Palestinians flee south.

Palestinians migrate towards Rafah in the southern part of the city due to intense Israeli attacks in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on December 05, 2023.

(Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Pro-Israel Perspectives Dominate Gaza Debate at Major US Papers

The opinion pages of The New York Times and Washington Post leaned heavily toward a conversation led by Israeli interests and concerns.

At The New York Times and Washington Post, despite efforts to include Palestinian voices, opinion editors have skewed the Gaza debate toward an Israel-centered perspective, dominated by men and, among guest writers, government officials.

In the first two months of the current Gaza crisis, the Times featured the crisis on its op-ed pages almost twice as many times as the Post (122 to 63). But while both papers did include a few strong pro-Palestinian voices—and both seemed to make an effort to bring Palestinian voices close to parity with Israeli voices—their pages leaned heavily toward a conversation dominated by Israeli interests and concerns.

That was due in large part due to their stables of regular columnists, who tend to write from a perspective aligned with Israel, if not always in alignment with its right-wing government. As a result, the viewpoints readers were most likely to encounter on the opinion pages of the two papers were sympathetic to, but not necessarily uncritical of, Israel.

A majority of the U.S. public has supported a cease-fire since the early days of the crisis, and one poll found support increasing over time. Yet in the country’s two most prominent papers, the cease-fire debate was either mostly ignored (at the Post) or presented in a way that came nowhere close to reflecting public opinion (at the Times).

Many opinion pieces at the Times, for instance, mentioned the word “occupation,” offering some context for the current crisis. However, very few at either paper went so far as to use the word “apartheid”—a term used by prominent human rights groups to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Clear calls for an unconditional cease-fire, while widespread in the real world, were vanishingly rare at the papers: two at the Times and at the Post only one, which itself was part of a collection of short responses to the question, “Should Israel agree to a cease-fire?,” which included strong opposition as well.

For guest perspectives, both papers turned most frequently to government officials, whether current or former, U.S. or foreign. And the two papers continued the longstanding media bias toward male voices on issues of war and international affairs: the Times with roughly three male-penned opinions for every female-written one, and the Post at nearly 7-to-1.

For this study, FAIR identified and analyzed all opinion pieces published by the two papers from October 7 through December 6 that mentioned Israel or Gaza, using Nexis and ProQuest. Excluding editorials, web-only op-eds, letters to the editor, and pieces with only passing mentions of Israel/Palestine, we tallied 122 pieces at the Timesand 63 at the Post.

New York Times Writers

During the first two months of the Gaza crisis, The New York Times published 48 related guest essays, along with 74 pieces by regular columnists, contributing writers (who write less frequently than columnists), and editorial board members (who occasionally publish bylined opinion pieces).

Of the 48 guest essays, the greatest concentration (16, or 33%) were written by Israelis or those with stated family or ancestral ties to Israel. Another 13 (27%) were written by Palestinians or people who declared ties to Palestine. Most of the rest (12, or 25%) were written by U.S. writers with no identified family or ancestral ties to either Israel or Palestine.

The occupational category the Times turned to most frequently for guest opinions was government official, with current or former officials from the U.S. or abroad accounting for 11 (23%) of the guest essays. (U.S. officials outnumbered foreign officials, 6 to 5.) Journalists came in a close second, with nine (19%), followed by seven academics (15%). Six represented advocacy groups or activists (13%); four of these were Israeli and two Palestinian.

The paper also relied heavily on the opinions of men rather than women. Ninety-two of the Times opinion pieces were written by men (75%), while 30 were written by women (25%), an imbalance of more than 3-to-1.

Of the 17 pieces written by the Times‘ regular female columnists, eight came from Michelle Goldberg, and the preponderance were about domestic implications of the crisis. Examples of these include Goldberg’s “The Massacre in Israel and the Need for a Decent Left” (10/12/23) and Pamela Paul‘s “The War Comes to Stanford” (10/13/23), both of which decried the response to the Gaza crisis by the U.S. pro-Palestinian left.

Washington Post Writers

The Post published 46 pieces by regular columnists and only 17 by guest writers. Even given that the Post typically publishes fewer opinion pieces than the Times, that’s a strikingly small number of guest op-eds—roughly one every four days.

Unlike at the Times, the Post guest op-eds were dominated by U.S. writers (seven, or 41%), with only four by Israelis (24%) and three by Palestinians (18%). The Israeli-bylined op-eds expressed varied viewpoints, from hard-line support (“Every innocent Palestinian killed in this conflagration is the victim of Hamas”—10/10/23) to a call for “concrete steps to de-escalate the immediate conflict and to sow seeds for peace and reconciliation” (10/20/23). Two of the Palestinian-bylined pieces came from the same writer, journalist Daoud Kuttab (10/10/23, 11/28/23), who both times argued that President Joe Biden must recognize a Palestinian state as the only way forward.

It’s useful to compare the papers’ current representation of Palestinian voices to their historical record. In +972 Magazine (10/2/20), Palestinian-American historian Maha Nasser counted opinion pieces (including editorials, columns, and guest essays) that mentioned the word “Palestinian” at the Post and Times from 1970 through 2019. Of the thousands of pieces published, fewer than 2% were written by Palestinians at either paper (1.8% at the Times, 1.0% at the Post). In the most recent decade (2010-19), the numbers were only slightly higher, up to 2.8% at the Times and 1.6% at the Post.

While the comparison is not exact—because FAIR used different search terms (“Israel” or “Gaza”) and excluded editorials—in our two-month study period, 11% of bylined opinions were written by Palestinians at the Times, and 5% at the Post. Including editorials that mention Israel or Gaza (six at the Post, four at the Times), those percentages drop slightly to 10% and 4%.

Like the Times, the Post leaned on government officials to shape the public debate; five of its guest op-eds were by current or former U.S. or foreign officials (30%), four by journalists (24%), and only two by representatives of advocacy groups or activists (12%). As at the Times, U.S. officials slightly edged foreign officials, 3 to 2.

The Post had an even more lopsided gender imbalance than the Times, at nearly 7–1. Only eight of its opinion pieces were by women: two guest essays (12%) and six columns (13%).

New York Times Columnists

Several New York Times columnists wrote repeatedly about the Gaza crisis. The Times‘ foreign affairs columnist, Thomas Friedman, often writes about Middle East politics; during the study period, he wrote about nothing else, outpacing all of his colleagues with 13 columns about Gaza. Though Friedman is not known for pacifism or expressing sympathy for Palestinians (see, 7/13/20), he typically writes from a reliably centrist pro-Israel position, and his takes on the right-wing Netanyahu government have been generally critical.

During the first two months of the war, Friedman repeatedly wrote columns (e.g., 10/10/23, 10/16/23, 10/19/23, 11/9/23) criticizing Netanyahu and his military strategy, discouraging a ground invasion, and pushing for a diplomatic solution. His columns heavily focused on Israel and Israeli perspectives and interests, rather than Palestine and Palestinians; all but one of his headlines took “Israel,” or “Israeli officials” as their subject, while two also mentioned “Hamas”; none mentioned “Gaza,” “Palestine,” or “Palestinians.”

His last column (12/1/23) in the study period advocated for Israel to abandon its mission of destroying Hamas, and instead negotiate a cease-fire and withdrawal in exchange for a return of all hostages. Yet at the same time, he managed to project his habitual Orientalism and a distinct lack of empathy for the Palestinian humanitarian crisis. Even if it abandons its stated goal of eliminating Hamas, Israel will have succeeded, Friedman argued, because it will

have sent a powerful message of deterrence to Hamas and to Hezbollah in Lebanon: You destroy our villages, we will destroy yours 10 times more. This is ugly stuff, but the Middle East is a Hobbesian jungle. It is not Scandinavia.

“With Israel out,” he continued,

the humanitarian crisis created by this war in Gaza would become [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar’s and Hamas’ problem—as it should be. Every problem in Gaza would be Sinwar’s fault, starting with jobs.

These arguments—first, that people in the Middle East must be educated through violence, and next, that Israel ought to withdraw and take no responsibility for the crushing humanitarian disaster it has wrought—make clear the underlying callousness of the Times‘ most prolific Middle East columnist.

Fellow long-time columnist Nicholas Kristof also wrote repeatedly about Gaza (10 times), with more attention to the civilian casualties of the conflict. In one column (10/25/23), Kristof highlighted the voices of several Israelis who, despite the trauma they have experienced, have been able to “muster the clarity to understand that relentless bombardment and a ground invasion may not help.” Another column (10/28/23) concluded with the line: “I think someday we will look back in horror at both the Hamas butchery in Israel and at the worsening tableau of suffering in Gaza in which we are complicit.”

Yet Kristof was hardly a voice for the pro-Palestinian left, and twice made clear his position against a cease-fire. For instance, he wrote on December 6:

By pulverizing entire neighborhoods and killing huge numbers of civilians instead of using smaller bombs and taking a much more surgical approach, as American officials have urged, Israel has provoked growing demands for an extended cease-fire that would arguably amount to a Hamas victory.

While the Times‘ prominent centrists favored Israel yet counseled restraint, the paper’s conservative columnists offered even more hawkish takes. Most prominently, conservative columnist Bret Stephens, who serves as a consistently pro-Israel voice on the Times opinion pages, wrote about the issue 11 times during the two-month period.

Earlier in his career, Stephens left The Wall Street Journal to take the helm at The Jerusalem Post “because he believed Israel was getting an unfair hearing in the press.” As he said at the time (Haaretz, 4/20/17): “I do not think Israel is the aggressor here. Insofar as getting the story right helps Israel, I guess you could say I’m trying to help Israel.”

After October 7, Stephens used his Times column to absolve Israel of any responsibility for Gaza casualties (“Hamas Bears the Blame for Every Death in This War,” 10/15/23), attack calls for a cease-fire (“The ‘Cease-fire Now’ Imposture,” 11/21/23), and vilify the pro-Palestinian U.S. left (“The Anti-Israel Left Needs to Take a Hard Look at Itself,” 10/10/23; “The Left Is Dooming Any Hope for a Palestinian State,” 11/28/23).

Fellow conservatives Ross Douthat and David French offered fewer Gaza takes (five each) and, while less strident than Stephens, still took pro-Israel positions. French, for instance, argued in one column (10/15/23):

The challenge of fighting a pitched battle amid the civilian population would both render Israel’s attack more difficult and take more civilian lives. But refusing to attack and leaving Hamas in control of Gaza would create its own moral crisis.

He later (11/16/23) argued against a cease-fire, which would “block Israel’s exercise of its inherent right to self-defense.”

Douthat, in a column (10/18/23) musing about the lessons of the U.S. “War on Terror” for Israel, included such nuggets of wisdom as “if invasion is your only option, America’s post-9/11 experience also counsels for a certain degree of maximalism in the numbers committed and the plans for occupation.”

As mentioned above, columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote eight Gaza-related columns, but primarily about domestic repercussions of the crisis—which is unsurprising, given her column beat is identified as “politics, gender, religion, ideology.” Goldberg paid particular attention to the debates over protest, speech, and antisemitism, arguing against censorship, as well as against the idea that anti-Zionism could be equated with antisemitism (e.g., 11/20/23, 12/4/23)—though not without frequent barbs at the U.S. left, such as when she blamed “the left” (10/23/23) for supposedly establishing the rules of censorship on campus that she decried: “privileging sensitivity to traumatized communities ahead of the robust exchange of ideas.”

No other regular columnist wrote more than three pieces touching on the Middle East crisis.

Washington Post Columnists

At The Washington Post, foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius was by far the most prolific writer on Gaza. Like Friedman, he penned 13 columns on the crisis, but because the Post published far fewer Gaza opinions than the Times, Ignatius’ views represented fully 20% of the Post‘s bylined opinions on the crisis. And, as Ignatius acknowledged in one of those columns (11/19/23), he “sees this terrible conflict largely through Israeli eyes.”

That’s in large part due to his sources. Ignatius, a former reporter (and Mideast correspondent from 1980-83), often includes original reporting in his columns. Four of his columns from the two months were filed from the Middle East: one from Doha (11/10/23), two from Tel Aviv (11/14/23, 11/19/23), and one from “Gaza City” (11/13/23)—though that last described his brief visit to Gaza “in an Israeli armored personnel carrier,” during which time “we could not interview any of the Gazan civilians” they saw fleeing along a “humanitarian corridor.”

Many of Ignatius’ columns were filled with quotes from Israelis he interviewed, but not from Palestinians. While not uncritical of Israel, Ignatius offered a largely one-sided view of the crisis to readers.

Conservative Post columnists Jason Willick (who wrote four columns) and Max Boot (who wrote three) were no counterbalance to Ignatius’ pro-Israel tilt. Willick used two of his columns (10/19/23, 12/6/23) to blame leftist “identity politics” for antisemitism in the U.S. In the other two, he blamed Hamas for Palestinian deaths (“Gazans Pay for Hamas’ Guerrilla Tactics,” 11/15/23) and encouraged “a tight embrace rather than a cold shoulder” for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (“Benjamin Netanyahu, Moderate,” 11/26/23).

Boot offered mostly bloodless, academic assessments—such as “mass-casualty attacks are counterproductive” (10/18/23) and “tyrants and terrorists often underestimate the fighting capacity of liberal democracies” (10/13/23). His first Gaza-related offering (10/9/23), though, observed that “responsible Israelis—who are largely missing from Netanyahu’s far-right cabinet—know that Palestinians’ lives have to improve to prevent more eruptions of violence in the future.”

Charles Lane, who occupies a more center-right position on the paper’s op-ed page, used three of his columns to talk about the crisis, each time to emphasize Hamas’ atrocities while denying Israel’s own. For instance, in “The Best Thing Hamas Can Do for Palestinians Is to Surrender” (11/16/23), Lane argued that “Israel does not intentionally kill civilians” and that “to save Palestinian lives,” Hamas ought to surrender, rather than placing “the burden on Israel to end the war.”

Two members of the paper’s center-right editorial board who also write bylined columns for the Post—Egyptian-American Shadi Hamid and Colbert King—published three opinions each related to the crisis during the first two months, columns that in general offered arguably the most balanced perspectives.

Hamid found room, alongside his rebukes of Hamas and the U.S. left, to criticize “the devaluing of Palestinian lives” (11/30/23) and to argue that “now and not later, a cease-fire is necessary” (11/9/23)—even if he added the precondition that Hamas first agree to release hostages, with no preconditions for Israel.

King wrote more about the repercussions of the crisis, including repression of speech (11/18/23) and rising antisemitism and Islamophobia (11/11/23); he also wrote a plea for “full self-government [for Palestinians] and a land they can call their own” (10/21/23).

‘Cease-fire’ Mentions

During the study period, more than 16,000 Palestinians were killed, including more than 7,000 children (OCHA, 12/5/23). From the very early days of the crisis, as Palestinian civilian casualties quickly mounted, calls for a cease-fire grew louder and more prominent. International leaders, human rights and humanitarian groups, and protesters worldwide demanded a halt to Israel’s relentless bombing (and, later, ground campaign) in order to stop the civilian casualties, allow desperately needed humanitarian aid to enter the blockaded strip of land, and work toward a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. (See, 10/24/23.)

A majority of the U.S. public has supported a cease-fire since the early days of the crisis, and one poll found support increasing over time. Yet in the country’s two most prominent papers, the cease-fire debate was either mostly ignored (at the Post) or presented in a way that came nowhere close to reflecting public opinion (at the Times).

In the Times, the word “cease-fire” in relationship to the current crisis appeared in 31 op-eds during the two months, representing 25% of all Gaza-related op-eds. (Four additional mentions referred to the cease-fire that was in place prior to October 7.) Many (11) were simply descriptive. For example, a guest op-ed (11/22/23) noted that “the hostage release deal outlined on Tuesday would include a cease-fire of at least four days.”

Of the remaining 21 that could be classified as advocating a position, 11 were clearly critical of calls for a cease-fire, such as Stephens’ “The Cease-fire Now Imposture” (11/21/23), in which he wrote, “Instead of Cease-fire Now, we need Hamas’ Defeat Now.” Nine of the anti-cease-fire columns were penned by Times regular columnists, four of them by Stephens.

Another two opinions focused on the plight of the Israeli hostages and insisted that a cease-fire should only be possible after all of them were freed. The brother of an Israeli hostage, for instance, made a case (11/15/23) for “the urgent need to prioritize the release of all the hostages as a condition for any humanitarian pause or cease-fire.”

Only seven Times opinions voiced any form of support for a cease-fire; most were mild or indirect exhortations. Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, for example, wrote (10/20/23) that Biden “needs to plan now for meeting Gaza’s immediate needs—which might require an early call on Israel for a humanitarian cease-fire—but must also develop a plan for the day after.”

Gershon Baskin, who negotiated previous hostage deals between Israel and Hamas, suggested (10/21/23) that the U.S. press Qatar to issue an ultimatum to Hamas, but that Qatar was unlikely to agree to that, and “certainly not without an Israeli cease-fire.”

Three Times op-eds in the study period (less than 3% of all bylined opinion pieces) made clear and direct calls for an unconditional cease-fire. Two were written by Palestinians (10/19/23, 10/29/23), and one by Times contributing writer Megan Stack (10/30/23), a former war correspondent who has emerged as a rare strong voice for Palestine on the op-ed page. In the six weeks since the study period ended, Stack published two more essays on the crisis: “For Palestinians, the Future Is Being Bulldozed” (12/9/23) and “Don’t Turn Away From the Charges of Genocide Against Israel” (1/12/24).

At the Post, we found 16 mentions of “cease-fire” during the two-month study period—far less total attention than at the Times, but a similar proportion of its Gaza opinion (25%). Half of these were simply descriptive. Of the remaining eight, four expressed criticism, three expressed support, and one (11/3/23) was the previously mentioned collection of expert opinion on both sides of the cease-fire question that appeared scrupulously balanced between those in support and those opposed.

Two of the supportive op-eds (11/5/23, 11/28/23) were indirect; the only clear and direct call for a cease-fire, outside of the collection, came from Shadi Hamid, who put preconditions on Hamas but not Israel (11/9/23).

It’s noteworthy that Hamid’s opinion came just three days after the editorial board of which he is a member published an editorial (11/6/23) arguing against a cease-fire, except in the sense of “pauses in the fighting for humanitarian relief,” and even then only on the condition that Hamas release all hostages first. (Israel and Hamas agreed to a series of such pauses on November 9.)

The Times also published an editorial (11/3/23) around the same time calling for a “humanitarian pause,” but not a cease-fire. As the Times explained, “Israel has warned that a blanket cease-fire would accomplish little at this point other than allowing Hamas time to regroup.”

Other Significant Terms

“Genocide” (or “genocidal”) is another term that has been used to describe both the actions of Hamas and those of Israel. At the Times, the word appeared in 13 op-eds (11%) and at the Post, eight (13%).

In the Post, the word was used three times to describe Hamas and five to describe Israel. Two of the three Hamas mentions (10/18/23, 10/25/23) applied the word in the author’s own voice; the third (10/29/23) was quoted approvingly.

Four of the Post‘s five mentions of genocide in relation to Israel were quotes or paraphrases from another person, either offered neutrally or disapprovingly, as when protester signs or chants were described (11/1/23, 11/18/23). The fifth was in the Post‘s collection of opinions about a cease-fire, in which one Palestinian described the recent bombing death of his extended family:

Today, the word “genocide” is being widely used. I can’t think of another word that captures the magnitude of what Israel, a nuclear-armed military power, continues to unleash on a captive population of children and refugees. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the quiet part out loud: “Gaza won’t return to what it was before,” he said. “We will eliminate everything.”

At the Times, the use of “genocide” was more varied, with many of the references used in a more historical way (about the Jews historically being a target of genocide, for instance) or to discuss the domestic debates about the language used by protesters. It was used once to characterize Hamas (10/26/23), twice to quote leftists characterizing Israel (10/25/23, 11/17/23), and twice to characterize Israel’s assault as either “the specter of genocide” (11/3/23) or what “may be… an ethnic cleansing operation that could quickly devolve into genocide” (11/10/23).

The broader context of the conflict was often missing in the papers’ opinion pages, particularly at the Post. The word “occupation” (or “occupy”) appeared in 58 Times opinion pieces (48%) but only nine at the Post (14%). The word “apartheid,” which multiple prominent human rights organizations have used to describe the crimes committed against Palestinians by the Israeli state prior to October 7 (, 7/21/23), rarely appeared in either of the papers’ op-eds pages: seven times at the Times (6%) and once at the Post (2%).

Meanwhile, “terrorism” or “terrorist” appeared 70 times in the Times (57%) and 40 times in the Post (63%). “Self-defense” or “right to defend” made 23 appearances in the Times (19%) and 10 in the Post (16%).

Xenia Gonikberg, Phillip HoSang, and Pai Liu contributed to the research for this piece.

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