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December 29, 2021 12:25 pm

New York Times Seizes on Tutu Death to Push Israel-Apartheid Narrative

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avatar by Ira Stoll


Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu attends the unveiling ceremony of a statue of Nelson Mandela at the City Hall in Cape Town, South Africa, July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

The New York Times is marking the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu with a new push to depict Israel as a racist state like apartheid-era South Africa.

The Times obituary of Tutu reports, “In 2010 he unsuccessfully urged a touring Cape Town opera company not to perform in Israel, invoking South Africa’s struggle against apartheid in criticizing Israel’s policy toward Palestinians. He said that the company’s production of “Porgy and Bess” should be postponed “until both Israeli and Palestinian opera lovers of the region have equal opportunity and unfettered access to attend performances.”

And a Times dispatch datelined “MAALE ADUMIM, West Bank,” about a newly opened amusement park, hotel, and shopping mall, reports:

 To West Bank residents, the policy makes the whole complex an example of the two-tier legal system in the occupied territory that critics increasingly describe as a kind of apartheid.

“No park can beautify apartheid,” said Ahmad Majdalani, the minister of social development for the Palestinian Authority, the self-governing body that exercises limited control in parts of the West Bank. Park Israel, he said, was “an attempt at normalizing a process of ongoing annexation of the occupied territory of Palestine.”

It’s not just the “critics” increasingly describing Israel as an apartheid state; it’s the Times itself. Back in 2020, when the paper started in with it, I wrote, “It’s unusual to see the “apartheidlike” accusation in the Times’ own voice in a news article.” I wrote then, “It shows how far the Times has traveled on the issue: Back in 2007, when former President Jimmy Carter published his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, a Times review justifiably faulted Carter for ‘the word ‘apartheid’ in the title, with its false echo of the racist policies of the old South Africa.’”

I wrote then that the Times’ own op-ed columnist, Bret Stephens, had written, “the comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa is unfair to the former and an insult to the victims of the latter.”  Even the Times’ Nicholas Kristof, who has been sharply critical of Israel, wrote in May 2021, “Personally, I’m wary of the term apartheid because there are significant differences from ancien régime South Africa.”

But as the latest examples show, plenty of Times editors aren’t as wary as Kristof is about tossing the term about. In October 2021, a Times book review “in brief” column covering three books about Israel mentioned apartheid twice. And Peter Beinart pushed the Israel apartheid parallel in a July 2020 New York Times podcast and in a Times opinion article published that same month.

I can understand the temptation by Israel’s critics to argue the South African case rather than the Israeli case. South Africa was a clear-cut example of settler colonialist racism. Israel is different in many ways. While Israel could do better at integrating Arab citizens, there’s no legal discrimination of the sort there was in South Africa. Arabs serve in the Israeli parliament, attend Israeli universities, and are doctors in Israeli hospitals. West Bank Arabs are a different story — some of them aspire to their own Palestinian state and in some cases have pursued it violently, so differential treatment of them is based on security considerations and in some cases is aimed at preserving an option of a two-state solution or at least limited self-rule. Also, Jews have lived in the land of Israel for thousands of years, considerably longer than Afrikaners lived in South Africa.

It’s easy to see why Israel’s critics would echo the old, Soviet “Zionism-is-racism” smear. What’s harder to see is why the Times editors would advance that story line rather than pushing back against it the way they did not so long ago. Times apologists — and Israel’s critics — will claim the reason is that the situation has changed in Israel so that the analogy, which used to be strained, is now somehow apt.

But that’s nonsense. If anything, with Israeli Arabs now formally part of Israel’s governing coalition, the apartheid slur is even farther away from the truth than it ever has been. It’s not the situation of Arabs in Israel or the West Bank that has deteriorated. Rather, it’s the standards of Times journalism that have gotten worse.

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.

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