New York Times Editors Press Democratic Presidential Candidates on Shutting Jerusalem Embassy
Democratic presidential candidates hoping to win the endorsement of The New York Times are being interrogated by Times editors about whether they’ll commit to shutting down the American embassy in Israel’s capital.
President Donald Trump moved the embassy to Jerusalem in May 2018, fulfilling a campaign promise and finally bringing America into compliance with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. The widely predicted violent reaction by regional Arabs rapidly fizzled out. But the Times editorial board members appear to be nursing a grudge about the matter, at least to judge by their questions to the Democratic presidential candidates.
Undoing the embassy move has emerged as a standard topic in the Times endorsement interviews, as much a part of the routine as questions on more traditional Democratic platform planks such as reproductive rights or antitrust enforcement against technology companies.
The Times has been trickling out transcripts of the candidate interviews in advance of its theatrical reveal of the newspaper’s endorsement, which is scheduled for Jan. 19.
The funniest of these interactions has been the Times interview with Amy Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota. The Times deputy editorial page editor, Kathleen Kingsbury, asks Klobuchar, “President Trump has made several unilateral moves in relations to Israel. Things like moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. If you took over would you reverse them as president?”
Klobuchar answered in part, “I would not reverse the embassy change.”
Kingsbury wouldn’t let it go: “I do actually want to go back to something you just said, to follow up. Why wouldn’t you move the embassy back?”
Klobuchar replied with one of the best lines of the presidential campaign: “Because I’ve always supported having the embassy there.”
Another Times editorial board member, Serge Schmemann, who is a former Times Jerusalem bureau chief and former Times deputy foreign editor, was tasked with asking a version of this question in some of the endorsement interviews with the other Democratic presidential candidates.
“Staying with relationships and alliances, President Trump has reversed several key policies the United States has had toward Israel. He’s moved the embassy to Jerusalem, he’s recognized sovereignty over the Golan Heights, et cetera, et cetera. Would you reverse those?” Schmemann asked Andrew Yang.
To Deval Patrick, a former governor of Massachusetts who was a late entry to the campaign, Schmemann said, “let me ask you — continuing that thought perhaps — about Israel. President Trump has taken some fairly controversial unilateral steps recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, accepting that the settlements are legal, accepting Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Would you reverse those actions?”
Patrick answered in part, sensibly, “Realistically speaking, the capital of Israel has been Jerusalem for a long time.”
Again, the Times editors wouldn’t let it go. Schmemann determinedly followed up: “Would you reverse those actions that he’s taken?”
The question is asked with ostensible neutrality, but the cues are clear enough — “unilateral,” “President Trump,” “controversial”– that it’s hardly a mystery how the Times editors are hoping the Democratic presidential candidates will answer this question. The editorial board members practically sound like paid lobbyists for the Palestine Liberation Organization, badgering the politicians to back the idea of evacuating American diplomats from the Jerusalem embassy in the next Democratic administration. It’s almost as if they crave a replay of the scene of America helicoptering people out of the diplomatic compound in Saigon in 1975.
It is possible to phrase the question more neutrally. I actually wrote a column last June suggesting debate questions for a moderator to ask the Democrats, including, “Which of Trump’s changes, if any, would you try to undo? Move the US embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem? Get back in the Iran nuclear deal? Get back in the old North American Free Trade Agreement? The Trans-Pacific Partnership? Cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline?”
The Times may be hoping that posting these transcripts illuminates the positions of the candidates. But it’s also, perhaps unintentionally, illuminating about the positions of the Times. The editorial page editor, James Bennet, has recused himself from the process; his brother, Michael Bennet, a senator from Colorado, is a candidate for president.
The openly Zionist staffers of the Times editorial page — Bret Stephens, Bari Weiss and Adam Rubenstein — don’t appear to be participating in the endorsement process, according to the transcripts.
At least one Democratic presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg, made the shrewd decision to skip the Times endorsement interview, notwithstanding that the Times twice endorsed him for the mayoralty of New York.
If Bloomberg gets the embassy question when he shows up to seek the Times endorsement in the general election, he could do worse than to reply with the classic New York and Jewish technique of answering a question with a question. He could ask the Times editors whether the newspaper plans to move its own news bureau out of Jerusalem to some site a farther distance away from Israel’s capital. The Times editors aren’t just anti-Israel agitators; they’re a bunch of hypocrites, too.
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.