As regular readers know, I’m often critical of the New York Times’ reporting on various matters. But this morning, the ninth most popular article on the New York Times website, about the hard-leftist “Jewish Voice for Peace,” is not even a Times piece, but reprinted from a local San Francisco online startup called the Bay Citizen.
Journalistically, it’s a disaster. A few examples:
(1) Out of context quotes. After recounting a few incidents where left-wing Jews were treated badly, the piece goes on: “What’s happening is outlandish; the era of civil discourse has disappeared,” said Rabbi Stephen S. Pearce of Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco’s largest synagogue. Was Pearce referring to these incidents and/or the general hostile attitude of the Jewish community to JVP, to the mutual hostility of JVP and the organized Jewish community, or to JVP’s own confrontational tactics? The piece makes it seem like the first, but there’s no way to know from this out of context quote, and I’m guessing the quote is misleading. [UPDATE: Here’s a report of Rabbi Pearce participating in a delegation to Israel, a purpose of which was “to express the urgent need for all members of our communtiy to learn and use constructive tools for sharing concerns about Israel without descending into hurtful, hateful, and destructive vitriol.” Looks like Rabbi Pearce is concerned about the lack “civil discourse” emanating from groups like JVP, exactly the opposite of the impression you’d get from the article.]
(2) Credulity “Jewish Voice for Peace’s mailing list has risen to 100,000 from 35,000 since the start of the Gaza conflict, according to the organization; the number of chapters has grown to 27 from 7. From 2008 to 2009, the group’s operating budget, fueled by donations, grew 44 percent.” Who cares how big the mailing list is? JVP clearly has only hundreds of activists, not enough to fill a regional AIPAC meeting. Some of them, according to JVP itself, are non-Jews (“Jews and allies“), who like the idea of hiding their anti-Israel views behind a “Jewish” cloak. And many of them are “as a Jew”s–Jews, especially prominent among anti-Zionists, who have no affiliation with the rest of the Jewish community, other than to be able to say that “As a Jew, I.”* And a 44 percent increase from what? Without a baseline, who knows if this is significant. (UPDATE: And for that matter, it’s 2011. Wouldn’t it be useful to know if the 44 percent increase caused, apparently, by Operation Cast lead, continued in 2010?)
(3) Leaving out relevant information The article features one Rae Abileah, described as a JVP activist. It’s more than a little relevant, though, that Ms. Abileah is a national organizer for the radical left “Code Pink.” As numerous sources have pointed out, JVP isn’t a “Jewish” organization, but a leftist organization composed mostly of people of Jewish descent, who use the fact that they are Jewish strategically to support the leftist cause of being anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. But you wouldn’t learn of Ms. Abileah’s Code Pink activism from the Bay Citizen piece. Here are questions an enterprising reporter might have asked to JVP: “Can you identify any Bay Area JVP members who aren’t involved in far-left-wing activism more generally?” “Can you identify any Bay Area JVP activists who are involved in non-Israel-related Jewish causes?”
(4) Accepting your subject’s narrative The narrative of the piece, what it starts and ends with, is that unlike mainstream Jewish organizations, who are concerned about who and what will replace Hosni Mubarak, the JVP is uncritically supporting the Egyptian protesters. But wait a minute, the mainstream Jewish organizations’ concerns rest on the fact that Mubarak has preserved peace between Israel and Egypt, while a future Egyptian government may not. The article raises this point only obliquely, stating that Jewish organizations are concerned that the “demonstration in Cairo may ultimately threaten Israel.” But it’s all really about the peace treaty, and put in those terms, a good reporter might ask, “isn’t the Jewish Voice for Peace” at all concerned about “Peace?” And then a JVP spokesperson’s statement would make sense: “Ms. Surasky said she hoped a new political order in Egypt would help speed the end of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, which her group opposes.” Peace, in other words, is secondary (at best) to “ending the occupation.” A more probing reporter would have discovered that many JVP members also support the dismantlement of Israel (see here for an acknowledgment that JVP welcomes “anti-Zionists”), which is, shall we say, unlikely to come about by peaceful means.
Despite my criticisms of the Times, it clearly contains a lot of good reporting, and has a brand name to defend. Why does it want to dilute that brand by importing dreck from other sources?
[*UPDATE: This is important context in a piece about the relationship between JVP and mainstream Jewish groups: if much of JVP’s membership is composed of “non-Jews” and “as a Jews”, who are all welcome to be “anti-Zionists,” it’s hardly surprising that they aren’t welcomed with open arms by Jewish groups. “Hi Jewish community, we’re JVP. Some of us aren’t Jewish, and of the rest of us, many of us haven’t been affiliated in any way with the Jewish community in our adult lives. We want to boycott Israel, and welcome those who seek Israel’s destruction. Can we join the local Jewish Community association?” Fat chance.]
FURTHER UPDATE: Here’s a shocker: Article co-author Aaron Glantz is a veteran of leftist radio network Pacifica. And could the other co-author, Daniel Ming, be the same Daniel Ming as the Vasser student who was the author of a now-private anti-Israel blog? Given that there is a “Daniel Ming” on LinkedIn who studied at BirZeit University in the West Bank, who is now an intern at the Bay Citizen, I’d say it’s very likely. [UPDATE: Yes, it’s the same Daniel Ming.]
These are the folks on whom the Times is willing to stake its reputation? Admittedly, even ideologues can be good, objective journalists. But judging from this article, Glantz and Ming fail the test.