New York Times Turns Religious Dispute into Israel-Bashing Spree

Leo Rennert
Legislation on religious conversion in Israel has become a hot-button issue, pitting its Knesset sponsors against leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements in the United States.  The bill, narrowly approved in a preliminary committee vote, would make it easier for hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jewish émigrés to get recognition as certified Jews, but it also would give Israel's Orthodox Chief Rabbinate the final say on conversions in Israel.  The latter provision is anathema to the Reform and Conservative streams of American Jewry.

To preserve Jewish unity in Israel and abroad, Prime Minister Netanyahu has managed to halt further action on the legislation for six months, while a panel of Orthodox, Reform and Conservative officials try to hammer out a compromise.  Pending such an outcome, Netanyahu already has made it clear that the bill, in its present form, will not pass the Knesset.

That's how things stand now.  But not at the New York Times.

Enter Ethan Bronner, the paper's Jerusalem bureau chief, who seizes on opposition to the bill by some U.S. Jewish leaders to paint an overblown, woefully misleading piece about a supposedly deep chasm between American Jewry and the Netanyahu government on a wide range of issues totally unconnected to the conversion flap.

This massive alienation from Israel, if you are to believe Bronner, is based on deep unhappiness by American Jews with Israel's anti-Hezb'allah war in southern Lebanon (several years before Netanyahu assumed power), the 2009 military operation against Hamas in Gaza to halt years of rocket barrages against Israeli communities, the Gaza blockade to prevent weapons shipments to Hamas, West Bank settlements (begun by a Labor government but currently frozen by Netanyahu), and the May 31 commando raid on a Turkish ship trying to break the Gaza blockade   ("Israel Puts Off Crisis Over Conversion Law" July 23).

Here's how Bronner puts it:

"Many American Jews consider the Netnyahu govenment to be too hawkish, and the conversion controversy is seen by some analysts here and in the United States as a proxy for a broader set of disagreements, including settlemnet building and the Gaza blockade.

"American Jews, who are mostly politically liberal -- some 80 percent voted for President Obama -- have felt their attachment to Israel strained during its military operations in Lebanon and Gaza and the recent attack on a Turkish ship seeking to break Israel's Gaza blockade."

Poppycock!  This is not factual reporting -- merely Bronner interjecting his personal opinion in a purported "news article." 

For example, who are these unidentified analysts who see the conversion flap "as a proxy for a broader set of disagreements."  Well, they're merely Ethan Bronner in convenient disguise to pile on Israel to further his own personal left-wing, ultra-dovish agenda.

What is even more problematic about the Bronner article's accuracy -- or lack thereof -- is that there's ample empirical evidence to reject his basic thesis of a widening gulf between Israel and American Jewry -- especially on security issues.

The latest poll of U.S. Jews by the Anti-Defamation League, for example, came up with the following findings:

    --74 percent of American Jews approve of Israel's military action in Gaza.  By a 3-to-1 margin, American Jews said that Israel's military response in Gaza was "appropriate and not excessive."  So much for Bronner's contention that attachment to Israel by American Jews was "strained" by the Gaza operation.


   --73 percent of American Jews support Israel's right to close the borders to Gaza to prevent resupply of arms even if it slows down humanitarian relief.  Again, the opposite of the assessment Bronner garnered from his unidentified sources.

     --By a margin of 73 percent to 2 percent, American Jews believe that Israel is doing more to bring peace to the region than the Palestinian Authority.

    --Sympathy of American Jews with Israel vis-avis PA Arabs is overwhelming -- 80 percent for Israel, versus 6 percent for the Palestinians.

The survey demonstrates that "contrary to certain reports that American Jewish support for Israel is waning, American Jews continue to support Israel overwhelmingly," said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. " American Jews continue to believe that Israel wants peace with its neighbors, and continue to understand the threats to Israel and its legitimate right to defend itself, whether against Hamas rockets or Iran nuclear capabilities."

And what about Bronner's contention that American Jews are "mostly politically liberal -- some 80 percent voted for President Obama"?  Quite true a year and a half ago, but outdated today.  According to a recent McLaughlin and Associates poll, Obama's 78 percent Jewish support in November, 2008, has been plummeting of late -- down to a level where only 42 percent would vote for him again, while 46 percent are inclined to look for another candidate.

Finally, Bronner, starting with his lead paragraph, wildly exaggerates and misrepresents the dimensions of the conversion dispute by calling it a "growing crisis between American Jews and the Israeli government."

It is neither.

On the American side, it's a dispute arraying only the Conservative and Reform Movements.  Bronner conveniently brushes over the fact that U.S. Orthodox leaders did not join Reform and Conservative rabbis in the attack on the conversion bill.  And Orthodox Jewry, solidly in Israel's corner, is the fastest growing branch of Judaism in the U.S.   Somehow, when Bronner writes about "American Jews," the Orthodox tend to get overlooked.    

On the Israeli side, the chief actors in the conversion dispute are several right-wing parties -- but not the "Israeli government," as Bronner puts it.  In fact, Netanyahu -- and he's after all the leader of the government -- is being praised by U.S. Reform and Conservative officials for opposing the bill in its present form.  So there's no U.S. Jewish beef with Bibi at all -- Bronner to the contrary notwithstanding.

But if you're in a New York Times mood to engage in some wild Israel bashing -- factual reporting goes out the window.
Legislation on religious conversion in Israel has become a hot-button issue, pitting its Knesset sponsors against leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements in the United States.  The bill, narrowly approved in a preliminary committee vote, would make it easier for hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jewish émigrés to get recognition as certified Jews, but it also would give Israel's Orthodox Chief Rabbinate the final say on conversions in Israel.  The latter provision is anathema to the Reform and Conservative streams of American Jewry.

To preserve Jewish unity in Israel and abroad, Prime Minister Netanyahu has managed to halt further action on the legislation for six months, while a panel of Orthodox, Reform and Conservative officials try to hammer out a compromise.  Pending such an outcome, Netanyahu already has made it clear that the bill, in its present form, will not pass the Knesset.

That's how things stand now.  But not at the New York Times.

Enter Ethan Bronner, the paper's Jerusalem bureau chief, who seizes on opposition to the bill by some U.S. Jewish leaders to paint an overblown, woefully misleading piece about a supposedly deep chasm between American Jewry and the Netanyahu government on a wide range of issues totally unconnected to the conversion flap.

This massive alienation from Israel, if you are to believe Bronner, is based on deep unhappiness by American Jews with Israel's anti-Hezb'allah war in southern Lebanon (several years before Netanyahu assumed power), the 2009 military operation against Hamas in Gaza to halt years of rocket barrages against Israeli communities, the Gaza blockade to prevent weapons shipments to Hamas, West Bank settlements (begun by a Labor government but currently frozen by Netanyahu), and the May 31 commando raid on a Turkish ship trying to break the Gaza blockade   ("Israel Puts Off Crisis Over Conversion Law" July 23).

Here's how Bronner puts it:

"Many American Jews consider the Netnyahu govenment to be too hawkish, and the conversion controversy is seen by some analysts here and in the United States as a proxy for a broader set of disagreements, including settlemnet building and the Gaza blockade.

"American Jews, who are mostly politically liberal -- some 80 percent voted for President Obama -- have felt their attachment to Israel strained during its military operations in Lebanon and Gaza and the recent attack on a Turkish ship seeking to break Israel's Gaza blockade."

Poppycock!  This is not factual reporting -- merely Bronner interjecting his personal opinion in a purported "news article." 

For example, who are these unidentified analysts who see the conversion flap "as a proxy for a broader set of disagreements."  Well, they're merely Ethan Bronner in convenient disguise to pile on Israel to further his own personal left-wing, ultra-dovish agenda.

What is even more problematic about the Bronner article's accuracy -- or lack thereof -- is that there's ample empirical evidence to reject his basic thesis of a widening gulf between Israel and American Jewry -- especially on security issues.

The latest poll of U.S. Jews by the Anti-Defamation League, for example, came up with the following findings:

    --74 percent of American Jews approve of Israel's military action in Gaza.  By a 3-to-1 margin, American Jews said that Israel's military response in Gaza was "appropriate and not excessive."  So much for Bronner's contention that attachment to Israel by American Jews was "strained" by the Gaza operation.


   --73 percent of American Jews support Israel's right to close the borders to Gaza to prevent resupply of arms even if it slows down humanitarian relief.  Again, the opposite of the assessment Bronner garnered from his unidentified sources.

     --By a margin of 73 percent to 2 percent, American Jews believe that Israel is doing more to bring peace to the region than the Palestinian Authority.

    --Sympathy of American Jews with Israel vis-avis PA Arabs is overwhelming -- 80 percent for Israel, versus 6 percent for the Palestinians.

The survey demonstrates that "contrary to certain reports that American Jewish support for Israel is waning, American Jews continue to support Israel overwhelmingly," said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. " American Jews continue to believe that Israel wants peace with its neighbors, and continue to understand the threats to Israel and its legitimate right to defend itself, whether against Hamas rockets or Iran nuclear capabilities."

And what about Bronner's contention that American Jews are "mostly politically liberal -- some 80 percent voted for President Obama"?  Quite true a year and a half ago, but outdated today.  According to a recent McLaughlin and Associates poll, Obama's 78 percent Jewish support in November, 2008, has been plummeting of late -- down to a level where only 42 percent would vote for him again, while 46 percent are inclined to look for another candidate.

Finally, Bronner, starting with his lead paragraph, wildly exaggerates and misrepresents the dimensions of the conversion dispute by calling it a "growing crisis between American Jews and the Israeli government."

It is neither.

On the American side, it's a dispute arraying only the Conservative and Reform Movements.  Bronner conveniently brushes over the fact that U.S. Orthodox leaders did not join Reform and Conservative rabbis in the attack on the conversion bill.  And Orthodox Jewry, solidly in Israel's corner, is the fastest growing branch of Judaism in the U.S.   Somehow, when Bronner writes about "American Jews," the Orthodox tend to get overlooked.    

On the Israeli side, the chief actors in the conversion dispute are several right-wing parties -- but not the "Israeli government," as Bronner puts it.  In fact, Netanyahu -- and he's after all the leader of the government -- is being praised by U.S. Reform and Conservative officials for opposing the bill in its present form.  So there's no U.S. Jewish beef with Bibi at all -- Bronner to the contrary notwithstanding.

But if you're in a New York Times mood to engage in some wild Israel bashing -- factual reporting goes out the window.