By Tamar Sternthal/JNS
The New York Times closed 2017 with a parting shot at Israel.
A Dec. 30 feature (“Coming Out in Lebanon”) in The Times identifies Lebanon as perhaps the “one exception” in a region hostile to its gay, lesbian and transgender citizens. The article opens, “Throughout the Middle East, gay, lesbian and transgender people face formidable obstacles to living a life of openness and acceptance in conservative societies.” But the newspaper insists, “If there is one exception, it has been Lebanon.”
The article completely ignores Israel, the one Middle Eastern country in which consensual same-sex romantic/sexual activity is legal, according to the World Economic Forum. By every conceivable measure, Israel’s LGBT citizens enjoy far greater rights and tolerance than their Lebanese counterparts.
Tel Aviv, which hosts an annual gay pride parade that attracts tens of thousands of international tourists, has been recognized as the best city in the world for LGBT individuals. In contrast, Lebanon last year marked its first gay pride week, but there was no parade through the streets. Gays have openly served in Israel’s military since 1993, and transgender soldiers are also welcome in the IDF.
A Pew Research Center survey unsurprisingly found that Israeli society is the most tolerant towards homosexuality in the Middle East. Forty percent of Israelis surveyed believe society should accept homosexuality; 47 percent disagree. In comparison, just 18 percent of Lebanese respondents favor acceptance of homosexuals, while 80 percent oppose it.
More striking is that Israel ranks an impressive seventh among all the countries in the world on the Gay Happiness Index. Lebanon ranks a dismal 99th. In response to communication from CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), The Times corrected the story, and the amended piece now accurately refers to Lebanon as the most LGBT tolerant place in the Arab world, as opposed to the Middle East.
There’s no possible journalistic justification for identifying Lebanon as the Middle East’s most LGBT tolerant country while completely ignoring Israel. But the gross misrepresentation is completely consistent with the paper’s shoddy and biased Israel coverage. Examples from just the last several weeks abound.
For instance, last month, an editorial about President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem announcement essentially ratified the 1948 cleansing of Jews from Jerusalem’s Old City and other formerly Jewish neighborhoods in the capital. “East Jerusalem was exclusively Arab in 1967,” stated The Times in its criticism of Jewish “settlements” in Jerusalem, ignoring that Jordan forcibly expelled the area’s Jewish residents.
Last November, a Times travel piece whitewashed convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh, who was found guilty of a 1969 supermarket bombing in Jerusalem in which two students were murdered, describing her merely as a “controversial Palestinian activist.”
Also last November, a Times piece about the new Louvre Abu Dhabi museum’s role as a “soft power" means “to promote the capital as a tolerant global city” completely ignored the recent Emirati ban on all Israeli symbols at the Grand Slam judo tournament. The paper reduced the government-imposed discrimination, which extended to the playing of the “Hatikvah” national anthem as medalist Tal Flicker stood at the podium, to the private refusal of a “local judo athlete” to shake an Israeli’s hand.
In its year-end campaign, The Times promises readers facts “in abundance” and urges them to “give the gift of understanding, with on the ground reporting from more than 140 countries.” When it comes to The Times’s Israel coverage, readers should expect neither facts nor understanding.
Tamar Sternthal is director of the Israel office of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).
This column was originally published in the Hebrew-language edition of Israel Hayom.