by Leo Rennert
Israel is grappling with a couple of horrific instances of Jews attacking Arabs.
Last Thursday, according to the Jerusalem police, a brawl, sparked by complaints of an Israeli girl that she was harassed by Arabs, mushroomed into a "lynching" assault on Palestinian youths that left one 17-year-old Arab temporarily unconscious. On the same day, a Palestinian taxi was fire-bombed in the West Bank, inflicting burns on its occupants.
Seven Israeli teenagers have been arrested in connection with the first incident. Prime Minister Netanyahu phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas assuring him that perpetrators of such violence will be punished to the full extent of the law. As they obviously should be.
But are there broader lessons to be learned from these violent episodes? Are these just isolated incidents? Or do they reveal basic flaws in Israeli society?
The New York Times, which has a history of ignoring or downplaying Arab-on-Jews violence, leaves readers with no doubt about its own conclusions.
In an above-the-fold, front-page article with a triple-deck headline, it cites these incidents as evidence that Israel has created a "poisoned political environment (that) has affected the moral compass of youths growing within it."
And to drive this point home, it adds that "the two episodes, along with a new report by the State Department labeling attacks by Jews on Palestinians as terrorism, have opened a stark national conversation about racism, violence, and how Israeli society could have come to this point." (YOUNG ISRAELIS HELD IN ATTACK ON ARAB YOUTHS - A TENSE UNDERCURRENT - Questions on Conflict's Effects on the Moral Compass of Young" by Isabel Kershner, Aug. 21).
Which prompts a few observations:
Kershner is seizing on a couple of terrible incidents to indict all of Israeli society. Her pejorative generalizations have no basis in reality. Yes, Israel is far from perfect, but it need not take a back-seat to any other society when it comes to dealing with its own violent miscreants. To draw a parallel with neo-Nazis, the Taliban and the KKK, as Kershner does, is unconscionable.
Furthermore, the Times doesn't come with an exemplary record when it gives top front-page play to these two incidents of Jews attacking Arabs because it has a long paper trail of rationalizing, ignoring or minimizing Arab attacks on Jews. For example, when two Palestinians massacred a Jewish family -- a rabbi, his wife and three children, including a 3-month-old baby in her crib, Kershner wrote a much shorter piece that ended up on page 16 -- not on the front page with blazing headlines.
Kershner's citing the State Department labeling Jewish attacks on Arabs as "terrorism," is also a bit rich since she regularly substitutes "militants" when writing about Arabs attacking Jews.
In pumping up the brutal attack on the Arab teenager, Kershner informs readers in her second paragraph that it left him unconscious. And she repeats in her fourth paragraph, that "the young man was beaten unconscious and has remained in the hospital." It is only when readers turn to the jump page and reach Paragraph No. 10, when many other readers already have turned their attention to other stories, that Kershner acknowledges that the teenager "regained consciousness in the hospital on Sunday." Why not report this fact at the same time as his initial unconsciousness? Reuters, in its dispatch, mentions it up high. But not the New York Times.
Kershner similarly hides important facts that don't comport with her stark indictment of Israeli society. She belatedly acknowledges, in the 26th paragraph of a 29-paragraph article, that "Jewish and Arab residents of the city mingle freely in the parks and shopping malls of West Jerusalem."
And even more belatedly, in the 27th paragraph, she finally takes notice of "suicide bombings that killed scores on buses and in cafes after the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000. In some of the tenser predominantly Arab neighborhoods, Israeli cars and buses are frequently stoned."
Yet, would Kershner ever write in the wake of such incidents that Palestinians society is steeped in "racism and violence"? Don't count on it. Selective, asymmetrical reporting that hypes Jewish sins but absolves Palestinian society is a guiding principle of her coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers.
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