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December 20, 2019 8:12 am

Times Columnist Fantasizes Falsely About ‘Very Large Segment’ of Anti-Israel US Jews

avatar by Ira Stoll


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

It was easily missed amid the blizzard of New York Times coverage of President Trump’s executive order on antisemitism, but Max Fisher’s Interpreter column on the topic shouldn’t be permitted to slide by without a thorough and badly needed fact-check.

Let’s take Fisher’s errors one at a time. You may want to get comfortable, because there are a lot of them.

Part of the problem is a bogus analytical framework, which Fisher pontificates about as if he’s an expert but doesn’t cite any sources for. Fisher writes about “national identity — a distinctly modern invention that remade the world before almost destroying it…The concept, scarcely 200 years old, holds that humanity is divided among fixed communities, each defined by a common language, ethnicity and homeland. Those communities are nations; membership is one’s national identity.”

It’s simply false that “national identity,” as a concept is “scarcely 200 years old.”

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Actually, as Yoram Hazony, who actually wrote a book about nationalism, has pointed out, the concept dates back to the Bible: “God tells Abraham ‘I’ll make you a great nation.’ God tells Moses they’ll be ‘a holy nation.’”

Fisher writes, again with a false and wholly-undeserved air of authority, that “national identity’s rise, however, also turned minorities and migrants into second-class citizens — or even into perceived threats within.”

Sorry, Max Fisher, that is not true. Actually, Jewish minorities and migrants were perceived threats and second-class citizens long before the 200-years-ago rise of nationalism, as anyone with even the most basic knowledge of Jewish history during the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition or of years of dhimmitude under Muslim rule.

Fisher writes, again without any attribution or evidence, “Since World War II, American Jews have been on a generational drift from Jewishness as a national identity, which no longer felt as necessary.”

That’s not at all accurate, either. If anything, the long postwar reckoning with the Holocaust meant that American Jews have understood more than ever before the importance of Israel as a geographic refuge and nuclear-armed protector of Jewish security. Many of the high points in American Jewish national identity — the 1960 release of the movie Exodus, the growth of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, fundraising for Israel’s rescue and resettlement of Ethiopian Jews, the celebration of Israel’s Six-Day War victory — happened after World War II.

Fisher writes, again with faux authority and without any attribution or evidence, “the creation of Israel put Jews on the opposite side of the question: Now they had to decide whether a Jewish national identity had room for minorities. Early Zionist leaders insisted that it did. But more recent Israeli leaders have promoted Israeli identity as exclusively Jewish and have imposed severe restrictions on Palestinians.”

This, too, is not accurate. For example in 2015, the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, said in a major policy address, “We are all here to stay — Haredim and secular Jews, Orthodox Jews and Arabs…. we must ensure that no citizen is discriminated against, nor favoured, simply because they belong to a specific sector.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in 2018 about “the special status of the Druze community in Israel. The people of Israel, and I am part of it, love and cherish you. We greatly value our partnership and our alliance.”

In a subsequent appearance on a New York Times podcast, the Daily, Fisher characterized American Jewish public opinion toward Israel in a way that contradicts other recent Times coverage.

Fisher spoke of what he called “this division, kind of, among the American Jewish community, where there are some who consider BDS to be beyond the pale anti-Israel, consider it to be anti-Semitic…. But there is also a very large segment of the American Jewish community that has been feeling very cool towards Israel, especially over the last 10 or 15 years and finds the idea of kind of hard-line pro-Israel policies generally and curbs on anti-Israel activism specifically to be something that don’t really align with their values and with what they want.”

A Times editorial, in contrast, referred to “Jewish students, most of whom support Israel.” The Times editorial is closer to the truth of the matter than is Fisher’s fantasizing about this nonexistent “very large segment” of anti-Israel American Jews.

Gallup, which polls these issues, reported in August 2019: “about nine in 10 American Jews are more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians. (That compares to about six in 10 of all Americans.) Additionally, 95% of Jews have favorable views of Israel, while 10% have favorable views of the Palestinian Authority — significantly more pro-Israel than the overall national averages of 71% favorable views of Israel and 21% favorable views of the Palestinian Authority.”

Fisher made the same inaccurate characterization of American Jewish opinion in his Times column, claiming “American Jewish attitudes toward Israel are cooling.” He provided no evidence to substantiate that claim. Again, Gallup looked at this question in 2019 and concluded, “The overwhelming majority of Jews were more sympathetic to Israel than the Palestinians in 2001-2014, and I see no signs that this relationship has changed in a meaningful way in recent years…. it’s safe to conclude that the basic attitudes of Jews toward Israel have remained roughly the same.”

Who is this fellow Fisher, you might be wondering?

Longtime Algemeiner readers may remember Fisher from 2018, when he was caught recycling on the Times front page a very sketchy anecdote about something he claims David Ben-Gurion said. Or from when, earlier in 2018, he inaccurately claimed in the Times that the US has a history of neutrality in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Or from 2017 when, in the Times, he likened Israel to North Korea. Also in 2017, 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.

In 2018, I wrote that Fisher “may have clinched the dubious distinction of being The New York Times columnist most predictably hostile to the Jewish state.” I noted then that “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.’)”

So far there’s been no correction on this latest Fisher column. If the Times had a public editor anymore, investigating how these mistakes got into the newspaper would be a good assignment.

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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