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Jews, Israel and the New York Times - Jonathan Cook
Published Thursday 25/02/2010 (updated) 04/03/2010 17:48
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A recent assignment had me covering Israel's presumed links to the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh; it provoked some more thoughts about the New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner, the Jerusalem bureau chief at the center of a controversy since it was revealed last month that his son is serving in the Israeli army.

Despite mounting pressure to replace Bronner, the NYT's editors have so far refused to consider that he might be facing a conflict of interest or that it would be wise to post him elsewhere.

Last week, when suspicion for the assassination in Dubai started to fall on Israel's Mossad, a newspaper editor e-mailed to ask if I could ring up my "Israeli security contacts" for fresh leads. It was a reminder that Western correspondents in Israel are expected to have such contacts. The point was underlined later the same day when I spoke with a left-wing Israeli academic to get his take on Mabhouh's killing

I had turned to this Ashkenazi professor because he counts many veterans of the Israeli security services as friends. At the end of the interview, I asked him if he had any suggestions for people in the security services I might speak with. He replied: "Talk to Ethan [pronounced Eitan] Bronner. He has excellent contacts." Miss-hearing "Eitan", I asked how I could reach this expert on the veiled world of the Israeli security establishment. Was he employed at the professor's university? "No, ring the New York Times bureau," he responded incredulously. Oh, that Eitan.

A more interesting question than whether Bronner is now facing a conflict of interest over his son serving in the Israeli army, is whether the NYT reporter was facing such a conflict long before the latest revelations surfaced. Could it be that it is actually incumbent on Bronner, as the NYT's bureau chief, to have such a conflict of interest?

Consider this: The NYT has a regular response when it comes to turning a blind eye to reporters with conflicts of interest in Israel - aside, I mean, from the issue of the reporters' ethnic identification or nationality. For example, I am reminded of a recent predecessor of Bronner's at the Jerusalem bureau - an Israeli Jew - who managed to do regular service in the Israeli army reserves even while he was covering the Second Intifada. I am pretty sure his bosses knew of this, but, as with Bronner, did not think there were grounds for taking action.

Shortly after I wrote my first article on the Bronner issue, pointing out that most Western coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict is shaped by Jewish and Israeli journalists and that Palestinian voices are almost entirely excluded, a Jerusalem-based bureau chief asked to meet. Over a coffee he congratulated me, adding: "I'd be fired if I wrote something like that."

This reporter, who, unlike me, spends lots of time with the main press corps in Jerusalem, then made some interesting points. He wishes to remain anonymous but agreed to my passing on his observations. He calls Bronner's situation "the rule, not the exception," adding: "I can think of a dozen foreign bureau chiefs, responsible for covering both Israel and the Palestinians, who have served in the Israeli army, and another dozen who like Bronner have kids in the Israeli army."

He added that it is very common to hear Western reporters boasting to one another about their "Zionist" credentials, their service in the Israeli army or the loyal service of their children. "Comments like that are very common at Foreign Press Association gatherings [in Israel] among the senior, agenda-setting, elite journalists."

My informant is highly critical of what is going on among the Jerusalem press corps, even though he admits the same charges could be levelled against him. "I'm Jewish, married to an Israeli and like almost all Western journalists live in Jewish West Jerusalem. In my free time I hang out in cafes and bars with Jewish Israelis chatting in Hebrew. For the Jewish sabbath and Jewish holidays I often get together with a bunch of Western journalists. While it would be convenient to think otherwise, there is no question that this deep personal integration into Israeli society informs our overall understanding and coverage of the place in a way quite different from a journalist who lived in Ramallah or Gaza and whose personal life was more embedded in Palestinian society."

And now he gets to the crunch: "The degree to which Bronner's personal life, like that of most lead journalists here, is integrated into Israeli society, makes him an excellent candidate to cover Israeli political life, cultural shifts and intellectual life. The problem is that Bronner is also expected to be his paper's lead voice on Palestinian political life, cultural shifts and intellectual life, all in a society he has almost no connection to, deep knowledge of or even the ability to directly communicate with.

"The presumption that this is possible is neither fair to Bronner nor to his readers, and it's really a shame that Western media executives don't see the value in an Arabic-speaking bureau chief living in Ramallah and setting the agenda for the news coming out of the Palestinian territories."

All true. But I think there is a deeper lesson from the Bronner affair.

Editors who prefer to appoint Jews and Israelis to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are probably making a rational choice in news terms - even if they would never dare admit their reasoning. The media assign someone to the Jerusalem bureau because they want as much access as possible to the inner sanctums of power in a self-declared Jewish state. They believe - and they are right - that doors open if their reporter is a Jew, or better still an Israeli Jew, who has proved his or her commitment to Israel by marrying an Israeli, by serving in the army or having a child in the army, and by speaking fluent Hebrew, a language all but useless outside this small state.

Yes, Ethan Bronner is "the rule," as my informant notes, because any other kind of journalist - the goyim, as many Israelis dismiss non-Jews - will only ever be able to scratch at the surface of Israel's military-political-industrial edifice. The Bronners have access to power, they can talk to the officials who matter, because those same officials trust that high-powered Jewish and Israeli reporters belong in the Israeli consensus. They may be critical of the occupation, but they can be trusted to pull their punches. If they ever failed to do so, they would be ejected from the inner sanctum and a paper like the NYT would be forced to replace them with someone more cooperative.

When in later years, these Jerusalem bureau chiefs retire from the field of battle and are promoted to the rank of armchair general back at media HQ - when they become a Thomas Friedman paid to pontificate regularly on the conflict - they can be trusted to talk to those same high-placed officials, explaining their viewpoint and defending it. That is why you will not read anything in the NYT questioning the idea that Israel is a democratic state or see coverage suggesting that Israel is acting in bad faith in the peace process.

I do not want here to suggest there is anything unique about this relationship of almost utter dependence. To a degree, this is how most specialists in the mainstream media operate. Think of the local crime reporter. How effective would he be (and it is invariably a he) if he alienated the senior police officers who provide the inside information he needs for his regular supply of stories? Might he not prefer to turn a blind eye to a scoop revealing that one of his main informants is taking bribes, if publishing such a story would lose him his "access" and his posting? This is a simple cost-benefit analysis made both by the reporter and the editors who assign him that almost always favors the powerful over the weak, the interests of the journalist over the reader.

And so it is with Israel. Like the crime reporter, our Jerusalem bureau chief needs his "access" more than he needs the occasional scoop that would sabotage his relationship with official sources. But more so than the crime reporter, many of these bureau chiefs also identify with Israel and its goals because they have an Israeli spouse and children. They not only live on one side of a bitter national conflict but actively participate in defending that side through service in its military.

This is a conflict of interest of the highest order. It is also the reason why they are there in the first place.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.
1 ) Robert Haymond / Canada
25/02/2010 16:20
The fact that the media inside Israel is largely leftwing liberal and in sympathy with the writer of this article is never mentioned. The writer, Jonathan Cook, refers to Israel as a "self-declared state", a blatantly incorrect statement but it does yield results: Cook's own biases and prejudices as a journalist are identified.

2 ) Nicolas Lev / usa
25/02/2010 18:13
Great article. To the person above, states that the media is in sympathy with the writer. What a joke, they are not in sympathy with the writer anymore than the Palestinian people. Reread the article. Only one journalist offered his advice to Mr. Cook. And he also said he would be fired if he wrote something even remotely fair. Reread your article and check your biases your obviously prejudiced against the Journalist and the any fair reporting in the conflict with such an inaccurate statement.

3 ) Elder / US
25/02/2010 19:07
So I presume that Jonathan Cook is also against Palestinian Arab "journalist" Ramzy Baroud, who has written dozens of pieces for Ma'an. After all, he just wrote a book called "My Father was a Freedom Fighter," partly about his father's life in the Palestine Liberation Army. He sounds a lot more biased than Bronner, right? So when will we see Cook rail against Baroud?

4 ) Assad / USA
25/02/2010 22:17
Elder the one way zionista in USA: Ramzy Baroud makes no pretense of being objective--- he is born and bred palestinian....the NY Times does...try to keep to the subject and plot...this is not about you or your need to defend the zionazi entity

5 ) Mark / USA
26/02/2010 01:07
Perfect point, Assad! Thank you. This whole thing brings to mind a different subject and names such as: Dennis Ross, Aaron David Miller, Martin Indyk, etc. etc.- who have conducted Middle East peace negotiations on behalf of Israel. Oh! I mean on behalf of the US. Sorry about that. There are actually some folks out there who believe the US is not an honest broker?! (In the interest of full disclosure and in order to set the record straight; I must state that I am not one of those folks). WINK!

6 ) Victor Zrien / USA
26/02/2010 02:14
Cook hit the nail on the head. Bronner conducted a simple cost-benefit analysis and realized it would be better to remain with connections - and thus he forms a de facto bias against the Palestinians.

7 ) Alfonso / Spain
26/02/2010 02:47
I think the interesting point that Jonathan Cook reaches is that maybe it should be important not to pretend to be impartial -readers are not stupid, in general, and can understand, as the case of Palestinian reporters- and at the same time trying to balance their coverage by placing better prepared, Arabic speaking journalists permanently in Palestinian cities. Ups... I forgot the Jerusalem press office probably won't give press credentials to a foreign journalist with residence in Ramallah...

8 ) Assad / USA
26/02/2010 03:22
mark: i too have trouble with understanding zionist like libby, wolfowitz, feith, and bonkers bolton...err meant to say 'neocons'...now was bonkers bolton envoy to the USA or the zionist entity? and why do the zionist get two envoys ?....oh well say what you want about our lame president, he is still better than baby bush and his zionist handlers...oh and about NYT? it always was a zionist rag thanks to randolf hearst who invented yellow journalism...and the spain/US war, and two world wars

9 ) Bassam / Palestine
26/02/2010 11:10
Mr Cook, which predecessor of Bronner's was it who served in the army reserves? Please, we need names!

10 ) Marian / Canada
26/02/2010 11:16
what a fraudulent prose. Never before did I hear of Mr. Cook but he certainly seems to believe he found a way to make a name for himself by campaigning against Bronner and the New York Times? what's the point here? that all press members covering Israel and Palestine are bias and therefore should be replaced with people like Mr. Cook ?

11 ) Citizen / Planet Earth
26/02/2010 14:24
To Mr. Assad & Mark. Great comments bytheway. I really enjoyed reading them. As for understanding what zionism really is, I recommend you read "The Iron Wall" by Vladimir Jabotinsky; a revisionist zionist who established the underground terrorist group called "Haganah", which became the "Israeli Army" known nowadays. Zionists consider this book to be the bible of zionism as it illustrates very clearly the principles of zionism and the goals it is trying to achieve. Good Luck

12 ) Carlos / USA
26/02/2010 14:55
The New York Times is a joke. I don't read it and purposely pass it up on the news stand. I deride NYT at any mention of it.

13 ) Assad / USA
26/02/2010 16:56
the point miriam of canada is the NYT has never been anything but a zionist rag that pioneered yellow journalism....do a quick lookup on 'randolf hearst' and 'yellow journalism' and it will become clear that the NYT has laways been the voice of rothchild, big money and zionism, and nothing it says is to be taken seriously, just more lies fronm the jews

14 ) Mahmoud "The Dude" Lebowski / USA
26/02/2010 20:53
Ethan Bronner tries to be objective, but his lack of it shows in his journalism.

15 ) TS / American in Jordan
28/02/2010 16:14
Assad, William Randolph Hearst had nothing to do with the New York Times, during the height of Yellow Journalism, when Pulitzer's New York World and Hearst's New York Journal American were fighting and sensationalizing is when the NYT developed its byline "All the news that's fit to print", meaning its competitors printed news unfit for publishing. The New York Times also hasn't always been the voice of those things, it's more of a recent shift, but it also hasn't had objective coverage.

16 ) Assad / USA
28/02/2010 20:09
TS--you are right...the NY Times switch to making the news instead of just reporting it seems to be new as in scotter libby, judith miller, and dick cheney......all good zionist that were in our gov. and used the NY Times to sell a war with lies
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