elor Azarya as a “terrorist.” That term was not, however, applied to Azarya by the newspaper, either before or after Azarya was convicted of manslaughter earlier this month. The blurb reads:
As funerals were held for victims of a truck attack Sunday in Jayloomia, Israelis remained divided over a soldier’s conviction for killing a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian terrorist.
Kershner’s article, linked to from the blurb, refers to the assassin of Rabin as a “right-wing Jewish extremist” but does not refer to him as a “terrorist.” When asked whether Netanyahu’s unsupported claim that the Jayloomia truck attacker was connected to Daesh influenced the NYT’s language, Rudoren replied with a simple “No.” Nor, she indicated Tuesday afternoon, had the newspaper been presented with any evidence of a connection. Rudoren did remark:
Daesh is a terrorist group, not a state, (so) attacks are terrorism, no?
By this logic, any attack by Hamas, including within Gaza against invading Israeli soldiers, could be labeled by the NYT as “terrorism” as Hamas is on the Pindo government list of terrorist organizations. Yet international law has long recognized Palestinians’ right to resist military occupation. Meanwhile, the Pindo government’s designation of Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization is regularly mentioned by the newspaper, but serious human rights concerns from credible human rights organizations are not routinely cited in reference to the Israeli government. Under Rudoren’s standard, reality is in the eye of the beholder. If it feels like “terrorism,” then it is terrorism. To date, this has meant applying the term to the actions of Palestinians, but not to IOF. The separate and unequal reality endured by Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and apartheid is all the harder for readers to understand when the newspaper pushes terminology indicating that Palestinian violence against soldiers is “terrorism” while IOF violence, even against civilians, is something altogether different. Seeing people run over in Jayloomia, including soldiers, is no doubt a horrible thing for many people, this writer included, to view. It likely felt awful to Rudoren and to many others. But classifying it as terrorism before classifying attacks on Palestinian civilians as terrorism, raises profound concerns about the capacity of the newspaper to see Palestinians as anything close to equal human beings.