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The NYT and the Flotilla Inquiry

The New York Times, whose regional bureau chief has a son in the Israeli military, reports that Israel has just appointed a panel charged with investigating its attack on an aid flotilla that killed nine aid volunteers, including a 19-year-old American.

Isabel Kershner, who is an Israeli citizen and has refused to answer questions about her possible family ties to the Israeli military, writes the report.

Kershner reports that the White House hailed the announcement of the panel as an “important step forward,” stating that “the structure and terms of reference of Israel’s proposed independent public commission can meet the standard of a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation.”

In her story, Kershner reports that the panel will include eminent Irish Nobel Peace Laureate Lord David Trimble as an observer, but omits the fact that Trimble is a leader of the newly formed pro-Israel organization “Friends of Israel” and is close to Netanyahu associate Dore Gold.

Irish journalist Patrick Roberts writes, “This is a little like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.”

Kershner reports that the other foreign observer is Brig. Gen. Ken Watkins, former judge advocate general of Canadian Forces, but fails to mention that Watkins is known for stonewalling a 2009 House of Commons investigation into Afghan prisoner abuse.

One House of Commons member commented at the time about Watkins’ lack of cooperation with the investigation: “Obviously the cover-up continues.”

Kershner informs readers that the panel will be led by a retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice, but fails to mention reports that he does not believe in such a panel and opposed foreign participation.

Kershner reports in the bottom half of her story that Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper calls the proposed panel a “farce,” but does not mention that this is a longstanding pattern for Israeli governmental investigations (and lack thereof) into military human rights abuses. For example:

° From 2001 through 2006 the Israeli State Attorney’s office received more than 500 complaints about abuse of interrogees. There was not a single criminal investigation.

° In 2005 Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem released a report entitled “Israeli military grants impunity when soldiers kill Palestinian civilians,” finding that although Israeli soldiers had killed at least 1,694 Palestinian civilians, including 536 minors, only one soldier had been convicted of “causing the death of a Palestinian.”

° In 2009 eleven Israeli human rights organizations released a joint report in which they called on the Israeli government to “Stop whitewashing suspected crimes in Gaza.”

° In 2010 B’Tselem found that the Israeli military’s “cover-up of phosphorous shelling in Gaza proves army cannot investigate itself.” An Amnesty International report concurred in this conclusion, finding that Israel’s investigations into Cast Lead had not met “international standards of independence, impartiality, transparency, promptness and effectiveness.”

In her story Kershner reports Netanyahu’s allegation that the blockade “is necessary to prevent Hamas from smuggling in weapons or materials needed to make them, and to weaken Hamas control.” She goes on to acknowledge that “there is a growing consensus abroad that the blockade has taken a toll mainly on civilians,” but neglects to report the fact that Israeli closures of Gaza preceded the election of Hamas and that the “toll” is massive and calamitous.

She also fails to include any of the vast evidence for such a consensus, for example:

Nearly 99 percent of Gaza’s 4,000 fishermen are now considered either poor (making between $100 and $190 a month) or very poor (earning less than $100 a month); there are acute, sometimes lethal shortages of fuel, cash, cooking gas and other basic supplies; 98 percent of industrial operations have been shut down since 2007; and 3,500 families are still displaced from last year’s invasion due to Israel’s blockade on building materials.

Although the Israeli government has failed to investigate itself honestly and thoroughly through the years, a great many respected international human rights organizations from Christian Aid to the Red Cross have done so, documenting a pattern of widespread human rights abuses by the Israeli military.

In 2006 independent researchers Patrick O’Connor and Rachel Roberts found that since fall 2000:

“[T]hree of the leading human rights organizations focusing on Israel/Palestine – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Israeli organization B’Tselem – published 76 reports focused primarily on Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights, and four reports primarily focused on Palestinians abuses of Israeli or Palestinian rights. This weighting suggests that Israel has committed a disproportionate share of the human rights violations.”

During this time, the New York Times published two news stories on reports documenting Israeli human rights abuses and two stories on reports documenting Palestinian human rights abuses.

In other words, in its “even-handed” style, the New York Times covered fifty percent of the reports on human rights abuses committed by Palestinians, while covering under three percent of those detailing human abuses perpetrated by Israelis.

ALISON WEIR is executive director of If Americans Knew and a board member of the Council for the National Interest. She can be reached at contact@ifamericansknew.org

 

WORDS THAT STICK

 

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Alison Weir is executive director of  If Americans Knew and president of the Council for the National Interest. An excerpt of her book was published in the March 21-23, 2014 issue of CounterPunch. Upcoming book talks can be seen on the book’s website.

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