Ethan Bronner’s Palestinian goodbye party

Ethan Bronner’s Palestinian goodbye party

on November 15, 2013
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Today The New York Times publishes a valentine to Artists4Israel, a group that paints pretty pictures in the occupation. Jodi Rudoren’s report from the occupied Golan Heights is yet another example of the Times’s deep fascination with the Israeli mindset even as the newspaper of record is incurious about Palestinian culture. As several recent posts show (here, here and here, at 1:17), the Times has a negative reputation among Palestinians and doesn’t seem to care.

Anyone who’s interested in this issue should watch this speech on the conflict last month by Times deputy national editor Ethan Bronner at Purchase College. It is very revealing.

Bronner is famous of course for being Jerusalem bureau chief for the Times three years ago when his son entered the Israeli Defense Forces, causing a great deal of embarrassment for the newspaper. Bronner addresses that in a somewhat pained tone, saying that it was his second son’s choice and “wasn’t the easiest thing that happened to me while I was there,” and his son was entering a force that had killed the fathers of two journalists who worked for the Times: Fares Akram and Khaled Abu Aker, whom he calls “my closest Palestinian collaborators.” But:

It didn’t drive us apart. We were joined by a lot of common beliefs. .. We were joined by a belief in truthseeking, in journalism, and in personal trust, all of which are increasingly lacking in this conflict.

(Bronner does not mention that his son’s decision was a factor in the decision by a third Palestinian who worked for the Times, Taghreed El-Khodary, to leave the newspaper.)

Fares Akram and Khaled Abu Aker were also, Bronner says, the only two Palestinians who came to his going-away party in Jerusalem a year-and-a-half ago.

There were actually three going-away parties. Bronner tells a story about them at the beginning of the speech. One was at PASSIA in Jerusalem, a Palestinian thinktank, and the party fizzled when six young “radical” Palestinians stood up and asked him about his son and then walked out. The second party was in Ramallah, hosted by a Palestinian, and Bronner says that because of traffic at Qalandiya crossing, he and three others from the Times (Isabel Kershner, Jodi Rudoren and photographer Rina Castelnuovo) got there an hour late, by which time almost everyone had left and the hummus had a brown crust. “It was really depressing.” So that was a bust too.

But the third party was a big success. It was in Jerusalem– a “classic contemporary Israeli event, there’s great food in Israel today, spectacular wine.” Some Likud government ministers came, and Israeli officials hovered about Fares Akram as if he were an “exotic bird” because they never got to see people from Gaza. Bronner doesn’t seem to understand how sad it is that the only two Palestinians at this party with great food and spectacular wine were both his employees.

As for the political wisdom of Bronner’s speech, it’s astute. He says that the two state solution is cooked (but the only solution in his view), that the Israeli government won’t give up settlements or Jerusalem, and that the sides are more polarized from one another than ever. They demonize one another, and it’s impossible to imagine their coexisting happily. As someone who just visited the place, I agree with him entirely.

But the image of Palestinians in this speech is tragic, when you consider that this was the Times’s top man in Israel for many years. Bronner makes several statements that help explain why Palestinians just don’t like the New York Times.

He says that the young radical Palestinians who came to his first going-away party believe in boycotting “anything having to do with America or Israel.” This is surely wrong; they likely believe in boycotting Israel and groups that seek to normalize the occupation. He says that Palestinians in refugee camps “have keys in some cases, deeds in other cases, to homes that no longer exist, from the 1940s.” Anyone who is sensitive to Palestinians would note that one house that does exist is the one the New York Times owns in West Jerusalem. He says that it’s a great shame that the Israelis can’t give up the settlements and the Palestinians can’t give up the right of return– thereby equating a crime that the world says should be stopped (the settlements) with the Palestinian insistence on their right to property taken from them in a crime (the Nakba). And Bronner repeatedly praises Israeli food and art and wine (spending a bit too much energy for my taste on the fact that Sigalit Landau makes pictures of herself naked).

The speech left me with a couple of questions. Has the Times covered BDS? The most important movement in Palestinian civil society, endorsed by countless Palestinian organizations and Josh Ruebner and Max Blumenthal who are on book tours right now—has the Times covered the boycott movement, and if not why not? Bronner’s ignorance about whether those young radicals are boycotting Israel or the U.S. is telling. (Update: A friend points out that Times coverage of BDS has been very thin.)

Also, why didn’t the Times team leave enough time to get through Qalandiya crossing? If someone were throwing a party for me in Ramallah, I would damn sure leave early and give myself a lot of time, especially if all four representatives of my organization were traveling together. And I’d probably take Hizma crossing. Being that late to a party in your honor seems to represent a kind of contempt.


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