New York Times Picks Clicks Over Quality. Other Papers May Follow
With his latest front-page attack on Israel, Max Fisher may have clinched the dubious distinction of being The New York Times columnist most predictably hostile to the Jewish state.
Fisher was suspect from the moment the Times hired him back in 2016; as I wrote then, his work for Vox on Israel and the Palestinian Arabs had 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.”)
Fisher’s performance since he joined the Times has only confirmed the initial suspicions. He wrote an error-riddled column likening Israel to the brutal Communist dictatorship in North Korea. He wrote an article about the Holocaust Museum in Washington that gave the last word to a notorious anti-Israel activist, without identifying her as such. He wrote a column falsely claiming that America has been “neutral” in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
His most recent piece is part of The New York Times’ full-fledged frothing freakout front-page frenzy over Israel’s newly-passed nation-state law. Like the previous front-page installment in that frenzy, it fails to provide a hyperlink to the text of the law itself. (Here one is, so that you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about.)
The Times online headline for the Fisher column is “Israel Picks Identity Over Democracy. More Nations May Follow.”
That Times framing of the vote over the nation-state law — as an embrace of “identity” over “democracy” — is bogus. It continues not only in the headline, but throughout the column, which claims, for example, “Israelis are less alone than they once were in questioning the half-century-old consensus that democracy should prevail over national identity.”
In Israel, there is no such conflict between “democracy,” and “national identity,” because it is a majority-Jewish country, which is how the law passed in the first place. Democracy means majority rule. In this case, the law was passed by a majority of an Israeli parliament, a parliament elected in an election in which all Israeli citizens of voting age could vote. It was a democratic exercise in defining the national identity in law. People like Fisher who dislike the law may complain that it insults minorities, and indeed some Israeli minorities opposed the law and say they are upset by it. But minorities not getting their way is a characteristic of democracy, not something alien to it. That doesn’t mean minorities should not be protected, or that they shouldn’t have rights, or that everyone shouldn’t be subject to the rule of law. But a lack of minority rights isn’t a lack of “democracy.” It’s something else — a lack of freedom, or of liberty, or of minority rights.
As is often the case with Fisher’s column, he doesn’t just get the big sweeping ideas wrong, he also gets the basic facts and historical context behind them wrong. So he writes, for example, “A wave of horrific violence known as the Second Intifada, which killed far more Palestinians than Israelis, included shocking terrorist attacks in previously safe Israeli enclaves.”
Where did this “wave of horrific violence” come from? Fisher makes it sound as if it was an exogenous force, like a wave from the ocean breaking against the shore. In fact it was a pre-planned offensive by the Palestinian Arabs. In writing that “the Second Intifada” killed more Palestinians than Israelis, Fisher also sterilizes the actual killing. The Israelis weren’t killed by “Second Intifada,” or by a “wave.” They were killed, many of them, at least, by Palestinian Arab suicide bombers. Some of those Palestinians, too, were killed not by Israelis but by suicide bombs the Palestinians carried. Would Fisher have preferred it if the death toll were more evenly balanced, and more Israelis were killed?
Nor, alas, were the enclaves struck by the Palestinian aggressors of the Second Intifada indeed “previously safe.” These enclaves had been attacked by the Arabs. Tel Aviv had been hit in the 1994 Dizengoff Street bombing. Jerusalem had been hit in two bus bombings in 1996 and in attacks at Machane Yehuda and on Ben Yehuda Street in 1997. Iraq sent Scud missiles into Tel Aviv and its surroundings in 1991. Arab armies tried to wipe Israel entirely off the map in wars in 1948, 1967, and 1973. Rather than the unprecedented game-changer that Fisher describes it as, the Second Intifada was a continuation of a violent, rejectionist Arab onslaught against Israel that, while it has ebbed and flowed, has unfortunately persisted since before even the founding of the modern Jewish state.
Fisher’s latest column has already mobilized critics. The Media Research Center, a right-of-center watchdog group, characterized it as a “smear” and “pathetic.” A professor at Bar-Ilan University, Noah Efron, accused Fisher of “selective attention to detail and inattention,” contending, “Fisher writes that Israelis have chosen chauvinism over democracy without considering the strong evidence to the contrary.” Another Israeli, Times of Israel blogger J.J. Gross, described the column as “flawed” and said the Times headline was “blatantly anti-Israel.” Again, all of this was out there and totally expected when this columnist was hired. They could have headlined the press release, “New York Times Picks Clicks Over Quality. More Newspapers May Follow.”
More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.