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December 30, 2016 3:19 pm

Breakfast Companions: New York Times and Wall Street Journal

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

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Office of The New York Times, in New York City. Photo: WikiCommons.

The New York Times headquarters. Photo: Wiki Commons.

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 Baseball was superseded by children and Israel.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.

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  • Sam

    We can try as much as we’d like to ignore this UN decision. The sad truth is that this decision will now put added pressure on Israel from the rest of the world as well as more bad decisions from the ICC in the Hague. We’ll have to call on every legal argument from the past 100 years to show why this decision shouldn’t be upheld in a court.
    Obama made sure this vote was held off till after the US election.

  • Joy Daniels Brower

    Thank goodness I was never brought up in a liberal home where the NY Slimes was the unofficial “bible” of American journalism! And now, even the WSJ isn’t as “safe” for Conservative opinions as it once was thought to be! Happily, more and more of us are “unfettered” by these old icons!

  • len

    Netanyahu’s 10 month settlement freeze in 2009 brought no progress and no serious Peace negotiations. After that Netanyahu’s attitude followed the old adage,” fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me, lets talk while we grow! “The Americans on the other hand under Obama wanted Netanyahu and Israel to follow an old song of the 40’s with just a few changes it goes like this ,Fool me once and fool me twice and fool me once again it’s been a long long negotiation process and no building until it’s over. Well it’s over! There’s a new sheriff in town and his motto is “Joke at your own peril”! Trump can’t and wont take a joke!

  • rachel

    I worked at the New York Times for three decades. the anti-Israeli bias is strong, in line with the liberal bent of the paper but really extreme now, Remember this newspaper did not write about concentration camps during Workd War II. There is a documentary on this subject. Not to alienate its readers the publisher did not want the newspaper to appear to be too Jewish. There is not a single reporter or editorial writer on their staff who looks at this from Israel’s point of view. It is all one sided coverage slamming Israel all the time. This is especially repulsive coming from Jewish writers.

  • In your book, I hope you pay special “tribute” to Joseph Levy, NYT Palestine correspondent and colluder with the Mufti, Magnes and Philby to thwart Zionism.