It was not a good sign when A.G. Sulzberger took over as publisher of the New York Times in January 2018 with a “Note From the Publisher” that contained a claim that was flat-out false.
Now, navigating the worst crisis of his tenure, this time over the publication by the Times of an antisemitic cartoon, the A.G. Sulzberger-published Times has gone and published another untruth in the editorial column. This time, the falsehood is the claim, in an unsigned Times staff editorial about the cartoon controversy, “We have been and remain stalwart supporters of Israel.”
It just doesn’t pass the laugh test. Does the Times think its readers haven’t been paying any attention?
Undefined is who, exactly, is meant by the word “we” in the sentence. A note above the editorial says “the editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.”
The Times is about as much a stalwart supporter of Israel as I am a stalwart supporter of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Which is to say, not at all.
But don’t just take it from me — take it from the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, who just this week described the Times as “a cesspool of hostility towards Israel.”
“The same New York Times that a century ago mostly hid from their readers the Holocaust of the Jewish people has today made its pages a safe-space for those who hate the Jewish state,” Dermer said. “Through biased coverage, slanderous columns and antisemitic cartoons, its editors shamefully choose week after week to cast the Jewish state as a force for evil.”
If the Times‘ publisher and editorial page editor were really “stalwart supporters of Israel,” they’d support the Jewish state’s right to establish its own capital in Jerusalem. Instead, when President Trump moved the American embassy there, the Times editorial column condemned him for it. If the Times publisher and editorial page editor were really “stalwart supporters of Israel,” they’d have joined Israel’s democratically-elected government in cheering President Trump’s decision to end the sanctions relief that was part of the Iran nuclear deal. Instead, the Times editorial column criticized Trump for siding with the Israeli government, a decision the Times called “counterproductive.”
The animus from the Times predates the Trump administration. A 2016 Times staff editorial criticized the 10-year, $38 billion military aid deal reached between the governments of Israel and the United States, calling the deal — approved by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, and praised by Hillary Clinton — “too big.”
As recently as April 10, 2019, the Times published an editorial claiming, inaccurately, that “Under Mr. Netanyahu, Israel is on a trajectory to become what critics say will be an apartheid state like the former South Africa — a country in which Palestinians will eventually be a majority, but without the rights of citizens.” That represents a shift for the Times. Back in 2007, when former president Jimmy Carter published his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, a Times review justifiably faulted Carter for “the word ‘apartheid’ in the title, with its false echo of the racist policies of the old South Africa.”
In December of 2018, the Times published a staff editorial siding on a legislative issue with those who favor boycotting Israel. As I wrote at the time in The Algemeiner, the editorial was riddled with problematic inaccuracies and double standards.
And that doesn’t even get into the farther-back history of early 20th-century Times anti-Zionism, or the infamous 1981 Times editorial about the heroic Israeli air strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor. It began, “Israel’s sneak attack on a French-built nuclear reactor near Baghdad was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression.”
It also leaves aside the op-eds, the columnists, and the news columns.
Now, I suppose, in the abstract, it could be possible that some people could want to cut US military aid to the Jewish state while also favoring providing hundreds of billions in sanctions relief to Iran, which has pledged to wipe Israel off the map. It’s possible that some people could think Israel is on its way to becoming like the racist white government of South Africa, and favor boycotting parts of Israel. It’s even possible these people could think all these things while also denying Israel the right to determine its own capital. It may even be possible, in the abstract, for people to do all these things while deluding themselves with the fantasy that they are “stalwart supporters of Israel.”
But when the actual Israeli ambassador to America is calling the Times “a cesspool of hostility towards Israel,” the delusional fantasy of the Times editorial writers is exposed precisely for what it is — a delusional fantasy. With “stalwart supporters” like the Times, who needs enemies?
An actual stalwart supporter of Israel would listen to and take to heart a criticism from the representative of Israel’s elected government, rather than going into denial mode with a phony effort to sell readers on a falsehood. I’d call it deceptive, but the only one being deceived is anyone at the Times who thinks pro-Israel Times readers (those of us remaining) are foolish enough to fall for this nonsense.
If the Times assigned one of its vaunted fact-checkers to the “have been and remain stalwart supporters” claim, it’d have to borrow the Washington Post‘s five-Pinocchio rating scheme.
Just to be perfectly clear, I’m all for a broad definition of pro-Israel. An Israeli Meretz or Labor supporter who wants to withdraw as soon as possible from as much of the West Bank as possible, or a liberal American Jew, a Peter Beinart, who thinks he or she is doing Israel a favor by encouraging that is fine. It’s not my personal view, but it’s fine. But there’s nothing about the spirit of the Times editorial column — or especially the hordes of commenters on it insisting that the antisemitic cartoon wasn’t antisemitic at all — that has signaled that this is where it’s coming from. Instead, what you get is a view unfortunately common among extremists on both the far-left and the far-right: the idea that they know better than the elected Israeli government what really constitutes support for Israel, and that they get to define entirely for themselves what a stalwart supporter of Israel is.
If the Times publisher and editorial page editor are really going to be stalwart supporters of Israel, nothing would make me happier, and I’d be the first to welcome them to the fight. But on the evidence so far available from their own newspaper, it’s not a particularly credible claim.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.
The Algemeiner (c) 2019 .