The New York Times’ Jerusalem bureau slavishly responds to unfolding Israeli stories as though the computers there are set on robotic control to: “Divert, Divert”.
The most recent Times “Divert, Divert” example came in an overlong Times examination of what Pope Frances said in a Vatican private exchange with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Divert is the operative word through which Israel keeps the world from focusing either on positive Palestinian stories, or on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians under its military control.
It does so with the dutiful assistance of publications like the New York Times.
The picture above shows two Israeli soldiers arresting a Palestinian child in East Jerusalem. That photo is not from The New York Times. It is from a daily Arabic newspaper Alwatan, published in Oman.
The most recent New York Times diversion story carries the ludicrously misleading headline: “Vatican Seeks to Quiet Uproar Over Pope’s ‘Angel of Peace’ Remark”.
What prompted this so-called “uproar”? The Times reports further:
Did the pope tell Mr. Abbas “You are an angel of peace,” as many news outlets, including the main Italian news agency ANSA, The Associated Press and The New York Times, reported?
That phrasing pleased Palestinians, but infuriated some Israelis and Jewish leaders around the world.
Or was the pope encouraging Mr. Abbas with the words, “May you be an angel of peace,” as other major Italian news media, like La Repubblica and La Stampa, reported, a formulation that suggested more exhortation than commendation, and sounded better to pro-Israeli ears.
It all seemed to boil down to the difference between the verb “sei,” Italian for “you are,” and “sia,” which means “may you be.” Pro-Israeli advocates were quick to pick up on the discrepancies, but Vatican officials did little to clarify the matter.
Little done by the Vatican to clarify? Not true.
In a statement issued by Vatican spokesman the Rev. Frederico Lombardi, the Times informs its readers, still pushing its Israeli narrative, that Father Lombardi engages in what the Times called ” some of his own diplomatic ambiguity”.
The reader is expected to believe the following words from Father Lombardi are ambiguous?
The pope had presented Mr. Abbas with a gift often given to visiting presidents: a bronze medal that represents an angel of peace. In the statement, he said that the word angel refers to a “messenger.”
When the pope presents the medal, Father Lombardi said, “he offers a few words of explanation of the gift as well as an invitation to a commitment to peace on the part of the recipient.”
The Times dutifully reports that, according to The Vatican, “angels are, in fact, ‘messengers'”. Right, and in baseball, a double play is making two outs on the same play.
Father Lombardi further informs the Times that the Vatican never reports on what the Pope says during private discussions, and that what is expressed during an exchange of gifts is not meant to be recorded.
“What he says in private conversations are not official declarations, so they are not officially documented,” he said. “It was a conversation between two people, not a moment of official declarations.”
The Times then solemnly declares that “Israel has made no public statement on the issue, apparently having no interest in a public spat with the Vatican.”
Oh, so now it is just a public spat. Well, that’s not the way Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, sees it.
Nahshon got word to the Times that he had actually heard a recording of the conversation, had consulted with Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican and was satisfied that the pope had said, “May you be an angel of peace.”
A private conversation between the Pope and a guest was recorded and now is in the hands of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Does this mean the Vatican is bugged?
The Times then adds to its story about the honoring of President Abbas by quoting Israel’s Nahshon:
“He is far from an angel of peace,” Mr. Nahshon said of Mr. Abbas, adding, “If he was, perhaps by now there would be peace.”
As the story grinds to an end, we finally receive a word from someone who knows how to interpret this story of a “spat” for what it really is, a typical pro-Israel diversion from the more important and positive reports about the Vatican and Palestine.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, laughed when asked about the controversy, saying she was not about to provide “a biblical exegesis on ‘may you be’ or ‘you are’.
“Either way,” she said, speaking by telephone from Ramallah in the West Bank, “the analogy and the connection is there.”
Ms. Ashrawi was not at the meeting in the Vatican and said she had not bothered to call and ask exactly what words were spoken to Mr. Abbas. She pointed to the wider context of Mr. Abbas’s visit, including the recognition issue and the canonization of two 19th-century nuns.
The canonization refers to an earlier Times report that “Two Arab Nuns From Palestine Are Canonized by Pope Francis”, which began:
“Two 19th century nuns from Ottoman-ruled Palestine were made saints at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, just days after the Vatican recognized Palestinian statehood.”
For a more complete take on the canonization story, click here. This story adds a detail left out of the Times account, answering the question of why President Abbas was in Rome in the first place.
Wham, bam, two big stories: Canonization of two Palestinian women, side by side with Palestinian statehood recognition by the Vatican. That is the big news out of the Vatican.
Not so for the Times. After its initial report on canonization and recognition, the Times turns quickly to the “importance ” of the difference between “may you be” and “you are”, concluding with soothing words from Abe Foxman, leader of the Anti-Defamation League:
“The good news is that there are all sorts of efforts to step back,” he said, referring to the Vatican spokesman’s efforts to smooth the atmosphere. “That is more important than how that phrase got there,” he said, adding, “Whatever it is, whether it was misspoken, miswritten or misread, we welcome it.”
By welcome, we must presume Mr. Foxman means, the Times report on the Vatican’s linguistic clarification?
Less welcome to Mr. Foxman, we may also presume, are the facts that Pope Francis has presented President Abbas with “a bronze medal that represents an angel of peace”, canonized two Palestinian nuns, and recognized Palestine as a state.
A closing reminder to American Protestant church leaders who will meet in a variety of venues this summer to continue their debates on how best to relate to their Jewish neighbors (Jewish neighbors, not Israeli neighbors).
The words above are written on one of the many walls Israel built to keep Palestinians within their own homeland.
In their deliberations, these church leaders will need to remember that, as the wall proclaims, “Criticism of Israel is Not Anti-Semitic”. They also need to remember that Israel is a nation that believes it must divert rather than face the reality of its conduct.
The picture at top was taken in East Jerusalem. It appeared in Alwatan, a daily Arabic newspaper published in Oman and distributed internationally. The words witten on a Palestinian wall is a Neil Flickr photo from Mondoweiss.