Nov
02
2012

NYT's Gaza Flotilla Flop

You can learn a lot from reading the Corrections box in the New York Times–often because going back to read the story that is being corrected reveals more than the correction itself.

On October 20, the Israeli navy intercepted another boat attempting to reach the Gaza Strip to deliver supplies in defiance of the Israeli blockade. In the October 21 edition of the Times, Jodi Rudoren filed a story about this news. But it was what she remembered about an earlier flotilla that was most revealing.

In 2010 Israeli forces launched a deadly assault on the Mavi Marmara boat, killing nine people on board the ship. According to the Times:

After the Mavi Marmara raid, a United Nations panel found that Israel's naval blockade was "legitimate self-defense and that Israel's decision to intercept the flotilla was indeed legal under international law."  Activists have disputed the panel's conclusion.

That didn't sound right to me. Actually, it's partly correct; activists did criticize the UN investigation, for other reasons. But is that really what the Palmer Report said? The Times didn't think so, because it issued a correction on October 28:

An article last Sunday about Israel's seizure a day earlier of a European ship headed to the Gaza Strip misidentified the source of a quotation about Israel's fatal 2010 Mavi Marmara raid on a Turkish flotilla headed to Gaza. The comment, which called Israel's naval blockade of Gaza "legitimate self-defense" and said "that Israel's decision to intercept the flotilla was indeed legal under international law," was from an Israeli government statement concerning a United Nations report about the raid; it was not from the report itself. (The report had said that although Israel was entitled to enforce the naval blockade, its decision to board the vessels "with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable.")

So the U.N.'s Palmer Report–which activists and the Turkish government found too accommodating to the Israeli position–didn't actually draw the conclusion the Times attributed to it. That assessment came from…the Israeli government.

The Palmer Report did judge the Gaza blockade to be legal, which is contradicted by other investigations, most directly another UN fact-finding mission working under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which found the blockade to be illegal under international law. Relying on the judgment of the Palmer Report is a curious journalistic decision, since its assessment of the Gaza blockade is so at odds with an array of other legal judgments on the same issue, including the Red Cross.

So the new version of the Times story reads like this:

After the Mavi Marmara raid, a United Nations panel found that although Israel was entitled to enforce the naval blockade as a security measure, its decision to board the vessels "with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable."

An Israeli government spokesman later characterized the United Nations report as having found that Israel acted in "legitimate self-defense and that Israel's decision to intercept the flotilla was indeed legal under international law."

Activists have disputed the panel's conclusion.

That is certainly more accurate. But it's a little puzzling that the paper managed to confuse a UN report about Israel with an Israeli government statement defending its actions.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.