New York Times Likens Israel to North Korea
A New York Times column likens Israel to the brutal dictatorship of North Korea.
In his foreign policy column “The Interpreter,” New York Times staffer Max Fisher makes the claim that China can’t solve the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. He relies in part on “Jeffrey Lewis, who directs an East Asia program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.”
The Times column says:
Its sticks and carrots all having failed with North Korea, China worries that increasing pressure will cut off what little influence it has.
Americans might see parallels in their country’s own troubled alliances, particularly in the Middle East.…
Mr. Lewis drew a parallel, if only in the mechanics of alliance politics, with Israel.
For decades, Washington has tried to persuade, induce or coerce Israel into altering its policies toward the Palestinians. Israeli leaders accepted American aid, ignored American demands and, in shows of calibrated defiance, often announced new settlement construction on the eve of American visits.
To the outside world, American unwillingness to impose greater pressure looks like a lack of will. When American diplomats warn that more pressure would only deepen Israel’s calculus and sacrifice American influence, they are blamed for perpetuating the conflict.
This is so off-base in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to start.
To begin with, it’s false that Israeli leaders “ignored American demands.” The Israelis have turned over much of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip to Palestinian Arab control, released Palestinian Arab prisoners and intermittently frozen or slowed new settlement construction. (They’ve also withdrawn from southern Lebanon and the Sinai Peninsula.)
It’s also not true that settlement announcements on the eve of American visits were “shows of calibrated defiance.” On the contrary, Americans visit Israel so often, and proposed settlement construction must go through so many incremental approvals, that it’s pretty much impossible to find a moment when no one is visiting. Reporting on such announcements has indicated that, far from “shows of calibrated defiance,” such announcements are essentially accidental. Here, for example, is a New York Times news article from 2010 about one such incident:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was clearly embarrassed at the move by his interior minister, Eli Yishai, leader of the right-wing Shas Party, who has made Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem one of his central causes.
A statement issued in the name of the Interior Ministry but distributed by the prime minister’s office said that the housing plan was three years in the making and that its announcement was procedural and unrelated to Mr. Biden’s visit. It added that Mr. Netanyahu had just been informed of it himself.
Then there’s the use of the passive voice to inject the Times’ view: “When American diplomats warn that more pressure would only deepen Israel’s calculus and sacrifice American influence, they are blamed for perpetuating the conflict.” Who is doing this “blaming”? The Times doesn’t say, but the answer is Israel’s enemies (including the Times itself, which has editorially urged additional pressure on Israel including cuts in military aid and adverse American action at the United Nations.)
The depiction of Washington as demanding or coercing from Israel better treatment of the Palestinians also clashes with Sunday’s depiction, in the Times, of America’s “frantic and fanatical support of Israel.”
Nor is it true that the US-Israel alliance is “troubled,” as the Times describes it.
It’s just plain grotesque to liken Israel, which whatever imperfections it may have is a free, prosperous democracy, with North Korea, which is a brutal “Axis of Evil” dictatorship. The Times claim that this comparison is “only in the mechanics of alliance politics” doesn’t make the comparison any better or more accurate.
The Times columnist who makes the comparison, Max Fisher, was cheered when he was hired by the then-foreign editor of the New York Times, Joe Kahn, who has since been promoted to managing editor and is a leading contender to become the executive editor. As The Algemeiner reported at the time:
Mr. Kahn was recently found tweeting what he called the “great news” that Max Fisher of the web site Vox will join the New York Times, bringing his “trademark explanatory journalism to our global readers.” Mr. Fisher’s work for Vox on Israel and the Palestinian Arabs has been thoroughly and effectively shredded by both David Bernstein of the Washington Post (here and here) and Noah Pollak of the Washington Free Beacon (“Let us praise Vox Media and its stooges as they stagger and stumble from one hilarious mishap to another, smacking each other in the face with two-by-fours and stepping on rakes.”)
When the Times hired Fisher, in other words, it had every reason to know exactly what it was getting.
More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.