Thursday, July 21, 2011

The NYT Facebook / Israel / Palestine article

See first Ethan Bronner's article from the NYT a couple weeks ago, Virtual Bridge Allows Strangers in Mideast To Seem Less Strange, then Ali Abunimah's response, and then the back-and-forth Abunimah has posted.

The Times article reported on a Facebook page where Palestinian and Israeli youth are hanging out. I wouldn't have thought to make that much of it one way or the other.

Abunimah lays out an extensive case that the article misrepresents the basic facts. Bronner had written that the page had "22,500 active users" - 60 percent of whom are Arab. Abunimah went through the page, and argues that there are in fact only a handful of Arabs who have any sort of regular participation at all on the page. I haven't gone through it, but these seems fairly convincing, and a relevant indictment of the NYT article, because it's a pretty central point. (There's a lot more to the dispute, but this is one of the key points of contention).

Why is Abunimah arguing, I wondered at first, that Palestinian youth in fact aren't interested in peaceful chit-chat with Israeli youth? Because:
Moreover, while falsely presenting the project as popular with Palestinians and Arabs, Bronner ignores the vast body of Palestinian public opinion that opposes such projects for violating the Palestinian civil society call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
This is the part I have no sense of, and I'd be interested to hear from anyone who does. What's the polling data actually say? How homogenous or diverse is opinion among Palestinian youth these days, and what does it say? Regardless of their views on the state of the situation in general, what are their views toward Israeli civilians? If Palestinian youth do in fact overwhelmingly shun contact with Israelis, is it even largely because of the civil society call for a boycott, or not? (I don't know the answer to this stuff, or how clear an answer there is).

At this point, I'm thinking, the NYT article seems to be a bullshit piece, trying to make something of this Facebook page, when it really has few participants. I don't know what Palestinian youth actually think, but a handful of them participating in a Facebook page doesn't provide much information one way or another.

But the weird twist is that in the 10th paragraph of a 23 paragraph article, Bronner throws in this: “At a time when Arabs generally shun contact with Israelis...”

That's exactly the view that Abunimah has of the situation, and what he would have wanted the article to flesh out. But it's frustrating -- misleading -- that Bronner just slips it in, without getting into the larger point. He's admitting that his article is something of a "the general trend is X, but look, here's Y going on over here" piece.

Those kinds of articles can be interesting. They're certainly popular, and editors know it. But they can also be rather misleading. And it's especially a problem when point X has barely been examined and reported in the first place.



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