Secret Decoder Ring: Understanding How The New York Times Thinks About Israel

The time has come for a glossary of Timespeak, the language of the New York Times that is quite incomprehensible to ordinary mortals, and even to the wise men of Chelm.

Closed Captioning for the Irony Impaired: The following is SATIRE. This does not mean that I believe the exact reverse of every belief I impute to The New York Times. For example, the fact that I mock the idiotic cliche, "The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful" does not mean that I believe the reverse fatuity. Instead, I dare to assert that Mme. Albright and the editorial board of The New York Times haven't the faintest clue what the vast majority of Muslims think about anything, and that the purpose of advancing the lazy (and ungrammatical) banality that "the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful" is to further a specific set of policies designed to spare government officials and editorial writers alike the burden of thought and effort, and to hell with the truth--and the consequences.
Timespeak English Example
assassinate (v.) Formerly used to refer to refer to murders of well-known political figures; now more commonly used to refer to Israeli killings of terrorists. News article, May 24, 2010: Israel’s intelligence service, the Mossad, is widely believed to be behind the assassination of Mr. Mabhouh, a founder of Hamas’s military wing.
backlash (n.) See Muslims, American.  
community, international (n.) What you get when you cross a Pirates' Guild with a Pacifists' Convention. Between them, states like Libya on the one hand and Sweden on the other are perfectly placed to tell Israel how to make peace. News article, June 20, 2010: On Sunday, the White House said it "welcomes the new policy towards Gaza announced by the government of Israel, which responds to the calls of many in the international community."
complicate (v.) What Israel's actions are always doing to what is fundamentally the very simple problem of bringing peace to the Middle East. See jeopardize. News headline, May 31, 2010: [Israeli] Raid Complicates U.S. Ties and Push for Peace
consensus, emerging (n.) A "consensus" is always "emerging." This means, "The New York Times editorial board has reached the following conclusion, and has tracked down appropriate experts to provide confirmatory quotes, without any countervailing information that might confuse the reader." News article, June 10, 2010: GAZA — Three years after Israel and Egypt imposed an embargo on this tormented Palestinian strip, shutting down its economy, a consensus has emerged that the attempt to weaken the governing party, Hamas, and drive it from power has failed.
disproportionate (adj.) Used to describe any militarily effective action undertaken by Israel. (Credit: Alex Bensky) News article, January 12, 2009: News article, January 12, 2009: To many abroad, the picture could not be clearer: Israel's war in Gaza is a wildly disproportionate response to the rockets of Hamas, causing untold human suffering, bombing an already isolated and impoverished population into the Stone Age, and it must be stopped.
extremist (n.) (a) An Islamic jihadi who disdains to conceal his murderous intentions See also militant, radical. Contrast with terrorist. (b) A Tea Party activist who disagrees with President Obama, or a Jewish West Bank settler. (a) News article, June 7, 2010: Prosecutors said in court papers that the two men were on the way to join Al Shabab, an extremist organization thought to have sheltered Qaeda operatives wanted in the 1998 bombings of United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
(b) Editorial, June 18, 2010: [Nevada Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle]'s statements across the past six months — when she was winning national attention dishing right-wing polemics — were some of the most offensive and inciteful to be heard in this year’s welter of extremist alarums. * Note use of Shakespearean word, a dog whistle to Times readers!
Op-ed by Thomas Friedman, May 16, 2004 combining meanings a and b: Question: What do the Shiite extremist leader Moktada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army have in common with the extremist Jewish settlers in Israel? Answer: More than you'd think. Yes, of course: At that very moment, Jewish West Bank settlers were launching rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. soldiers, just like the "Mahdi Army."
gestures, reciprocal (n.) Unilateral Israeli concessions. Israel giveth, the Palestinians taketh, the international community demandeth more. Times Magazine article, September 9, 2009: Reciprocal gestures would in turn create momentum toward solving the yet-more-difficult final-status questions of mutual borders, the status of Jerusalem and the "right of return" for Palestinians who fled Israel decades ago.
hard-liner (n.) (hyphen optional; implied condescension not) A person stubbornly incapable of agreeing with the wise and well-reasoned views of The New York Times editorial board Editorial, March 26, 2010: Questions from Israeli hard-liners and others about [President Obama]'s commitment to Israel’s security are misplaced.
hijab (n.) A religious fashion statement. Any news items that suggest that it has aggressively reactionary political purposes that many Muslims disagree with, or that it is not always worn voluntarily, must be dropped or minimized. News article in "Fitness & Nutrition," September 9, 2009: Many pious Muslim women in the United States ... wear hijab in public, loose garments that cover their hair and body, which can hinder movement and add to discomfort during exercise.
ill-timed (adj.) Used to describe any action by or in support of Israel that might upset attempts to breathe life back into the gangrenous flesh of the peace process News article, March 15, 2010: An ill-timed municipal housing announcement in Jerusalem has mutated into one of the most serious conflicts between the United States and Israel in two decades.
insurgent (n.) An Islamic jihadi who disdains to conceal his murderous intentions, but attacks soldiers as well as civilians, enabling the Times to avoid the words extremist or radical, which the Times prefers so as not to hurt the jihadis' feelings. News article, June 13, 2010: It is well known that Somalia’s radical Islamist insurgents are plucking children off soccer fields and turning them into fighters.
interest, national (n.) Something The New York Times editorial board knows best how to determine. Editorial, June 11, 2010: That is in Israel’s clear interest. And it is in Turkey’s clear interest.
investigation, international (n.) A UN-led pogrom against Israel that The New York Times editorial board can really get behind, especially if the adjective "impartial" is attached to it. Editorial, June 3, 2010: But we are sure that before things get even more out of control, the world — and Israel — needs an impartial international investigation. ... Our suggestion: Do it under the auspices of the so-called quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — that is already working on Middle East peace. — to such striking effect!
issues, final status (n.) Aspects of the Israeli-Arab conflict that are "final" because they cannot be resolved until the End of Days, and even then the Messiah might have trouble doing so. News article, November 5, 2007: They noted that negotiators had not decided how to tackle the four final status issues: the contours of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, the removal of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the fate of Palestinian refugees who had left, or who were forced to leave, their homes, most before or during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
jeopardize (v.) What Israeli actions are constantly doing (and no Arab or Palestinian action can ever do) to the phantom peace process. See complicate. News article, September 4, 2009: The Americans have been trying to persuade Arab states to offer Israel measures in exchange for a building freeze. ... Some of those hopes may be jeopardized by the latest announcement.
Jerusalem (n.) By law, any story in The New York Times about Jerusalem must state the putative Palestinian negotiating position in the non-existent peace process using this exact wording or some very slight variation: "East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as a capital for a future state." No mention may be made of the fact that this was part of the Israeli-American offer that Yasser Arafat rejected at Camp David in July 2000. Random sampling of articles using the magic phrase: August 2, 2009: the Palestinians demand that East Jerusalem be the capital of a future state; December 28, 2009: the Palestinians say that East Jerusalem is to be the capital of their state; March 16, 2010: The Palestinians want East Jerusalem for their future capital; March 24, 2010: The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state; April 27, 2010 (photo caption): Palestinians demand that East Jerusalem be the capital of a future state; June 21, 2010: East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as a capital for a future state
militant (n.) Euphemism for Islamic jihadi; see also extremist, radical. Especially preferred for jihadis with a grudge against Israel. Contrast with terrorist. News article, June 7, 2010: Four Palestinian militants suspected by Israel of planning an attack by sea were killed near the Gaza shoreline early on Monday...
moderate (adj.) Used to describe all Muslim political and religious figures except for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and active members of Al Qaeda. News article, August 17, 2009: The Obama administration has done little publicly to push the issue forward, offering to talk to moderate members of the Taliban but drawing the line at those linked to Al Qaeda.
momentum (n.) In Israeli-Palestinian relations, blowing on the ice-cold ashes of the Oslo Accords and hoping for a nice warm fire. News headline, August 18, 2005: Rice Urges Israel and Palestinians to Sustain Momentum
Muslims, American (n.) Since 9/11, prospective victims of the much-anticipated but never realized "backlash." News article, June 11, 2010: She also reacted to a backlash against Islam and the news that many American Muslim women were not covering for fear of being targeted.
Muslims, vast majority of (n.) Sentences that begin with this phrase must always end, "are peaceful." Now, without impugning in any way the peacefulness of any Muslim or the excellence of Islam, the vacuousness of this statement is easily demonstrated by making a substitution in either the subject or the predicate. For example, suppose we assert that "the vast majority of Muslims like fish." Is it true? Who knows? But we have no greater or lesser basis for saying so than we have for making the original statement. Or suppose we assert that, "The vast majority of Christians are peaceful." Is that true? Not on the evidence of the Crusades, the Thirty Years' War, or the various struggles between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland; but it certainly seems to be true that "the vast majority of Christians" today and through much of history are not or were not actively engaged in violently suppressing anyone else's religious freedom. However, it is obvious from all the qualifiers we had to add that this statement tells us absolutely nothing useful about any particular historical or present-day political situation. And neither does the anodyne banality about the vast majority of Muslims.
And one more thing: Have the people who feel the need to make such idiotic statements thought at all about how they are likely to be received by the intended targets of this empty praise? Assuming you are American, wouldn't you feel insulted, nervous or condescended to if someone asserted that "the vast majority of Americans are peaceful?"
Op-ed by Madeleine Albright, June 2, 2009: It cannot be said too often that Islam is a religion of peace, that terrorism is as indefensible in Islam as it is in the other two Abrahamic faiths, and that the vast majority of Muslims — including the millions who are citizens of the United States — want to live in dignity and without violence.
nuclear program, Iranian (n.) To maintain the appearance of objectivity and balance at all costs, every Times article on the Iranian drive to build an atomic bomb must refer to it as a "nuclear program" and include the regime's protestations of peaceful intent. News article, June 14, 2010: Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for civilian use only, not to make weapons, as the West and its allies fear.
observer, casual (n.) A rhetorical straw man, or rather straw naif, invoked by Times writers to show how crazy them Jews and Ay-Rabs are. Such an observer would have to have casually drifted in from another universe where the known laws of history and political science do not apply. News article, November 26, 2009: This week, a casual observer could have concluded that each had carried out its duty and that peace talks would move forward.
outcry, international (n.) An artificially created controversy that the New York Times editorial board, speaking for the Will of the Universe, thinks it knows how to resolve. Editorial, June 11, 2010: The international outcry over this ["Gaza flotilla"] episode is unlikely to subside until there is an "impartial, credible and transparent investigation" as called for by the United Nations Security Council. That means a full investigation — in both Israel and Turkey.
peace, religion of (n.) Islam, of course. All other religions are religions of war. See Muslims, vast majority of.  
peace process, Israeli-Palestinian (n.) The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is very important to The New York Times, even though it hasn't actually existed in ten years. How important is it? Certainly more important than any number of human lives on either side, as proven by the fact that loss of such is mourned by the Times only insofar as it imperils the Holy Process. News article, January 11, 2009: With every image of the dead in Gaza inflaming people across the Arab world, Egyptian and Jordanian officials are worried that they see a fundamental tenet of the Middle East peace process slipping away: the so-called two-state solution, an independent Palestinian state coexisting with Israel.
radical (n.) Euphemism for Islamic jihadi; see extremist, militant. Contrast with terrorist. News headline, May 15, 2010: Munich Imam Tries to Dull Lure of Radical Islam
(widely) regarded as (adj.) Rhetorical device deployed by Times writers as either (a) a substitute for proving what they assert or (b) a way of distancing themselves from statements that are obviously true but for which the illusion of objectivity must be preserved for reasons unclear. Compare with the Times's standard treatment of the Iranian nuclear bomb building program. (a) News article, December 20, 2009: Ayatollah Montazeri was widely regarded as the most knowledgeable religious scholar in Iran
(b) "Times Topics" article on the Gaza Strip, updated June 11, 2010: Support for the invasion was nearly unanimous among an Israeli public long frustrated at having to endure rocket attacks from what they regarded as an implacable foe.
retaliation, revenge (n.) Any action by Israel that would be described as self-defense if undertaken by any other nation not occupied by those eye-for-an-eye Jews. News article, June 27, 2006: In Gaza, Defiantly Awaiting Israeli Retaliation
Editorial, October 7, 1997: Israel's fury and frustration over terrorist bombings are understandable, but trying to assassinate Palestinian leaders in revenge is not the answer.
settlers, Jewish (n.) The cause of all conflict in the Middle East, and arguably in the entire world. (No other people in the entire history of the whole world ever "settled" anywhere they weren't supposed to except those damn Brooklyn-born Jews.) Op-ed by Roger Cohen, June 10, 2010: Several factors have nudged the country [Israel] rightward: religious-settler extremism...
suffering, widespread (n.) The tragic outcome of (a) natural disasters, (b) genocidal mass murder, or (c) Israel's attempts to defend itself. (a) News article, January 24, 2010: Some say the media’s ability to arrive so swiftly and show the widespread suffering in a place like Port-au-Prince [after the January 2010 earthquake that killed 200,000 people] influences the public’s reactions.
(b) News article, April 11, 2007: [Then-]Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte ... will also make a stop in Chad, where the spillover effect from the Darfur war has caused widespread suffering.
(c) Editorial, June 21, 2010: The near-total blockade of Gaza ... has caused widespread suffering and given Hamas more excuses for its excesses and mismanagement. Sorry, has given Hamas excuses for WHAT?
Tea Party (n.) An extremist American political movement that is, at one and the same time, a much bigger threat to the American Way of Life than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chávez put together, and a bunch of uncool white guys and hicks who can be sneered at without fear. Week in Review article, April 16, 2010: The Tea Party supporters now taking to the streets aren’t the ones feeling the [economic] pain. ... Their memories are of a different time, when the country was less diverse.
terrorism, terrorist (n.) Terms strictly limited to Al Qaeda jihadi attackers of American civilians. Jihadis who attack other countries' civilians are extremists, militants, radicals, etc. News article, May 19, 2010 A Moroccan-born naturalized United States citizen pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that he sent money to Al Qaeda, in the latest terrorism-related case to arise involving an American.
violence (n.) A virtually meaningless term encompassing everything from (a) a dirtbag hitting an old lady over the head to steal her pocketbook to (b) genocidal mass murder. (a) May 17, 2010 column by David Brooks: The violence built and built. Through the '60s and '70s, crime surged [in New York City].
(b) News headline, June 15, 2010: Aid Starts to Arrive in Kyrgyzstan as Violence Abates (inscrutable headline refers to near-genocidal slaughters of ethnic Uzbeks)
violence, cycle of (n.) As applied by the Times to the Israeli-Arab conflict, this is best explained by analogy: A serial killer breaks into your home and ties up your wife and children. You surprise him just as he’s about to stab them to death and punch him in the face, knocking him out. Et voila, a cycle of violence! Not only that, you’ve escalated the situation, just like those damn Israelis are always doing! News article, December 18, 2008: Israel’s decision in early November to destroy a tunnel Hamas had been digging near the border drove the cycle of violence to a much higher level.
wing, military (n.) Terrorists (oops, sorry Mr. Pinch sir, I meant militants, really I did, sir) within Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. who are actively engaged in murdering Jews, and are therefore considered in the Times Building not to be suitable candidates for reasoned dialogue at present. The conceit that a terrorist is a soldier goes back to the beginnings of modern political terrorism in turn-of-the-twentieth-century violent anarchism, and the fatuous distinction between "military wings" and "political wings" to the 1970s Irish Republican Army, though it is not currently considered acceptable for terrorist groups whose targets are not Jews. Compare with political wing. News article, April 24, 2007: The military wing of Hamas fired a barrage of rockets and mortar shells from Gaza into Israel today for the first time since the Palestinian faction committed to a cease-fire in November.
wing, political (n.) Figures within Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. who are (for now) shouting over loudspeakers that all Jews must be killed, and are not (for the moment) physically trying to kill Jews, and are therefore considered in the Times Building to be suitable candidates for reasoned dialogue. Compare with moderate and military wing. News article, June 26, 2003: Although the military wing of Hamas is on the European Union's terrorist list, its political wing, which supports schools and social services in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, is not. "We don't want to target the school director when it's the terrorists we're after," the European official said.
March 8, 2009 op-ed by Roger Cohen, humorously entitled "Middle East Reality Check": The United States should follow the British example. It should initiate diplomatic contacts with the political wing of Hezbollah.
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Copyright © 2010, Martin Berman-Gorvine