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December 18, 2017 10:02 am

Ten Ways The New York Times Jerusalem Editorial Got It Wrong

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The Western Wall and Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times greeted President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israel’s capital with an editorial alluding to the Christian Bible and calling for Jerusalem to be split in two.

The online headline for the New York Timeseditorial for the Sabbath of Hanukkah was “Donald Trump Seems Confused About Jerusalem.”

A more accurate headline would have been “The New York Times Editorial Writers Seem Confused About Jerusalem.”

The editorial comes after an onslaught of six previous recent Times articles that were negative about Trump’s action, against only two that were in favor. Its publication brings the editorial and opinion-page tilt on the Jerusalem issue to seven to two, the same lopsidedness the Times showed recently on the Iran nuclear deal.

Here are ten ways the editorial got it wrong:

First, the Times complains about President Trump “tossing aside 70 years of careful American neutrality” on the Jerusalem question.

It’s not accurate that America has been “neutral” in relation to Israel. America is Israel’s friend and ally. The US government has provided significant support over the years to Israel, both in military aid and diplomatically. And the US has extensive economic and people-to-people relations with Israel.

Second, even on the more particular question of America’s position on Jerusalem, “neutrality” is not an accurate description of the American position. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 includes a “statement of the policy of the United States” that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.”

Third, even if the false claim that America had been neutral for 70 years were true, it would be no reason to continue the policy. The Times recommends changing longstanding American policy all the time. For decades American law did not recognize gay marriages; when that changed, the Times cheered it, rather than letting the past dictate current policy. Likewise, the Times cheered former President Barack Obama’s decisions to ease sanctions against Cuba and against Iran. It didn’t seem to bother the Times then that both of those foreign policy moves were departures from longstanding American policy. The weakness of the Times appeal to the “status quo” argument is clear by imagining it applied to other events in Jewish history. One can imagine the Times editorializing against Abraham’s monotheism, complaining that the patriarch was “tossing aside 70 years of careful Canaanite idolatry.” One can imagine the Times editorializing against the Exodus, complaining that Moses was “tossing aside years of careful slavery in Egypt.” Or recall the Times’ opposition to Zionism, complaining, in essence, that Herzl, Ben-Gurion, and other early Zionists were “tossing aside years of exile.” Or apply it to American history: would the Times have opposed abolition during the Civil War on the grounds that it “tossed aside” years of careful national neutrality on the question of chattel slavery? Or civil rights on the grounds that it “tossed aside” years of careful segregation? Or feminism on the grounds that it “tossed aside” years of male chauvinism? Or the American Revolution itself on the grounds that it “tossed aside” years of careful cultivation of the American colonies?

Fourth, the Times ties Trump’s move to Americans “who staunchly back Israel’s hard-line Likud government.” But that inaccurately portrays Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a partisan issue in Israeli politics. It is not. I was at the US Capitol on October 25, 1995, and watched as the visiting Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, of Israel’s Labor Party, said, “In Israel, we all agree on one issue: the wholeness of Jerusalem, the continuation of its existence as capital of the State of Israel. There are no two Jerusalems. There is only one Jerusalem. For us, Jerusalem is not subject to compromise, and there is no peace without Jerusalem.”

Rabin’s cabinet had in May 1995 resolved, “the Cabinet will act to strengthen the status of united Jerusalem as the exclusive capital of Israel, and will fight any attempt to impair this status.”

Fifth, the Times bemoans the fact that “More than 50 Muslim leaders…criticized the decision.” The “50 Muslim leaders” are no more good reason to oppose the decision than are the “70 years.” One of the leaders was the president of Iran, which has vowed to wipe Israel entirely off the map. If it were up to the Muslim leaders, Israel wouldn’t exist at all (though a few of them might actually privately prefer to keep the Jewish state around for propaganda purposes as a way of distracting the residents of their tyrannies from their own misery.)

Sixth, the Times claims that “Israel’s government has been in West Jerusalem since the state’s founding in 1948.” It’s a small point, but again the Times manages to get it incorrect. David Ben-Gurion stated on December 13, 1949, “In the stress of war, when Jerusalem was under siege, we were compelled to establish the seat of Government in Tel Aviv…. When the First Knesset convened in Jerusalem on 14 February 1949 the necessary arrangements to enable it to function normally in the capital did not yet exist, and we had to hold the Knesset sittings temporarily in Tel Aviv.” The Knesset website explains that “Consequently, the Knesset decided that after Hanukah 1949 it would renew its sessions in Jerusalem.”

Seventh, the Times editorial refers to “the Arab-Israeli War of 1967,” going out of its way to avoid calling it “the Six-Day War,” which is a term commonly used by Jews.

Eighth, then there’s this: “White House officials made clear their expectation that Jerusalem’s Western Wall, which lies outside Israel’s pre-1967 borders and abuts some of Islam’s most sacred sites, will eventually be declared part of Israel.” Hmm. If Jerusalem’s Western Wall “lies outside Israel’s pre-1967 borders,” how precisely does the Times think the Wall got there? It’s as if the Times editorial writers think that the entire history of Jerusalem began in 1948 and ended in 1967, with a possible exception for earlier visits by Jesus of Nazareth and by Muhammad’s winged horse. Did “Israel’s pre-1967 borders” not ever include the Temple Mount of Jerusalem? Ben-Gurion was clear on the issue. He said on December 5, 1949:

what has been in Israel’s heart since it became a united nation under King David three thousand years ago as regards Jerusalem its holy city… Jewish Jerusalem is an organic, inseparable part of the State of Israel, just as it is an integral part of Jewish history and belief. Jerusalem is the heart of the State of Israel…. Twice in the history of our nation were we driven out of Jerusalem, only after being defeated in bitter wars by the larger, stronger forces of Babylon and Rome. Our links with Jerusalem today are no less deep than in the days of Nebuchadnezzar and Titus Flavius, and when Jerusalem was attacked after the fourteenth of May 1948, our valiant youngsters risked their lives for our sacred capital no less than our forefathers did in the time of the First and Second Temples.

A nation that, for two thousand and five hundred years, has faithfully adhered to the vow made by the first exiles by the waters of Babylon not to forget Jerusalem, will never agree to be separated from Jerusalem. Jewish Jerusalem will never accept alien rule after thousands of its youngsters liberated their historic homeland for the third time, redeeming Jerusalem from destruction and vandalism. … The attempt to sever Jewish Jerusalem from the State of Israel will not advance the cause of peace in the Middle East or in Jerusalem itself. Israelis will give their lives to hold on to Jerusalem, just as the British would for London, the Russians for Moscow and the Americans for Washington.

Ninth, the Times concludes by suggesting that Trump specify “that the embassy, when moved, would be in West Jerusalem,” and indicate “that the United States wants to recognize East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital as part of a peace agreement.” This rhetorical attempt by the Times to divide united Jerusalem into “East Jerusalem” and “West Jerusalem” — restoring the status of the city to the brief period between 1948 and 1967 when it was divided in two and Jews were denied access to eastern Jerusalem — makes no more sense than re-dividing Berlin into East and West. The same Jerusalem Embassy Act that Trump was moving belatedly to bring America into compliance with states not only that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel” but also that, as the “policy of the United States,” “Jerusalem should remain an undivided city.” The last time Israel withdrew from territory, in the Gaza Strip, it was taken over by the Hamas terrorist group and used as a base for tunnel and rocket attacks on neighboring Israeli civilians. If a majority of Israeli voters ever want to turn part of Jerusalem over to Palestinian control, maybe America might then want to amend the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Until then, there’s no reason for an American president to promote the division of the city.

Finally, and tenth, it’s worth noting that the print version of the Times editorial bore the headline “Oh! Jerusalem….” The reference was unexplained. Maybe there is some other more innocent reason for it. But it struck this reader as an unmistakable reference to Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem, from the Christian Bible. The phrase occurs in Matthew 23:37. That is an account by Matthew of a speech by Jesus, a bitter attack on the Jews: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” The next two verses, which conclude the chapter, are “behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Some have read this and other passages as suggesting that Jewish exile from Jerusalem is punishment for Jewish refusal to accept Jesus. The Christian Bible’s book of Luke carries a similar account in Chapter 13, verses 34 to 35: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

The New York Times staff editorial on Israel’s execution of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann, as The New York Sun put it, “concluded by referring the Jewish people to the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus talks of turning the other cheek.” It would seem pretty hard to top that one. But now The New York Times staff editorial on President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the modern Jewish State of Israel is headlined with what sure looks like an approving Times reference to Jesus — or Matthew — in their quarrel with Jerusalem’s Jews of their time. The Times doesn’t come all the way out and say clearly that until or unless Israeli Jews accept Jesus as their savior, they should be denied access to Jerusalem’s Old City, including the Western Wall, and their capital should be divided. But the “Oh! Jerusalem…” headline, together with the text of the editorial, suggest that’s where they are coming from. Plenty of Christian Zionists have, thankfully, managed to progress beyond this sort of nonsense. The Times, alas, prefers a desolate and divided Jerusalem to a Jewish one.

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

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