Thursday, January 21st | 8 Shevat 5781

November 3, 2019 8:47 pm

New York Times Blames Trump for Democrats’ Threats to Israel Aid

avatar by Ira Stoll


Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg wait onstage before the fourth Democratic US 2020 presidential election debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Oct. 15, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Aaron Josefcz / File.

Democrats are talking about threatening to cut aid to Israel, and the New York Times manages to find a way to blame not the Democrats, but President Trump.

The newspaper has pressed this theme twice in in recent days. The October 29 Times carried a news article under the headline “New Tone on U.S.-Israel Relations From 2020 Democratic Contenders.”

That article reported, “In a sign of how far the Trump administration has changed the conversation around Israel, several Democratic candidates said they were open to withholding aid from Israel if it annexed more land in the West Bank.”

It’s a pretty aggressive spin for the Times to claim this is “a sign of how far the Trump administration has changed the conversation around Israel.” More accurately, it’s a sign of how far the New York Times is willing to go to blame Trump rather than holding the Democrats accountable for their own positions.

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(The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis has lodged its own separate complaint about that same Times article.)

The Times doubled down on this blame-Trump claim in the November 2 print newspaper, under the print headline, “Growing Criticism on Left of U.S. Policy on Israel.” This time around, the Times again blames Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu for the Israel-aid-threats on the left, rather than blaming the Democratic politicians making the threats.

The Times article says, “Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said that as Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu have embraced more hawkish policies, Democratic politicians who are otherwise supportive of Israel have adopted a more critical stance.”

“What we’ve seen is a shift to the right, from Trump on down, whereby US foreign policy no longer prioritizes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” she said. “What you’ve heard recently are responses to shifts from the other side of the aisle, and frankly even shifts in terms of Israeli government policy.”

Neither party has a strong interest in debunking this story line. For Democrats it’s a good story, because it gives them something else to blame on Trump: Not only has he separated families at the border, subordinated our foreign policy to Ukraine to partisan political purposes, rolled back progress against pollution, and whatever else you don’t like about him (the story goes), but on top of that, he’s jeopardized longstanding bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship. And for Republicans, it’s a good story, too: those crazy Democrats (the story goes) are so anti-Trump they’re willing to put the longstanding US-Israel relationship at risk out of partisan anti-Trump spite.

While this story line may serve the political purposes of both Democrats and Republicans, it doesn’t serve the interests of a strong US-Israel relationship. It’s also not historically accurate, as the Times might have realized if it broadened its reporting out beyond Ms. Soifer and the other Jewish organizational figure quoted in the second story, the president of J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

Anyway, the idea of withholding aid to Israel as a punishment for settlement activity long predates the Trump presidency. George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state, James A. Baker III, pushed it in 1992. It’s not even new coming from either Republican or Democratic presidential candidates; Republican Ron Paul and Democrats Dennis Kucinich and Jesse Jackson both at various times have been outspokenly critical of Israeli policies and US levels of aid to Israel. And in any discussion of fault for recent strains in the US-Israel relationship, mention must also be made of President Obama, who advanced an Iran nuclear deal over strenuous Israeli objections and who, as a lame duck, failed to veto a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israel.

I look forward to seeing a Times correction of the “new tone” headline and the “sign of how far the Trump administration has changed the conversation” language, and a Times editor’s note acknowledging that the article quoting Soifer and Ben-Ami failed to meet Times standards for thoroughness in reporting and thus conveyed an inaccurate impression to readers. While I’d welcome such adjustments, I’d be surprised if they do materialize. You never know, though—perhaps if enough readers bring this column to the attention of Times editors, the paper will be shamed into action.

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.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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