Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Frustration over Mideast Coverage Leads to Boycotts of New York Times

May 8, 2002
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

For Ali Scharf, the last straw came recently, when The New York Times ran an interview with a masked Palestinian.

He had long been upset with the Times’ coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and the article made the man, an admitted member of a group responsible for numerous terrorist bombings, “sound very human,” Scharf says, “as if you were supposed to applaud this Palestinian for cutting back on suicide bombings.”

Using the power of the Internet, Scharf took matters into his own hands and organized a temporary boycott of the Times, one of two such campaigns being launched this month.

The boycotts are the latest battles in the media war that has accompanied the 19-month-old Palestinian intifada.

Scharf sent out e-mails to friends and family describing his boycott campaign. These e-mails were then passed on.

He also contacted Jewish organizations, some of whom — including Aish HaTorah and Emunah of America, an Orthodox women’s group — gave him their mailing lists to send out requests, asking Times’ readers to cancel their subscriptions effective May 1.

Not all Jewish leaders back the campaign.

“It’s not a good idea to make the media the major enemy here,” says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Reform movement’s congregational arm. “That’s diverting our energy” from taking action in support of Israel.

In addition, some of those joining the boycotts hold fringe views, Yoffie says.

“These are the folks who think Tom Friedman is an extremist,” he says, referring to The New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winner who will be honored by the Reform movement’s rabbinical college at the end of May. “To see Tom Friedman as an anti-Israel extremist is an absurdity.”

For his part, Scharf says he is happy with the overall response. Although he’s just now setting up a Web site to track how many people have joined his campaign, he estimates that approximately 5,000 people have suspended their subscriptions.

After last month’s Israel solidarity rally in Washington, “people were primed and ready to express themselves,” he says. “When it comes to victims on the Palestinian side, they are always described in great detail, making them human. The Israelis are rarely given a face.”

That’s a charge that the Times denies.

“What we’ve always tried to do is provide balanced and comprehensive coverage,” said Catherine Mathis, the Times’ vice president for corporate communications. “The point for us is to continue to do a good job of reporting the news fairly and dispassionately. That’s what we continue to do, boycotts or otherwise.”

Mathis said the number of people who have canceled their subscriptions as a result of the current boycotts is “small.” But she added that “anytime we get inquiries from our readers regarding our coverage, we try to respond.”

On Tuesday, the Times printed an Editors Note, saying it had erred in running photos on the Salute to Israel parade on Sunday that gave too much weight to anti-Israel protesters.

The current campaigns aren’t the first to be launched against the Times during the current intifada.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein launched a temporary suspension last summer that he says garnered an estimated 10,000 cancellations — and an audience with the then-executive editor of the Times, Joseph Lelyveld.

Upset over recent coverage, Lookstein organized a separate cancellation campaign that was slated to begin Thursday. His campaign also asks members of the Jewish community to suspend placing advertising and obituary notices in the Times, and requests that letters and e-mails be sent complaining about the paper’s Mideast coverage.

“We’re not telling people to stop reading the Times forever,” Lookstein says. “We’re sending a message “

Recommended from JTA