Among the many Israeli sources of irritation for The New York Times, none is more persistently aggravating than Jewish settlements. August has been an especially difficult month for the Times. In rapid succession, its Jerusalem reporter Jodi Rudoren, Pulitzer-prize winning columnist Thomas Friedman, and editorial board contributed factual errors about settlements that not only revealed falsehoods but blatant bias.
It began on August 7, when Rudoren – who two days earlier had rapturously lionized Palestinian stone-throwers while all but ignoring wounded and murdered Israeli victims – erroneously stated that the American government viewed settlements constructed in Judea and Samaria to be illegal. In fact, as a subsequent Times correction noted, the United States “has not taken a position on the settlements’ legality” (although a day later the State Department declared, “We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity”).
That same day, Friedman – who seems to delight in vilifying settlers – wrote: “One should never forget just how crazy some of Israel’s Jewish settlers are. They assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. . . .” False. Yigal Amir, who (alone) assassinated Rabin, was not a settler. He lived in Herzliya, the Israeli city founded in 1924. While anyone can make a foolish mistake, not everyone would make such a glaring – and slanderous – error in print and then decline to correct it. Although the Times Correction and Editors’ Notes sites were contacted, there was no printed notice of the mistake.
Not a week later (August 13), the Times ran an editorial entitled “Shortsighted Thinking on Israeli Settlements,” which might best describe its own persistent hostility. The Times was responding to the Netanyahu government decision to bracket the release of Palestinian terrorists and murderers from their deservedly lengthy prison terms with the publication of bids for the construction of 1,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem (hardly a settlement) and existing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
It may have been a vulgar Israeli “balancing act,” but hardly for the reason claimed by Times editors. Secretary of State Kerry’s delusion of “a comprehensive peace settlement” within nine months palpably excites the Times, but it is unlikely to come to fruition for reasons having nothing to do with Jewish settlements or intransigent Israeli “right wingers.” It is the Palestinians, after all, who have never missed an opportunity since 1937 to miss the opportunity for a peace agreement based on partition of the land.
“No two-state solution can ever be reached,” warned the Times, “if Israel expands its settlements on territory that will eventually become part of a Palestinian state.” This has long been the party line at the Times, which insisted (in the words of columnist Nicholas Kristof nearly two years ago) that “Nothing is more corrosive than Israel’s growth of settlements.” But its editors miss the point: Jewish settlements exist on land that will not become part of a Palestinian state. The Times may worry about “the already politically powerful block of settler voters who will resist removal.” It would be better advised to grasp the reality of 350,000 Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, in communities within an easy commute of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, who are unlikely to abandon their homes to mollify Mr. Sulzberger and his acolytes.
The Times, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) recently concluded, “has an Israel problem. And that means it has an ethical journalism problem,” which its constant and often misguided criticism of Jewish settlements illuminates and exacerbates. International law does not prohibit Jewish settlement. To be sure, Jews lost two-thirds of Palestine when Winston Churchill decided to reward Abdullah of Mecca with the kingdom of Trans-Jordan, carved from eastern Mandatory Palestine after World War I. But ever since 1922, when the League of Nations endorsed the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” Jews have enjoyed the right, never rescinded, of “close settlement” on the land west of the Jordan River. That means the West Bank.
The Times is entitled to its fantasy that land for peace will seal the deal between Israelis and Palestinians. But Palestinians have rejected every international recommendation for the partition of land west of the Jordan. All or nothing has its cost, but readers should not hold their breath in anticipation of Times recognition that it has been Palestinian recalcitrance, not Jewish settlements, that have proven to be the overriding obstacle to peace.
Two weeks ago the Times reported the discovery in Jerusalem by a prominent archaeologist of a fragment of King David’s palace. Former Jerusalem bureau chief Steven Erlanger made sure to insert his own doubts about its veracity, equating historic Jewish claims to Jerusalem with Yasir Arafat’s absurd denial of any Jewish connection there. But several days later, when the print media overflowed with accounts of the discovery of a juglet with a 3,000 year-old text from King David’s time, pre-dating the earliest known Hebrew inscription from the 8th century BCE, the Times ignored the story.
Beware of “all the news that’s fit to print.”
Jerold S. Auerbach is completing a book about Israel’s legitimacy struggles.