By Emanuel Miller, HonestReporting/World Israel News)
The New York Times is once again facing tough questions about its objectivity and impartiality regarding its coverage of Israel, as it has emerged that one of its most recent hires previously sought to justify and excuse terrorism against and, more specifically, blamed Israel for the actions of Palestinian suicide bombers who murdered hundreds of Israelis in the 2000s.
On November 3, The New York Times announced that it was welcoming a new reporter to its Jerusalem bureau. The press release on the Times’ website described Raja Abdulrahim as an “experienced foreign correspondent,” a “native Arabic speaker” and a “strong storyteller and writer.”
But that’s only part of the story.
In June 2002, while a junior at the University of Florida, Abdulrahim penned a guest column for the school newspaper, The Florida Independent Alligator, titled, “Palestinians driven to bombing,” in which she claimed:
“Another suicide bomber has attacked and the finger pointing has begun in every direction. But the fact is that the finger belongs not on the Palestinian Authority or some ‘Islamic militant group,’ it belongs squarely on Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces.”
This column was written during the most intense period of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel.
Between 2000 and 2005, 141 suicide attacks claimed the lives of 587 people. In 2002 alone, there were no less than 47 lethal suicide bombings, which left 238 dead and many more injured. Among those killed were Holocaust survivors and pregnant women along with their unborn babies, as perpetrators deliberately targeted civilians.
They struck buses, cafes, discos, shopping malls and busy streets in a bid to kill as many Israelis as possible.
And yet, Abdulrahim sought to blame Israel — not the Palestinian Authority government or Palestinian terror groups such as Hamas — for the carnage.
There is a term for this: Victim-blaming.
For Abdulrahim, this was not an isolated occurrence. In September 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, she wrote a letter published in The Independent Florida Alligator contending that it would be erroneous to refer to Hamas and Iranian-backed Hezbollah as “fundamentalist” or “terror organizations.”
She continued by downplaying barbaric violence, risibly suggesting that these groups “are not ‘terrorizing’ Israelis, they are just defending their land and lives.”
In the same letter, Abdulrahim started a paragraph thus: “Ever since its occupation in 1948, Israel has killed innocent Palestinians…”
This phrase is deeply troubling as it suggests that the formation of Israel resulted in the ‘occupation’ of land it has no rightful claim to. This is clearly not the case.
Does Abdulrahim believe that the Jewish people has a right to self-determination within any borders in the Land of Israel?
Furthermore, given that she bristled at the words “murdered innocent Israeli civilians,” does Abdulrahim view ordinary Palestinians as innocent but not average Israelis killed while going about their daily business?
While the articles written by Abdulrahim date back two decades, it is important for her to at the very least address them now that she has been given a regular platform at The New York Times to report on Israeli-Palestinian affairs.
If these were the words of a hot-headed, opinionated student whose views were not yet fully formed, then she should say so, clearly and swiftly. If Abdulrahim now sees the world differently, it is imperative for her to reassure readers.
However, despite calls on social media for her to do just that, Abdulrahim has thus far remained silent.
News Outlets Must Vet Journalists Better
The buck does not stop with Abdulrahim.
Over the past year, HonestReporting has revealed numerous examples of contributors, essayists and journalists working for well-known news outlets who have espoused anti-Israel and antisemitic views. Many have conflated terrorism with ‘resistance,’ or sought to explain away violence directed against Israeli civilians. At least one repeatedly compared Israel with the Nazis.
The problem is not limited to traditional media, either.
Just last week, HonestReporting documented how Twitter’s new Editorial Curator Lead for the Middle East and North Africa, Fadah Jassem, has a history of anti-Israel tweets, including at least one which apparently cited notorious antisemite Louis Farrakhan.
After HonestReporting pushed for an explanation, Jassem issued an apology.
It is clear that lessons need to be learned: As a matter of basic policy, news outlets including The New York Times, the BBC and others need to stop acting as megaphones for those who espouse anti-Israel or antisemtic views, especially when the ostensible job of such individuals is to report objectively on issues related to the Jewish state.
Until then, the integrity of the media as a whole is liable to be comprised.