Epic New York Times Correction: Gray Lady Changes Tune on Anti-Semitic Prof

Times corrects report on Palestinian who said Israeli poetry 'brainwashes' readers and is 'a tool of colonialism and oppression'

Islamic University in Gaza professor Refaat Alareer / Twitter
December 14, 2021

The New York Times on Tuesday emended an article it published a month ago about a Palestinian literature professor who "calmly teaches Israeli poetry." In its emendation, the Gray Lady noted the professor has also called Israel's literature "a tool of colonialism and oppression" and said it is "in part to blame for the ethnic cleansing and destruction of Palestine."

Refaat Alareer, a literature professor at Islamic University in Gaza, was profiled on Nov. 16 by the Times and "described as presenting Israeli poems in a positive light to his Palestinian students," according to an editor's note. In the profile, Alareer was shown discussing a poem by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. He called the poem "beautiful" and said it portrayed Jerusalem as a place "where we all come together, regardless of religion and faith." But that observation is at odds with comments Alareer made about the same poem in a class as recently as 2019, when he said the poem was "dangerous" and "brainwashes" readers by saying Israelis are "innocent."

Events in recent years have called into question mainstream publications' commitment to objectivity when covering Israel. During Israel's 11-day conflict with Hamas in May, it was revealed that the Associated Press had been sharing an office building with Hamas militants. Israel Defense Forces warned the AP to evacuate before they bombed the building, which reportedly contained Hamas weapons manufacturing and intelligence units. The Washington Free Beacon reported the same month that the AP hired and subsequently fired a known anti-Israel activist who had accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing."

When asked by the Times about the difference between his comments in 2019 and now, Alareer said there was not a "substantial change" in the way he taught.

When the article was first published, its author noted that Alareer frequently "rages against Israel" on social media and has relatives in Hamas. "No form, act, or means of Palestinian resistance whatsoever is terror," Alareer has tweeted. "All Israelis are soldiers. All Palestine is occupied." Twitter has suspended Alareer's account in the past for expressing such views.

In class, however, Alareer was portrayed as a teacher who "studiously analyzes the work of some of [Israel's] leading poets" and even encourages his students to empathize with Jewish protagonists—like Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

The Times's editors "concluded that the article did not accurately reflect Mr. Alareer's views on Israeli poetry or how he teaches it" and that, had the paper "done more extensive reporting on Mr. Alareer, the article would have presented a more complete picture."