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June 11, 2017 11:47 am

The Best Letter to the Editor Ever in the New York Times?

avatar by Ira Stoll


The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Sunday New York Times Book Review carries what may just be the single best letter to the editor ever printed in the Times.

Here it is, in all its glorious entirety:

To the Editor:

While Gal Beckerman’s “On the Seventh Day: New Books on the Six Day War and Its Aftermath” (Essay, May 28) articulates much of the disappointment and sadness that I feel after 50 years of occupation and no solution — and while he correctly places (in my opinion) much of the blame on the current Israeli government — I vigorously dispute his comment, presumably referring to the West Bank, about “Israel’s occupation of large swaths of Arab land to which it had no legitimate right besides brute force.”

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It bears repeating that — whatever one’s views about how international law and justice should inform a current solution to the conflict and what steps the Israeli government should take to move the process along — (1) the historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel (both sides of the Green Line, e.g., Hebron) spans two millenniums; (2) the Green Line was intended as a temporary armistice line, not a final border; (3) the territories were acquired in a defensive war; (4) Security Council Resolution 242 contemplates the retention of some of the territories; (5) the 1948-49 war resulted in the destruction of existing Jewish settlements (e.g., Gush Etzion), to which Israelis returned after 1967; (6) there are significant security reasons for continued control of the territories; and (7) international law is far from clear as to which side has the better of the “legal” argument. I do not think that these arguments (individually or in combination) dictate continued retention of the territories and perpetuation of the occupation. But it is frankly absurd to characterize the current situation as, say, akin to that of France in Algeria or the British in India.

One more thing. After a couple of pages of essentially holding Israel responsible for the continued occupation, the essay ends with a plea by Raja Shehadeh that until the Israelis “accept that the land must be shared and that both people have the right to self-determination, peace will remain elusive.” Maybe so. But how to square that with Nir Baram’s conclusion (apparently endorsed by Beckerman) that the conflict is not about “final borders” and there remains “total and irreconcilable difference” between the parties?


A terrific letter. All seven points enumerated by Mr. Blander are valid and relevant and all-too-often ignored.

I wonder, though, whether the letter would have made it into the Times without the first sentence referring to the writer’s feeling of “disappointment and sadness…after 50 years of occupation” and placing “much of the blame on the current Israeli government.” And I wonder whether the letter would have made it into the Times without the additional sentence, later in the letter, asserting, “I do not think that these arguments (individually or in combination) dictate continued retention of the territories and perpetuation of the occupation.” (The letter doesn’t say what action the writer recommends. Immediate and complete Israeli withdrawal from all territory conquered in 1967?)

In my view the letter would have been even better without those two sentences. But it’s my own feeling of “disappointment and sadness” — as Mr. Blander might put it in his eloquence — that even a rip-roaring and deft defense of Israel in the Times somehow can’t seem to make it into the paper unless it is prefaced and concluded with the obligatory Netanyahu-bashing and breast-beating about the “occupation” that is precisely what the rest of the letter serves to correct.

One more thing: Imagine if the clear thinking on display in the rest of Mr. Blander’s letter — the part not in those two sentences — weren’t limited to the Times letters column, but had been the point of view of the original Times book review that prompted the letter, or informed more Times news coverage and editorial and opinion writing. Wouldn’t the Times, and its readers, be better for it?

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


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