Nine Flaws With New York Times ‘Israel’s War on George Soros’ Article
An opinion article in the New York Times improbably used George Soros as a bludgeon with which to attack Israel and its elected prime minister.
I counted at least nine flaws with the article. It appeared in the Times online under the headline “Israel’s War Against George Soros,” but a more apt headline might have been “The New York Times’ War Against Israel.”
It began with the claim, “Mr. Soros has failed the only litmus test that seems to count for Israel’s current leadership: unconditional support for the government, despite its policies of occupation, discrimination and disregard for civil and human rights.”
That’s just nonsense [Problem No. 1]. There’s no such “litmus test,” and there are no such “policies.” This is a government that includes the first openly gay Likud Party member of the Israeli parliament, that has welcomed Syrian refugees and treated them in Israeli hospitals, and that has a better developed system of courts and civil society to protect minority rights than does any neighboring country.
The next sentence of the Times article was just as phony and misleading [Problem No. 2]. It claims, “For years Mr. Soros largely avoided Israel-related philanthropy, but he became involved in 2008 when he contributed to J Street, a moderate pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group based in Washington, after it was founded.” Never mind the characterization of J Street. The idea that Soros’s involvement with Israel-related topics only began in 2008 is false. He’s been a longtime and major funder of Human Rights Watch, a group so critical of Israel that its founder left in protest and started a rival organization. In 2007, Soros wrote a piece in the New York Review of Books describing himself as neither a Zionist nor “a practicing Jew” and denouncing Israel as bloodthirsty: “The current policy of not seeking a political solution but pursuing military escalation — not just an eye for an eye but roughly speaking ten Palestinian lives for every Israeli one — has reached a particularly dangerous point.”
Already in 2003, he was publicly blaming Israeli and American policies for antisemitism. As Commentary put it shortly thereafter, “Soros likened the behavior of Israel to that of the Nazis, invoking some psychological jargon about victims becoming victimizers.” As far back as 1995, Soros told the New Yorker, “I don’t deny the Jews their right to a national existence — but I don’t want to be part of it.” If Soros “largely avoided Israel-related philanthropy” until 2008, it wasn’t because he was neutral on the question but rather because he had a history of hostility to the Jewish state.
The next sentence in the Times article was also a problem. “Mr. Soros also contributes to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence, which have been subjected to a growing delegitimization campaign by the Israeli government.” That’s ironic [Problem No. 3]. Breaking the Silence has participated in a campaign to delegitimize Israel, and now the Times accuses Israel of trying to delegitimize Breaking the Silence?
The next problem [No. 4] came when the Times faults the Hungarian prime minister, Vicktor Orban. “Mr. Orban has personally accused Mr. Soros’s operations of ‘trying secretly and with foreign money to influence Hungarian politics’ — a statement that appears to toy with an anti-Semitic trope about Jewish influence.” If it’s antisemitic to be concerned about foreign influence on politics, then is the New York Times itself antisemitic for raising constant front-page alarms about how Russia supposedly swung the American presidency to Donald Trump?
The Times claimed [Problem No. 5], “It takes some gall on the part of Mr. Netanyahu to choose this moment to kick Mr. Soros while he’s down.” Netanyahu hasn’t kicked anyone, and Soros isn’t “down” — he’s a billionaire. If anyone is displaying gall, it’s the New York Times, for hurling all of these false accusations against Netanyahu.
The Times article praised Mr. Soros’ “universalism,” but went on to condemn the Trump administration for having made “no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism in its International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement this year.” So universalism is good in Soros’s case, but bad in the Trump administration’s case? It’s a double standard, again. [Problem No. 6.]
The Times falsely claimed [Problem No. 7] that “the Israeli government stayed silent” in response to the Holocaust statement. In fact the Israeli defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called it a “mishap or a misunderstanding,” and said he “hoped” next year’s statement would be worded differently, the Times of Israel reported.
The Times falsely claimed [Problem No. 8] that Netanyahu “sees little value in safeguarding Jewish communities outside Israel.” Netanyahu has spent more than $100 million of Israeli government funds on Birthright Israel travel programs that build the Jewish identity of teenagers and young adults from outside Israel.
The Times falsely claimed [Problem No. 9] that Netanyahu “has alienated a majority of American Jews on both political and religious grounds.” There’s no evidence of this. The Times hyperlinked the claim to a Thomas Friedman column that itself has 14 flaws. Even if the claim is true, it’s not clear that it is relevant. Netanyahu is elected by the voters of Israel, not America, and so he is accountable to them.
Why is the Times so eager to side with Soros against Netanyahu? Because Soros — publicly avowed as neither a Zionist nor a “practicing Jew” but rather a harsh and bitter public critic of the Jewish state, committed ideologically to “universalism” instead of “the hard-line nationalism of Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition” — represents precisely the Times world view. One can correct blatant factual errors or edit away some contradictions or hire a couple of pro-Israel writers and editors to provide balance. But some things are just incorrigible. When the Times runs articles such as this one about Soros, it’s a signal that discloses where the paper is really coming from.
More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.