Breakfast Companions: New York Times and Wall Street Journal
More decades ago than I care to remember I was raised to be a good liberal. In my American Jewish family that meant starting each day with The New York Times.
To be sure, my boyhood focus was the Sports section, and during baseball season that meant the Brooklyn Dodgers, the pioneering racially-integrated team with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe – joined by Cal Abrams, the nice Jewish boy who claimed uniform number 18 (Hebrew for “life”).
Adulthood inevitably rearranged my priorities. Baseball was superseded by children and Israel. But ingrained habits die hard. I still begin each morning with The New York Times, though today, it shares center stage with The Wall Street Journal. Times coverage of Israel (and Thomas Friedman’s hectoring) fires my brain and rouses my ire, and I depend on Journal editorials (and Bret Stephens’ columns) for rigorous analysis.
On Dec. 29, readers of both newspapers had the rare opportunity to compare lead editorials about Israel.
Applauding John Kerry’s wrathful laceration of the Jewish state, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, for its outrage over American abstention from the recent UN Security Council vote, Times editors offered a two-column embrace of the secretary of state and endorsed his flagellation of Israel.
Citing “a dangerous evolution in Israeli policy,” from “a negotiated two-state resolution” to a settlement “diktat,” the editorial flayed Netanyahu and his followers, who “misrepresent” history, “malign” Secretary Kerry and President Obama and “confuse” debate over peace prospects. But it is the Times that is confused. Its endorsement of the unanimous Security Council resolution ignored the motion’s glaringly erroneous conclusions.
The editorial tacitly embraced the false UN claim that Jewish settlements have “no legal validity” because they were built in “occupied” territory. To the contrary: Jordan was never internationally recognized as the “legitimate power” with sovereign rights in the West Bank and Palestinians have no legitimacy as a sovereign entity. Then the editors swallowed a misreading of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibiting an “occupying power” from “transferring its own people to conquered territory.” Grounded in revulsion over forced population transfers by Nazi Germany during World War II, the convention declared that “[t]he Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” But Israel neither deported Palestinians from the West Bank after the Six-Day War, nor transferred Jews there. Jews have returned to Judea and Samaria, their biblical homeland, entirely of their own accord.
With Secretary Kerry’s peace-making (and Nobel Prize) fantasies shattered, Times editors became angry mourners at his wake. Thomas Friedman, who has long fawned over (and impersonated) American presidents and even the Saudi king, joined them. “Never” has he met American leaders “more committed to Israel as a Jewish democracy” than Obama and Kerry. Friedman embraces their belief that “Israel is driving drunk toward annexing the West Bank,” leaving it to become either “a bi-national Arab-Jewish state” or a “Middle Eastern version of 1960s South Africa.” Any “true friend of Israel,” he believes, would follow the lead of Obama and Kerry.
But with friends like them, Israel does not need enemies.
How refreshing it was, after reading the Times tirade, to turn to The Wall Street Journal. To a historian, respect for lessons of the past is not only advisable but necessary for thinking about the future. Secretary Kerry’s extended peace negotiations collapsed in 2014, as he failed to mention, after the Palestinian Authority embraced a unity government with Hamas, which had launched its third war against Israel from Gaza in a decade. That was after Israel, led by Ariel Sharon, had removed all settlers from that territory nearly a decade earlier.
Like Israelis, but unlike the Times, Journal editors remember that liberal prime ministers — Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert — offered Palestinian leaders peace only to get terrorist violence in return. Nor did Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement freeze in 2009 bring peace. Most important, perhaps, WSJ editors recognize, as their Times counterparts do not, that the obstacle to peace has long been, and remains, “Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in any borders.”
My liberal tolerance, I have come to understand, requires a dose of liberal intolerance with my morning coffee, before I can be comforted with memory, wisdom and insight.
Jerold S. Auerbach is completing a history of The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016.