Meet Max Strasser, Israel Critic on Ascent at Post-Bari Weiss New York Times
With the departure of outspoken Zionist Bari Weiss from The New York Times editorial page staff, the go-to-editor on Israel-related matters at one of world’s the most influential opinion journalism platforms is a 2009 Oberlin College graduate, Max Strasser, who is a vocal public critic of the idea of a Jewish state.
A January 28, 2020 memo named Strasser as the “senior editor” within opinion “overseeing” the “international” vertical. While the opinion section is undergoing further reorganization, the designation accurately signals Strasser’s clout.
In a 2010 opinion article in The Forward, Strasser wrote, “I have a strong Jewish identity … Yet… identification with the State of Israel is not an important part of my identity, and I feel comfortable criticizing Israel when I see its injustices.”
Strasser added, “I’m afraid this is going to be a hard pill for the older generation to swallow: the idea of a state that is officially defined as ‘Jewish’ is in conflict with the worldviews of many in my generation….A state that is predicated on ethnic nationalism, a state that privileges one group of citizens over another because of ethnic identity, as Israel does through its policies on housing, immigration and a number of other issues, is not a state that will be wholeheartedly embraced by young American Jews like me.”
In a 2010 article for Foreign Policy, Strasser referred to the Mossad as “Israel’s infamous intelligence agency.” The article concluded that a theory that Mossad was behind shark attacks in Egypt was “farfetched,” but nonetheless recycled the theory under the clickbait headline “Egypt’s shark week: Mossad to blame?”
More recently, Strasser has championed Peter Beinart, who in a New York Times op-ed recently publicly renounced Zionism, calling for the replacement of Israel with a binational state of Israel-Palestine.
On July 8, 2020, Strasser tweeted, “This intelligent, searching piece by @PeterBeinart in @nytopinion may strike some as ‘controversial’ today but I think before too long it will be mainstream opinion among American Jewish liberals. Read it now: And then go and read a fuller version of the argument in @JewishCurrents (an absolutely indispensable publication for American Jewish life).”
Jewish Currents is a publication that, as The New York Times described accurately in 2006, began as “all but name a Communist Party organ, and its editorial policy zigged and zagged with the Soviet party line.”
In 2018, Strasser tweeted approvingly about a long and mostly sympathetic Guardian article about the campaign to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel, calling it “the smartest, most nuanced and best informed piece I’ve seen on the BDS movement.”
Strasser helped push Weiss out the door. On June 4, 2020, Weiss tweeted, “The civil war inside The New York Times between the (mostly young) wokes the (mostly 40+) liberals is the same one raging inside other publications and companies across the country. The dynamic is always the same.”
Strasser replied, “I am in in the same meeting that Bari appears to be livetweeting. This inaccurate in both characterizations: It’s not a civil war, it’s an editorial conversation; and it’s not breaking down along generational lines.”
Strasser may have been correct that there was nothing “civil” about it; by the account of Weiss, it was characterized by incivility. Strasser’s tweet generated 25,000 likes.
Between January 3 and January 6, 2020, Strasser approvingly tweeted out four separate New York Times opinion pieces denouncing the U.S. killing of an Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani. These were not just perfunctory retweets aimed at promoting his employer’s content; Strasser expressed enthusiasm for the articles: “important piece,” “powerful piece.”
That sort of language foreshadows what I’m told is a broader change in the page’s operations following the ouster of editorial page editor James Bennet and his replacement, on an acting basis, with Kathleen Kingsbury. Editors have been told they can refuse to edit pieces they don’t approve of or agree with. Most editors used to edit as well as assign mainly pieces they disagreed with, since the point of the page was to get as many points of view as possible, and the job of editors was to transcend their own views and act as air traffic controllers, not ideological filters. These editors now also have the power to “red flag” potentially problematic or objectionable articles, effectively pulling them back for further review.
Strasser did not reply to a request for an interview for this story. His LinkedIn profile says that he joined the Times in December 2015 after less than two years at Foreign Policy magazine. He graduated from New Jersey’s Montclair High School in 2005.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.