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January 20, 2019 8:04 am

New York Times Columnist Cheers for Boycotting Israel

avatar by Ira Stoll

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“Time to break the silence on Palestine,” is the headline over New York Times opinion columnist Michelle Alexander’s article, and a pretty good indication of where it’s going, because there’s no “silence” to break on the issue, and because “Palestine” isn’t a country and never has been.

Alexander uses the approaching Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday to accuse Israel of having “adopted some practices reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow segregation in the United States.”

Alexander’s analysis is so far off the deep end that it almost doesn’t merit a response.

She refers to “[o]ur elected representatives, who operate in a political environment where Israel’s political lobby holds well-documented power,” hyperlinking to The Washington Post home page rather than to any actual documentation of such power. Is her innuendo that Israel controls The Washington Post? Never mind that the lobby isn’t “Israel’s” but America’s, consisting of American Jews and Christians who support Israel for many excellent reasons.

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Alexander trades in double negatives: “This is not to say that anti-Semitism is not real.” She can’t quite bring herself to say that antisemitism is real. Anyone wondering about that, however, might examine Alexander’s own column, which obsesses, using a classically antisemitic trope, about Jewish financial power. “Many civil rights activists and organizations have remained silent as well, not because they lack concern or sympathy for the Palestinian people, but because they fear loss of funding from foundations,” she writes. As if pro-Israel Jews control the big foundations? Alexander also cheers, for Times readers, as an example of “moral clarity,” the United Methodist Church pension fund’s boycott of the five largest Israeli banks. Alexander concedes that “while criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, it can slide there.” She seems not even the slightest bit aware that her own column is a demonstration of precisely that phenomenon.

Alexander seems totally unfamiliar with the reality of Israel. She writes of King, “Like many black leaders of the time, he recognized European Jewry as a persecuted, oppressed and homeless people striving to build a nation of their own.” Yet Israel is a home not only for “European Jewry,” but for Jews from Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria and many other Middle Eastern and African countries where they were brutally persecuted, expelled and oppressed until they found refuge in Israel. It is also home to a population of Jews who have dwelled there for many centuries.

Alexander writes that King “said on national television that it would be necessary for Israel to return parts of its conquered territory to achieve true peace and security and to avoid exacerbating the conflict.” But Alexander makes no mention of the reality that Israel did indeed return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt as part of a peace agreement, or that Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and Arab population centers in the West Bank.

Alexander mentions a Reconstructionist rabbi. “During more than 20 visits to the West Bank and Gaza, he saw horrific human rights abuses, including Palestinian homes being bulldozed while people cried — children’s toys strewn over one demolished site — and saw Palestinian lands being confiscated to make way for new illegal settlements subsidized by the Israeli government,” she writes. She doesn’t mention or even acknowledge the tears or strewn toys of Israeli Jewish children caused by Arab suicide bombings and rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets.

It’s a sad day when a New York Times op-ed columnist — not a guest contributor, but a regular columnist — can mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a piece applauding a boycott of Jewish banks. King is an American hero because he fought against bigotry. It’s perverse.

The American Jewish Committee called Alexander’s op-ed “shameful.” That’s close, but perhaps too kind. “Shameless” is more like it.

Maybe — hopefully — one of The New York Times‘ Zionist voices such as Bret Stephens, Bari Weiss or Matti Friedman will rise to the occasion with a powerful rebuttal of Alexander, the way Stephens did recently when another Times op-ed columnist, Michelle Goldberg, defended anti-Zionism. But there’s something vile about the notion that something as blatantly bigoted as a boycott of Jewish banks — by a Christian church, no less! — is something to be politely debated, with voices on each side, on the Times op-ed page, as if it were immigration policy or the optimal marginal tax rate. That advocacy for such a boycott is inside the bounds of acceptable discourse is precisely Alexander’s point, and one the Times implicitly endorses with its decision to publish her column.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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