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NY Times Misleads on Rafah Crossing & Rafah Ruling

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By: Gilead Ini

Israel shut down the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. So said the New York Times.

No one of consequence denies the World Court called for an end to Israeli military operations in Rafah. So argued the New York Times.

In both cases, the news was false — as reporting even in the New York Times would eventually make clear. But the paper has refused to correct its misleading stories, allowing them instead to continuously misinform readers.

 

The Rafah Crossing

Those who come across the newspaper’s May 27 online story about difficulties getting aid to Gazans, for example, are flatly told that “Israel closed … the Rafah crossing, where a majority of aid had been coming in.” The story repeats for good measure: “The crossing remains closed after it was seized and shut down by Israel during its incursion into Rafah.”

An earlier piece likewise charges that “Israeli forces seized and closed” the Rafah crossing. Another states that “The Israeli seizure of the Rafah crossing, in what Israel called a limited operation into Rafah, halted the flow of aid into the enclave through that portal.”

By the time the paper began hedging its language — for example, when it subsequently reported that “Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian officials have wrangled over who is to blame for the closure” — readers had already been told who, purportedly, is to blame.

But the Egyptian closure of the crossing has long been clear.

The Associated Press has reported that “Egypt refuses to reopen its side of the Rafah crossing until control of the Gaza side is handed back to Palestinians. The Wall Street Journal has reported that “The Egyptian government closed its side of the crossing in protest and threatened to downgrade Egypt’s diplomatic representation in Israel.”

According to Reuters, “Egyptian officials and sources say humanitarian operations are at risk from military activity and that Israel needs to hand the crossing back to Palestinians before it starts operating again.” Earlier, Reuters reported that “Egypt has rejected an Israeli proposal for the two countries to coordinate to re-open the Rafah crossing between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, and to manage its future operation, two Egyptian security sources said.”

On Sunday, the wire service described “Egypt sticking to its position that Israel must withdraw from the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing for it to operate again,” citing two Egyptian security sources.

And CNN cited an admission by Egypt’s state media about the country’s stonewalling:

Egypt has refused to coordinate with Israel regarding the Rafah crossing ‘due to the unacceptable Israeli escalation,’ Egypt’s state-run media Al-Qahera News said on Saturday, citing a senior official.

Although CAMERA informed the New York Times of reports, with substantiation from Egyptian officials, attesting to Egypt’s closure of its border crossing, the paper refused to correct.

This week, though, it finally admitted what it had previously concealed: “Egypt has shuttered its side of the Rafah crossing since Israel took control of the other side of the crossing, and Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian officials have wrangled over how to reopen the crossing to aid.”

It owes past and future readers of its other stories a correction.

 

The ICJ Ruling

The New York Times likewise misreported a ruling about Rafah by the International Court of Justice. A May 28 story mentions “an order International Court of Justice last week that appeared to call for Israel to stop its military offensive” in that city. It continued:

But the wording of the court’s order — which called on Israel to immediately halt any actions in Rafah, “which may inflict upon the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that would bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” — was ambiguous. Israeli officials have argued that the ruling allowed it to continue fighting in Rafah because the military would not inflict such conditions.

And it is true that Israeli officials have argued as much. But they aren’t the only ones. Nor are they the ones that readers would find most compelling. Four of five ICJ judges who weighed in with “declarations” or dissents” appended to the court’s decision broadly agreed that fighting could continue in Rafah.

To cite only Israeli officials, as this Times piece does, is to effectively conceal the views of these judges in an apparent effort to downplay their interpretation of the ruling. It is a serious error of omission, which we have called on the newspaper to correct. (It has not.)

The paper’s other coverage on the question is a grab-bag. If you stumble upon one story, you’d be told that the ICJ “ruled last week that Israel must halt its military offensive in Rafah,” with the paper again concealing authoritative views to the contrary. If you turn to another piece, though, you’d learn that “some of the court’s judges arguing that Israel could still conduct some military operations in Rafah under the terms of their decision.”

The paper devoted an entire feature to the question of what the ICJ said about Rafah. But here, too, it clearly strained to minimize certain views in support of its preferred interpretation.

The author, Amanda Taub, stacks the deck by listing at the top of the article legal commentators who believe the ruling requires Israel to end its offensive — she casts this as proof of a “substantial consensus among legal experts” — but avoids mentioning the multiple ICJ judges who have a different view until paragraph 22.

The piece ignores other dissenting commentators — for example Michael Sfard, a stridently critic of Israel quoted elsewhere the Times agreeing with the aforementioned judges: “This decision does not order a halt to every military action in Rafah — only military activity that does not enable life to continue in Rafah.”

Even with commentators she doesn’t ignore, Taub isn’t content to let them speak for themselves. In one passage, she counts legal expert Stefan Talmon among those who say the court effectively ordered a halt to the offensive. Per the Times reporter:

Stefan Talmon, a professor of international law at the University of Bonn in Germany, said in an interview with Der Spiegel, a German newspaper, that the order only allowed for the military operation to continue if Israel ensured the civilian population could be supplied with food, water, and medicine. However, he believed that would be difficult to implement in practice. In effect, therefore, the offensive had to be halted.

On social media, though, Talmon appeared to argue the opposite (note his emphasis by capitalization and bolding):

n the Der Spiegel interview, too, his message seems different than that conveyed by the Times. Here, Talmon flatly states that “the ICJ has not generally prohibited Israel from using force — not even in Rafah.” He continues: “It can also carry out a limited military operation provided that this does not lead to the complete or partial physical destruction of the Palestinian population.” This clarification is “crucial,” he says, pointing to the difference between the court’s language about Gaza and its unqualified language about Russia.

Speaking about the provision of food, water, and medicine, Talmon does share his feeling that, “in practice, it seems to me to be difficult to achieve,” as the Times notes. But does he say in the interview that this — a logistical challenge that “seems” “to him” to be “difficult” — means the offensive must be halted? According to Taub’s paraphrase of his words, yes. But in fact, no. It is the reporter’s own embellishment — and damning evidence of the paper’s eagerness to put a thumb on the scales.

 

Prior ICJ Errors

One might think the New York Times would be more cautious in interpreting the ICJ’s order after blundering in its reporting of a prior decision by the court.

In January, the ICJ issued an order in the “genocide” case brought by South Africa. According to a Feb 3 news story in the New York Times, “the International Court of Justice recently issued an interim ruling suggesting the accusation [of genocide] was ‘plausible.’” Multiple other news and opinion pieces made similar claims.

But in April, Joan Donoghue, the president of the ICJ at the time of the ruling, pointedly noted that this was false. Referring directly to claims such as those levelled in the Times, Donoghue clarified that that the court “did not decide—and this is something where I’m correcting what’s often said in the media—it didn’t decide that the claim of genocide was plausible.”

The newspaper is aware of this error, too, and owes its readers a correction.

            (CAMERA.org)

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) is an international media-monitoring and educational organization founded in 1982 to promote accurate and unbiased coverage of Israel and the Middle East. CAMERA is a non-profit, tax-exempt, and non-partisan organization under section 501 (c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code. To learn more or receive our newsletters please visit CAMERA.org.

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