The Gaza ceasefire is prompting an array of assessments, in Israel and worldwide, of the costs and potential benefits to Hamas and the Jewish state from their month of bitter conflict. A quick glance at the morning-after New York Times (August 6), featuring reports by present and past Jerusalem bureau chiefs, provides an illuminating glimpse of its unrelenting message of moral equivalency.
During the month-long conflict Jodi Rudoren focused on the toll exacted from Palestinian civilians by Israeli retaliation for the Hamas rocket assault and tunnel invasion. She all but dismissed Hamas’s strategy of using Gazans as civilian shields, writing (with Anne Barnard): “Nothing is ever so clear in the complex and often brutal calculus of urban warfare.” Insisting that it was “somewhat dangerous” for Netanyahu to emphasize demilitarization of Hamas as the Israeli objective, she glibly described her underground tunnel “tour” as “part of the propaganda push” conducted by the IDF.
In her morning-after “Memo From Jerusalem,” Rudoren concluded that “open discourse and dissent appear to be among the casualties of the month long war in Gaza” – at least “according to stalwarts of . . . the Zionist left” with whom Rudoren is clearly aligned. Even Facebook users were defriended (gasp!) for posting photos of death and devastation in Gaza. Audience members at the Jerusalem Cinematheque were berated for standing for a moment of silence in memory of four Palestinian boys killed on a Gaza beach – but not for the scores of Israeli soldiers killed protecting their country from Hamas invasion.
Rudoren’s primary source of lamentation was Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, founder of the ultra-liberal Reform congregation Kol Haneshema. There, she noted (acknowledging her occasional attendance), the traditional Jewish prayer for peace had been modified to include a line from a Muslim prayer. In a statement of moral equivalence confirming Rudoren’s approach to the conflict, Rabbi Weiman-Kelman bemoaned the absence of “a nuanced position that recognizes the suffering on both sides.” But there is hardly nuance in the unrelenting war that Hamas has waged ever since Israel departed from Gaza nearly a decade ago.
Lamenting the “war casualties” of “open discourse and dissent” in war-torn Israel, Rudoren nonetheless managed to cite examples of their survival: an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv; a Haaretz editorial warning against Israeli “McCarthyism”; the claim by leftist Naomi Chazan in that newspaper that “intolerance runs rampant”; and a Tel Aviv protester who freely asserted that Israeli media covered soldiers’ funerals but rarely showed videos from Gaza. That omission offset the daily deluge of Gaza civilian photos in The New York Times, which did not cover the funeral of Sgt. Max Steinberg, the “lone soldier” from the United States who was killed in battle.
A belated entry from Thomas Friedman, elsewhere during most of the Gaza war, appeared the same day. His focus on the decline and inevitable fall of immoral Israel dates back to his coverage of the first Lebanon war in 1982. Then, “boiling with anger” and determined to “nail Begin and Sharon,” he “buried” the Israeli commanding officer on page one and “along with him every illusion I ever held about the Jewish state.” As Jerusalem bureau chief between 1984-88, Friedman proudly claimed (erroneously) that he broke the “old unwritten rule” at The Times never permitting a Jew to report from Jerusalem. (He overlooked Joseph Levy, who was posted there between 1928-35 and provided criticism of Zionism no less incessant than Friedman’s.) One of Friedman’s valued Jerusalem mentors was liberal Orthodox Rabbi David Hartman who, like Rudoren’s Rabbi Weiman-Kelman, believed that “something had gone terribly wrong” in the Jewish state.
Friedman still reiterates his familiar litany of complaints about Israel. It was “not deterred by the prospect of substantial collateral civilian casualties” (because Hamas protected its leaders and rockets with civilian shields). Hamas scored “a huge victory” because it focused attention (really?) on Israel’s “reckless Jewish settlement project,” which constitutes “colonial occupation.” To stabilize Gaza, Friedman hallucinates, Israel must make “territorial concessions in the West Bank,” relinquishing the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. The Gaza tunnels, he said, inspired “awe” over the “craftsmanship” and “sheer dedication” required to build them. He barely noted the “apocalyptic jihadist agenda” that inspired them. In Gaza and Israel alike, according to his vision of moral equivalency, “the religious-nationalist forces have the real energy.”
From Friedman (indeed from Joseph Levy) to Rudoren and back, the more its Jerusalem reporters change the more things stay the same at The New York Times.