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March 17, 2016 7:03 am

New York Times Arts Section Likens Israel Air Force to ‘ISIS Thugs,’ Omits Jewish Identity of Major Fashion Designer

avatar by Ira Stoll

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New York Times headquarters.  Photo: Wiki Commons, via Haxorjoe.

New York Times headquarters. Photo: Wiki Commons, via Haxorjoe.

Some of the most egregious treatment of Israel and Jews in the New York Times comes not in the foreign news section or even on the editorial page, but in more traditionally innocuous “soft” sections, such as arts.

Such was the case earlier this week, when the front page of the Times “Arts” section carried not one but two separate stories displaying the newspaper’s classic clumsiness when it comes to the Jewish story.

One of the two pieces was a review by Times critic Michiko Kakutani. The review effusively praises a new book by NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, “And Then All Hell Broke Loose.”

The review includes this passage:

[O]ften, there is a surreal horror to his descriptions: the sight of 11 bodies of small boys, perhaps ages 8 to 10, killed in Qana, Lebanon, during an Israeli air raid in 2006; the memory of “a stray dog carrying a severed human head between its teeth” in Iraq; a heartbreaking interview with a 14-year-old boy who had a hand and a foot chopped off by ISIS thugs because he had refused to cooperate.

It takes quite a journalistic and logical leap to equate the Israel Air Force (IAF) with “ISIS thugs,” but in the construction of this review, the two are parallel items in a series, along with the man-eating dog. Missing entirely from this depiction of an IAF massacre of 11 “small boys” is any explanation whatsoever of what Israel was doing in Lebanon in 2006. It’s not as if that is a secret, after all.

Back at the time, the newspaper did eventually explain that the conflict started when Hezbollah — an Iranian-backed terrorist organization whose leaders have publicly announced their intention to kill all the Jews, everywhere — crossed over the border from Lebanon into Israel, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two others. Hezbollah then launched about 4,000 rockets from Lebanon into Israel. Those rockets were launched from amid residential buildings in Lebanon, including in Qana, as the Times reported at the time.

If the Times is going to rhetorically exhume these Lebanese children 10 years later for the purpose of blaming Israel, rather than Hezbollah, for their deaths, the journalistically appropriate thing to do would be to include at least some context. Without it, Times readers are left with the false impression that IAF pilots are wanton killers akin to ISIS thugs.

The second piece on the front of the Times arts page goes off in a different, but no less pernicious, direction. It’s an interview with Isaac Mizrahi, the fashion designer whose work is the subject of a 30-year retrospective at the Jewish Museum. Given that the show is at the Jewish Museum, you might expect that there might be some mention of Mr. Mizrahi’s Jewish identity. If you are a Times reader interested in that topic, you are out of luck. The Times interviewer demonstrates a remarkable lack of curiosity on the topic; of the 13 interview questions and answers printed, not a single one even glancingly concerns Mr. Mizrahi’s Jewishness or why the show is at the Jewish Museum.

It’s not as if this is a subject unfit for journalistic inquiry; a New York Observer piece recently explained, for anyone wondering:

Isaac Mizrahi was born in Brooklyn in 1961 and grew up in the tight-knit Syrian Jewish community. His religious background pushed Mr. Mizrahi into design: not because of it, but in spite of it. “I went to a yeshiva that was Orthodox and it was a kind of persecution for me,” explains Mr. Mizrahi. “The fashion, and puppets and theater and all of that was [a form of] escapism.”

Other New York Times interviews with artists — this is one of a recurring series that runs under the “A Word With” rubric — don’t hesitate to delve into matters of identity. A recent interview with filmmaker Spike Lee, who is black, waded into the racial politics of the Oscars. Another artist interview, with a painter, dealt with “queer politics,” “class” and “race.” It’s only when the artist is Jewish that the Times’ interest in identity politics wanes.

Maybe if the editors had a stronger interest in Jewish identity, they would have been stirred into preventative action when a writer tried to lump the IAF in with ISIS.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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