Serious allegations about the objectivity of NY Times Israel reporter

February 16, 2002

[Note by Tom Gross]

Below are some serious allegations about the objectivity of one of the New York Times's present correspondents in Jerusalem, Joel Greenberg.

Greenberg is an American-Israeli reporter in the Times's Jerusalem bureau, a one-time "resister" to the Israeli army, who served a jail term in 1983 for refusing to serve with his army unit in southern Lebanon.

Below, I attach two items, from The Wall Street Journal online, and from The Jerusalem Post, and after that a follow-up note in Greenberg’s defense.


"DOMINATING, EXPELLING, STARVING AND HUMILIATING AN ENTIRE PEOPLE"

Allegations on objectivity of NY Times Israel reporter
The Wall Street Journal online
February 8, 2002

The Jerusalem Post's Uri Dan seems to have uncovered a genuine journalistic scandal at the New York Times. Saturday's Times carried a front-page story from Jerusalem on a small group of Israel military reservists who say they are refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza because "Israel's policies there involved 'dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire people.'"

Dan says the piece amounts to a "grave indictment against Israel, its government, and army, particularly when, mainly in Western Europe, anti-Semites are in a hurry to accuse them of war crimes." The trouble is that the man who wrote the article is anything but a disinterested observer:

The Times article was written by Joel Greenberg, an American-Israeli reporter in its Jerusalem bureau. Greenberg is himself a one-time "resister." An Associated Press article of November 25, 1984, about the refusal of Israeli soldiers to serve in Lebanon stated: "And the worst thing is, we're still there (in Lebanon)," said Sgt. Joel Greenberg, 28, a Philadelphia-born Israeli who lost his position as squad leader when he refused to go to Lebanon. Like the other conscientious objectors, he isn't sure he will refuse again."

A news release of the Zionist Organization of America (August 6, 1999) quoted: "Greenberg served a jail term in 1983 for refusing to serve with his army unit in southern Lebanon [Moment, May 1984]". Greenberg subsequently became a journalist, and was a staff reporter (1986-90) for The Jerusalem Post.

Did the editors of The New York Times, who criticize Israel at every opportunity, know that Greenberg is a one-time resister?

And if the editors of The New York Times were simply unaware of their Israeli reporter's involvement in Lebanon as a resister, they only had to go to their own archives to find an article written by Thomas Friedman on January 20, 1985, in which he wrote: "You saw Lebanese license plates in Israel, and that was a big deal," remembers Joel Greenberg, a graduate student in Middle East studies who after his first tour of duty in Lebanon became a conscientious objector to the war and went to jail for refusing to carry out reserve duty there."

It's actually even worse than Dan makes it out to be, for Greenberg's piece includes a paragraph on the Lebanon resistance movement without any disclosure of his involvement in it:

"Protests by army reservists after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which Mr. Sharon, as defense minister, took all the way to Beirut, are widely considered to have contributed to a subsequent military pullback to southern Lebanon, from which Israel withdrew two years ago."

Note that "are widely considered" – a classic passive-voice dodge by which reporters slip their own opinions into purportedly objective stories. But the problem here isn't just that Greenberg is biased; it's that he has failed to disclose his own involvement in the story on which he's reporting.

 


THE 'RESISTER' – FULL DISCLOSURE

The 'resister' – full disclosure
By Uri Dan,
The Jerusalem Post
February 7, 2002

On its front page last Saturday, The New York Times prominently and extensively covered the refusal of "more than 100 Israeli Army reservists" to continue to serve in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

A foreign reader of the article is liable to receive the impression that these Israelis are refusing to serve there for moral reasons, as though the Jewish army were officially perpetrating illegal acts against the Palestinians.

A soldier is quoted as telling Yediot Aharonot about his service in the Gaza Strip: "The gunfire penetrates thin walls and windows, and you don't know who you're killing."

Reservist lieutenant David Zonshain is quoted as saying: "Suddenly you are required to do things that you can't be asked to do: to shoot at people, stop ambulances, destroy houses when no one knows who lives in them."

These descriptions in The New York Times form a grave indictment against Israel, its government, and army, particularly when, mainly in Western Europe, anti-Semites are in a hurry to accuse them of war crimes.

This is also being done in Israel by members of the extreme Left as part of their political pressure to force the government to withdraw from Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, and not for moral reasons.

Most Israelis are aware that this group of officers and men is very small, even if they eventually manage to obtain the signatures of more than 500 reservists. The apparatchiks of the extreme Left and their numerous friends in the Israeli media have been espousing the cause of the refuseniks as a political weapon. Even Ha'aretz, which, for decades, has been calling in vain for a withdrawal from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, has admitted that this group of reservists has no public backing.

This is what Ha'aretz said in a full-width headline this week: "The majority of the Jewish public in Israel does not regard the officers' letter as a legitimate act of protest."

According to the January 2002 peace poll it held, the newspaper claims: "We found that the vast majority of the Jewish public (79%) are quite or very opposed to the refusal to serve as an act of protest against the government's policy regarding peace. Only 15% support the legitimacy of such an act."

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz, when appearing before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset, rejected the accusations of the reservists: "If they had complaints about this matter, they should have complained in real time, and the complaints would of course have been investigated. I can state, based on inquiries made with two of the reserve officers, that they said explicitly that their refusal to serve in Judea, Samaria and Gaza was due to their wish to pressure the government into withdrawing from Judea, Samaria and Gaza."

In other words, according to Mofaz, political motives lie behind the dissent. "There is no room for such happenings in a democratic country in a state of war."

It appears that the apparently illegal acts performed by the Israeli army, as described in The New York Times when quoting Israeli reservists, appear to be just a pretext for an ideological struggle.

The Times article was written by Joel Greenberg, an American-Israeli reporter in its Jerusalem bureau. Greenberg is himself a one-time "resister." An Associated Press article of November 25, 1984, about the refusal of Israeli soldiers to serve in Lebanon stated: "And the worst thing is, we're still there (in Lebanon)," said Sgt. Joel Greenberg, 28, a Philadelphia-born Israeli who lost his position as squad leader when he refused to go to Lebanon. Like the other conscientious objectors, he isn't sure he will refuse again."

A news release of the Zionist Organization of America (August 6, 1999) quoted: "Greenberg served a jail term in 1983 for refusing to serve with his army unit in southern Lebanon [Moment, May 1984]". Greenberg subsequently became a journalist, and was a staff reporter (1986-90) for The Jerusalem Post.

Did the editors of The New York Times, who criticize Israel at every opportunity, know that Greenberg is a one-time resister?

And if the editors of The New York Times were simply unaware of their Israeli reporter's involvement in Lebanon as a resister, they only had to go to their own archives to find an article written by Thomas Friedman on January 20, 1985, in which he wrote: "You saw Lebanese license plates in Israel, and that was a big deal," remembers Joel Greenberg, a graduate student in Middle East studies who after his first tour of duty in Lebanon became a conscientious objector to the war and went to jail for refusing to carry out reserve duty there."

Which leads me to suspect that perhaps The New York Times hired Greenberg precisely because he is a one-time resister.


STANDING UP FOR JOEL GREENBERG

[Follow-up note by Tom Gross]

Several readers, including two senior New York Times foreign correspondents, wrote to me the day after this dispatch (above) was sent objecting to the Post’s and the Journal's "unfair attacks" on Joel Greenberg’s integrity.

One respected senior journalist wrote: "I have known Joel Greenberg for the better part of 35 years and have followed his career from UPI to the Jerusalem Post to the New York Times. In my judgment, Joel has been careful to not allow his personal political philosophy with his reportage. The attacks on Joel's political beliefs are therefore inappropriate and not justified. Joel's articles should therefore be critiqued on their merit, without regard to his politics.

"For what's it worth, Tom, I have always thought that your own Mideast coverage has been both first-rate and fair, which is not an easy thing to achieve when covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.