The New York Times came under withering criticism on Sunday after a photo caption mistranslated—or as some say misreported—a campaign ad for Israel’s April 9 election.
The photo caption accompanying the Times article, “In Israeli Election Ads, Anything Goes” by Jerusalem Bureau Chief David Halbfinger, mistakenly attributed a billboard to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign for re-election.
In fact, the billboard is an attack ad against Netanyahu by the Blue and White Party.
The billboard shows Netanyahu with chin up alongside leaders of the right-wing Jewish Home Party and the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party, apparently meant to suggest that Netanyahu is a close ally of political extremists.
The slogan written underneath Netanyahu, “Kahana Lives,” is the rallying cry of the radical Kach Party, banned from the Knesset in 1988 for inciting racism.
In the accompanying article, Halbfinger wrote that Israeli election billboards “are in Hebrew and Arabic, but much of what is shown in the ads requires little or no translation.”
The Times photo and article caught the eye of media watchdog CAMERA, whose Israel office director, Tamar Sternthal, tweeted that Times editors could actually “have used a little translation help.”
She said “it’s frankly astounding that the paper blundered on the meaning of the billboard.”
“As is readily apparent to any Israeli, and as should be understood by journalists tasked with explaining the elections to outsiders, the ad for Gantz’s Blue and White paints the prime minister as a close ally of the extremist … politicians known for anti-Arab racism,” she continued.
Others on social media soon joined in the criticism. Seth Frantzman, an editor at The Jerusalem Post, tweeted: “This is embarrassing, NYT didn’t know that the entire billboard … was actually anti-Netanyahu? Do they not bother to check and think before captioning this?”
“By misidentifying the billboard as a campaign for ‘Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies,’ the New York Times inflames,” said Sternthal, echoing the words of a CAMERA billboard currently located across the street from The New York Times headquarters in Manhattan which says, “The New York Times inflames with biased coverage.”
Frantzman said, “In fairness, captions can be wrong and unrelated to the story, but in a charged political atmosphere, a paper like the NYT should endeavor with their resources to be extra careful.”
“The Times’ erroneous caption—whether it stems from ignorance, negligence, hostility, bias or a combination of factors—is just the latest testament to the paper’s woefully unreliable coverage of Israel,” said Sternthal.