Saturday, August 17th | 16 Av 5779

January 10, 2018 12:18 pm

Goldberg Variations

avatar by Jerold Auerbach


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

The New York Times is known, among other things, for promoting its own lavishly sponsored “Journeys” with full-page advertisements. For $6,995 and up it offers (Jan. 9) nine-day journeys of “Politics and Perspectives” that will focus on “Seventy Years of the State of Israel.”

In its “Journey Highlights” sidebar, however, primacy is given to meeting “an Israeli journalist who specializes in Palestinian affairs.” Next comes a visit to “a Palestinian refugee camp” and a meeting with “a senior Palestinian official.” In descending order of importance are a visit to Yad Vashem; “settlements surrounding the Gaza Strip”; and West Bank settlements, kibbutzim and “organizations involved in the peace process.” Concluding the list are “many of the Holy Land’s most famous sights.” All this, guided by “experts” from the Times, self-proclaimed as “a leader in its evenhanded coverage of Israel.” The holiest Jewish sites — the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, and the Machpelah burial tombs in Hebron — are not mentioned.

Turning to the opinion page, I discovered an illuminating example of its “evenhanded coverage.” Under the headline ”Is Liberal Zionism Dead?,” columnist Michelle Goldberg provided the predictable Times answer: President Donald Trump’s announced intention to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, she hyperventilates, dooms a two-state solution, assures “a greater Israel that includes the occupied territories” and constitutes “another nail in the coffin of liberal Zionism.” The primary cited source for her “evenhanded” assessment was PLO council member Mustafa Barghouti.

To bolster her doomsday prediction, she cited ousted ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon, quoted in Michael Wolff’s controversial screed Fire and Fury, as declaring that the embassy relocation would be “a death knell to Palestinian national aspirations.” But not even Bannon grasps what Goldberg anticipates. Imagining “a political system in which one ethnic group [Jews] rules over another” in a single state, she envisions Israel’s inevitable transformation into an “apartheid” nation, with Jews outnumbered by Palestinians. Then “the dream of liberal Zionism would be dead.” Perhaps, she concludes, “with the far right in power both here and there, it already is.”

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Goldberg, mesmerized by President Trump, is enamored of doomsday scenarios. Describing him as “increasingly unhinged” and an “untethered maniac” (December 1), she imagined that his “sick travesty of a presidency” foreshadows the apocalypse (January 4). Back in 2012, she compared a reference to “the crown of motherhood” in USA Today to “pronationalist propaganda of World War II-era totalitarian tyrants.” Last September, when she became a Times opinion columnist, her review of a book about campus sexual abuse prompted a 100-plus word Times Book Review correction, resulting in her confession of “a serious error.”

With her previous employment at Salon and The Nation, publications not known for their nuanced proclivities, the Times surely knew who it was hiring. Indeed, it has long featured hectoring critics (preferably Jewish) of Israel. For years, Anthony Lewis badgered the Jewish state for not living up to the moral purity of Louis D. Brandeis. He was succeeded by Roger Cohen, who has pointedly bracketed his Jewish holy day observance with criticism of Israel. With her laceration of the Jewish state, Michelle Goldberg fits the Times mold.

It dates back to 1896, when Adolph Ochs purchased the newspaper and became its first Jewish publisher. A proud Reform Jew who passionately embraced its definition of Judaism as a religion, not a national identity, he steered the Times on its anti-Zionist course. Embraced by his Sulzberger family successors, it resolutely opposed Jewish statehood lest it compromise the loyalty of American Jews to the United States. Belatedly, reluctantly and warily the newspaper came to tolerate the State of Israel — as long as it embraced American policy. That legacy of discomfort endures. Michelle Goldberg is merely its most recent exemplar. Safe travels.

Jerold S. Auerbach is author of the forthcoming “Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016.”

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