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Jewish Peace Groups Reveal Role in Spoof New York Times That Criticized Paper’s Stance on Israel

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A Palestinian village has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Israel is throwing open its doors to refugees. Those were some of the headlines that appeared in a fake version of The New York Times distributed across New York City on Tuesday. The paper carried the slogan “All the news we didn’t print.” The prank copy of the revered “Gray Lady” also announced Democratic presidential candidate “Hilarity Clifton” planned to quit the presidential race to head up a women’s nonprofit based in Ramallah. The edition even has fake ads. Volunteers distributed 10,000 copies of the fake paper, but no group took responsibility—until now. Jane Hirschmann of Jews Say No! tells Democracy Now! her group and Jewish Voice for Peace produced the paper. We speak to Hirschmann and Ben Norton, journalist at Salon.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A Palestinian village has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Israel is throwing open its doors to refugees. Those were some of the headlines that appeared in a fake version of The New York Times distributed across New York City on Tuesday. The paper carried the slogan “All the News We Didn’t Print.” The prank copy of the revered “Gray Lady” also announced Democratic presidential candidate “Hilarity Clifton” planned to quit the presidential race to head up a women’s nonprofit based in Ramallah. The edition even has fake ads.

AMY GOODMAN: Ten thousand copies of the fake paper were distributed, but no group took responsible for the prank—that is, until now. Joining us to find out who was behind the paper, we’re joined by Jane Hirschmann of Jews Say No! Also with us, Ben Norton, journalist at Salon who specializes in U.S. foreign policy and in the Middle East. He just published a piece titled “Progressive Jewish groups make New York Times parody issue to protest newspaper’s 'biased Israel-Palestine coverage.'”

Now, Jane, it begins—above the New York Times logo, it says, “Rethinking Our 2015 Coverage on Israel-Palestine—A Supplement” Who are Jews Say No! in New York, and why did you do this?

JANE HIRSCHMANN: Well, it wasn’t just Jews Say No! in New York. There were two groups that came together—our group, Jews Say No!, and also Jewish Voice for Peace in New York City. And we’re two organizations that are trying very hard to get out the real news about Israel and Palestine.

The media bias is extraordinary. And months ago, we came together to discuss: What can we do about this, the fact that the coverage never has any context to what’s going on in Israel and Palestine? People are not aware that there’s a 67-year occupation, that they’re not two equal peoples. The press—and it’s not just The New York Times, it’s really all the press. They always typecast the Palestinians as the terrorists, and the poor Israelis are the victims. And we felt that the time had come to really put out the news, the real news, about it.

People don’t know that our government is complicit, that we give $3 billion a year to Israel. And we don’t give it for social services, for education, for research; we give it to them for military reasons. It’s the largest contribution we make to any country in the world. So we’re funding the occupation. People don’t know there’s an apartheid-like state in Israel. And we worked for months to get out this paper. And yes, it’s a parody, but all the facts about Israel and Palestine on the ground are correct in the paper.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you know, I’m sure that many of the people in The New York Times would say that they provide some of the most balanced coverage, although, you know, obviously, you might differ with that. But some of the articles are really amazing. You had a headline, “I.D.F. Generals Blame Israeli Government for Recent Violence.” And you even had the advertisements, as well, all dealing with a political reversal of how people here in the United States, many, are fed the news on Israel and Palestine.

JANE HIRSCHMANN: Well, actually, some of the generals did come forward recently and did question what the Israeli government was doing and that it may be the cause for the violence. That’s what they questioned in The New York Times. And we’re saying that after 67 years of violence, of stealing people’s homes, people’s water, you know, not letting them a cross border, have checkpoints to go to work, not getting to hospitals, that this is violent. And even the generals—that article is pretty factual about the generals.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What was the reaction when you gave it out on the streets yesterday?

JANE HIRSCHMANN: It was really amazing. We had over 60 volunteers at places like Staten Island Ferry and, you know, Grand Central. And people took the paper and said, “Thank you.” And my first paper that I handed out at 7:00 in the morning, this guy left, and a minute later, he came back, and he said, “Who did this?” And, of course, we didn’t reveal. And then he said, “This is fabulous. This is the news we never see.” He said, “I’m a teacher, and I teach about media and terrorism. And I’m going to teach today. Can you give me more copies?”

AMY GOODMAN: You also have a fake editorial of The New York Times in this four-page supplement. And this, Ben, is one of the quotes you pulled for your Salon piece. You write, “In addition, we are aware”—this is the fake editorial. “In addition, we are aware that a disproportionate number of our news stories in the past year and a half have focused on Israeli government statements and positions or the views of Israeli Jewish citizens; only a small fraction have featured Palestinian speakers, whether officials and advocates or residents who experience the effects of Israeli policies in everyday life.” This, Ben Norton, is—was the clip that you chose for your piece in Salon to lay out where the Times says they’re going with this, though it was fake, of course.

BEN NORTON: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Well, I think—as Jane said, I think it’s important to recognize that The New York Times is not necessarily unique in these regards. Rather, I think, as the U.S. newspaper of record, it epitomizes this kind of tendency throughout American media. And essentially, the idea is, you know, Israel is a very close U.S. ally, Israel is a democracy, etc., so we need to give their side of the view the vast majority of the time. And what that does is it normalizes this notion that Palestinians are violent, and they’re reacting against, you know, this more civilized, democratic country. And when you look at the media coverage, very often what you see is, you know, you’ll see quotes from Israeli government officials—sometimes they’re anonymous—and at most there will be one or two quotes from a Palestinian. And even then, the quotes will be very timid and paltry, and you won’t see any kind of quotes that discuss, for instance, the brutality of the military occupation. You won’t see any discussion, in any kind of significant detail, of Israel’s illegal activities.

And as Jane had mentioned, when we’re talking about context, context in media is everything. And The New York Times and many other publications very often refuse to acknowledge that there has been an illegal military occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories since 1967. The U.S. and all countries in the world, excluding Israel, have admitted this. The New York Times rarely acknowledges, for instance, that—when they’re discussing the recent wave of violence, that more than 165 Palestinians have been killed since October. You know, in a few months, we’re talking about approximately 170 deaths. And, in fact, a few minutes ago, just this morning—I was looking at the headlines—three more Palestinians were killed in occupied East Jerusalem.

So, when we’re looking at this kind of coverage, it’s important to understand that when American newspapers quote Israeli government officials, when American newspapers kind of don’t acknowledge the daily, quotidian violence and oppression that Palestinians are subjected to, that, right there, it’s a subtle but very clear form of bias that must be overcome. This whole notion of having balanced coverage is, of course, very important, but what it often actually means is it normalizes and essentially creates an equivalency between the people who are under military occupation, and have been illegally for decades, and the people who are carrying out that illegal military occupation. And any media that make that clear delineation are actually being balanced. If you don’t make that delineation, you’re not being balanced, you’re normalizing violence.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jane, I wanted to ask you—there were two pieces that were not parodies. They were op-ed pieces by Leila Said and by Aurora Levins Morales. I’m wondering if you could talk about them and the decision to include them, as well, in this issue.

JANE HIRSCHMANN: Well, we thought it was important to put in pieces—as you said, the whole paper is not a parody. There are facts that are absolutely correct. And we thought that it was important to put in pieces—actually, there’s only one person that’s named correctly in this paper, and that’s Aurora. But we wanted to make it accurate, as well. We didn’t want it to just be a joke paper. We wanted to show what real coverage would look like. And so, we did that.

And I also want to mention what Ben said. You know, when an Israeli child is killed, they have a whole story about that child. They have a picture of that child. They tell you about the family, you know. So we listed the Palestinian children who were recently killed, and grown-ups, because we thought it was important to get their names into—you never see it in the papers at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Also, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon actually did write a strongly worded New York Times op-ed criticizing Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

JANE HIRSCHMANN: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: But I also wanted to ask you about the ads.


AMY GOODMAN: On the front page, we’re used to seeing, you know, various ads.


AMY GOODMAN: “The Perfume of Power.” And it says, “Eau de I.D.F. Skunk.” Can you say what it says underneath?

JANE HIRSCHMANN: You know, I can’t read what it says underneath, because I don’t have my glasses, sorry. Ben, can you or somebody read it?

BEN NORTON: So, it is a fake ad for perfume, you know, “Eau de I.D.F,” water of the IDF, or perfume. And it says, “Since 2008, the Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F.) have routinely sprayed toxic 'skunk water' on and into Palestinian homes and schools. Its smell has been described as 'worse than raw sewage' and 'like a mixture of excrement, noxious gas and a decomposing donkey.'”

JANE HIRSCHMANN: One of my children—


JANE HIRSCHMANN: Yeah, this is true.

BEN NORTON: Absolutely.

JANE HIRSCHMANN: One of my children was at Bil’in when they sprayed skunk. And it was horrific. And, you know, people got very, very ill. One person has died. This is what they spray to disperse the crowds.

BEN NORTON: And it’s important to recognize also, for instance, Bassem Tamimi is an outspoken nonviolent Palestinian activist in the occupied West Bank, and he has discussed how they also spray it into homes.


BEN NORTON: And what they do is they sometimes break windows—this is Israeli occupation forces—they will break windows and spray skunk water into people’s homes, which ruins their furniture, which makes their house smell horrific for weeks. And if it gets in your hair, it can be stuck—that smell can be stuck for months.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you get a response from The New York Times? I mean, the paper, aside from the headlines and the content, looks exactly like The New York Times.

JANE HIRSCHMANN: Yes, yes. Well, they were quoted. We didn’t call them for the quotes. But all our sites have been taken down—our Facebook, our Twitter—


JANE HIRSCHMANN: —and even our domain. Well, we’re not exactly sure. The domain, we know, because they were called by The New York Times and threatened, so they took it down. We will be up and running again today. We will not be stopped. And we’ll let your viewers know, through you, how to see the paper online, because right now nobody can see it. We were taken down.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, as Jews Say No! and Jewish Voice for Peace New York City reveals they’re behind the fake New York Times that was distributed yesterday throughout the city, 10,000 copies made. Jane Hirschmann of Jews Say No! and Ben Norton, journalist at Salon who’s written about this, and the piece has just gone up.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Michael Eric Dyson joins us to talk about The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America. Stay with us.

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