New York Times Jerusalem Cable Car Story Sparks a Furor
A front-page New York Times article by the newspaper’s architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman, attacking a plan for a cable car in Jerusalem, is generating a fierce reaction from online critics.
Kimmelman writes, “Modern Jerusalem was spared Disneyfication, first by the highborn culture of British colonialism, with its awe for the city’s antique past, and next by Jordanian paralysis, which froze the Old City as if in amber.”
That’s inaccurate. As the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Transatlantic Institute, Daniel Schwammenthal, wrote on Twitter, “@nytimes covers-up Jordanian war crimes to smear Israel. Claims Jordan preserved Old City when in fact it expelled all Jews, destroyed Jewish quarter + all 35 synagogues, desecrated 1000s of ancient Jewish graves, and turned Western Wall area into slum.”
The Times article was also ridiculed online by Omri Ceren, the national security adviser to Senator Ted Cruz. Ceren wrote, “New York Times attacks Israel for creating ‘a specifically Jewish narrative of Jerusalem.’ They really don’t know how they sound any more.”
The executive editor of the Washington Examiner Magazine, Seth Mandel, accused the Times of applying a different standard to the Jews than to everyone else. “To the NYT and much of the left, only Jews don’t have a right to live and breathe as others do,” Mandel wrote. “Only the Jews can’t tell their story. Only the Jews can’t choose their capital. Only the Jews can’t discuss their own history. Only the Jews.”
The Times article does seem off target in several ways. Kimmelman writes, “Even the cladding of East Jerusalem’s settlements in Jerusalem stone, the architectural uniform traditionally worn by buildings in Jewish West Jerusalem, helps spread the image of a single Jewish city.” There’s a lot of Jerusalem stone in Jerusalem and not a lot of lumber-producing trees, so stone has made sense as a building material for a long time, for purely practical, not political, reasons. The American Colony Hotel in eastern Jerusalem, for example, was constructed of Jerusalem stone before the modern state of Israel even was declared.
The Times article quotes a former Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat, describing “a kind of Jetsons-like future in which cable cars will eventually glide up to the Mount of Olives, down to the Garden of Gethsemane.” It also reports, “Cable car passengers will be funneled through a Jewish version of the city’s history,” and, “The cable car, critics say, is part of this same effort to inculcate a Jewish narrative of occupied Jerusalem.” Yet the Garden of Gethsemane is primarily a Christian pilgrimage site.
The Times article already has one correction appended. After Simon Plosker of the website HonestReporting.com criticized the Times article, the newspaper added: “An earlier version of this article erroneously attributed a distinction to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. It is one of the holiest sites in Judaism, not the holiest.”
The Times article drove even some usually calm critics to all-caps. “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU MORONS,” the writer Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll asked the Times, rhetorically, on Twitter.
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.