This morning, 10,000 copies of a fake New York Times were handed out across Manhattan — at Penn Station, Grand Central, Times Square — as well as at the Barclays Center. The paper’s front page, accompanied by an online version, proclaimed that Congress would debate U.S. aid to Israel and that Hillary Clinton had quit the presidential race. The ersatz edition even included a bogus weather forecast for Tuesday: “windy, cloudy, high 22.” (Today’s high was 54 degrees.)
Touted as “all the news that didn’t print,” the fake “newspaper of record” espoused a “new editorial policy” regarding coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One story announced that Clinton, having dropped her presidential campaign, had been appointed director of the Human Rights for All Women Foundation, a “new nonprofit organization” headquartered in Ramallah, New York, Nairobi, and Charleston. Another article said that Mayor Bill de Blasio would host a conference on Islamophobia at Brooklyn College following his trip to Israel. The “Corrections” section lists 150 names of Palestinians killed by the Israeli Defense Forces.
The paper even went so far as to include fake ads: one for Shalom Cement (“We only build the finest separation walls…. No walls say ‘apartheid’ like Shalom Cement”) and another for TimeUp luxury watches (“the moment is now to end U.S. military aid to Israel”).
The issue, titled “Rethinking our 2015 Coverage on Israel-Palestine — A supplement,” suggests that the Times‘ coverage of the conflict up to this point has been pro-Israel. The pranksters set out to change that.
So far no one has claimed responsibility, but the activist prank group the Yes Men are among the leading suspects. In 2008, they distributed another fake edition of the Times with front-page headlines such as “Iraq War Ends” and “Nation Sets its Sights on Building a Sane Economy.” The Voice reached out to the Yes Men and will update the story if they respond.
In a statement regarding the most recent prank, a New York Times spokeswoman said: “We’re extremely protective of our brand and other intellectual property and object to this group (or any group’s) attempt to cloak their political views under the banner of The New York Times. We believe strongly that those advocating for political positions are best served by speaking openly in their own voice.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, supported the Times‘ objection. “The diatribe, published anonymously, conveys false facts and themes consistent with anti-Israel advocates and supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions [BDS] Movement,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “New Yorkers are sophisticated enough to see that this ‘news’ was not fit to print.”
The prank did in fact spark a lively debate on the NYC Reddit page. Users discussed everything from how Americans’ tax dollars actually work to their opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict. “This is really convoluted satire/critique,” one user wrote. Another conversation: “I walked by a chick at 42nd and Broadway handing out newspapers. I saw her and though ‘she is way to hot to be passing out newspaper.’ Yep [all sic].” To which another replied: “After realizing it was a parody, I tried asking her what organization she was with. Her responses? ‘I don’t work for anyone.’ ”
The prank came weeks after the New York State Senate passed anti-BDS legislation, effectively banning the state from doing business with companies that support that position. Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn, said BDS promotes “anti-Semitic ideology,” equating it to other forms of bigotry and injustice.
Shahar Azani, Northeast director of StandWithUs, an Israeli education organization, called the prank “unwarranted garbage,” noting that the alliance between the U.S. and Israel is founded on shared values and strategic interests. “Spreading lies and demonizing Israel will not bring peace to both parties,” he said, insisting that could be realized only through “direct dialogue and education.”