Israel’s parliament has passed a law against encouraging boycotts on Israel. Naturally, the parliamentary debate and the text of the bill itself were in Hebrew. Thus, the American news media get to explain what’s in the bill, why it was passed, and what it means. That’s where the problem arises. It also leads to an Internet age trick that tells volumes about how the American media operates nowadays. First, the background, then the rather shocking trick.
Fairly typical of coverage is the New York Times article by Isabel Kershner, headlined “Israel Bans Boycotts Against the State.” It casts the central conflict around the bill in these terms:
Critics and civil rights groups denounced the new law as antidemocratic and a flagrant assault on the freedom of expression and protest. The law’s defenders said it was a necessary tool in Israel’s fight against what they called its global delegitimization.
The article’s text makes it clear who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are supposed to be and portrayed the law as “antidemocratic” and a sign of creeping totalitarianism in the Middle East’s only democratic state.
In fact, as even Kershner reported, there is a debate within the Israeli government about the law, with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein backing the bill and Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon arguing that elements of it border on unconstitutional restrictions on speech. There will almost certainly be a legal challenge and the law might well be modified or overturned completely. That is normal democratic procedure.
If the reporting wasn’t bad enough, the newspaper also published an editorial, “Not Befitting a Democracy,” that begins dishonestly:
Israel’s reputation as a vibrant democracy has been seriously tarnished by a new law intended to stifle outspoken critics of its occupation of the West Bank.
After all, the law is not focused on justifying the country’s policy on the West Bank — an argument used since the Times expects its readers to agree that the law is terrible if posed in those terms — but primarily against boycotts organized by those who want to wipe the country as a whole off the map.
After quoting criticisms from the leftist newspaper Ha’aretz (not identified as such, of course) that this law would transform “Israel’s legal code into a disturbingly dictatorial document,” and the ADL, the editorial continues:
Israel’s conservative government is determined to crush a growing push by Palestinians and their supporters for boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel. Since last year, many Israeli artists and intellectuals, as well international artists, have canceled performances and programs in Israel and the West Bank to protest the settlements. The bill’s sponsor, Zeev Elkin, said his concern was that the calls for a boycott “increasingly have come from within our own midst.
“With peace talks stalemated, Palestinians are searching for ways to keep alive their dream of a two-state solution, including a push for United Nations recognition this fall. Israel risks further isolating itself internationally with this attempt to stifle critics.”
Note that the Times does not hint at why the peace talks have stalled — involving two and a half years of the Palestinian Authority refusing to negotiate — and views it as being taken for granted that the Palestinians merely dream of a two-state solution. To portray the BDS movement as part of the way the Palestinians keep their dreams alive is to deny its real goal.
Aside from the Palestinian Authority, the majority of anti-Israel grassroots’ boycott efforts in the West come from groups supporting or even directed by Hamas, which opposes a two-state solution and negotiations with Israel altogether.
But here’s the trick. In its original version, Kershner’s article contained the following two paragraphs that were published online:
“For years now there have been laws in the United States that come with fines and prison sentences for anyone who calls for a boycott of Israel, and yet the Israeli who persuades American companies to boycott us is completely exempt. That is ludicrous,’” Mr. Elkin was quoted as saying in the popular Yediot Aharnot newspaper.
He was referring to a federal law in the United States that forbids Americans from complying with, furthering or supporting a boycott of a country that is friendly to the United States.
This is important information since any reader told that the new Israeli law is the same as existing American laws would conclude that the new measure isn’t so horrible, anti-democratic, or a sign of Israel’s collapsing democracy. But these two paragraphs were quickly deleted after their original online publication. The original title, “Israel Outlaws Pro-Palestinian Boycotts,” was also deleted perhaps since readers might be less sympathetic if given a headline saying the boycott was “against the state,” implying some kind of cover-up was being perpetrated to protect a regime rather than a nation.
At any rate, the excised material contradicted the premise that the Times wanted to promote. So out it went. Such a flagrant action to torpedo balance would have outraged editors decades ago, yet now that’s the way things are done in the modern advocacy, agenda-driven media.
All the news that’s fit to print, indeed!