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The Evolution of the New York Times: From Burying the Holocaust to Burying the Jewish State.

by Joy Mazel, June 2 , 2013

I love reading the New York Times. The journalistic standards are genuinely high, the articles are generally very well written, and the level of discourse is usually much higher than other mainstream media outlets such as CNN or USA Today.


However, anyone who reads the New York Times regularly might be wondering recently what is going on at the paper regarding its coverage of Israel. From March 9th to March 15th, there were 4 notable pieces on Israel, 2 stories, and 2 op-eds. None of the pieces dealt with any earth shattering news item; they were not in any way time sensitive, but all were prominently featured on the front page of the internet version of the paper. Three of the 4 were, in their own way, clearly attacking the legitimacy of Israel as a nation state. The New York Times has long been known as being strongly left of centre on most issues. So it is not surprising that on the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflict, they would favour a position that was critical of settlement building, critical of the Likud government, and in favour of a two-state solution. The most recent articles however, appeared to have upped the ante, and put questioning the very existence of the state out as a reasonable position worthy of prominent coverage. This is occurring at time when a recent poll put Israel’s favourability rating at close to an all time high among the American public. What gives?


Joseph Levine wrote an article on Israel in the March 9thinternet edition of the Times. Levine is a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts who grew up in an orthodox home, but eventually turned his back on orthodox Judaism, and came to identify with the Palestinian narrative on the conflict. He appears to have essentially no history of writing on the conflict, and appears to have very little in the way of credentials to do so, other than a doctorate in philosophy, with an area of interest in the philosophy of the mind . His argument against Israel’s legitimacy as a nation offers nothing that is new for anyone that has read even minimally about the conflict (Are the Jews a people or a religion? How can a Jewish state exist without being racist? etc…). I also, as an aside, found it pedantic and boring. That’s not to say that some of the issues raised in the piece are not worthy of discussion. I do question however the reason why it should be published so prominently in the Times. He is not a notable personality, and little of what he writes has not been said many times before. I have difficulty believing that a similar piece questioning the authenticity of the Palestinian people or their right to a state will appear on the front page of the paper any time soon.


Ben Erenreich is a journalist who had published very little on the conflict prior to his March 15th piece in the New York Times Magazine section. His credentials seem to consist of writing a piece in the Nation on Gideon Levy, a very left wing columnist who writes for Haaretz, and managing to be detained last year by the Israeli government. In the March 15th edition, he authored a very long 10 page account of his time spent with a family in the West Bank. The account is at least somewhat interesting at times. However, it often reads as a polemic. Virtually all the Palestinians are portrayed in a way that maximizes empathy with them. Children playing figure prominently in descriptions of the village, many villagers have what are portrayed as legitimate grievances against the occupation, and protest activity is portrayed as non-violent. The Israelis in contrast are portrayed as gruff military spokespeople, or unlikable settlers, cardboard characters that are very difficult to identify or sympathize with. The Palestinians in the village are said to “be aware of the corrosive effects of violence”. Yet in the same paragraph, Erenreich relates that Ahlam Tamimi, who transported the suicide bomber into Israel who blew himself up in Sbarro Pizza in Jerusalem, killing 15 people, including 8 children remains much-loved in Nabi Saleh”. Erenreich’s piece is fairly standard fare for anyone who frequents sites such as the Guardian, (Western sympathizer of Palestinian cause goes on extended trip to West Bank, reports on Palestinian suffering and Israeli brutality). It is a very biased account however, with no sense of objectivity. He clearly has strong views on the conflict, and chooses his facts to reflect them. He has every right to write such a creed; the only question is why the NY times is publishing it, and why so prominently.


There were also two op-ed pieces on Israel published together on March 12th. Typically, when 2 op-eds appear on one topic, it takes the form of a pro-con debate. In the NYT however, this debate occurred between Rhashid Khalidi, a pro-Palestinian academic, and Ari Shavit, a columnist for the left wing Israeli paper Ha’aretz. Only in the NYT could a columnist from Ha’aretz be chosen to represent the Israeli perspective! Haaretz is read by very few Israelis. It is owned by a very left wing Israeli family, and caters primarily to a foreign English speaking audience, as well as to left wing intellectuals concentrated in Tel Aviv. Based on the most recent election in Israel, its political and editorial stance is probably supported by less than 10%, (possibly less than 5%) of Jewish Israelis. Khalidi is strongly identified with the Palestinian cause, was a spokesman for the PLO in Lebanon in the 1980s, and finished his op-ed by commenting that Netanyahu was a bigger obstacle to peace than Hamas. This is what passes for balance in the NYT.


So why are so many anti-Israel stories appearing, and why are they being so prominently displayed? To begin with Israel is a sexy topic, and stories about it help drive traffic to the website. There is a large Jewish population in the New York area, and even outside of New York, there seems to be an intense interest in Israel. If one surveys the most popular articles in terms of hits, comments, or “most e-mailed”, stories about Israel regularly top the list. However, while this may explain the sheer volume of stories dealing with Israel, it fails to address the anti-Israel perspective so prominent in the paper.


The first illusion to be dispelled is that the New York Times could not possibly be anti-Israel because it has a long history of being controlled by Jews. I operated under this illusion at one time. The Times, which was founded in the mid 1850s, was acquired in 1896 by a Jew, Adolph Ochs, and controlled thereafter by his son-in-law Arthur Hayes Sulzberger, and the Sulzberger family. Arthur Hayes Sulzberger, although Jewish, was actually virulently anti-Zionist. He was the publisher of the Times from 1935 to 1961. He actively campaigned against the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. He also was active in relegating stories about Germany’s treatment of the Jews in the 30’s and 40’s, including early reports of the Holocaust, to the back pages. This has been well documented, and is the subject of an entire book

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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