On Thursday, The New York Times published a piece by Jerusalem Bureau Chief David Halbfinger titled: “Israeli Army’s Idea Lab Aims at a New Target: Saving Lives.”
The piece delves into how Israel and its Defense Ministry have marshaled considerable resources to aid in the fight against COVID-19.
“Red tape, institutional rivalries and cronyism can stand in the way of a unified, rapid response to a crisis. But Israel quickly set up a national task force and dozens of teams with hundreds of scientists, engineers, doctors, executives, government officials and military officers all working toward the same goals,” Halbfinger writes.
The New York Times sent out a tweet promoting the piece, writing: “The Israeli Defense Ministry’s research-and-development arm is best known for pioneering cutting-edge ways to kill people and blow things up. Now it is turning to saving lives.”
This language is taken almost verbatim from the first paragraph of the article itself.
The Israeli Defense Ministry’s research-and-development arm is best known for pioneering cutting-edge ways to kill people and blow things up. Now it is turning to saving lives. https://t.co/uxIvDLf4nB
— The New York Times (@nytimes) May 8, 2020
Despite 310 retweets and more than 1,000 “likes,” the tweet has been ratioed with over 1,800 comments as of publication.
On Friday, Ricki Hollander and Gilead Ini of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), which “is a media-monitoring, research and membership organization devoted to promoting accurate and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East,” according to the organization’s website, penned a response to the New York Times piece.
Hollander and Ini write:
Killing what people? Blowing what things up? Without specifying the “things” and “people” being targeted, Halbfinger, like Israel’s enemies, portrays the IDF’s research and development team as bloodthirsty demons seeking new ways to carry out a nefarious plan of murder and destruction.
After explaining the ways in which the IDF’s research and development are used to protect the nation from various enemies and attacks, including “rockets, mortars, and artillery shell aimed at Israeli civilians,” the piece linked to two notable responses to The New York Times’ tweet.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted:
This tweet is sensationalist. It is irresponsible that the @nytimes buried the important story about Israel’s military developing innovative responses to #COVID19 beneath demonizing language that seems to question Israel’s legitimate security needs. They should do better. pic.twitter.com/PM38RKKu4O
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) May 8, 2020
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris tweeted: “What a vile @nytimes statement! And on 75th anniv. of end of WW2 & Holocaust, no less.” Harris then offered a new title for the piece that reflects Israel’s position under siege.
Retired IDF soldier Peter Lerner responded to Halbfinger’s tweet-out of the article, and the two engaged in a brief exchange.
LERNER: David. Another great story although “cutting-edge ways to kill people.” The defense establishment has been developing weaponry for the defense of the island of Israel that hasn’t had a day of peace since it was established. More accurate wording needed like: kill militant enemies.
HALBFINGER: Enemies are people, too. You’d have to be predisposed to think Israel kills indiscriminately – or weary of such accusations – to read it that way. All armies are trained and equipped to kill, not just Israel’s. The point here is to contrast with the mission of saving lives. Thank you, though.
Lerner later replied: “Thanks for your response. Unfortunately too many people are predisposed and don’t read beyond the first paragraph. This would reinforce that predisposition. Israel would much rather invest all of its innovation, wisdom and budget in advancing human kind.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer heavily criticized the NYT piece as well:
— Amb. Ron Dermer (@AmbDermer) May 8, 2020
In a response piece published on Friday, Jewish Journal’s David Suissa noted that while he’s not a “New York Times hater,” he was troubled by the paper’s tweet, as well as the content of the article’s first paragraph.
Ini, co-author of the CAMERA response piece, also offered his own response to Halbfinger’s tweet to Lerner:
This is a puzzling reply.
1. Yes, enemies are people. But the former is obviously far more precise, and precision ensures clarity. To say “Obama tried to kill people” is clearly different, and uglier, than “Obama tries to kill al Qaeda militants.”
— Gilead Ini (@GileadIni) May 7, 2020
3. You know as much as anyone that there’s a campaign, often by those opposed to Israel’s right to exist, to cast Israel as indiscriminate in its use of force. In light of that, isn’t it worth using more precise and clearer wording?
— Gilead Ini (@GileadIni) May 7, 2020
As of publication, The New York Times has not deleted or reworded the tweet, nor has the first paragraph of Harbfinger’s piece been revised.