Reading New York Times stories and op-eds about Jews and Israel reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s classic debate response to Jimmy Carter: “There you go again.” People often ask why the paper has such an animus, and while many reasons have been proffered, none completely explain the obsession with criticizing the Jewish people and their homeland.
During the 20th century, some people believed that the paper bent over backwards to show it was not biased in favor of Jews because of its Jewish ownership. This was one explanation given for its coverage of the Holocaust, which will forever be a stain on the newspaper’s reputation.
In more recent years, the paper has focused its ire on Israel. Again, there are a variety of explanations. One is that Jews are news and papers report primarily bad news; therefore, it is inevitable that coverage of Israel will be negative. Another is that the Palestinians are viewed as underdogs, and journalists like to view themselves as defenders of the persecuted. Yet another reason given is ignorance; most journalists don’t speak Arabic or Hebrew, don’t know the history of the region, and tend to believe that the record begins when they arrive on the scene.
Some journalists are hostile to Israel for personal reasons, whether it is because they’ve bought into Palestinian propaganda or actually believe Jews and Israel deserve blame. Then there is the unique case of Thomas Friedman, a brilliant writer whose professions of love for Israel lead him to color his reporting based on whether Israeli policy is consistent with what Prime Minister Friedman would do.
I immediately thought “there you go again” when the Times published two articles within a few days of each other that exemplified the paper’s problem.
It is an axiom of reporting that dog bites man is not a story, but man bites dog is. For the Times, finding Jews to criticize Israel and other Jews is the epitome of this axiom. And the Times’ op-ed page has become notorious for finding these Jews.
One of the latest examples was a December 7, 2018 column by Michelle Goldberg arguing that anti-Zionism isn’t the same thing as antisemitism. The fallacious case is simple to make, and often promoted by anti-Israel propagandists. “The conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism is a bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand,” Goldberg wrote, “that depends on treating Israel as the embodiment of the Jewish people everywhere.”
The only problem is that Goldberg misunderstands the meaning of Zionism, which is the belief that the Jewish people are a nation entitled to self-determination in their homeland — Israel. To be anti-Zionist is to deny that Jews are a people with the right to statehood. Meanwhile, Goldberg, like other apologists for Palestinian intransigence, believe that the Palestinians have rights that she would deny to Jews.
In defending the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, she misstates its goals to whitewash its antisemitism:
Opponents argue that singling out Israel for economic punishment is unfair and discriminatory, since the country is far from the world’s worst violator of human rights. Further, the movement calls for the right of Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants to return to Israel, which could end Israel as a majority-Jewish state. (Many B.D.S. supporters champion a single, binational state for both peoples.)
Goldberg’s conclusion that this not antisemitic is only possible by ignoring that a one-state solution means the end of the Jewish state, as does the idea that Israel should absorb the more than five million Palestinians that the UN speciously claims to be refugees. She also conveniently neglects the statements of leaders of the BDS movement, who explicitly assert that their goal is the destruction of Israel.
She repeats the usual straw man argument that not all criticism of Israeli policy is antisemitic. No one claims that it is. The distinctions are clear, however, and have been laid out, for example, in the international IHRA definition of antisemitism.
A few weeks after Goldberg’s op-ed was published, the Times‘ equally disreputable news department published a front-page story that was the product of months of investigation by a team of reporters. Their goal? To prove the preconceived notion that Israel was guilty of a war crime in the alleged shooting of Palestinian medic Rouzan al-Najjar during one of the Gaza riots.
Headlined “A Day, a Life: When a Medic Was Killed in Gaza, Was It an Accident?” the story fails to mention the context of the ongoing Hamas terror campaign against Israel’s civilian population and their weekly attacks directed at soldiers. Worse, it goes to unprecedented lengths trying to prove its initial supposition, and tendentiously reports “the shooting appears to have been reckless at best, and possibly a war crime.” The conclusion of their research, however, is very different — al-Najjar wasn’t targeted by a sniper, but was a victim of an unintentional ricochet.
Meanwhile, next door in Syria, thousands of civilians, many of them Palestinians and, undoubtedly, medical personnel, are slaughtered by Iranian, Russian, and Syrian troops. It would take a reporter one day to verify the killings there, rather than an army of investigative journalists. But where is that front-page story? And why aren’t this and other genocidal wars given the kind of publicity reserved only for Israel?
If anyone thinks the paper’s bias is restricted to Israel, you might want to check out the new book by former Times editor Jill Abramson, who discusses other aspects of bias at the paper. Clearly, the Times didn’t learn from its mistakes during World War II.
The new year started with another “There you go again” article by deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weisman labeled a “News Analysis” entitled, “American Jews and Israeli Jews Are Headed for a Messy Breakup” that was really an op-ed. Besides discrediting his reporting skills by misquoting his own rabbi, Weisman argued that American Jews are turning away from Israel because Prime Minister Netanyahu is engaged in diplomacy with authoritarian governments, including US NATO allies Hungary and Poland. Weisman also suggested the schism in relations was somehow reflected by the fact that a majority of American Jews voted for Democrats in the midterm elections, even though that is the norm and had nothing to do with Israel.
He also highlighted the two new members of Congress who are outspokenly critical of Israel and says they are speaking out in ways other legislators have not, ignoring the handful of others who routinely do the same (Bernie Sanders attacked the first law introduced in the new Senate aimed at combating BDS).
He also inaccurately asserts the antisemitic BDS movement is growing stronger on American campuses in an attempt to bolster his case that Americans are turning on Israel. Besides polls showing American support for Israel at a record high, he is ignorant of the fact that one area of international Jewish consensus is opposition to BDS.
Some of his observations are correct regarding many American Jews’ disaffection with Israel’s policies regarding pluralism, the stagnation of the peace process, and Israel’s close relations with the Trump administration. None of these are news as they have been reported by numerous writers (I have an extensive discussion of the topic in the forthcoming American Jewish Yearbook). The only point in regurgitating them in the Times is to criticize Israel and emphasize divisions among Jews. I wonder if the Times would ever write such an article about, say, how Lebanese Christians in America feel about Hezbollah’s takeover of their homeland.
Mitchell Bard, Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library, has written 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews, and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.