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January 25, 2018 12:04 pm

New York Times Editorial Condemning Pence Israel Trip Tells Its Own Sad Tale

avatar by Ira Stoll

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US Vice President Mike Pence touches the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, Jan. 23, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

The American vice president flies to Israel, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and gives a speech speaking of the parallels between Israel and America. The speech is full of Hebrew and biblical references.

Vice President Mike Pence this week? Well, yes. But Vice President Al Gore did pretty much the same thing in 1998.

The big difference is how The New York Times covered the two events.

The Times greeted Vice President Pence’s trip with a sharply critical editorial headlined “Mike Pence’s Self-Serving Trip to the Holy Land.”

The Times editorial complained that Pence’s address “was replete with biblical references to Jewish ties to the Holy Land. He referred to God’s promise to the Jews that ‘he would gather and bring you back to the land which your fathers possessed’ and to ‘the Jewish people’s unbreakable bond to’ Jerusalem.”

The Times editorial went on, “Even more striking was what Mr. Pence didn’t say. He mostly chose to ignore Israelis’ shared history with the Palestinians, only reaffirming support for a two-state solution ‘if both sides agree.’”

In fact a careful reading of Pence’s speech discloses that, contrary to the false claim by the Times, the vice president did not ignore, or even “mostly chose to ignore,” the Palestinians.

Here are some passages from the Pence speech:

Under President Trump, the United States of America remains fully committed to achieve a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. (Applause.)

In announcing his decision on Jerusalem, the President also called, in his words, “on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including at the Temple Mount, also known as the Haram al-Sharif.” And he made it clear that we’re not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders.

And President Trump reaffirmed that, if both sides agree, the United States of America will support a two-state solution. (Applause.)

We know Israelis want peace, and we know that Israelis need no lectures on the price of war. … you, who know the price of war, know best what the blessings of peace can bring — to you, to your children, and future generations.

The United States appreciates your government’s declared willingness to resume direct peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. And today, we strongly urge the Palestinian leadership to return to the table. Peace can only come through dialogue. … there are those who believe that the world can’t change; that we’re destined to engage in endless violence; that age-old conflicts can’t be solved; and that hope itself is an illusion. But, my friends, President Trump doesn’t believe it. I don’t believe it. And neither do you.

I stand here today in the city whose very name means peace. And [as] I stand here, I know that peace is possible because history records that Israel has made the very difficult decisions to achieve peace with its neighbors in the past… The winds of change can already be witnessed across the Middle East. Longstanding enemies are becoming partners. Old foes are finding new ground for cooperation. And the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael are coming together in common cause as never before… today, Jews, Christians, and Muslims — more than half the population of the Earth, and nearly all the people of the Middle East — claim Abraham as their forefather in faith. Only steps from here, in the Old City of Jerusalem, we see the followers of these three great religions in constant contact with one another. And we see each faith come to life in new and renewed ways every day.

At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we see a Christian child receiving the gift of grace, in baptism. At the Western Wall, we see a young Jewish boy being bar-mitzvahed. And at the Haram al-Sharif, we see young Muslims, heads bowed in prayer… May God bless the Jewish people, may God bless the State of Israel and all who call these lands their home, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

Gore’s speech, by contrast, didn’t mention “Ishmael,” or “Haram al-Sharif” or “Palestinians” at all. Rather than asking God to “bless the State of Israel and all who call these lands their home,” as Pence put it, Gore concluded simply, “May God bless those who struggle in their dream. And may God bless Medinat Israel.”

Yet Gore’s visit drew no condemnatory editorial from the Times.

What explains the different treatment? It can’t have been any difference in the speeches. Pence’s was more extensive in its discussion of the Palestinians. Otherwise, the two texts were quite similar.

The two vice presidents even recited the same Hebrew blessing. Pence: “I say, along with the good people of Israel, here and around the world: Shehecheyanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu la’z’man ha’zeh.” Gore: “Blessed art Thou our God, ruler of the Universe. Shehekhianu v’kiemanu v’higianu la’zman hazeh! He has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this time.”

Netanyahu was Israel’s prime minister on April 30, 1998, as he is again today, nearly 20 years later.

The Times editorial falsely characterizes the Trump administration’s stance as a radical departure from past practice: “Although President Trump insists he wants an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, he has, unlike his predecessors, chosen to disqualify America as an honest broker.”

Yet Gore’s speech wasn’t honest brokerism. Gore said, “my heart and the hearts of all Americans beat with yours this evening, as we hallow the 50th year of Israel’s birth. … I remember the prophecy of Ezekiel – – that God would raise you up; that bone would join to bone, sinew to sinew, and that He would breathe life into your flesh and restore you to your land. I recognize you — and President Clinton and I are proud, as are all Americans, that the United States was the first nation to recognize the State of Israel — eleven minutes after you proclaimed your independence (applause) on the 5th of Iyar, 50 years ago. We Americans feel our ties with Israel are eternal.”

Pence’s speech also made the point about recognition: “Seventy years ago, the United States was proud to be the first nation in the world to recognize the State of Israel.”

What’s different this time around that merited the Times editorial criticism? Maybe it has to do with the political parties of the American politicians. Perhaps Pence gets more hostile treatment from the Times because he is a Republican, while Gore is a Democrat. The Times editorial page, after all, leans Democratic.

But there’s also a second possible explanation, a more troubling one: that the Times editorial position has worsened over the past two decades, so that it’s now more hostile to Israel, or more outspoken about that hostility, than it was 20 years ago. Not much has changed in the warmth of the US-Israel relationship, as the remarkable similarities and consistencies between the Gore and Pence speeches demonstrate. What has changed is the Times. The newspaper is, alas, more hostile than ever to that special relationship, more determined to rip asunder what Gore called eternal ties and what Pence called “an unshakeable bond between our people.”

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

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