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    A protest newspaper is gaining traction. But what’s next for The New York War Crimes?

    Brittany Allen

    May 28, 2024, 11:09am

    Since last October, the Writers Against the War on Gaza have been organizing culture workers for Palestine. You may know them from their much-circulated solidarity letter. Or their call for an academic boycott of Israel. In tandem with these actions, a publication has sprouted: the New York War Crimes (NYWC).

    According to a recent conversation with Arielle Isack in The Baffler, the NYWC has now “published six issues and launched a website,” for “a paper that looks conspicuously like the Times itself.” That paper publishes “essays, interviews, criticism, and the names of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since October 7.” And though it may have started as a piece of agitprop, the editors do have a long game.

    I spoke with one of the paper’s architects to get a better sense of the NYWC’s mission, strategy, and long-term goals.

    How did all this start?

    A spokesperson for The New York War Crimes told me that the paper formed as its own ad hoc collective, adjacent to the Writers Against the War on Gaza (WAWOG). WAWOG was born in the wake of October 7th, out of a sense that the American left was under-prepared to defend Palestine from an Israeli offense. And though many political groups rose to meet the moment, some perceived a hole in the cultural organizing space.

    Though plenty of writers were mobilized in anger at the IDF, it took some time to articulate a meaningful cultural response. But eventually inspiration struck. As NYWC editors told Arielle Isack, “There is agency in the role we play, even if that role looks like refusal. As media workers, we [were] able to go beyond refusal and create an alternative publication.”

    Why attack the Times?

    On the macro front: The New York Times (much like the American government) has a longstanding bias towards the Israeli military, and in the months since October 7th that bias has become impossible to miss. And though, as the NYWC announces on its landing page, the Times “is not unique among media in manufacturing consent for war, for exploitation, for genocide”as the presumed paper of record, it is exemplary in this regard.

    Some shady internal dealings also contributed to the NYWC‘s choice of target. When the journalist Jasmine Hughes was edged off the Times’ masthead after signing a solidarity letter for Palestine, WAWOG writers saw an opportunity to focalize their critique of western media.

    Whither the name?

    The name New York War Crimes is a nod to a propaganda tool that originated in ACT-UP.

    At the height of the American AIDS epidemic, members of the ACT-UP adjacent art collective Gran Fury launched a parody publication called the New York Crimes to cover what the Times was ignoring about the crisis. On a broadsheet designed to echo the familiar rag, guerilla reporters spotlit under-acknowledged victims in stories like “Inmates with AIDS: Inadvertent Political Prisoners” and “Women and AIDS: Our Government’s Willful Neglect.”

    Today, the NYWC is borrowing both Gran Fury’s aesthetic and its two-pronged strategy: delegitimize the paper of record, while shining a light on its omissions. In this way their movement is more than a call to boycott and protest. As the spokesperson told me, “we hope that by delegitimizing the Times, we can change to some degree how journalism is practiced.” But, they added, “we need to provide alternatives to what we critique.”

    The NYWC recently unpacked that critique in an interview with the writer/activist Avram Finkelstein, one of the New York Crimes’ original architects. “The fundamental problem with The Times—whether with AIDS or with Israel and Palestine—is that it presents a narrative that is determined to serve power structures,” Finkelstein said in that piece. “Their narratives are invariably in service of power, not resistance to power.”

    And a resistance needs its narratives, too.

    What will The New York War Crimes do next?

    As an ad hoc, open collective, the NYWC doesn’t yet have a regular production schedule. Rather, the editors’ strategy so far has been to drop issues around a critical mass of analysis or in response to events, often off cues from their Palestinian contributors. But the paper has long term goals. These include a plan to continue an ongoing autopsy of the Times’ failings.

    In fact, charting the Times’ historical biases is an increasingly large part of the mission. In their March 14th issue, the NYWC published in-depth analysis critiquing the Times’ coverage of the Iraq war, and the U.S.-backed coup in Guatemalaamong other “war crimes.”

    On this wavelength, NYWC readers can expect an upcoming issue deconstructing the paper’s woeful coverage of the Ferguson protests. Issues pegged to Pride Month and Juneteenth are also in the pipeline.

    If meaty corrective reporting does not seduce, subscribers can also look forward to a weekly crossword puzzle, thanks to a new feature inspired by Puzzlers for Palestinian Liberation. Though I was initially surprised to see a crossword given pride of place in a piece of agitprop, this too turns out to be a strategic intervention.

    Via Wordle and Wirecutter, my spokesperson explains, “the Times has exercised its monopoly on our time and attention. They’re strategic and insidious about how they embed content in our lives.” Many fellow travelers have avoided a full divestment from the paper because they claim to be addicted to the paper’s games or cooking sections. (Anecdotally, I confess this claim bears out in my circle.)

    Out of respect for the fact that “it’s hard for people to give up these reliable daily pleasures,” the NYWC is aiming to create new ones. “Ideally,” my spokesperson tells me, “We would make an app.”

    Until then, where can one find a print copy?

    “On campuses…subway stations…Yemeni bodegas,” the spokesperson said. The last issue was heavily circulated at the Nakba Day protests in Bay Ridge. Though they hope for a wide readership, the editors are increasingly intentional about bringing the paper to communities who are not represented in the dominant media. “In the beginning we were trying to speak to readers of the Times,” the spokesperson told me, but the mission has shifted. Now the aim is to make a sustainable alternative news source that many underserved groups can appreciate and trust.

    “If there’s anything we want to change over time, it’s the notion of the Times’ singular importance,” the spokesperson told me. “They have successfully appointed themselves as standard-bearers for journalism. But they’re not really representative. They speak to and for a particular class.”

    Why the anonymity? 

    For the time being, the NYWC editorial team does prefer to remain obscure. But as my spokesperson hastens to add, this is not for fear of retaliation. An anonymized masthead honors the paper’s collective structure. “Writers are individualistic,” they told me. And this particular paper wants to de-center the cult of prestige. There are also exceptions to the silent rule; some contributors do publish under a byline. Particularly correspondents writing from Palestine.

    Read more about the paper’s plans and ethos here.

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