The New York Times Criticized for Submitting to Israeli Censors

(By Sarah Lazare)

The New York Times made a rare admission that it submits to Israeli state gag orders, fueling charges from critics that the globally-influential publication plays fast-and-loose with journalistic ethics to give favorable coverage to Israel.

The revelation emerged when the The Times delayed its coverage of the Israeli detention of a Palestinian journalist, due—as it turns out—to a gag order from an Israeli court.

The blackout came to light when journalists who did not heed the gag order exposed the detention and media censorship. The Times's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, then elicited an admission from her own publication that it complies with Israeli media blackouts as a matter of policy.

Gagging Coverage of Journalist's Detention

Journalist and activist Majd Kayyal, who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was returning from a conference in Lebanon on Saturday when Israeli Shin Bet secret police detained him for five days, during which he was interrogated and denied access to a lawyer.

Blogger Richard Silverstein wrote on Saturday about Kayyal's detention and later released a copy of the gag order. Journalist Ali Abunimah, writing for Electronic Intifada, on Sunday reported the arrest and published classified court transcripts that revealed the existence of the gag order on the media regarding the case. Abunimah subsequently wrote several pieces following the story.

Thanks to an appeal from legal rights organization Adalah, the gag on Israeli media coverage was lifted Thursday.

It was only after the gag order was lifted—five days after the detention and interrogation was exposed by other journalists—that The Times covered the story of Kayyal, who has since been released from detention.

Sullivan on Thursday revealed that The Times's failure to cover the story earlier was due to its compliance with a media blackout.

Broad Compliance With Israel-Ordered Blackouts

The chief of the Jerusalem bureau of The Times, Jodi Rudoren, confirmed compliance with Israel's gag orders. Sullivan writes,

The Times is “indeed, bound by gag orders,” Ms. Rudoren said. She said that the situation is analogous to abiding by traffic rules or any other laws of the land, and that two of her predecessors in the bureau chief position affirmed to her this week that The Times has been subject to gag orders in the past. 

Yet Jim Naureckas, editor of Extra! Magazine for media watchdog group FAIR, told Common Dreams that such a claim "mocks the whole idea of standing up for freedom of information when you compare a gag order from a secret police organization to a traffic light."

He added, "It's striking that the story involves a journalist being arrested."

Newsroom lawyer for The Times confirmed the compliance. Sullivan writes:

I asked The Times’s newsroom lawyer, David McCraw, about the situation. He told me that he was consulted by Times journalists this week as they considered publishing an article about Mr. Kayyal’s arrest. Although the situation is somewhat murky, he said, “the general understanding among legal counsel in other countries is that local law would apply to foreign media.” Similar issues arise when America news media organizations cover the British courts, he said.

But the restriction in Israel has not been tested, he said.

Yet The Times managing editor, Dean Baquet, and assistant managing editor, Susan Chira, told Sullivan that they were not aware of any instances in which the paper complied with Israeli gag orders.

Abunimah writes that these admissions leave many questions. "Why does Rudoren believe she is bound by gag orders when two senior editors said they were unaware of the newspaper ever agreeing to be bound by such gag orders?" he asks.

Media Complicity in Israeli Occupation

According to Naureckas, The Times's Jerusalem bureau is riddled with conflicts of interest that extend beyond compliance with gag orders. As FAIR points out, former bureau chief Ethan Bronner had a son in the Israeli army during his tenure. Furthermore, reporter Isabel Kershner's spouse has worked for a think tank that promotes favorable coverage of the Israeli government.

Sullivan herself has previously criticized The Times for biased coverage of Israel, challenging the paper's decision to ignore revelations that the National Security Agency shares unfiltered raw data intelligence files with the Israeli government.

Ramah Kudaimi of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation told Common Dreams that the problem of biased coverage in major media extends far beyond the The Times and raises the chilling question of what else is being blacked out.

"We just commemorated yesterday Palestinian prisoners day, and here we have a young Palestinian imprisoned by Israel for no reason and there is a gag order. It is shocking that The Times would abide by gag orders and not practice real journalism."

Kudaimi adds, "U.S. funding of Israeli occupation and apartheid creates a mindset that seeps into the way the most U.S. media covers oppression."

Naureckas agrees: "The Times and U.S. media in general covers Israel from the Israeli government's perspective and treats Palestinians at best as outsiders and at worst as a demographic threat."


Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole:

TheRealNews: ‘Chris Hedges on “Israel’s War on American Universities” ‘

16 Responses

  1. How long has this practice of favoring Israel by our US media existed? Fifty years? Sixty? Seventy? I’ve known of the unfairness of our media for over 40 years but since I’m 80, I can remember being in junior high school and hearing two sides of the issue from a teacher who might have lost her job because she was not biased. Truth will always be revealed I was taught in church way back then. But, it is revealed often too late to save lives. Thank you, for your honest reporting!

  2. What an amusing story!
    The Times own internal policy of “Everything Israel does is Wonderful and any criticism of Israel is Anti-Semitism ” is very old News.

  3. Can’t share your outrage on this one. The “journalist” returns from a hostile state that’s at war with Israel and the authorities detain him for interrogation. Nothing unreasonable about that. The NYT is complying with local law. Should they ignore the law, the paper would be vulnerable to sanctions. The fact that they waited a couple of days to publish – hardly a big deal.

    • Right. No journalist has ever visited a hostile state his or her home country was at war with. Or, “journalist,” as you say.

    • So wrong on so many fronts. 1) “Journalists” who are Israeli and Jewish and visit Lebanon are not detained. Apparently , only if you are not Jewish is the law applied. 2) Lebanon is not a “hostile state…at war with Israel.” Yes, Hezbollah (which was created as resistance to Israel’s ’82 invasion and occupation) is hostile, but they are not the state. 3) Journalists regularly flout local laws. A paper like the NYT, were it in any other country, would certainly do so. Or, the NYT could have (and has in the past) written the story with a US or no byline, circumventing the law.

    • So you would agree then that the United States government could have interrogated American journalists returning from Iraq and Afghanistan? And that a gag order could be issued forbidding American newspapers from covering the story?

    • Except that a gag order isn’t just ‘local law’, it’s a prior restraint, the type of thing that the NYT used to fight vigorously in the US.

      A prior restraint that the NYT concealed until it got exposed this week. If the NYT hadn’t been outed on it, we still wouldn’t know.

      But what do you expect from a newspaper that cooked up William Randolph Hearst type propaganda to support the invasion of Iraq?

  4. Sima Vaknin Gill is the Chief Censor for the State of Israel.

    She is an IDF colonel who serves under the military intelligence division of the Israel Defense Forces. Her formal job is to balance the interests of national security with the freedom of the press.

    The Office of Chief Censor is unique in nature and is rooted historically in the British Mandate period preceding Israeli independence.

    There have been questions about conflicts of interest – especially a case where a senior IDF intelligence official was alleged to have engaged in questionable conduct and the story was suppressed.

  5. Whether it’s sins of omission or sins of commission (remember Judith Miller?), we’re talking here about propaganda. And when it comes to Israel, the NYT is very good at it.

  6. I worked at WQXR, owned by the Times on several occasions over the years (until 2008), both full-time and part-time, and also on-call. It was located in the Times Building on 43rd Street
    I have a temporary ID card issued in 1969, which was issued to me after clearance by the Times’ Security people. After being visually examined by the Times staff, I was instructed to go through another door into a room with two serious looking men. On the wall behind them was a big seal of the US, identified as “Field Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation”
    Since they asked no questions, I must have looked OK: I got my photo ID the following week.
    This was after the Ellsberg Papers.

  7. Nothing new here. Israel and Americans whose primary loyalty is to Israel have been controlling mainstream American media for many years. The obvious result is that Americans have little knowledge of foreign affairs other than the propaganda they are fed by our “free press.”

  8. For years the message has been not to trust the New York Times to be unbiased in its reporting on matters related to Israel, whether it was Shipler, Friedman, or Bronner, and now Rudoren. This blackout however goes even further, and Rudoren’s lame justification for it has made the Times not only an advocate of Israel, but an agent of the Netanyahu government and its policies and and, furthermore an enemy of human rights. One might be encouraged to vent one’s anger and disapproval with the NY Times publisher and editors, but it would be better yet also to inform them that the expression of one’s disapproval extends to boycotting its advertisers.

  9. I’m not one to ignore bias in the media, especially when it comes to Israel, but I’m just wondering if anyone really considers this a serious issue. I mean, when the Guardian destroyed it’s Snowden material under the threat of basically a blanket gag order, is that not the same thing? Destroying the material allowed them to continue reporting on the issues. Do news outlets not regularly accept and respect gag orders?

    Now, of course, claiming you are some type of “investigative journalist” or outlet, or that you are hostile to power and government, while at the same time respecting gag orders that clearly have no public interest, is utter hypocrisy and a clear demonstration that you are the opposite – a shill for establishment orders – but we already know this about the New York Times. We know where their funding comes from, we know the limits of the “free press”, is anyone really shocked about this?

    • the Guardian destroyed nothing; police came to their offices and smashed hard drives

      The Guardian also reported on the gov’t demands, which NYT did not

  10. Gag orders from your own government might have to be respected, as a practical matter. Respecting gag orders of a foreign government is another matter. But it is rather old news, as the NYT’s credentials as a mouthpiece for Israeli propaganda are long established.

Comments are closed.