The New York Times vs. Netanyahu
The political culture -- or bias -- that pervades the New York Times now seems to require a weekly statement of hostility toward Israel's prime minister. Since the beginning of October, the Times has repeatedly displayed its discomfort with the leader of the Jewish state.
It began with an editorial following Netanyahu's speech at the United Nations. Lacerating the prime minister for portraying Iranian President Rouhani in "combative and aggressive words," Times editors chastised him for his "sarcasm and aggressive" language. They warned that "it could be disastrous if Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress" exaggerate the Iranian nuclear threat and "block" President Obama from establishing a new relationship with the nation that has repeatedly threatened to annihilate Israel. About the danger posed by Iranian nuclear weapons Times editors remained silent.
Netanyahu, they complained, "seems eager for a fight." Consequently, Obama's challenge is helping Netanyahu to realize that "sabotaging diplomacy" makes the use of force "more likely." That, Times editors conclude, would be "the worst result of all" -- worse, presumably, than Iran dropping nuclear bombs on Israel.
Three days later Times columnist Roger Cohen made the editorial seem moderate and restrained. Citing the criticism of Netanyahu by "the leaders of the American Jewish community" (but mentioning only David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, who had actually expressed his concerns four days before Netanyahu's speech and praised it afterward), Cohen launched his own tirade. Netanyahu has warned of the danger posed by Iranian nuclear weapons for "a very long time"; Iran is actually "an island of stability" in the turbulent Middle East; Netanyahu's "diversionary strategy" of endlessly reiterating the Iranian menace is a "distraction" that ignores "the real challenge to Israel," which is making peace with "Palestine."
For Cohen, it is Netanyahu, not Iranian leaders who have concealed their nuclear capability and dissembled about it, who has a "credibility issue." His "diversionary strategy," which ignores the harsh reality of "a West Bank occupation that leaves Israel overseeing millions of disenfranchised Palestinians" (who, as it happens, vote in Palestinian elections), justifies "global impatience" with the Jewish state. Puffing up J-Street, on the far left of the American Jewish organizational spectrum, Cohen advised Netanyahu to heed its call for a two-state solution "rather than rehearse tired Iranian tropes." Netanyahu, Cohen admonishes, "should cut the bluster and shift focus, instead, to Israeli-Palestinian talks," which everyone else seems to realize are going nowhere.
One week later, Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief for the Times, whose preparation for that journalistic hot spot consisted of five years as bureau chief in Chicago, also chimed in against Netanyahu. Rudoren's dubious qualifications (except in Times circles) included her high praise for Peter Beinert's left-wing tract, The Crisis of Zionism, which qualified him to join the international chorus of delegitimizers of Israel by calling for a boycott on products from Israeli settlements.
For Rudoren, who had recently achieved notoriety for her Times article lionizing Palestinian rock-throwers who targeted Jews, Netanyahu was grist for her mill. He is, after all, "a man with few personal friends and little faith in allies." She chastised the prime minister "who shuns guests for Sabbath meals, preferring the company of his wife and sons." He has become "a solo act on the world stage" with his "shrill" and stubborn "Messianic crusade" to defend Israel from a nuclear Iran that leaves him "out of step" with the growing Western consensus for "compromise." Not an unrealistic policy, one might think, for the prime minister of Israel -- but clearly not one that New York Times compromisers embrace.
But the Times was only being true to its long history of discomfort with Zionism, indifference to the plight of European Jews before and during the Holocaust, and constant criticism of Israel. Such is the legacy of Ochs-Sulzberger family distress with any expression of Judaism -- especially Jewish nationalism -- other than liberal Reform, lest their loyalty to the United States be questioned.
Times publishers have been skilled craftsmen of Jewish avoidance. So it was that Times journalists whose first name was Abraham (Raskin and Rosenthal, among others) were restricted to initials in their bylines. So, too, Times editors were exceedingly wary, beginning in the 1920s, about stationing Jewish reporters in Jerusalem. They needn't have worried.
Joseph Levy, who reported the devastating Arab riots in Palestine in 1929 that resulted in the murder of more than one hundred Jews in Hebron and Jerusalem, was demonstrably indifferent to their slaughter. Half a century later, Thomas Friedman, "boiling with anger" and determined "to nail Begin and Sharon" for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to uproot the PLO, castigated the commanding officer and "buried" him on page one, "along with every illusion I ever held about the Jewish state." Jodi Rudoren is their worthy successor.
Roger Cohen writes in the Times tradition once exemplified by Anthony Lewis (family name Oshinsky), who repeatedly rebuked Israel for failing to embrace his liberal values. And Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal articulates the non-Jewish Judaism embraced by his predecessors once Zionism became a menace to their security as Americans. The more times change, the more they remain the same at the New York Times.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of the forthcoming Jewish State, Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy, to be published by Quid Pro Books.