The NY Times’ unbalanced coverage of the BDS movement

March 4, 2014
Yesterday Phil commented on a New York Times debate between two Zionist Jews on BDS. Here is a related letter from Patrick Connors to the Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan on the anti-boycott views in the paper’s coverage of the BDS movement: Dear Ms.

Yesterday Phil commented on a New York Times debate between two Zionist Jews on BDS. Here is a related letter from Patrick Connors to the Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan on the anti-boycott views in the paper’s coverage of the BDS movement:

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

I am writing to express concern about the strong predominance of anti-boycott views in The New York Times’ two most recent news articles about the movement to boycott Israel, by White House correspondent Mark Landler on February 28 and Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren on February 11. According to my attempt at a word count (see table below), the two articles provided 2.6 times as much space for arguments opposing a boycott of Israel as they did for arguments supporting a boycott. In the two articles eight people or groups were quoted opposing a boycott, while only two were quoted supporting a boycott (the same individual in each article, Omar Barghouti). On top of an unbalanced presentation of the arguments for and against a boycott of Israel, the articles misrepresent the history and rights of Palestinian refugees and lack vital background information on the movement to boycott Israel.

As more and more people come to appreciate its focus on nonviolent pressure to realize human rights and equality, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is growing worldwide, including in the US, despite Mr. Landler’s effort to minimize its importance here. After years of neglect of the boycott movement by the paper, I strongly hope that these two articles do not represent a developing New York Times position that views the matter as one that can be reported as news as long as pro-BDS views are marginalized and misrepresented. Surely the expectation should not just be that The New York Times report on BDS, but rather that it should cover the movement fairly

Dominance of anti-boycott views

Ms. Rudoren’s February 11 “Letter from the Middle East” entitled West Bank Boycott: A Political Act or Prejudice? in The International New York Times, featured quotes from four different people opposing a boycott of Israel, juxtaposed against a single quote supporting a boycott. My effort to quantify the views in the article showed 430 words opposing a boycott, including the quotes, versus just 182 words supporting a boycott (see summary table below). On top of these disparities, letters to the editor published in The International New York Times appropriately criticized the article’s content, taking Ms. Rudoren to task for comparing a nonviolent movement rooted in universal human rights principles that targets government policies to Nazism and anti-Semitism.

Mr. Landler’s February 28 “Listening Post” article, entitled Countering Israel Boycotts, With Glamour in The New York Times features quotes from three people and an organization opposing a boycott of Israel, plus an anti-boycott propaganda photo of Scarlett Johansson, while including just a single quote supporting a boycott from Omar Barghouti’s earlier New York Times op-ed. I counted 330 words of anti-boycott views, compared to 113 words supporting a boycott of Israel. Despite the attention it is garnering in the US and worldwide, Mr. Landler also disparages the significance of the boycott movement, saying that John Kerry’s statements “have made B.D.S. look like a more imminent threat than it is,” “it remains largely a nonstarter in the United States,” that the American Studies Association boycott vote “was widely derided by other American scholarly groups.”

Jodi Rudoren article

February 11, 2014

Mark Landler article

February 28, 2014

Total for both articles

Anti-boycott quotes (words)


(by 4 speakers)


(by 4 speakers)


(by 8 speakers)

Pro-boycott quotes (words)


(by 1 speaker)


(by 1 speaker)


(by 2 speakers)

Ratio of Anti-boycott quotes to pro-boycott quotes




Anti-boycott views, including quotes (words)




Pro-boycott views, including quotes (words)




Ratio of Anti-boycott views to pro-boycott views




Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees: Factual error, plus omission of international law

Unfortunately, Mr. Landler also distorts an important component of the BDS Movement, as well as history, when he writes that the movement “aims to allow Palestinians to return to places from which they were displaced in 1948 after the founding of the state of Israel.” In fact, it is well-documented by Palestinian and Israeli historians like Salman Abu SittaIlan Pappe and Benny Morris that around one-third to one-half of all Palestinian refugees were driven from from their homes prior to the founding of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, as a result of attacks or threats of attacks by Zionist paramilitaries. Well-known events like the Deir Yassin massacre and the expulsion of most Palestinian residents from Haifa and Yaffa occurred before May 14. The large-scale expulsion of Palestinian refugees before May 14 is even confirmed by The New York Times own reporting at the time. Perhaps unintentionally, Mr. Landler, like other New York Times reporters including Ethan Bronner, appears to be repeating a popular, but false narrative put forth by supporters of Israel who wish to deflect responsibility by claiming that Palestinian refugees fled only after five Arab armies chose to attack Israel after it declared statehood on May 14, 1948. Editors should ensure that they put an end to the repetition of this historical misrepresentation in The New York Times.

On top of this factual error, Mr. Landler reports on only one aspect of the discussion of refugee rights, a concern that “the movement’s demand for a right of return for dispossessed Palestinians… if carried out, would effectively end the viability of a Jewish state, in the view of Middle East experts.” The article fails to note that refugee return is a right guaranteed by international law. Right of return was enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 13), and the right of return for Palestinian refugees was affirmed by UN Resolution 194 in 1948. Major human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International state that the right of return of Palestinian refugees is protected by international law.

Missing background and contacts on BDS movement

It is a sign of progress that more than eight years after the BDS movement was founded The New York Times has begun to cover it, but these two articles suggest that perhaps New York Times’ reporters lack background about the movement and contacts to be able to provide balanced reporting and analysis. Mr. Landler was only able to quote a single pro-boycott argument taken from an op-ed printed in his newspaper, and to cite two boycott successes, while he contacted a number of boycott opponents for quotes. This might not have been the case, if, as just one of many examples, The New York Times had not chosen to steadfastly ignore a successful six-and-a half-year campaign initiated in New York City to boycott the companies of Israeli settlement-builder and billionaire Lev Leviev. The New York Times has not published a word about the successes of this campaign despite tens of press releases that the volunteer group I am with, Adalah-NY, has sent to NY Times Jerusalem and New York City-based reporters about street protests at Leviev’s Manhattan store, and the decisions beginning in 2008 by UNICEFOxfam America, and CARE; the governments of Norway, the UK, and most recently Luxembourg; by New Zealand’s pension fund, and the by largest Danish bank to all publicly distance themselves from Leviev’s companies, which have a major presence in New York City. If The New York Times had covered this and many other BDS campaigns in the past, perhaps Mr. Landler would have been able to find more commentators and cite more successes than just the recent ASA and Dutch pension fund decision.

While I understand that The New York Times feels it has put in place safeguards to ensure that the strong public opposition of the husband of New York Times reporter Isabel Kershner to a boycott of Israel will not influence its coverage, there appear to be other impediments that the paper must address to ensure fair reporting on the movement to boycott Israel. These impediments include, but may not be limited to, Ms. Rudoren’s expressed lack of Arabic language skills, residence in West Jerusalem and her regret that she does not spend “much more time in the West Bank than I do [she does],” and quite possibly the entrenched views of some New York Times staff. I hope that future New York Times news articles on the boycott of Israel will not replicate the quantifiable bias against a boycott of Israel evident in these two news articles, nor repeat their factual errors or their omission of important background information.

Thank you,

Patrick Connors
New York, NY

March 4, 2014


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