Rethinking Our Coverage of Israel-Palestine: Parody as Activism

 If you’ve ever lived in or known someone who has lived in New York, you know that people who live in New York City avoid Times Square at all costs. Yet on Tuesday morning I found myself climbing out of the subway onto 42nd street at 6:30 in the morning to meet up with some activists from Jewish Voice for Peace. (You may remember that this was the amazing group who came to the past two Presbyterian General Assemblies to work with groups like PPF and Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) to advocate for selective divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and HP, which passed in 2014).  

Over mediocre coffee at a cafe near Times Square we listened to the organizer of our group of twelve. We were divided up into groups of four, told our corners, and given 600 newspapers each. There were about ten other groups across Manhattan and Brooklyn who were also getting their copies of the special edition New York Times insert with the tag line at the top: “Rethinking Our 2015 Coverage on Israel-Palestine” and “All the News We Didn’t Print.” The goal was not to engage in conversation with people about the occupation or to about what organizations we were with—the goal was just to hand out all the papers. There were 10,000 total that were given out across the city on Tuesday. 

The next day, it was announced by Salon and Democracy Now! that Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No! were behind the paper, whose intent was to "make visible the need for reporting that addresses, rather than hides, the realities of Israeli apartheid and that is responsible and accurate in its coverage of conditions in Palestine and Israel," according to one organizer quoted in the Salon article. The New York Times consistently reports on events in Palestine and Israel with a decided bias towards Israel, listing names of Israelis killed by Palestinians, but names of Palestinians killed by Israelis, among other biased and unfair reporting practices. 

The response while we were handing out the papers was mixed. There are lots of groups and people who hand out free flyers and papers near Times Square and other high-traffic areas in NYC, and many people avoided eye contact as they rushed to work. Others, though, took the paper without much glance, and still others heard and saw "New York Times" and seemd to take a paper because of that. A few people immediately looked at the paper and reacted, but more often the people who reacted were people who had gotten the paper at another intersection, read as they walked, and saw people standing at the next intersection and engaged with those handing out papers there. Sometimes people would hand the paper back with a comment about it being "anti-Semitic," but a few times some of the other people I was with received more aggressive treatment and comments. We were instructed not to engage, but simply to continue handing out as many papers as possible. Only a few times did someone have to walk away from an angry New Yorker who would not leave them alone.

Being against the Occupation is not anti-Semitic. There is nothing inherently Jewish about the Occupation of Palestine. In fact, the denial of full human rights to a group of people--as the Occupation is--is contrary to Jewish teachings and tradition.  In this action last Tuesday, however, engaging in conversation about the Occupation--its illegality, unsustainability, or immorality--was not the purpose of this particular action. The purpose was to disseminate all 10,000 papers to elicit a response from the media and the New York Times. Based on the coverage over the following days, I'd say it succeeded in eliciting a response. We will see in the future if this action by Jewish peace groups helps shift the tone of the New York Times' coverage of the Occupation.