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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.

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