NPR Calls Him a Self-Declared Antisemite. The New York Times Insists He Merely Opposed ‘Israel’s Conservative Policies’
The New York Times has already appended two separate corrections, covering three facts, to its obituary of Mikis Theodorakis, whom it describes as “the renowned Greek composer and Marxist firebrand.”
Uncorrected, at least at this writing, is another mistake. The Times reports of Theodorakis, “In retirement, he condemned America’s war in Iraq and Israel’s conservative policies.” As Gilead Ini of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis pointed out on Twitter, compare how NPR covered the same ground: “In the 2000s, he blamed American Jews for the global economic crisis. In 2011, he publicly declared himself an antisemite, and in 2017 defended Stalin.”
Ini noted that “Theodorakis had described himself as ‘anti-Israel and antisemite,’ saying Israel ‘is the root of evil.’ And ‘Everything that happens today in the world has to do with the Zionists … American Jews are behind the world economic crisis that has hit Greece as well.’”
Elliot Kaufman, an editor at the Wall Street Journal editorial page, tweeted a quotation in which Theodorakis called Israel “at the root of evil and not of good,” a fact he attributed to “the aggression of the Jews” as well as “fanaticism.”
The Times and its far-left readers often cry foul when Jews, they say, mistakenly conflate criticism of Israel’s policies with antisemitism. For example, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a possible candidate for governor of Oregon, has tweeted, “The suggestion that it’s antisemitic to criticize Israel for stealing land or bombing civilians seems to me ridiculous, and a cheapening of a genuine threat.” And Kristof concluded a May column: “it cheapens the authentic struggle against antisemitism to fling such charges lightly. Just as antisemites shouldn’t use this conflict to promote hate, supporters of Israel shouldn’t use antisemitism as a screen to hide actions from honest criticism. It isn’t Islamophobic to denounce Iran’s nuclear program. It’s not anti-Christian to reproach President Donald Trump for condoning white nationalism. And it’s not antisemitic to criticize Israel for possible war crimes.”
In this obituary, the New York Times is doing the reverse — excusing a self-described, admitted antisemite as merely a critic of “Israel’s conservative policies.” It’s a whitewash. It’s inaccurate. What Theodorakis objected to, by his own admission, was not Israel’s policies but Jews and the existence of a Jewish state.
The obituary carries the byline of Robert D. McFadden, who “joined the Times in May 1961.”
The Times obituary showers praise on Theodorakis: “A metronome of resistance. While he was put away for his ideals, his forbidden rebellious music was a reminder to his people of freedoms that had been lost.” The Times reports, “he began an international campaign of concerts and contacts with world leaders that helped topple the regime in Athens four years later. It was a turning point for democracy.” And: “His most famous work on political persecution was the haunting ‘Mauthausen Trilogy,’ named for a World War II Nazi concentration camp used mainly to exterminate the intelligentsia of Europe’s conquered lands. It has been described as the most beautiful music ever written on the Holocaust.”
The Times reports that Theodorakis “was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1983” without explaining that the prize was awarded by the Soviet Union, a brutal and non-peaceful totalitarian Communist dictatorship. In 1983 the Soviet Union was holding Natan Sharansky in prison on phony charges, funding Arab terrorism against Jews, and refusing to allow Jewish and other residents stuck behind the Iron Curtain to escape to freedom.
I can understand how in an obituary it might be considered in bad taste to attack the subject of the obituary, who isn’t alive to mount a defense. But this case goes too far. It’s one thing to try to give someone the benefit of the doubt; it’s another to fail to describe reality, and spin antisemitism as mere condemnation of “policies.” It was not the “policies” that Theodorakis hated. It was the Jews. Why obscure that truth from Times readers?
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.