NYT Writer’s Self-Evident Bias on Bedouin Evacuation Plan

It does not take any knowledge of the underlying issue to see the extreme and unprofessional bias in this New York Times article on the Israeli plan to relocate significant numbers of Bedouins. I confess myself almost entirely ignorant of Israel/Palestine issues, and of the specifics of the plan, and I had never heard of the writer, Isabel Kershner, before seeing this article. But the tone seemed off from the very beginning, and it quickly becomes obvious that whatever the plan might be, the reporter is not presenting the question fairly.

The article, about Bedouin protests of an Israeli plan to “regulate” them, early on paints a picture of the protestors as unhinged and violent, saying they “hurled stones at police forces, burned tires and blocked a main road for hours.” It does not mention the specifics of their grievances in these first paragraphs, making the violence appear senseless. Only later does the reader find out that the plan “calls for the evacuation of 35 Bedouin villages that are not recognized by the state and the resettlement of the residents in existing or new towns,” which might displace 30-40,000 people. In the face of what the article waits to disclose until the end, it seems the height of pro-government deference to accept Israel’s characterization of the plan as one of mere regularization and the smoothing of property rights.

Nowhere are Bedouin voices heard in Kershner’s article. We know them only as stone-throwers, opposed to moderate, sensible government regulatory plans. We do, however, hear from (1) a police spokesman, (2) the Israeli agency in charge of implementing the Bedouin plan (3) the Israeli foreign minister. Also mentioned are some anonymous Human Rights Organizations that object. But that’s 3 Israeli government authorities given voice to 0 Bedouins, with the only counterbalance coming from a notation late in the article that those concerned with human rights find the plan somewhat controversial.

As I say, I hadn’t heard of the author until reading the article. But I looked her up after, and I am not the first one to suggest she has a pro-Israel bias. She has been been alleged to hold a serious conflict of interest because of a PR connection her husband has with Israel, and attacked for her framing of issues. However, it is also true that vehemently pro-Israel New Republic editor Martin Peretz has accused her of somehow overvaluing Palestinian lives. (Kershner might use the fact that “both sides” have suggested she is biased as proof of her neutrality, but that common defense by journalists needs badly to be retired. One can be a hyper-nationalist and still fail to appease hyper-hyper-nationalists; the truth of a charge is determined by the facts, not by the correct alignment of interest groups against a person.)

This article is brief, but it’s egregious. A reporter’s basic duties include not reflexively accepting government terminology, such as allowing “regulation” to euphemize the expulsion of thousands from their homes. Add to that the subtle stripping of protestors’ humanity and voices on an issue with profound human rights implications, and I don’t think Kershner’s work is defensible.