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New York Times Column on Anti-Zionism a Reminder of its Own Publisher’s Past

February 18, 2014 10:34 am 14 comments

Office of The New York Times, in New York City. Photo: WikiCommons.

Office of The New York Times. Photo: Wiki Commons.

JNS.orgThe New York Times raised some eyebrows in the Jewish community last week with a lengthy feature about four self-described religious Jews who oppose Israel. In an apparent attempt to legitimize Jewish anti-Zionism, the article stressed that Zionism “was not always the norm among American Jews” and that it was only “the persecution of European Jews [which] turned many American Jews into Zionists.”

Interestingly, one of the most famous “religious Jews” who opposed Zionism did not change his mind even after the Holocaust. That was the Times’s own publisher from 1935 to 1961, Arthur Hays Sulzberger.

Sulzberger was a devout adherent of classical Reform Judaism. In his view, Jewish identity should consist only of religious beliefs, not any sense of peoplehood, nationalism, or ethnic affiliation. He even rejected the existence of Jewish war veterans organizations on the grounds that they were examples of “Ghetto living.”

As Prof. Laurel Leff explains in her critically acclaimed book, “Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper,” Sulzberger instructed Times editors to bury news of the Nazi genocide on the back pages, and to tone down or eliminate references to the fact that the victims were Jews. Sulzberger worried that if the Times reported what was happening to the Jews in Europe, someone might accuse it of being a “Jewish newspaper.”

As news of the Nazi atrocities moved many formerly anti-Zionist Reform rabbis and leaders to recognize the need for a Jewish state, Sulzberger pushed back. He was one of the earliest and most enthusiastic supporters of the American Council for Judaism, a group created by a handful of Reform rabbis in 1942 to oppose Zionism. The Times gave frequent and generous coverage to the activities of the tiny Council.

Even a visit to former Nazi concentration camps in 1945 did not alter Sulzberger’s anti-Zionist convictions. In a speech the following year, Sulzberger said that while he felt sorry for the Jewish survivors living in Displaced Persons camps in Europe, they were “but a minor percentage of the total of displaced persons” and therefore should not be receiving so much attention.

The Times publisher even went so far as to claim that Zionism was to blame for some of the Jewish deaths in the Holocaust. He alleged, in that 1946 speech, that the refugee crisis during the war had been “a manageable, social and economic problem” until “the clamor for statehood introduced an insoluable political element” into the issue. “It is my judgment that thousands dead might now be alive” if “the Zionists” had put “less emphasis on statehood,” Sulzberger asserted.

One of the Jewish anti-Zionists profiled in last week’s New York Times article described himself as a fan of the late Judah Magnes, who advocated a binational Arab-Jewish Palestine instead of a Jewish state. Sulzberger, too, thought highly of Magnes. In June 1946, Sulzberger tried to organize a dinner at Manhattan’s Hotel Pierre to raise funds for Magnes’s work. The Times publisher invited 23 of his associates. Only three accepted. The dinner was canceled.

The increasingly isolated Sulzberger grew more and more frustrated. A pro-Zionist statement by the formerly anti-Zionist president of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in early 1947 prompted Sulzberger to write to a friend, “Apparently if you are a Jew you have to contribute Jewishly, eat Jewishly, think Jewishly, part your hair Jewishly… Gosh I’m sick!”

On another occasion, Sulzberger was horrified to see the AJC and other Jewish groups listed as affiliates of the United Jewish Appeal in an advertisement in the Times.  “The only thing I miss is the Jewish Chiropractors’ Society,” he complained. “In other words, J E W is to be the common denominator for everything we do. God help us!”

In his final years, Sulzberger’s anti-Zionism never eased. He resigned from one of the Reform synagogues to which he belonged after it introduced the singing of Hatikvah along with the Star-Spangled Banner. He apparently considered visiting Israel on one occasion, but changed his mind after Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made a speech that he disliked. Ironically, however, after Sulzberger passed away in 1961, his widow established a scholarship in his name at Hebrew University. It seems unlikely he would have approved.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C., and author of 15 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. The latest is “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.”


  • “Sulzberger said that while he felt sorry for the Jewish survivors living in Displaced Persons camps in Europe, they were ‘but a minor percentage of the total of displaced persons'”

    If he said that, Sulzberger was truly twisted. If the Jewish survivors represented only a “minor percentage” of DPs, that would be primarily because so many European Jews — 6 million of the total war dead, estimated at 50 to 80 million for all causes, and 50% of the Jewish population prior to the war — perished before the Nazis were defeated.

    • Straying off topic, but it was the mass civilian relocations in Europe that kept Europe at peace from the end of WWII to the present.

      Meanwhile Israel did the opposite. Israel allowed the large hostile Arab population to remain after 1967. The Modern State has never seen a moment of peace.

  • Being a Jew means being anti-Zionist.
    Being a Zionist means being an Israeli by conviction.
    Being an Israeli means not being Jewish any more.

    Because Zionism and Jewishness don’t go well together.

  • Funny how so many liberals, like Sulzberger, want to deny Jews a homeland but would argue it is racism and colonialism to deny Palestinians their nation.

  • Any Jew that opposes Israel is NOT a Jew!!! They are delusional idiots!

  • There are many Zionists in the Kennesset that agree with him.

  • Could Sulzberger’s accusation that Zionists were responsible for Jewish Holocaust deaths be a possible rationalization of his own guilt for deliberately misinforming the American elite and public? Had the Times reported the story professionally, there would have been more pressure on Roosevelt to save Jews long before the War Refugee Board did just that. It is Sulzberger who likely contributed to the deaths of many Jews during the Holocaust and it his son and grandson who have been putting the Jews of Israel in danger for decades with grossly distorted reporting, crucial omissions and disgraceful double standards. It is time for American Jewish leadership – and not just the media watch organizations – to speak out about the emperor’s new clothes and hold the Times responsible for their dangerously biased reporting against Israel, which has also contributed mightily to the turning of an entire generation of Jewish youth against Israel (and Judaism).

  • TGhey found only 4 Jews who are at odds with Israel????These are good news.

  • This foolish man could have used his newspaper to save so many lives. The Times is going downhill, and it deserves to, not only because of this man’s wrongheaded ideas, but because of the continuation of his policies. The current publisher is patrilineally Jewish, but his parents were divorced and he was raised Episcopalian like his mother.

    The Nazis killed Jews and Gypsies because they believed we were wandering people with no roots, providing nothing and sucking the blood from the countries we settled in. If there had been an Israel, Jews wouldn’t have been singled out for slaughter.

    And don’t fool yourself because of Arab and left wing propaganda. Jews are much more accepted everywhere we live because of Israel. We belong and we live in America (or France, or England etc) because we choose to, not because we have no choice. And if our choice is not respected, then we have a place to go.

  • NY Slimes!

  • Tom Friedman has replaced Arthur Sulzberger as the Voice of the Times as it relates to Jewish issues.

  • There are many Jews today that are of the same cut as Sulzberger. Look at J Street, men and women ashamed of being a Jew and so many more. These all can join and become members of the Sulzberger club, ashamed of the term Jew and run away from it as fast as they can.

  • As Laurel Leff shows in her book, the Times kept the story of what was happening to Jews in Europe off its front page and off the editorial page. They also did not permit any letters to the editor about the subject.

    • michaelgarfinkel

      So Sulzberger was complicit in the slaughter of the Jews. He was guilty of an unspeakable crime.

      I understand Eugene Meyer and the Washington Post weren’t much better.

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