Why didn’t the New York Times publish the exposé they commissioned of virulent racism against Africans in Israel?

We’ve written plenty on this blog about the worsening levels of violent racism against Africans in Israel. This time last year Olufemi Terry reflected on a comment by the Israeli immigration minister: “This country belongs to us, to the white man.” Last summer Miri Regev, an MP, told a rally “the Sudanese are like a cancer in our body.”

David Sheen and Max Blumenthal’s reporting has been vital in bringing the appalling situation to international attention, which is why it was great news when the New York Times commissioned a film from the pair on this topic for their well-known “Op-Doc” series. The film was made and then canned. For some reason, the New York Times wouldn’t publish it (it eventually wound up on The Nation).

Yesterday on Twitter we asked the curator of the “Op-Doc” series, Jason Spingarn-Koff, for an explanation. If he or Kathleen Lingo, the editor who solicited the video for NYT, ever gets back to us, we’ll publish their response below. When a commissioned piece gets “killed” it’s customary  for contributors to receive an explanation for this, but Max Blumenthal told us Spingarn-Koff refused to explain why he wouldn’t be carrying the exposé.

The film can still be seen, but of course it would have got far more viewers had it been carried on the NYT and the appalling treatment of Africans in Israel would have been far harder for the extreme right-wing Israeli government to brush off. (Incidentally, some of the most shocking scenes in Blumenthal and Sheen’s film had already appeared on AIAC in Talya Swissa’s post on Netanyahu’s re-election and the racist demonstrations that took place in Tel Aviv in December.) The NYT has a decidedly mixed record of reporting on this issue. In a 2011 article, their reporter Ethan Bronner twice used the term “infiltrators” in his own prose, without quotation marks — it’s now the official term used in Israel for African migrants.

Here’s Blumenthal’s explanation of what went down (via ElectronicIntifada):

I was asked to submit something by The New York Times op docs, a new section on the website that published short video documentaries. I am known for short video documentaries about the right wing in the US, and extremism in Israel. They solicited a video from me, and when I didn’t produce it in time, they called me for it, saying they wanted it. So I sent them a video I produced with my colleague, David Sheen, an Israeli journalist who is covering the situation of non-Jewish Africans in Israel more extensively than any journalist in the world.

We put together some shocking footage of pogroms against African communities in Tel Aviv, and interviews with human rights activists. I thought it was a well-done documentary about a situation very few Americans were familiar with. We included analysis. We tailored it to their style, and of course it was rejected without an explanation after being solicited. I sent it to some other major websites and they have not even responded to me, when they had often solicited articles from me in the past.

Here is the video:

Further Reading