The Gray Lady Has a Jewish Problem

By Aaron Kliegman

When Israel declared its independence in May 1948, the surrounding — and much larger — Arab countries invaded the nascent Jewish state to destroy it. Since then, Israel has been under constant attack, facing existential threats like no other country on Earth.

The Israeli military fights back each day in self-defense not only to survive but also to flourish, to preserve the miracle of the Jewish people re-establishing sovereignty in their national homeland after 2,000 years of exile and suffering. Unlike its enemies, Israel values human life and wants to coexist in peace. This is why the Jewish state goes to greater lengths than any other country to prevent civilian casualties, including in times of war.

Yet, according to the New York Times, saving lives is a novel concept to the Israeli military, which, according to the newspaper, has only ever focused on killing people.

Last Thursday, the Times published an article on how the Israeli army is devoting significant resources to fighting the coronavirus. Of course, the newspaper did so in a way that portrays the Jewish state negatively.

“The Israeli Defense Ministry’s research-and-development arm is best known for pioneering cutting-edge ways to kill people and blow things up,” the article began. “But its latest mission is lifesaving.” The headline reads: “Israeli Army’s Idea Lab Aims at a New Target: Saving Lives.”

The Times makes it seem like saving lives is a radical shift from what the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has always done — which is protect Israelis from terrorists and other enemies who seek to destroy the world’s only Jewish state. Would the Times use such bizarre phrasing, which makes the IDF look like some robotic killing machine, to describe any other military? Of course not. Only Israel.

Every military on Earth obviously prepares for war and creates weapons to kill people — that is their job. It is just unnecessary for the Times to begin its story by seemingly going out of its way to highlight such efforts of the IDF only to contrast them with the current effort against the virus. Indeed, the Times’ way of framing the story not only demonizes Israel but also seems to question Israel’s legitimate defense needs.

This is standard operating procedure for the Times, though. Just two days later, the paper published an egregiously slanted piece titled, “Israel Cracks Down on Banks Over Payments to Palestinian Inmates.” The subhead read: “An Israeli military order forbids banks in the occupied West Bank from processing payments that the Palestinian Authority distributes to the families of Palestinians who have spent time in Israeli jails.”

Reading the article, one would think that Israel is cruelly punishing Palestinians, calling Palestinians terrorists as an excuse to satisfy the Jewish state’s racist anger. This certainly fits with the Times’ typical characterization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The piece describes those affected by Israel’s order as helpless victims struggling under Israeli occupation, now unable to get financial support from the benign Palestinian Authority (PA). The article is also sympathetic to the Palestinian view that terrorists are “martyrs” fighting for justice.

The Times glosses over the fact that the PA gives these payments to Palestinian “inmates” and their families for attacking Israelis.

In fact, the PA allocates hundreds of millions of dollars of its annual budget to pay terrorists and their families for carrying out attacks against Israelis. Those who are imprisoned in Israel receive monthly payments, in some cases for life. The more severe the crime, the higher the reward. Indeed, the families of terrorists who commit murder receive more money than those who only injure Israelis. And PA President Mahmoud Abbas has previously suggested that ensuring payments to terrorists is the PA’s top priority.

This “pay for slay” program clearly incentivizes Palestinian terrorism, and Israel is trying to stop the payments with its order on banks. While the situation is really about an Israeli effort to combat Palestinian terrorism, the Times frames the story as an Israeli effort to hurt suffering Palestinians.

These two articles came a month after the Times ran a review of Gotz Aly’s book, Europe Against the Jews, 1880-1945, in which the reviewer wrote that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is now the most articulate, respectable proponent of much the same far-right nationalist populism that has historically nurtured anti-Jewish hatred.” That the paper would publish this line in a piece that focused on antisemitism and the Holocaust is truly disgraceful — but indicative of the Times’ view of Israel.

All of these examples are part of a long tradition of the Times’ deep hostility toward the Jewish state, which has led to the institutionalization of a virulent bias against Israel. And sometimes this hostility and bias has flirted dangerously with, if not actually manifested as, antisemitism.

Jerold Auerbach, a professor emeritus at Wellesley College, details much of this dark history in his important book, Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016. Auerbach notes that this story really begins in 1896, when Adolph Ochs bought the New York Times and Theodor Herzl published Der Judenstaat, a momentous Zionist pamphlet that called for re-establishing a Jewish state in the land of Israel.

The Times first mentioned Herzl the next year, calling him the “originator of the Zionist scheme.” Auerbach writes that this hostility originated with Ochs’s “fervent determination that the Times would never appear to be a ‘Jewish’ newspaper” and his successors’ determinations not to be charged with dual loyalty. They, like many other Reform Jews, opposed Zionism at the time. But they, unlike most Jews, held this attitude even after the establishment of the state of Israel. Decades after 1948, the Times still would not call Israel a “Jewish state.”

In his book, Auerbach provides an overwhelming number of examples of the Times covering Israel, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in an imbalanced way. (Deborah Lipstadt lists several in her great review of the book, if readers are interested.) In case after case, the Times’ reporters and columnists both ignore Israeli victims and justify Palestinian violence. A 2014 study by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America found that the Times is nearly seven times more likely to publish pieces critical of Israel than critical of the Palestinians and twice as likely to publish opinion pieces supportive of the Palestinian narrative than the Israeli narrative.

Perhaps most striking: These problems have extended to Jewish people, not just Israelis. Auerbach notes multiple instances when the Times failed to report that the victims of tragedy were Jewish — such as the tragic case of the SS St. Louis, a ship that carried Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany who no country, including the US, wanted to accept. The ship ultimately had to return to Europe, where many of the passengers were later rounded up by the Nazis.

The Times did cover some of the Holocaust and Jewish suffering in the late 1930s and 1940s, but there were gaping, shameful, and inexplicable holes in the paper’s coverage.

All of these historical trends continued well into the 21st century. In 2015, for example, the Times printed a Jew tracker. Yes, that’s correct. The paper created a list tracking which Jewish American lawmakers voted against the nuclear deal with Iran. The list included columns that read “Jewish?” and “State and estimated Jewish population.” Worst of all, Jewish lawmakers and those who represent a district with a larger Jewish population than the US average were singled out with a yellow highlight — creepily reminiscent of the yellow Stars of David that the Nazis forced Jews to wear.

Also, remember last year, when the international edition of the Times published an egregiously antisemitic cartoon that wouldn’t have been out of place in Nazi Germany? The cartoon, which appeared in the opinion section, showed a guide dog with a big nose and the caricatured face of Netanyahu leading a blind President Trump wearing a yarmulke. Just to make sure readers didn’t miss the identity of the dog, it had a Star of David hanging from its collar.

The New York Times fancies itself the “newspaper of record” — the authoritative voice in our society on politics, policy, culture, and morality. And large segments of America still regard the Times as such a publication. This is troubling. The paper’s bias against Israel and eerie jaunts into the world of antisemitism are so flagrant that they undermine journalistic integrity and objectivity.

Today, 72 years after Israel declared independence, Israel’s enemies know they can’t defeat Israel militarily, so they use a different strategy: Make Israel look belligerent on the international stage to undermine the Jewish state politically, diplomatically, and economically. To its eternal shame, the Times bolsters this nefarious effort each day with its distorted coverage of the Jewish state. The newspaper must be called out, again and again, until there is real, enduring, and institutional change.

Aaron Kliegman is a freelance writer based in Virginia. Previously, he was a staff writer and news editor at the Washington Free Beacon, where he wrote analysis and commentary on foreign policy and national security. Aaron’s work has been published in a range of publications, and he has a master’s degree in international relations. Aaron is now writing regular columns for the Inner Circle as a contributor, and I am excited to have him on the Gingrich 360 team. — Newt