Israeli Election Coverage Strewn With Unflattering "Far Right" Labels

Two weeks ago Executive Editor Bill Keller said such labeling in Israel coverage could be a sign of biased journalism.

After national elections, the political maneuvering in Israel's nearly evenly split parliament continues. Thursday morning's onlnie filing by Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner, "Netanyahu Gets Backingto Form Coalition," used the term "far-right" to identify the third-most popular party in Israel, in apparent contradiction to Times Executive Editor Bill Keller'sopinion that such labeling might indicate biased journalism.

The party Yisrael Beiteinu is avowedly Zionist, takes a tough line on negotiations with the Palestinians and favors increased immigration of Jews into Israel, and its platform would require every Israeli citizen to pledge allegiance to the country and either serve in the army or perform another sort of national service. Yet it also favors a two-state solution, unusual among conservative parties in Israel.

For those stands, the party is tarred in the Times with the unflattering "far-right" label, both in the story itself and in the caption to a photo of "Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party...."

From the opening of Bronner's brief online story, datelined Jerusalem:

As President Shimon Peres pondered whom to tap as Israel's next prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the conservative Likud Party, won a conditional endorsement on Thursday from Avigdor Lieberman, the head of a far-right party that could hold the balance of power.

Mr. Lieberman heads the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which placed third in elections Feb. 10 with 15 seats, compared to Likud's 27, and the 28 seats won by the Kadima Party of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Since no party won an outright majority, Mr. Peres has been meeting with party leaders to determine who should attempt to form a coalition.

What will Executive Editor Bill Keller think? In an online Q&A session two weeks ago, he addressed his paper's coverage of Israel's incursion into Gaza by indicating that such loaded terms as "far-right" were anathema to the cause of balanced journalism:

Words can also be a litmus test, a password to establish your adherence to a particular point of view. To describe a politician as "liberal" or "conservative" (while almost always inexact) is generally neutral. To describe the same politician as "left-wing" or "right-wing" may say more about you than about your subject. It identifies you.