If there is one thing the New York Times is good at these days, it’s offending the public. Conservatives are often enraged at the Gray Lady from the sidelines, while its subscribers feel betrayed by anything the paper publishes from right of the center-left. This year, the Times wrapped up a particularly offensive Christmas gift — an op-ed by Gaza City mayor Yahya R. Sarraj condemning the Israeli military.
The Times published Sarraj’s essay, “I Am Gaza City’s Mayor. Our Lives and Culture Are in Rubble,” on Christmas Eve. According to the city’s mayor, Israeli’s bombardment of Gaza has resulted in more than 20,000 deaths and the destruction of Palestinian cultural institutions. “The unrelenting destruction of Gaza — its iconic symbols, its beautiful seafront, its libraries and archives and whatever economic prosperity it had — has broken my heart,” he wrote.
In his piece, Sarraj poses a number of seemingly rhetorical questions, such as, “Why did the Israeli tanks destroy so many trees, electricity poles, cars and water mains? Why would Israel hit a UN school?” and “Why can’t Palestinians be treated equally, like Israelis and all other peoples in the world? Why can’t we live in peace and have open borders and free trade?” A discerning editor at the Times might have pushed back and suggested the inclusion of the responses: because Hamas broke the ceasefire on October 7 by marauding into Israel and murdering 1,500 innocent people — and because Palestinian leadership has rejected every attempt to agree upon a two-state solution in the last eight decades. Instead Sarraj’s questions are left hanging in the air as if they are unanswerable.
The response to the Times piece from conservative outlets has been swift and unrelenting. A MailOnline write-up pointed out that the NYT had been “accused of promoting ‘Jew hatred’,” while the New York Post highlighted the controversy around the “decision to grant a platform to Sarraj.” The Washington Examiner condemned the Times for “amplifying the voice of a highly ranked Hamas member”— in the piece, Sarraj cops to the fact that “the Hamas administration appointed me mayor in 2019.” But isn’t a big part of free speech publishing the opinions of people who offend? Previously the Times has published Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey who has jailed over two dozen journalists, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban. It did so because, ostensibly, the purpose of the New York Times is to tell us about world affairs — and hearing from the people who shape them is a decent way of doing so.
Cockburn is old enough to remember when the shoe was on the other foot and the Times published Senator Tom Cotton’s “Send in the Troops” op-ed. Conservatives rejoiced and liberals cried at Cotton’s audacity to call for military force against Black Lives Matter protests. Times employees threw such a tantrum that opinion editor James Bennet was forced to resign, all because the Times got squeamish about its capacity to offend. Cockburn, like all those right-of-center titles, was appalled by the pearl-clutching over “platforming” in that sorry episode. He’s perturbed to see those professedly pro-free speech outlets employing the same tactics…