Friday, May 27th | 27 Iyyar 5782

March 3, 2022 4:12 pm

The New York Times Published a Gushy Rashida Tlaib Profile. Then Pro-Israel Readers Flooded the Comments Section

avatar by Ira Stoll


US Congresswoman Rashia Tlaib of Michigan. Photo: Reuters / Rebecca Cook.

The New York Times devotes 5,000 words in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine to an adoring profile of Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic congresswoman from Michigan who got elected by favoring a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, but who now backs an one-state approach that would wipe the Jewish state off the map.

As usual for the Times, and particularly the magazine, the article is a toxic combination of blatant falsehoods and wishful thinking by the paper’s editors. What’s new is that the online comments section of the article has been swarmed by pro-Israel readers pushing back against Tlaib and the Times’ narrative.

The blatant falsehoods in the Times article include the article’s whitewashing of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The Times refers to “the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which aims to end military occupation by exerting economic pressure on Israel.” In fact, ending “military occupation” is not the goal of the BDS movement, unless one considers all of Israel to be militarily occupied. According to the movement’s official website, it also favors allowing “more than 7.25 million Palestinian refugees” a “right to return to their homes.” That would eradicate Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

As a former editor at the Times, Mark Horowitz, has observed, “This narrow definition of BDS is so ubiquitous that it must be policy, not just ignorance. By limiting it to anti-occupation activism, but leaving out BDS rejectionism, antinormalization, and calls for elimination of Israel as the Jewish state, they are gaslighting Jews.”

The Times also falsely claims that Israel “in 2018, passed a controversial ‘nation-state’ law that in part affirms that only Jewish people have the ‘right to national self-determination.’” The law doesn’t really say only Jewish people have a right to national self-determination. It does say that “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” That’s a subtle distinction, but an important one: the law doesn’t prevent any non-Jewish person from exercising national self-determination in some country other than Israel.

The basic premise of the Times article — that there is some significant new blossoming of pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel sentiment on the American left and among American Jewry — is also false. Here is how the Times describes it:

Although most Democratic lawmakers continue to side with Israel when the conflict finds its way into Congress, a handful have begun to reflect the shifting sympathies of the party’s base. In 2017, McCollum introduced the first piece of legislation to directly support Palestinian rights, a bill that would have restricted U.S. aid from being used to detain Palestinian children in military prisons. The bill never came up for a vote, but it garnered 30 co-sponsors. “It’s a bit of new space that might be cracking open,” says Brad Parker, a senior policy adviser for Defense for Children International — Palestine. He added, “We’re trying to force it open.”

It’s simply not true that 2017 was the first time a piece of legislation was introduced “to directly support Palestinian rights.” H. Res. 566, introduced on October 4, 1994, urged “that universal suffrage be afforded to all qualified Palestinians, including residents of East Jerusalem and displaced Palestinians registered before June 4, 1967, without reference to race, religion, gender, or citizenship.” Does the right to vote not count as a Palestinian right? Likewise, H. Con. Res. 192, introduced by Rep. Paul Findley on March 24, 1975, called for self-determination for the Palestinians. A similar resolution introduced by Findley on August 4, 1981 similarly called for Palestinian self-determination within the West Bank and Gaza.

Nor are restrictions on the use of American aid “new space.” As I noted last year when the Times made a similar error, there already are extensive conditions on US military aid to Israel.

Like a similarly long, similarly wrong New York Times magazine article a few months ago headlined “Inside the Unraveling of American Zionism,” this one presses the fake story line that American Jews are abandoning Israel. The Times reports, “The American Jewish community, which is broadly Democratic, has meanwhile begun to fracture in its support for Israel. According to a recent poll from the Jewish Electorate Institute, 43 percent of Jewish voters under 40 say that Israeli treatment of Palestinians is comparable to racism in the United States, versus 27 percent of those over 64.”

This is the second time in less than a month that the Times has flogged this flawed poll. As I pointed out the last time around, though, when the 800 “Jewish voters” respondents in the poll were asked “what is your present religion, if any?” only 85 percent of them said they were Jewish. In addition, the “comparable to racism” question was a split question, meaning it was only asked of 400 of the 800 respondents. Looking at variation between age groups in a question only answered by 400 people total, 15% of whom say their religion is not Jewish, is statistical garbage. The margin of sampling error is so large for such a small sample that it doesn’t generate reliable results.

I’m not in denial about the risk that the Democratic left or young American Jews may shift away from Israel. But that risk is not new, and while one should be vigilant about it and work to prevent it, one needn’t overestimate it, either. People have been predicting these shifts for years, and mostly it has been hype, not reality — a fringe phenomenon, like Tlaib herself.

The readers who flooded the Times comments section seem to recognize the reality, denouncing Tlaib. “It is simply not in America’s interest to abandon Israel when our country needs reliable allies,” writes one commenter, Mason Sills, in an entry that was upvoted by more than 400 Times online visitors. Another commenter writes, “I’d be a lot more open minded to Tlaib’s work if I saw her criticize not just Israel, but the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for their complete absence of leadership. They are not democracies, but, rather, dictatorships/oligarchies, which are far more comfortable enriching themselves at the expense of their people, than creating flourishing societies.” Another commenter writes, “Nothing in this article can negate the fact that Hamas, the political ruler of Gaza, is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Not to mention also, that many members of her Rainbow coalition would be killed outright in Gaza for their sexual orientation.”

Frequently Times reader comments on these sorts of articles represent the newspaper’s hard-left or anti-Israel (bordering on anti-Jewish) readership. Here, though, as in at least one other noteworthy recent case, pro-Israel readers are dominating the comments. It’d be nice if the Times editors would listen and stop publishing such error-filled articles. Until and unless they do, though, it’s nice to see such vigorous pushback in the comments section.

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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