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May 25, 2016 2:11 pm

On Ya’alon and Lieberman, the New York Times Sides With the WASP Over the Immigrant

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with incoming Defemse Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: Likud Anglos/Facebook.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with incoming Defemse Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: Likud Anglos/Facebook.

In at least four articles published over four days — a Thomas Friedman column, a staff editorial, a news article and an op-ed by Ronen Bergman — the New York Times has taken the side of ousted Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon against the man Prime Minister Netanyahu has chosen to replace him, Avigdor Lieberman.

The Times has described Mr. Ya’alon as “pragmatic,” while denouncing Mr. Lieberman as “far-right” and “extremist.”

The Times’ respect for Mr. Ya’alon is newfound; back when he was denouncing Secretary of State Kerry’s peace plans as messianic, the Times was busy lecturing him about his lack of manners. No trace of that controversy has been remembered in this latest Times flurry of Ya’alon nostalgia; it’s been mysteriously and conveniently forgotten. Nor has the Times seriously investigated or reported on Mr. Ya’alon’s assertion, in a 2005 interview with me, that Saddam Hussein “transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria,” six weeks before the Iraq War began.

If the Times’ siding with Mr. Ya’alon against Mr. Lieberman isn’t rooted in any genuine respect for former, what is it about? The likeliest explanation is that the Times is carrying water for Israel’s WASPs against what they perceive as outsiders.

In American parlance, WASPs are white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, the old-time Yankee elite that used to control things, but whose sway has been eroded by upwardly mobile immigrants and the children and grandchildren of those immigrants. In Israel, the WASPs are white, Ashkenazi sabras with protektzia — Israel-born veterans of the Israel Defense Forces with the connections and informal protection networks that come with having been in Israel for multiple generations.

Israel’s WASPs see Netanyahu, who spent some of his formative years growing up in America, as somehow foreign. All the more so because many of Mr. Netanyahu’s inner circle and recent appointees — his ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer; his Foreign Ministry director general, Dore Gold; his incoming consul general in Los Angeles, Sam Grundwerg; his foreign media spokesman, David Keyes; and two other top aides, Jonathan Schachter and Eli Groner, are American-born.

So the installation at the Defense Ministry of Lieberman, who was born in Kishinev, Moldova, is prompting a panic by the Israeli WASPs, echoed by the New York Times. It is a sign that the non-sabra elite has taken over. If an immigrant from the former Soviet Union without extensive uniformed military service can lead Israel’s Defense Ministry, perhaps some other immigrant could even eventually succeed Mr. Netanyahu as prime minister.

As for Mr. Lieberman’s supposed extremism, the policy for which he is best known is the possibility of transferring some of the Israeli-Arab towns — not the individuals or the population, but the actual towns — to a future Palestinian state. This is the ultra-right-winger? Someone who proposes giving to the Palestinians land that is now part of Israel? Mr. Lieberman also, at least when I interviewed him in 2006, floated the terms of a peace deal with Syria that would have involved Israel leasing the Golan Heights from Syria for a 99-year term. For a more nuanced view of Mr. Lieberman than the one available from the Times, that 2006 dispatch is worth a look.

The Times coverage of Mr. Lieberman is an integral part of an overall effort by the paper to depict Israel as extreme. “Hysteria” is how the New York Sun described it in a recent editorial. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens described one of the Times articles as arrogant and “preposterous.” But you don’t even have to be a right-winger, extreme or ultra or just regular, to think the Times is over the top. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Uriel Heilman recently raised a rhetorical eyebrow at the Times coverage of a movie. Mr. Heilman wrote on Facebook that calling this movie “about radical West Bank hilltop youth ‘The Settlers’ is like making a film about gun-toting white supremacists in Idaho and calling it ‘The Americans.’”

Yet this is how the Times depicts Israel, on a regular basis, as a collection of lunatic racist hilltop settlers or “ultranationalist” politicians. The Times op-ed page even sent a videographer to a Haifa hair salon to shampoo women’s hair and come back with deep insights like, “In Israel, the separation between Jews and Arabs is increasing constantly, and so are racism and fear.” Read enough of the Times Israel coverage, and you might feel the need for a hairwash yourself.

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

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Noah

    It’s been years since I stopped reading the NYT. Since then my mood has improved and my cognitives abilities raised to new heights. Thomas Friedman’s antipathy towards the Jewish State has been obvious for decades. So why bother with him? Nothing new, let’s move on and enjoy life. NYT and Friedman are downers.

  • Jonathan Mishkin

    yet another screed from Mr. Stoll burdened by several material inaccuracies.

    1. Stoll suggests that Ya’alon got his IDF rank via protekzia. nothing of the sort. All Israelis accept, appreciates and are gratified that the COS job is among the most meritocratic appointments in Israeli society. The job is also blind to ethnicity; recent Sephardic COSs include Shaul Mofaz, Gabi (dont-let-the-name-fool-you) Ashkenazi, and Gadi Eiszenkot.

    2. Stoll suggests that the “WASPS” is Israel dislike Netanyahu because he is not one of them. Not at all. Bibi is a card carrying WASP. His parents were Ashkenazim several generations resident in Israel/Palestine.

    3. Stoll says that the most material evidence that Lieberman is extremist is his suggestion that several Arab-Israeli towns be transferred to what would become Palestine. C’mon Ira! How about his proposal to bomb the Aswan Dam is Egypt didn’t cooperate with Israel or his proposal to kill the leaders of Hamas if they don’t turn over the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers who lost their lives in the 2014 Gaza War? The NYT is just mirroring the opinion of the mainstream Israeli press in its concerns about the possible impact of Lieberman at the Ministry of Defense.

    4. Just because the NYT raised concerns about some of Ya’lon’s comments as MoD, does not mean they cannot recognize his military and administrative skills.

    As they say, “you are entitled to your own opinions, not your own facts.”

  • Dante

    the nyt is hopeless, clueless but opinionated.

    but Stoll’s thesis, while interesting, is not persuasive: the nyt is motivated only by its antipathy to Israel; it will use anything at hand to attack Israel. it doesn’t care about “WASPs.”

    Stoll, however, is right about nyt’s simple-minded, misinformed, persistent and adamant bias against Lieberman. the self-infatuated dummies of nyt see events in Israel in terms of US history in the 60s & 70s; that’s what these parochial rubes know, or think they know, and it is on to that Procrustean bed that they force Israel (& other current) affairs.

    friedman is a contemptible fool, a proud fool, a narcissistic fool, a sanctimonious fool.

  • As I have a snowball’s chance of ever having the NYT publish my paired down version of this LTE I wrote to the “Gray Lady,” I offer it to the Algemeiner as an example of the media bias against the Lieberman appointment and how I countered it in one specific instance.

    Ronen Bergman calls out Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin
    Netanyahu, for his switch in nominating for Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, whom he calls an “ultranationalist,” in place of Yitzchak Herzog. For certain, this move insures the PM of a government more stable than the single seat majority in the Knesset which he had had with Moshe Yaalon as Defense Minister. But also with Yaalon came a phenomenon virtually unknown in the United States whose military leadership understands that public criticism of the Commander-in-Chief and government policy is a ticket to near instant retirement.

    Bergman states correctly that Yaalon had offered the leadership of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) virtual immunity for speaking their minds. Regardless of what they might have had to say, their criticism of the government and/or Israeli society would draw the attention, ire, and fire of any leader whose election mandated the role of leadership of any country.

    In my experience, if one in the U.S. military service or in the president’s Cabinet disagreed with policy or direction, such criticism was to be taken behind closed doors, not aired like laundry, dirty or otherwise, in the winds of the media.

    That Bergman goes on to imply that the new Defense Minister’s orders might not be followed seems altogether absurd, if, indeed, those orders are legal. One cannot have a democracy, let alone a government, where the orders of the leadership can be countermanded by the military or any
    other entity without that being called, at the least, insubordination and, at the most, a coup. To my mind, such a thing could also be called by far worse names.

    Bergman snickers behind his hand that the possibility of a military coup was mentioned to him by high ranking, IDF officers, albeit with a smile. I would suggest were the names of those who even laughingly spoke about such a thing to become public, their joke would draw a severe reprimand if not ouster from the IDF.

    Mr. Ronen’s credentials would lead one to believe that he is
    a responsible journalist. As his comments appear in the “Opinion” section of the Sunday NYT (May22, 2016), are we readers to take this as anything other than his views? Filled with gossip, unsubstantiated innuendo and, in my opinion, invective, it truly can be seen as no other.

  • nat cheiman

    Now the fun begins. Lets see if Hamas and Fatah like dealing with Lieberman, who will take them to the edge of the cliff and push them if he has to.

  • Ruth Haskal

    Just remember the coverage of the plight of the Jews in the Times during the world war II.
    The Times love of Israel is well documented.!!!!!!!!

  • Ani

    The problem is, the NYT is really good at portraying Israel as an out-of-control rabid racist apartheid state. It’s readership laps it up on a regular basis, beats their breasts over the funds we provide to Israel to assist with their arms needs, and wails over the plight of the poor Palis, uprooted by the invaders from their “family lands”.

    The NYT is an influential paper read by many in high places as well. Too many of them get their info on Israel from the NYT. In fact I’ve met far too many people who all assure me they know just how terrible Israel is, and where do you think they get their info?

    So what’s the deal? Was interesting to see articles on Israel, all negative, day after day. Not just coincidental. The NYT owners and editors are on a mission to discredit Israel and join with Sanders to change the platform of the Democratic party to favor Palestinians. We’ve been warned; ignore this at our peril.

  • the NYT is so liberally racist it continuously ‘blackwashes’ every Israeli except the ones either in its pocket or in its illiberal liberalist ‘corner’ … it pompously refuses to recognize that at best it occupies only one of the world’s polygonic ‘corners’ — but then at worst, it’s its normal insensitive and anti-israeli self. so why bother with it… or it’s local wannabe, ha’aretz?

  • Robby

    The NY Times is consistently anti-Israel and Thomas L. Friedman is more of an Israel-hating propagandist than a journalist.

  • Robby

    The NY Times is consistently anti-Israel and Thomas L. Friedman ios more of an Israel-hating propagandist than a journalist.

  • stevenl

    Liberalism spreads the ROT all over the place without any restrain (Liberal principle).

  • Lia

    Thank you to all who keep pointing out the abject poverty of the Times’s journalism.

  • joe quellman md

    since the appointment of avigdor lieberman as minister of defense i can now say, for the first time in some time, that i am proud to be a jewish american zionist.