The New York Times Interprets Israel
by Elliott Abrams
Last Sunday The New York Times printed a summary correction of all the errors made in a December 2 article by its Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren. Her Times story was about Israel’s announcement that it would proceed toward additional construction in Jerusalem and several settlements, including in the area known as E-1 that separates Jerusalem from the city of Ma’ale Adumim in the West Bank.
Here is the correction, in full:
An article on Dec. 2 about Israel’s decision to move forward with planning and zoning for settlements in an area east of Jerusalem known as E1 described imprecisely the effect of such development on access to the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and on the West Bank. Development of E1 would limit access to Ramallah and Bethlehem, leaving narrow corridors far from the Old City and downtown Jerusalem; it would not completely cut off those cities from Jerusalem. It would also create a large block of Israeli settlements in the center of the West Bank; it would not divide the West Bank in two. And because of an editing error, the article referred incompletely to the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state. Critics see E1 as a threat to the meaningful contiguity of such a state because it would leave some Palestinian areas connected by roads with few exits or by circuitous routes; the proposed development would not technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
By any standard that’s a remarkable correction. Let me rephrase it without the Times‘s defensive use of “imprecisely.” A more honest correction would have said this: “The Times reported, not as opinion but as fact in a news story, that the new construction being planned by Israel would cut Ramallah and Bethlehem off from Jerusalem, divide the West Bank in two, and make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. None of those assertions was true, so we have to withdraw all of them.”
Now how is it that three such glaring errors are made in one Times story? After all, a simple glance at the map would show for example that from Ma’ale Adumim to the Dead Sea is 15 kilometers, and that the proposed construction would not cut the West Bank in two or make contiguity impossible. It is just plain extraordinary that the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times knows so little about the geography of the Jerusalem area that she could write such things. Here’s my theory: that just about everyone she knows –all her friends– believe these things, indeed know that they are true. Settlements are bad, the right-wing Israeli government is bad, new construction makes peace impossible and cuts the West Bank in half and destroys contiguity and means a Palestinian state is impossible. They just know it, it’s obvious, so why would you have to refer to a map, or talk to people who would tell you it’s all wrong? This was precisely what was feared when Ms. Rudoren was named the Times’s bureau chief: that she would move solely in a certain political and social milieu, the rough Israeli equivalent of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This embarrassing episode–one story, many errors and corrections–may lead her to be more careful. One has to hope so, and to hope that both she and her editors reflect again on the thinking and the pattern of associations that lead a correspondent to misunderstand the issues so badly.