New York Times Hit New Lows in 2020 on Israel and Jews
“Good riddance” sentiment about 2020 is in plentiful supply. It was a year that many are glad to be done with. Beyond the obvious challenges, it was a year characterized by new lows in New York Times coverage of Israel and Jews. Among the worst trends, themes, and New York Times missteps of the year on that beat:
The Times was obsessed with Orthodox Jews (and particularly Hasidim) as a source of coronavirus spread, notwithstanding the ‘mysterious’ spread of the disease in places such as South Dakota and Iran, where Orthodox Jews are scarce. Orthodox Jewish weddings during the coronavirus pandemic were called out as such by paper, but when social gatherings or street parties took place involving other communities — even in violation of state guidelines, without masks, or when they were super-spreading coronavirus events — the religion of the participants uniformly was generally unmentioned. While non-Jewish minority populations hard-hit by the virus were portrayed by the Times as victims, Jewish populations were often depicted as culpable, blameworthy perpetrators. We covered these themes in Algemeiner columns such as “Coronavirus, Blacks, and Black-Hats—a Classic New York Times Double Standard,” “‘Truly Ugly,’ ‘Blood Libel’: Outrage Mounts at Media Blaming Religious Jews, Rabbis for Covid-19,” “New York Times Blames Hasidim, Purim for Coronavirus Outbreak,” and “New York Times Flunks Again in Coverage of Jews and Coronavirus.”
Zionist Jews were pushed out at the Times editorial page, while non-Zionists ascended. Times editorial page editor James Bennet, opinion editor and writer Bari Weiss, and opinion page staffer Adam Rubenstein were all ousted. The new regime, led by interim editorial page editor Kathleen Kingsbury leaned heavily on avowed Israel critic Max Strasser, and promoted Peter Beinart after he disavowed Zionism in the paper’s op-ed pages. Even while Bennet was still ostensibly in charge, a presidential endorsement interview process led by Kingsbury featured Times editorial board members doggedly grilling Democratic politicians about which of President Trump’s pro-Israel decisions they would commit to reversing if elected: i.e., “Why wouldn’t you move the embassy back?”
The ascent of Beinart, who has family ties to South Africa, assured that Israel-South Africa comparisons would be frequent on the Times editorial page. But 2020 also saw the “apartheid” charge creep into the Times news columns, including in a front-page Times news article which speculated that “relegating the Palestinians to self-government in confined areas — places Israeli critics have likened to ‘bantustans’ — could close the door to a viable state, forcing Israel to choose between granting Palestinians citizenship and leaving them in an apartheidlike second-class status indefinitely.” The framing is a revival of the Soviet-era Zionism-is-racism lie.
At the Times, hostile coverage didn’t even pause for Jewish holidays. Instead, the newspaper marked the High Holidays with an article pretending that Orthodox Jews do not exist, and celebrated Chanukah with an article headlined “Saying Goodbye to Hannukah,” whose author explained why she wouldn’t transmit her family’s tradition of celebrating the holiday to her children. That article was such a clunker that even the author eventually backed away from it.
Will 2021 be any better for Times readers who feel more positively about Jews and Israel? Early indications are not particularly hopeful. The newspaper announced as its new Jerusalem bureau chief Patrick Kingsley, whose previous articles about Israel had been riddled with mistakes. We can look forward to reading Kingsley in 2021, with low expectations.
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.