By Yonoson Rosenblum | DECEMBER 14, 2021
The NYT does a better job ensuring that blatant anti-Israel bias creeps into its reporting of Israel than protecting against such bias
Detailing the distorted and negative reporting of the New York Times about Israel is like shooting fish in a barrel. Were I to focus only on that topic, I'd never have a chance to write about anything else.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to occasionally call attention to the Times coverage of Israel, if only because the paper serves as the Bible for a large swath of American Jewry.
In September, eight progressive members of the House of Representatives briefly succeeded in having a provision of a billion dollars in American funding for Israel's Iron Dome system dropped from the armed services procurement bill. During a second, stand-alone vote on that provision, taken shortly thereafter, the House Democratic leadership pushed through the Iron Dome funding.
Notably, only one of member of the "Squad," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, changed her vote against the Iron Dome funding from "no" to "present." AOC, as she is known, was tearful after her "present" vote. Reporter Catie Edmondson explained to Times readers that AOC had been caught between her "principles and the still powerful pro-Israel voices in their party, such as influential lobbyists and rabbis."
In truth, there is no evidence of any "rabbis" pressuring AOC, and Edmondson supplied none. Of much more direct impact on AOC's second vote was the calculation of her political advisors that a vote against Iron Dome would come back to haunt her should she seek the Senate seat currently held by Charles Schumer.
Meanwhile, Edmondson's juxtaposition of the powerful Jewish lobby versus Ocasio-Cortez's principles caught the attention of the Committee for Accuracy for Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), which protested to a Times editor. In the Times' online edition, though not in the print edition, the reference to "rabbis" was quietly dropped, without the correction being specifically noted.
Edmondson, CAMERA's Gilead Ini points out, has a record of playing down the anti-Semitism of Israel critics. Thus in her coverage of the controversy over Squad member Rashida Tlaib's comment that pro-Israel Democrats "forgot what country they represent," Edmondson managed to completely elide what Tlaib had actually said, and to imply that the controversy was about innocuous comments, rather than an explicit revival of the traditional anti-Semitic charge of Jewish "dual loyalty."
On another occasion, she wrote that the BDS movement seeks only the end of Israel's "occupation of the West Bank." Yet BDS founder Omar Barghouti has explicitly and repeatedly stated that the movement's goal is the end of the Zionist entity.
In any event, the great "principle" that AOC and her fellow Squad members were advancing was that funding of Iron Dome should be withheld because it unfairly limits Hamas's ability to kill and maim Israeli citizens. The system is purely defensive in nature. In last May's fighting, Hamas directed 1,500 rockets at Israeli civilian neighborhoods, of which 1,400 were downed by Iron Dome.
Without Iron Dome, much of southern and central Israel would simply have become uninhabitable, and the Israeli Air Force would have been forced to respond with much greater firepower in order to bring the Hamas barrage to a halt, resulting in far higher casualties in the Gaza Strip.
But the ugly truth is that the Times itself has advanced, albeit more subtly, the position that increasing Hamas's power to inflict casualties on Israel is a desideratum of justice.
What else is the point of the front-page graphics comparing Israeli and Palestinian casualties that the Times runs every time Hamas initiates another round of fighting with Israel? The graphic suggests that the vastly larger number of Palestinian casualties somehow proves that Israel is engaged in war crimes, while leaving out all context from the body count: Who initiated the fighting? Did the casualties result from the targeting of civilian areas, or from the deliberate placement of crucial military targets in civilian areas in order to increase civilian casualties and their propaganda value? The Times would implicitly impose on Israel a heretofore unknown standard, found neither in combat sports or the rules of warfare: It is unfair to inflict upon the enemy more damage than it inflicts. The goal of warfare is no longer to deter or defeat the enemy.
The Times does a better job ensuring that blatant anti-Israel bias creeps into its reporting of Israel than protecting against such bias. The paper recently announced the addition to its tiny Jerusalem bureau of Raja Abdulrahim, "a native Arabic speaker" and a "strong storyteller and writer." As an undergraduate student at University of Florida, in the midst of a spate of suicide bombings that claimed 587 Israeli lives between 2000 and 2005, Abdulrahim wrote in the student newspaper that the blame for suicide bombers did not rest on the bombers themselves or those who sent them but "squarely on Israel and the Israel Defense Forces." Suicide bombers, she urged, are not "terrorizing Israelis, they are just defending their land and lives."
IN LATE OCTOBER, the Times published a 5,000-word travelogue of a ten-day journey from the top of Israel to the bottom by Patrick Kingsley, the paper's Jerusalem bureau chief. The piece begins with Kingsley speaking to Shai Melamud, an 86-year-old member of kibbutz Kfar Giladi on the Lebanon border. Mr. Melamud speculates that if his father, one of the kibbutz founders, were to return from the grave today, "[H]e'd say a single sentence: 'This wasn't the child we prayed for.' And then he'd return to his grave."
The entire piece continues in pretty much the same vein. In his travels, Kingsley does not manage to find one person to interview who is unambiguously proud of his country. Everyone is disgruntled, full of bitter complaints about other groups of their fellow citizens: secular Jews about the chareidim; Mizrachim about the Ashkenazim; Arabs and Bedouins about the Jews. Israelis responded by creating a mocking hashtag, #SadSadIsrael, on which they posted photos of themselves looking anything but depressed.
The single possible exception to Kingsley's baleful portrait of the national mood is Shmulik Taggart, a resident of Eilat since the 1950s. Living in Eilat, far outside the borders of Eretz Yisrael, Taggart "seemed happier than most of the people we'd met anywhere else in the country," writes Kingsley.
Kingsley speculates that the source of his happiness is his diminished sense of a particular tie to the land, "between territory and identity." "We can be part of any country," Mr. Taggart said — and that seems to be Mr. Kingsley's lesson.
I do not question the specific accuracy of Mr. Kingsley's quotations, and many of the interviews are interesting, albeit lacking in historical context. But the overall portrait of Israel as a country filled with miserable, embittered people is wildly off. On annual worldwide surveys of national happiness, Israel consistently ranks near the very top — in the most recent survey 12th — and ahead of the United States.
Most Israelis either chose to make aliyah or are descended from those who did within living memory. And as the West enters a period of decline, aliyah from some of the most prosperous countries in the world is surging. Israelis accept burdens that citizens of few democratic countries would tolerate, including lengthy national military service and high taxes. At times of military conflict, the rate of enlistment by reservists in the IDF is over 100 percent — i.e., more reservists report for combat service than those summoned.
But the most telling indication of national optimism and pride in one's country is the birthrate: Israeli women, even excluding chareidim and Arabs, have the highest fertility rates of any country in the developed world, and by a wide margin. The desire to bear and raise children — which is waning throughout the West — is the best indicator of a sense of purpose in one's life and the desire to pass along that purpose to subsequent generations.
If one were to create a graph, with the vertical axis, from lowest to highest fertility rates, and a horizontal axis of suicide rates from lowest to highest, Israel would stand in a quadrant (top left) all by itself — a nation dwelling alone.
That graph provides a more accurate picture of the Israeli psyche than Mr. Kingsley's vignettes of disappointment and bitterness.