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Bronner discusses impartiality in Israel

Published: February 5, 2010
Section: Front Page

Meet the press: New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner spoke about the Middle East on Tuesday.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner spoke to the Brandeis community Tuesday about the necessity of objective reporting in Israel, and the difficulties reporters face in pursuit of it, in the International Lounge of the Usdan Student Center.

Bronner explained to his audience how he tries to report on two opposing narratives, Jewish-Israeli vs. Palestinian, in an unbiased manner in his lecture sponsored by the Schusterman Center for Isreali Studies and the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism titled “Covering the Middle East in 2010: A Report from the Field.”

When covering events in the region, Bronner said he hears both points of view but that much of the conflict and controversy is due to misunderstanding and an unwillingness to listen.

Bronner, who also served as Middle East bureau chief for The Boston Globe in the 1990s, explained that throughout his experience there, he had tried to write a neutral view.

“In a world which tends traffic in black and white, I traffic in grey,” he said. “What seems to you to be true may not be true to someone else.”

“The problem is that I have two completely contradicting narratives,“ Bronner said. “You have to find a new way to describe things that doesn’t offend people.”

Professor Troen, director of the Shusterman Center for Israeli studies, introduced Bronner by encouraging the concept of listening to all sides of the conflict in Israel.

“What we like is a multiplicity of voices,” Professor Troen said.

The correspondent has recently come under fire from some in the media over the fact that he continues to write on the conflict while one of his sons has joined the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). But Bronner insisted, despite the criticism, that he is able to stay impartial on Israeli current events and promised neutrality.

“Reporters are a subspecies of humanity,” he said. “I’m not very emotionally evolved in this conflict. If I were, I wouldn’t be reporting on it.”

When asked further about a potential bias from his experience as a Jewish reporter covering attacks in the region, Bronner told The Hoot, “The issue of objectivity of a reporter is something that interests people enormously and I understand that…To me, it’s very important to do it right.”

“I’m not saying I’m flawless about it, but that part of it has never been that hard,” Bronner said.

Bronner explained in his speech that Israel is constantly in the news despite other long violent wars and conflicts in nations like Sudan and the Congo because “this land is holy to nearly four billion people.”

“It’s a dramatic place [with] dramatic stories on which there are many, many interpretations,” Professor Troen said.

Bronner said he believes it is easier for The Times to gain access to Israeli officials than other newspapers because of its prestige, adding that he has been able to interview and speak with Hamas political officials as well.

During last year’s Gaza War, however, Bronner, who lives in West Jerusalem, was not allowed into the region to cover the conflict, and The Times had to rely on a Gazan freelancer instead. Bronner expressed frustration that he was not allowed in for much of the war, calling the decision “immoral” and a “stupid thing to do.”

Bronner also discussed the United Nation’s Goldstone Report written about the Gaza War, calling the report a “harsh discussion” of the Gaza War. But he added that, “there are things in it that are reasonable.”

Goldstone visited Brandeis in November to defend his report in a forum with former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold. His report on the Gaza War drew criticism from many Israelis because they argued it did not accurately address the crimes that Hamas had committed before the Gaza War, in addition to their acts during the conflict.

Referring to the current state of Israeli and Palestinian relations today, Bronner said that, “the single ray of hope that I see for this conflict is that the expectations are so low.”

Nadav Tamir, the Israeli consul-general in New England attended Bronner’s lecture, and afterward told The Hoot he disagreed that there is little hope for Israelis and Palestinians to create peace in the future.

“I’m actually much more optimistic and I think there are many ingredients for moving forward between Israelis and Palestinians than we ever [have] had in the past,” Tamir said.