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The Friedman update

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, whose clear-eyed analysis of the widening Middle East war have been so valuable since Oct. 7, sat down with Ezra Klein for an hour-long podcast last week. Highly recommended.

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An odd Suffolk/Globe/USAT poll on Israel and Hamas

I want to call your attention to what strikes me as a very odd poll that’s in today’s Boston Globe. A Suffolk University/Boston Globe/USA Today poll surveyed 1,000 New Hampshire voters and asked them about the war between Israel and Hamas. Support for Israel was high — 48.6%, with 15.8% supporting the Palestinians and 14.7% sympathizing equally with both sides.

But here’s the question that has me flummoxed: “When it comes to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, what do you think the US goal should be right now?” Take a look at the responses:

Respondents only got to pick one answer. Yet if a pollster had asked me this question, I would have answered “yes” to all four, with one caveat: I’d support a cease-fire only if it were accompanied by a demand that the hostages being held by Hamas be released simultaneously. Otherwise, provide military aid to Israel? Push for a cease-fire (and the release of the hostages)? Advocate for a two-state solution? Insist that Netanyahu step down? Yes, yes, yes and yes. I suppose the first two questions, calling for Israel to “eliminate Hamas” versus pushing for a cease-fire, are binary. But I’d have answered “yes” to both anyway because I support military aid to Israel and peace and justice.

I can’t imagine I’m alone in my thinking. Given that, I’m not sure that these polls results have any value. And I guess I’d have been with the 2.1% who refused to answer.

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Union members at New York Times and teachers unions push back at Gaza resolutions

New York Times journalists said to number in the “dozens” have formed an “Independence Caucus” within their union to push back on what they see as efforts by the leadership to take sides in the war between Israel and Hamas.

Alexandra Bruell of The Wall Street Journal reports that “some Times staffers chafed when the NewsGuild held a virtual meeting during which some members debated the merits of issuing a statement calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and an end to U.S. government aid to Israel, a move that they said would compromise their neutrality and put colleagues in war zones at risk.”

Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-CWA, comes across in the article as someone who is being whipsawed by various factions, telling the Journal: “We had hundreds of people write to us and call us on all sides. What we had was a listening session to hear from people directly.”

You might think that a union ought to restrict its purview to wages, benefits and protecting workers from capricious managers. But the NewsGuild, whose members include non-journalists, has in fact taken stances on broader issues over the years, including statements in favor of abortion rights.

Closer to home, the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s leadership recently voted to approve a resolution that calls for a cease-fire as well as “an end to our government’s complicity with Israel’s genocidal assault on the people of Gaza and the intent to take over their territory.” David Mancuso, in the newsletter Contrarian Boston, writes that the Anti-Defamation League has called the resolution “a perverse position,” and that the Newton Teachers Association demanded that the state union “retract its statement immediately.”

It strikes me as unnecessary and counterproductive for unions to take positions that have nothing to do with the important work of representing their members — all of their members, many of whom may not be on board with the political views of their leadership.

That’s even more important with the NewsGuild, whose members are called upon to cover the news — to borrow a phrase from the Times’ past — “without fear or favor.”

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How one-sided historical narratives distort coverage of the Israel-Hamas war

My Northeastern colleague Laurel Leff has written a smart analysis for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz showing how two competing origin stories — one frequently told, one largely ignored — have helped tilt public sentiment toward the Palestinian side in the war between Israel and Hamas. You should be able to read her piece with free registration.

Leff looked at “more than 500 news articles and opinion pieces appearing in the U.S.’s top 50 newspapers in the six weeks after the [Oct. 7] attack that contained various combinations of terms related to the 1948 conflict.” What she found was that though the press frequently cited the Nakba — the “catastrophe” — that sent some 700,000 Palestinians into exile in 1948, references to the Holocaust are lacking, even though Israel was created for the express purpose of providing a Jewish homeland following the devastating genocide that took place at the hands of Nazi Germany.

The purpose of Leff’s analysis is not to argue that the Palestinians don’t have legitimate grievances; rather, she writes that too many people are making moral judgments as to who’s right and who’s wrong without considering the full context. Among the news organizations she cites as falling short are The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Associated Press. She writes:

Several reasons account for the Nakba’s eclipsing the Holocaust in post-October 7 American media coverage. The press likely assumes the Holocaust’s role is so baked into public understanding that it doesn’t need to be spelled out. In addition, the 1948 displacement explains events in Gaza in a way Holocaust survivors settling in Israel proper does not. Palestinian activists also seem more determined to propel their 1948 narrative into public consciousness.

Whatever the reasons, the result is a void. A powerful state controlled by Jews emerges out of nowhere and immediately persecutes and displaces Arabs living in its midst. Who the Jews are, why they are there, what they hope to create is never explicated. Into the void flows more noxious accounts, of colonial settlers who migrated to the region only to pillage and exploit, of white supremacists whose sole interest is in subjugating an indigenous population.

I hope you’ll read Laurel’s entire piece. This is a moment that calls for radical understanding. Just as we can’t overlook the reality of the Nakba and the ongoing repression of Palestinians, so, too, we must take into account the reality that 6 million Jews had just been murdered in the Holocaust, and that the world came together to create a Jewish homeland in a place to which they had ancient ties — and where hundreds of thousands of Jews were already living.

These days, the competing claims between Israelis and Palestinians appear to be beyond resolution, and perhaps they are. But we can begin by taking into account the full history, not just part of it.

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Report: A journalist was killed and six were injured by Israeli forces in Lebanon

Map via the Committee to Protect Journalists shows that 81 journalists and media workers have been killed so far in 2023, with most of those deaths concentrated in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon.

The news agency Reuters, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are blaming an Israeli tank crew for an attack in southern Lebanon on Oct. 13 that killed a Reuters videographer and wounded six others. The videographer was 37-year-old Issam Abdallah. According to an in-depth investigation by Reuters journalists Maya Gebeily, Anthony Deutsch and David Clarke, Israeli officials denied that they target journalists but did not produce any specifics in response to the findings.

The Reuters report is detailed, including numerous images to back up what Gebeily, Deutsch and Clarke found. They wrote:

Reuters spoke to more than 30 government and security officials, military experts, forensic investigators, lawyers, medics and witnesses to piece together a detailed account of the incident. The news agency reviewed hours of video footage from eight media outlets in the area at the time and hundreds of photos from before and after the attack, including high-resolution satellite images.

Especially disturbing is this: “The group of seven reporters from AFP, Al Jazeera and Reuters were all wearing blue flak jackets and helmets, most with ‘PRESS’ written on them in white letters.”

The war between Israel and Hamas — which has included forays into Lebanon, where Hamas ally Hezbollah is based — has proved to be unusually deadly for the press, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. As of today, CPJ investigations show that “at least 63 journalists and media workers were among the more than 18,000 killed” since Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists killed more than 1,200 people in Israel and took more than 200 hostages. Of those 63 media workers who lost their lives, 56 were Palestinian, four Israeli and three Lebanese.

CPJ notes that the Israeli Defense Forces have said they can’t guarantee the safety of journalists in the Gaza Strip. That’s unacceptable, and I hope the Biden administration pressures the Israeli government to protect media workers — as well as innocent civilians, thousands of whom have been killed as a result of Israel’s overwhelming response to Hamas’ terrorism.

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Sanders’ principled stand

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ stance on the war between Israel and Hamas is thoughtful, nuanced and respectful of the need for a solution that allows Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and dignity. In keeping with that, he’s refused to endorse a permanent cease-fire. So, naturally, some of his supporters on the progressive left are angry with him. Free link to this New York Times story.

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Boston Globe editor on covering the Israel-Hamas war: ‘None of this is easy’

Boston Globe editor Nancy Barnes has sent a message to her staff that speaks to the strains of covering the war between Israel and Hamas. The Globe doesn’t have any journalists who are actually reporting on the conflict from the Middle East, but it regularly publishes news from wire services, and that leads to complaints from readers about tone and emphasis. Her message, provided by a trusted source, follows.

Dear all,

The war between Israel and Hamas has had far-reaching consequences, with strong sentiments and emotions rippling throughout communities around the world. It is being felt by every major institution in the country, the media writ large, our own newsroom, and our colleagues.

Questions have been raised by readers, subscribers and staffers about how we are framing the conflict, the choice of photos we make, the headlines we write, and the adjectives we use to describe these awful events. Every decision is scrutinized.

We want you to know that we take these questions very seriously as we grapple with how to tell this important story carefully and fairly, knowing that our choices will not make everyone happy,

We are discussing this as a leadership group. We have reached out to other newsrooms and standards and practices editors around the country to hear how they are weighing these issues. We have been listening to concerns staff members have raised with us, and we appreciate your willingness to bring those to us. Based on that input, [managing editor] Jen Peter and [senior assistant managing editor for production] Mary Creane have convened a small group to debate on an ongoing basis whether we need to issue any new style guidance. We generally follow the Associated Press stylebook, but not always.

None of this is easy, and we know it’s especially hard on those of you whose personal and family histories are enmeshed in this conflict. My door is open, and I will make myself available to anyone who has thoughts they want to share.


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Friedman’s dark vision

Thomas Friedman has been indispensable in the aftermath of Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel and the war that is now under way in Gaza. Here’s a free link to his latest, which is very dark indeed.

He calls Benjamin Netanyahu “the worst leader in its [Israel’s] history — maybe in all of Jewish history,” someone who is incapable or unwilling to make any of the diplomatic concessions needed to bring about even the slightest glimmer of a more hopeful future. Friedman also argues that, unlike in previous conflicts, Israel really does face an existential threat, with Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic militias in Iraq, Houthis in Yemen, Iran and even Vladimir Putin’s Russia “threatening Israel with a 360-degree war all at once.”

“It is crystal clear to me, Friedman writes, “that Israel is in real danger — more danger than at any other time since its War of Independence in 1948.”

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Two Globe journalists are among more than 750 decrying Gaza war coverage

Two Boston Globe journalists have signed an open letter that criticizes the Western media for their coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas. According to The Washington Post (free link), more than 750 journalists from dozens of media outlets have signed the letter, which begins:

Israel’s devastating bombing campaign and media blockade in Gaza threatens newsgathering in an unprecedented fashion. We are running out of time.

More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s four-week siege. Included in the mounting death toll are at least 35 journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in what the group calls the deadliest conflict for journalists since it began tracking deaths in 1992. Scores more have been injured, detained, gone missing or seen their family members killed.

As reporters, editors, photographers, producers, and other workers in newsrooms around the world, we are appalled at the slaughter of our colleagues and their families by the Israeli military and government.

We are writing to urge an end to violence against journalists in Gaza and to call on Western newsroom leaders to be clear-eyed in coverage of Israel’s repeated atrocities against Palestinians.

The Globe journalists who signed the letter are Peter Bailey-Wells, a multi-platform editor on the Express Desk, and Sahar Fatima, a digital editor for metro coverage. Another signer, Abdallah Fayyad, recently left the Globe’s opinion section to take a position at Vox. “My hope for this letter is to push back on the culture of fear around this issue, and to make decision-makers and reporters and editors think twice about the language that they use,” Fayyad told the Post.

Although the letter makes reference to Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, in which more than 1,400 people were killed and 200 were taken hostage, the emphasis is on the way that Israel has conducted its campaign against Hamas in Gaza. As the Post notes, “Most strikingly, the letter argues that journalists should use words like ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’ to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.”

The letter may also raise issues at news organizations that ban their journalists from taking sides on controversial matters, although this may prove to be less of an issue than it might have at one time. Several years ago news organizations like NPR and the Globe loosened some of their restrictions on political activities, especially those that advocated racial justice.

Frankly, if I worked at the Globe I would not have signed the open letter because I don’t think it sufficiently acknowledges the suffering of Israelis or their right to self-defense. But it doesn’t strike me that Bailey-Wells’ or Fatima’s journalistic fairness will be compromised because they chose to sign.

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A smart though dispiriting conversation on how Israel should deal with Hamas

Ezra Klein’s New York Times podcast is always worth listening to, and now he’s back at the mic following a break so that he could finish a book project. I recommend this conversation with Zack Beauchamp of Vox, who recently wrote a deeply reported article headlined “What Israel should do now.” I should go back and read it, though I doubt I’m going to learn anything I didn’t already learn from the wide-ranging, hour-long podcast.

I couldn’t possibly summarize everything that Beauchamp and Klein have to say, but the top-line takeaway is that Israel should stop its all-out war in Gaza and instead switch to a counterterrorism campaign aimed at rooting out the Hamas leadership — and that should include targeted assassinations. The reason (other than basic decency), Beauchamp explains, is that Hamas wants as many Palestinian civilians to die as possible in order to advance its propaganda efforts.

Even if Israel is successful at ending the terrorist threat, it’s not at all clear what should happen next. It’s a horrible dilemma with no good solutions.

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