New York Times Amends Marwan Barghouti's Op-ed Noting Murder, Terror Conviction

Initial text of the opinion piece referred to the initiator of the hunger strike as a 'Palestinian leader and parliamentarian'

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Protesters wave flags bearing an image of Marwan Barghouti during a rally in Ramallah to show their support for Palestinians who launched a hunger strike in Israeli jails, April 17, 2017.
Protesters wave flags bearing an image of Marwan Barghouti during a rally in Ramallah to show their support for Palestinians who launched a hunger strike in Israeli jails, April 17, 2017.Credit: ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

The New York Times on Monday added an editor's note to the opinion piece written by jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti explaining the reason for his incarceration amid heavy criticism for failing to note his murder and terror convictions. The initial text of the op-ed referred to Barghouti as a "Palestinian leader and parliamentarian."

"This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted," the note read. "They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy."

In the editorial published on Sunday, Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for terrorism and murder in Israel, explained why he and hundreds of other Palestinian prisoners have gone on hunger strike. Barghouti accused Israel of "mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners."

In the piece, Barghouti relayed a number of personal stories about his run-ins with Israeli authorities and the subsequent imprisonments he has endured. He failed to mention the crimes for which he was convicted, claiming that "an Israeli court sentenced me to five life sentences and 40 years in prison in a political show trial that was denounced by international observers."

Speaking in the southern Israeli city of Dimona on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the Times' description of Barghouti.

“Calling Barghouti a leader and parliamentarian is like calling [Syrian President Bashar] Assad a pediatrician.” A member of the audience was quick to point out that the Syrian leader is, in fact, an ophthalmologist.

Referring to the amended description of Barghouti, Netanyahu added: "The paper retracted it because we pointed [the error] out to them."

The Times' public editor, Liz Spayd, addressed the paper's omission on Tuesday in a piece titled "An Op-Ed Author Omits His Crimes, and The Times Does Too."

Spayd wrote that "a rash of readers" had objected to the paper's "distorted characterization of Barghouti," an issue that, she noted, the Times has dealt with before. "I have written before on the need to more fully identify the biography and credentials of authors, especially details that help people make judgments about the opinions they’re reading," she wrote.

Spayd concluded by saying she hoped the paper's amendment was "a sign that fuller disclosure will become regular practice."

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, in an op-ed in the Times of Israel, called the initial omission of Barghouti's conviction "an intentional deception." Lapid detailed the terror activities that led to Barghouti's sentence and accused him of "inventing stories about those who imprison him" while blaming the New York Times because it "didn’t even bother to explain to its readers that the author is a convicted murderer of the worst kind."

Speaking to Army Radio on Monday, Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren called the opinion piece a "journalistic terror attack." The former ambassador to the U.S. said that Israel should consider action against the New York Times for publishing something "full of lies," especially if it turns out the paper helped Barghouti smuggle his article out of prison.

Around 1,200 security prisoners have joined the strike as of Monday. The number is expected to swell to over 2,000 participants.

The prisoners are demanding improved conditions which deal with phone privileges and visitation policies, as well as the revoking of detention without trial and solitary confinement.

Tens on thousands of Palestinians throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip marched in support of the striking prisoners on Monday, which also marks Palestinian Prisoners Day.

Barghouti has since been moved to solitary confinement. The Israel Prison Service said it was trying to break up the hunger strike.

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