When the New York Times opinion page hired Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss, two outspoken Zionist veterans of the Wall Street Journal, a friend of mine warned me that the hires could be a mixed blessing from a pro-Israel perspective.
Now all the anti-Israel editors already at the Times will feel like they can let loose with impunity, because the hiring of Stephens and Weiss provides a ready response to accusations of “bias.” So said my friend.
Or, as I put it back on April 13, writing about Stephens: “Anyone who thinks the Times hiring of him was motivated primarily by a desire to respond to the paper’s pro-Israel critics might want to think again.”
My friend’s warning turned out to be prophetic.
In the weeks since the news of the Stephens and Weiss hires broke, the Times has — as if compensating — unleashed a barrage of op-eds savagely hostile to Israel and Jewish interests. Among them:
An op-ed by a Palestinian terrorist, Marwan Barghouti, complaining about conditions in Israeli prisons and likening Israel to South Africa under apartheid. Even the New York Times’ own public editor, Liz Spayd, publicly faulted the Times for initially identifying the author as “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian” rather than as a convicted terrorist and murderer.
An op-ed piece by a Palestinian lawyer, Raja Shehadeh, complaining about the Israeli checkpoints he must pass through between Ramallah and Ben-Gurion International Airport.
“We cannot afford to abandon the struggle and must do what we can to end this occupation,” declared the Times article. It was adapted from Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, a book that already has also been the basis of both a New York Times magazine article and a long essay in the New York Times Book Review. (The book review essay itself was the subject of a Times correction after it falsely accused Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, of publicly calling for Palestinians to be deported to Jordan.)
An op-ed by the president of the National Iranian American Council, Trita Parsi, claiming, falsely, that the Iranian nuclear deal has “restrained” Iranian policy on Israel. “Iran’s actions and rhetoric on the Jewish state have shifted remarkably ever since nuclear negotiations began,” the article claimed, inaccurately.
An op-ed by the foreign minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, claiming, falsely, that Iran “has been aiding the victims of extremism in Iraq and Syria,” and offering advice to America on how “to avoid the spread of terrorism and militant extremism.” It is breathtaking, coming from the representative of a country that is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Mr. Zarif has had at least seven New York Times op-ed pieces since 2003, four of them since April 2015, prompting at least some wry speculation that the Times editors will make him their next op-ed page columnist hire after Stephens.
An op-ed by another Palestinian lawyer, Diana Buttu, calling for the disbandment of the Palestinian Authority on the grounds that it “served as a subcontractor for the occupying Israeli military…. to keep Palestinians silent and quash dissent while Israel steals land, demolishes Palestinian homes, and builds and expands settlements.” The op-ed instead calls for a Palestinian leadership that includes Hamas, which she conveniently refers to as a political party rather than a terrorist group. The op-ed calls for Palestinians to “press for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, like those that helped to end apartheid in South Africa.”
Any single one of these op-eds, taken alone, would be totally outrageous and indefensible. The onslaught of all five of them, in six weeks, constitutes an outbreak of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hostility at the Times on a level with the Jewish cemetery desecrations and bomb threat calls against Jewish institutions that the Times blamed on President Donald Trump and treated as front-page news a few months back.
Writing in Vox, David Roberts denounced Stephens as a “cosmopolitan, well-educated, reflexively pro-Israel war hawk.” The Times Cairo bureau chief, Declan Walsh, publicly denounced Stephens on Twitter as “not cool,” falsely accusing him of “ascribing a pathological condition to an entire race of people.”
It’s one thing to see the Stephens hire triggering antisemitic or anti-Israel tropes in other publications. It’s another to see them erupting in the columns of the Times itself. That’s not to blame Stephens, or Weiss, for the reaction. It’s not their fault. Their presence at the Times probably almost certainly nets out positively for the pro-Israel side. But the backlash can’t be ignored. It must be taken into account. Precisely as my friend predicted, it sure has been brutal.
(C) 2017 . The Algemeiner Ira Stoll