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Ron Radosh

The NY Times Magazine’s False Cover Story exposed by Sol Stern

February 14th, 2011 - 9:48 am

You can count on the New York Times to continually let its readers know how Israel is the guilty party when it comes to finding out why the Israeli-Palestinian peace process fell apart. This time, its readers were given a 4700 word cover article in the paper’s Sunday magazine by Bernard Avishai, who favors the replacement of Israel by what he calls a secular “Hebrew republic” open to all who inhabit its borders, rather than the existing Jewish state. Avishai is also a “peace activist,” although the magazine does not inform his readers of this.

The heart of Avishai’s claim is that a chance recently existed “to end the Israeli occupation and found a Palestinian state.”  Its essence took place in 2008 when Ehud Olmert was prime minister of Israel, and he and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority engaged in two-year long negotiations and made what Avishai calls “far-reaching proposals.”  As Avishai relates the story, both sides almost concluded an agreement that would have ended with a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. Abbas, he says, “had been most flexible on Israel’s security demands”; Olmert had “conceded to Abbas every major demand Palestinians had made for decades.”

So what happened? You can read Avishai’s article yourself. But the reason this agreement came to naught is simple: Israel backed out! As Avishai writes: “Olmert made his most comprehensive offer to Abbas on Sept.16,2008, the opening day of the General Assembly in New York. Abbas then ‘went silent.’” But it wasn’t his fault. Abbas was ready to resume talks, but corruption charges and the Gaza war distracted him, and he failed to send someone to a talk proposed in Washington by Condoleezza Rice. But he made it clear he was ready to continue negotiations until a settlement took place. Olmert, facing his own problems, did not respond. And then, the Netanyahu government won the Israeli election, and as we all know, the hard-line new PM is opposed to a settlement with the Palestinians.

So, Avishai argues, now is the time for President Obama to use his position to resuscitate peace talks and pick up where Olmert and Abbas left off before it is too late.

The New York Times, in running Avishai’s lead piece, and putting it online as well in its world news section, makes it clear they consider Avishai a journalist who has delivered a major scoop — the first person to present all the previously hidden details of what had ensued and had led to abandonment of the one moment that both sides had come closest to reaching a deal.

The problem is, Avishai’s article is a complete fraud! Thank God for Sol Stern, a journalist who years ago, ironically, used to write from Israel for the NYT as a special reporter, and who himself used to have feature articles in the New York Times Magazine. But that was decades ago, when Stern was on the political left and was an editor of Ramparts magazine. Now he is a conservative working at the Manhattan Institute; the New York Times is not exactly knocking at his door.

Writing today at Jewish Ideas Daily, a relatively new website edited by former Commentary editor-in-chief Neal Kozodoy, Sol Stern demolishes Avishai’s article, and  not only makes mincemeat of it, but embarrasses the editors of the magazine for even having run the article in the first place, since, as he proves, there is nothing new in it and, as Stern writes, “what’s new isn’t true.”

What Sol Stern has produced is nothing less than a tour de force. His article should be mandatory reading in journalism schools for how the mainstream media gets things wrong, and especially how what was once the paper of record does so. First, Stern shows that Avishai’s narrative appeared January 27 in a supposed scoop by Ethan Bronner, who wrote that progress towards peace was stopped when the new “hard-line” government of Benjamin Netanyahu took over.  Bronner based his article on an interview that none other than Bernard Avishai had conducted with Olmert and Abbas earlier. Now, a short time later, “the paper has twice put its weight behind pieces of copycat journalism that…happen to fortify its own editorial position” on the so-called peace process.

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