Nothing seems to please New York Times editors more than an opportunity to launch a multi-front fusillade against Israel, either in the Sunday Review section or on the Opinion page.
Last March it ran three op-ed columns blaming Israel for the stalled peace process. Ha’aretz journalist Ari Shavit, soon to publish his widely reviewed (and highly praised) My Promised Land, lacerated Jewish settlers not only for occupying the West Bank but for their destructive agenda of returning Jews to their biblical homeland. In a parallel column Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi, long an unofficial spokesman for the PLO, lacerated Israel for its “ghettoization” of Palestinians, “apartheid-style wall” and “illegal” settlements. Thomas Friedman chimed in with a statement of moral equivalence between Hamas rockets and Israeli settlers.
The next trifecta appeared during a week in August when Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren waxed euphoric over Palestinian stone-throwers while ignoring their wounded and murdered Israeli victims. Friedman falsely accused “settlers” of murdering Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, although Yigal Amir, the actual assassin, lived in the thriving Israeli city of Herzlyia, a settlement at the time of its founding in 1924. And Times editors declared that “nothing is more corrosive” of the peace process than Israeli settlements – not even sixty-five years of Palestinian intransigence.
Fast forward another five months to the Review section in Sunday’s Times (February 2). In what passed as even-handedness, the editors paired op-eds by Hirsh Goodman, former editor of The Jerusalem Report, and Omar Barghouti, identified as “a Palestinian human rights activist” who happens to be a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. He is inclined to compare Israeli punishment of Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of Jews.
Goodman, who knows about apartheid regimes from his boyhood in South Africa, sharply distinguishes Israeli treatment of its own Arab citizens and its Palestinian neighbors. But “inexplicably, blindly, Israel is letting itself be branded an apartheid state – and even encouraging it.” While no aspect of apartheid “even remotely exists in Israel or the occupied territories,” Israel’s “own actions” are no less to blame for its plight than the relentless campaign of delegitimization waged by its enemies.
The “apartheid wall,” “apartheid roads,” and “colonization,” among other Israeli evils, “are the clay apartheid comparisons are made of.” So, too, of course, are hatred and calumny of Jews, which have transformed centuries of anti-Semitism into the relentless delegitimization of the world’s only Jewish state. For Goodman, however, it is enough that “the apartheid label is beginning to stick – fair or not.” A reasoned consideration of its fairness is unlikely to be found in the Times.
Certainly not from Omar Barghouti. Although Tel Aviv University was his academic institution of choice for pursuing his Master’s degree in philosophy, he seems nonetheless eager to apply the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to the nation so irredeemably biased that it welcomed him as a student. He recites the usual laundry list of grievances: Israeli “occupation” (of its own biblical homeland, where “close settlement” by Jews has been authorized under international law ever since 1922); denial of “full equality” to its Palestinian-Israeli citizens (none of whom have expressed interest in leaving Israel for Palestine); and the “right of return” of Palestinians to the homes and land they abandoned in 1948 (whose numbers the UN has grossly inflated from some 50,000 actual living refugees to millions of “descendants”).
Barghouti’s advertisement for his pet project, the BDS movement, verges on preposterous. He cites recent boycott endorsements by the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian-American Studies Association as momentous events, rather than minor episodes of flagrant abuse of academic camouflage by Israel-bashers. The “unfounded allegation” of their anti-Semitism is, for Barghouti, a tactic of intimidation rather than a statement of the obvious. Busy lacerating the “exclusionary Jewish state,” he has no time to reflect on the number of Jews currently living in Arab and Muslim states, even those as benign as Jordan (no Jews) or the Palestinian state he yearns for (with not a single Jew, according to Mahmoud Abbas).
To all of which, Thomas Friedman reliably provided his own sardonic footnote. The “Wonderful Country” of his headline (and the popular Israeli comedy show) must prove its worth, predictably, by divesting itself of Judea and Samaria and its “2.5 million Palestinians” – a grossly inflated figure that even Palestinian demographers have rejected. Otherwise, Friedman warns, Israel will become a violently chaotic “multisectarian and multitribal” society resembling Sinai, Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria. His predictable final pitch follows: “the success of John Kerry’s peace mission” is vital for Israelis.
Such Times trio performances are, by now, a staple of its editorial policy. There is little likelihood that the music will change as long as Israeli critics on the left and Palestinian political activists are the fiddlers, with Thomas Friedman providing his own drumbeat of support.
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of the forthcoming Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy.