New York Times Again Inaccurately Blames Israel for ‘Toxic’ Relations With Obama
President Obama may be out of office, but the New York Times is nonetheless ramping up its efforts to revise the history of his relations with Israel.
A Times article last month by the newspaper’s new bureau chief in Jerusalem, Ian Fisher, blamed what it called a “notably frosty” relationship on “Israeli settlements in occupied territory, Israel’s vehement opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran and personality clashes with Mr. Netanyahu.” Writing in The Algemeiner, I faulted the Times both for its characterization of the relationship and for placing the blame for it all on Israel.
Now the Times is at it yet again, this time in a dispatch from Washington by a different reporter, Mark Landler, who more or less repeats the earlier Times narrative, but with a few new twists:
In 2012, Mr. Netanyahu welcomed Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, to Israel — all but endorsing him in his campaign against former President Barack Obama. Mr. Netanyahu’s relationship with Mr. Obama had been toxic for years because of disputes over the Iran nuclear deal and the Israeli government’s settlement building in the West Bank.
The “had been” language makes it sound as if these “disputes over the Iran nuclear deal” had existed “for years” before 2012. But the first part of that deal, the Joint Plan of Action, was only reached on November 24, 2013, and the comprehensive deal was only reached in July of 2015. If Netanyahu indeed preferred Romney in 2012, it makes no sense at all to blame “years … of disputes over the Iran nuclear deal.” In 2012, there was no deal to have a dispute over.
That leaves “the Israeli government’s settlement building in the West Bank.” But an otherwise ridiculous (for reasons we’ll get to some other time) New York Times editorial insists, “The United States, Israel’s strongest military supporter, has consistently held that settlement building in the occupied territories is illegal and detrimental to seeking a lasting peace.” The “illegal” part is not even true (or at least it wasn’t until the Obama administration threw Israel under the bus at the UN Security Council). It is true, though, that previous American administrations have also had disputes over settlement-building with Israel — but without it translating into a “toxic” relationship between the Israeli prime minister and the American president.
It’s almost enough to make a reasonable observer — not the Times, but a reasonable observer — wonder if the problem with the relationship between Netanyahu and Obama wasn’t, in fact, related to the Israeli settlements. Perhaps it had something to do with Obama.
Here are some alternative possible explanations, not offered in either of the two New York Times articles about the “frosty” or “toxic” Obama-Netanyahu relationship:
President Clinton’s National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, explained that Obama “very much wanted to recast the United States as a friend of the Islamic world. Part of that narrative is that we’ve been associated with Israel too closely.”
Obama’s first phone call as president to a foreign leader wasn’t to Netanyahu, but to Yasser Arafat’s successor, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. His first television interview was with an Arab TV network.
As the editor of the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, who interviewed Obama many times, put it, “There’s a belief that you win friends in the Arab world by distancing yourself from Israel.”
Then Obama went to Egypt to give a speech to the “Muslim world” — but did not go to Israel. As another former Clinton official, Martin Indyk, put it: “Don’t forget, he went to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt. He didn’t go to Israel. For Israelis, the combination of not visiting and the speech sent them a very strong signal that he didn’t like them.”
All this evidence is drawn from the account in a PBS “Frontline” documentary, “Netanyahu at War.” When even PBS, not always the most pro-Israel outlet, has a more nuanced and reasonable and true understanding of the Obama-Netanyahu history than the New York Times does, it’s a sad day for the New York Times.
Maybe if the newspaper revisits this history a third time, it will do better than the first two. An improvement would be something like: “Trump and Netanyahu are trying to shape a better relationship than Netanyahu had with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, who alienated the Israeli public with missteps early in his administration.”
More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.