The New York Times has never been known for even-handed coverage of Israel in either its news coverage or editorial page. But even a fair-minded supporter of the Jewish state must appreciate that at times the critiques have been overwrought, hypersensitive or simply appear to be demands that the Times or other media entities adopt Israel’s side on controversial and highly divisive issues. From the settlements to the extent of Israel’s military response to instigation from Hamas, Hezbollah or others, the Middle East conflict is rarely black and white nor is there always a clear and defined right and wrong.
With that said, it shouldn’t require much deliberation or debate to be able to say unequivocally that invoking Israel more than once in a front page Sunday Review story on the horrors in Congo seems bizarre. Jeffrey Gettleman, the Times’ East Africa bureau chief penned an important piece for Sunday’s paper entitled “The World’s Worst War” recounting the horrors and hopelessness consuming the large and mineral rich African nation. Gettleman, and the Times by affording the article such prominent placement, draws much needed attention to the systematic torture and rapes of thousands of women, kidnapping of children, and lawlessness that have consumed a nation teeming with potential.
So how could Israel possibly be relevant to this dispatch? The initial comparison to Congo’s neighbor Rwanda might appear, at first blush, to be a celebration of Israel’s underdog status in a region surrounded by enemies:
“But for years Tutsi-led Rwanda has tried to carve out a zone of influence in Eastern Congo using ethnic Tutsi militias and Tutsi businessmen inside Congo to do its bidding. Rwanda has a very disciplined, patriotic army that punches above its weight-the Israel of Africa.”
The next sentence, however, portends what is coming from Gettleman:
“It was Rwanda’s invasion in 1996 that sent Congo into a tailspin it has yet to recover from.”
A sensitive reader might immediately complain that comparing Israel to Rwanda in this manner suggests a far more devious comparison that extends well beyond the might of the armies, to how these two aggressive nations unleash their forces against neighbors.
But then again, that also might fall into the category of hypersensitive critique –that is until you stumble on to the next paragraph:
“For years, the United States and Rwanda’s other Western friends turned a blind eye to this meddling. Again, like Israel, Rwanda has succeeded in leveraging the guilt that other countries feel for not intervening in its genocide—in which almost a million people were killed when Hutu militias targeted Tutsis in 1994—to blunt criticism of itself.”
Huh? Would even the Times’ often hostile-to-Israel editorial page make a statement as sweeping as Israel has “succeeded in leveraging guilt” from the Holocaust to “blunt criticism of itself” without any specific context? But buried in a news piece about the causes of the horrors in Congo, it is that much more insidious. Then piece together the comparisons to a nation inflicting immeasurable pain on its neighbor supported by “western friends” who turn a “blind eye” as it seeks to “blunt criticism” by “leveraging guilt” and you have one of the most unfair and biased comparisons one can imagine.
At one point in the piece Gettleman describes how in 2006 he was brimming with hope for Congo as it prepared for “democratic elections,” with the streets of its capital “festooned with campaign banners” and “pulsating” with music — descriptions that would certainly depict modern day Tel Aviv and the democracy that thrives in that nation.
But alas, this was supposed to be a news piece about Congo and even that sort of passing, albeit flattering, comparison to Israel might be seen as unnecessarily editorializing on a sensitive topic by a writer covering a totally unrelated story in a distant part of the world.
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