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April 5, 2016 7:36 am

In New York Times ‘Debate’ on Anti-Zionism, No Room for Real Debate

avatar by Ira Stoll

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When a debate is not really a debate. Photo: Wikia.

When a debate is not really a debate. Photo: Wikia.

The New York Times opinion section’s “Room for Debate,” I have quipped, should be called “No Room for Debate,” because the “debates” are so obviously slanted in their composition.

Such is the case with the feature’s latest installment, which appears under the headline, “Is Anti-Zionism Anti-Semitism?”

The Times introduces the discussion with this set-up:

When the University of California regents condemned “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism,” supporters of Palestinian rights said the university was suppressing criticism of Israel. In New York, supporters of Israel say critics of Zionism at the City University of New York are thinly disguised anti-Semitics and their actions, like calls for a boycott of Israel, should be stopped.

When does criticism of Israel become bigotry? Is rejection of the Jewish state a rejection of Jews?

I think the language the Times is looking for is “anti-Semites,” not “anti-Semitics.” But that’s the least of the issues with this feature.

As usual, the outcome of the “debate” is established by the Times’ choice of participants.

Daniel Gordis, who teaches at Shalem College, offers a mostly reasonable contribution, denouncing as antisemitism opposition to Israel’s existence. Benjamin Gladstone, a sophomore at Brown, also offers a mostly reasonable essay, reaching the conclusion, “Not all anti-Zionism is necessarily anti-Semitism, but the obsession with attacking Israel often crosses the line into structural anti-Semitism.”

Installments from a student and a professor at two University of California campuses offer the predictable anti-Zionist case, dismissing concerns about antisemitism, and offering the appearance of “balance,” as if Israel’s existence were a topic on which the Times should strive for neutral, even-handed coverage.

The real head-slapper, though, is the fifth, tie-breaking contribution. It wasn’t enough for the Times to weigh two pro-Zionist pieces against two anti-Zionist ones. Instead, the newspaper had to stick its thumb on the scale by adding a contribution from one Lisa Goldman. The newspaper identifies her as a “journalist.” Her web site says, “She currently works with corporate clients interested in entering various Middle Eastern markets.” Ms. Goldman’s contribution appears under the headline, “Anti-Zionists Thrive In Israel, Why Not in The U.S?”

She writes:

In the state of Israel, by definition, one can be a Jewish non-Zionist, tax-paying citizen who is active in civic life.

When Jews conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, they are stifling legitimate political expression. If a Jewish native-born Israeli can be an anti-Zionist, then surely it is not up to American Jews to decide whether or not criticism of Israeli policy is legitimate.

My own advice to Professor Gordis and to any other pro-Israel voice invited to participate in one of these “Room for Debate” debates? Find out ahead of time who other the participants will be and what side they will take. And if the “debate” turns to be stacked, three to two, in favor of a predetermined outcome, take a pass. Participating is just allowing the Times to provide the appearance of a “debate” when in fact the newspaper and its editors have no intention of allowing a fair one.

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