Does the New York Times editorial board want Israel to take it seriously? Is the board’s distaste for the country so strong that it has no interest in using the newspaper’s well-earned power and influence to make a real impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Take Tuesday’s editorial, which is among the kinds of low-hanging fruit that Gary Weiss and I will be picking and exposing once the funds are in place for our Mideast Reporter—a multimedia, multilingual investigative reporting enterprise. For now, some batting practice…
The Times editorial concludes: “…Israel has a duty, and should have the desire, to adjust its military policies to avoid civilian casualties and hold those who failed to do so accountable.”
“Should have the desire… to adjust…” Think about that for a moment. What they are saying is that Israel does not have such a desire, and that Israel has not, and does not, adjust its policies.
The editorial was written in support of the recent UN Human Rights Council report that concluded that Israel and Hamas may have committed war crimes during their war last summer. But here is what the editors decided to omit from the editorial:
1. After a visit to Israel, a group of 11 former high-ranking military commanders and senior international politicians wrote a 242-page report that concluded that Israel’s actions in the war were “lawful” and “legitimate” and that its military “did not intentionally target civilians or civilian objects.” Members of the mission included former NATO Military Committee Chairman Gen. (ret.) Klaus Naumann of Germany; former Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi; a former U.S. State Department ambassador at large for war crimes issues (Pierre-Richard Prosper); and the former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, Col. (ret.) Richard Kemp.
“A measure of the seriousness with which Israel took its moral duties and its responsibilities under the law of armed conflict is that, in some cases, Israel’s scrupulous adherence to the laws of war cost Israeli soldiers’ and civilians’ lives,” the group concluded.
One member of the group, retired Australian General Jim Molan, has said, “As someone who has practically applied the laws of armed conflict in modern warfare, I was very impressed…. While acknowledging the tragedy of death in war and given the immense capability of the IDF, it stands to Israel’s everlasting credit that far more did not die. But from the very top of the command chain down to the infantry and pilots, the personal moral position that individuals took was mirrored in the targeting processes, decisions on the ground and in the real care taken.”
Another member of the panel—Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan— believes Israel exceeded its legal requirements. Moreover, as he wrote me a few months ago: “[The] IDF has taken greater steps than any other army in the history of warfare to minimise harm to civilians in a combat zone … But media organizations… politicians, UN leaders and human rights groups that falsely accuse Israel of war crimes, risk having blood on their own hands. These biased comments validate Hamas’s tactics and encourage terrorist groups around the world to continue and even intensify their violence.”
Knock, knock, New York Times, anybody home?
Why is this report by such a prestigious group of military officials not even mentioned in passing in their editorial? The editors are free to bash it for whatever reason they’d like, but does it not deserve to be cited if the editors are then going to conclude: “…Israel has a duty, and should have the desire, to adjust its military policies to avoid civilian casualties and hold those who failed to do so accountable.”
By not including such assessments, a reasonable and knowledgable reader might wonder if the editors are simply frightened off by competing views from experts who raise serious doubts about the UN report. Whatever the motive, it is dishonest-journalism-by-omission.
2. The editors also neglect to mention that, in April, two of America’s most prominent international law experts praised Israel for its moral conduct during the war. “Israel’s actions were quite lawful under any sane interpretation of the Laws of Armed Conflict. Amnesty and HRW twist international law in ways that make it impossible for any modern army to fight,” wrote the experts. [They are Michael Schmitt, professor of international law and director of the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the U.S. Naval War College – and John Merriam, a U.S. Army Judge Advocate currently serving as the Associate Director of the same college.]
“The IDF’s warnings certainly go beyond what the law requires, but they also sometimes go beyond what would be operational good sense elsewhere,” Schmidt says. “People are going to start thinking that the United States and other Western democracies should follow the same examples in different types of conflict. That’s a real risk.”
3. Finally, a marvelous irony also ignored by the Times editors: The Israeli army was virtually faulted earlier this month by international military experts for setting a dangerous precedent and high standard that other armies cannot meet. “It was abundantly clear that IDF commanders had gone beyond any mandates that international law requires to avoid civilian casualties,” wrote Willy Stern, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School.
He quoted Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg, a distinguished expert on military law at Europa-Universtat Viadrina in Frankfurt, as saying that the IDF takes “many more precautions than are required…[it] is setting an unreasonable precedent for other democratic countries of the world who may also be fighting in asymmetric wars against brutal non-state actors who abuse these laws.”
So why did the Times editorial ignore reality? By omitting such important points from their editorials, the Times’ editorial writers run the risk of Israel and its supporters not taking anything they write seriously. Have all of its editors bought into an age-old liberationist narrative that portrays Israel as an aggressor against a defenseless adversary? We have no way of knowing, but it does appear that the Times is ignoring proven facts and the history of the conflict.