Tuesday, January 31st | 10 Shevat 5783

February 22, 2019 9:38 am

New York Times Pushes Claim That Settlers Are to Blame for Europe’s Anti-Israel Stance

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avatar by Ira Stoll


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

A New York Times news article about Israel’s relations with Poland concludes with a quote from an Israeli politician who — well, you can read the Times paragraphs for yourself:

While Mr. Netanyahu’s challengers in the coming election were quick to seize on his latest troubles, other critics took a longer view, saying they regretted his inability to curtail what antagonizes the European Union most about Israel: its steady expansion of settlements on the West Bank.

“If he were less beholden to the settlers,” said Einat Wilf, a former Israeli lawmaker from the Labor Party, “maybe he could get a few countries on our side that are not looking to be paid for in glossing over their World War II records.”

Far be it from me to disagree with Einat Wilf, who, unlike me, actually lives in Israel.

But this sure appears to be a fine example of the Times subtly shaping a story by choosing to give the final word to someone expressing a point of view that matches the newspaper’s own preconceptions, or at least those of its left-wing readers.

It could be that what really antagonizes the European Union most about Israel is expansion of West Bank settlements. But there are also other possible explanations. Perhaps the European Union is antagonized because Israel is an obstacle to trade with Iran. That trade is craved by European companies such as Total, the French oil and gas company that had a $4.8 billion deal with Tehran, a deal that a French court found Total bribed Iranian officials to obtain. Perhaps the European Union would be increasingly hostile to Israel regardless of the West Bank settlements, in part because Europe has a large, restive Muslim population that is hostile to Israel and that might be placated by Israel-bashing. Perhaps the European Union is motivated by classical anti-Semitism of the sort that led Nazi Germany to kill 6 million Jews less than 100 years ago, and that led Britain to issue a White Paper curtailing Jewish entry into the Land of Israel at a time when that land might have provided a refuge to the Jews the Nazis were trying to kill. Perhaps the Europeans are moved by reports of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

If one really believed, in other words, that the main factor in European antagonism toward Israel is West Bank settlement growth, one would need to demonstrate that such antagonism waned when settlement growth slowed, or was nonexistent when Israel was limited to its pre-1967 borders.

In fact, even the far-left Israeli group Peace Now’s count of settlements describes the expansion, at least in terms of new outposts, not as “steady,” but as diminishing. After 20 new outposts in 2001 and 23 in 2002, the number fell to one in 2005 and zero in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Were the years 2006 to 2011 a period of European solidarity with Israel? Nope. Here are a sample of headlines and news coverage from that period. The Guardian, July 7, 2006: “EU Condemns Israeli Gaza Incursions.” CNN, July 30, 2006: “Qana Attack Stirs Worldwide Outcry.”

The CNN article about an Israeli action in Lebanon went on:

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Union external affairs commissioner, said the “attack on the city of Qana means an escalation of violence that is unjustifiable at a time when the international community is jointly working to find a solution.”

Calling for an immediate halt to violence, Ferrero-Waldner said the “killings of innocent people, particularly of children, must stop now.”

In Madrid, the Spanish Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing its “deepest consternation and condemnation” of the Qana bombing and called for an immediate cease-fire. The Spanish government also extended its “deepest sympathy” to the victims and the Lebanese government.

In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac’s office issued a statement saying “France condemns this injustifiable action, which shows more than ever the need to reach an immediate cease-fire.”

The idea, in other words, that it’s just, or even mainly, West Bank settlements that are animating European animus toward Israel is wishful thinking.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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