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New York Times Editors, Spineless on Rushdie, Push Sanctions Relief for Iran as Key Issue in Congressional Primary

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avatar by Ira Stoll


A taxi passes by in front of The New York Times head office, Feb. 7, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Carlo Allegri / File.

What was the decisive issue in determining which incumbent Manhattan Democrat the New York Times would endorse for Congress?

The Times picked Jerrold Nadler over Carolyn Maloney, in part because, the newspaper explained to readers, “In 2015 he backed the nuclear deal with Iran, despite fierce objections from some of his Jewish colleagues and constituents. ‘I thought I was taking my political life in my hands,’ he said in an interview with the editorial board.”

The Times notes that Maloney “opposed the Iran deal.”

The Times published the editorial only days after, in New York state, author Salman Rushdie was stabbed viciously while speaking. What tasteless timing by the Times.

Rushdie is subject to a fatwa, basically a clerical death warrant, imposed by Iran. The Times itself has reported, in its news columns, that the person arrested for the stabbing, Hadi Matar, used a picture of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as his email avatar. The Times has yet to publish an editorial denouncing the stabbing. (The Wall Street Journal had an editorial posted online the day of the attack and in the next day’s print newspaper. The New York Daily News, whose editorial page staff is approximately one quarter of one percent of the size of the New York Times’, had its own editorial.)

The Times position is disappointing, because back in the old days, under better leadership, the Times spoke out in favor of Rushdie. In 2007, in an editorial on Rushdie’s knighthood, the paper asked, “Do we choose to live in a world that honors writers or in a world that kills them?” It concluded, “you can be certain that if a society treats writers badly, it treats ordinary people no better.” In 1992, in an editorial headlined “Spineless on Mr. Rushdie,” the Times complained, “the Bush Administration has been cowed by an Iranian Government that thirsts for Mr. Rushdie’s blood.”

The 1992 Times editorial said, “His Japanese translator was stabbed to death, his Italian translator wounded in a knife attack. Meanwhile, exiled opponents of the Iranian regime were assassinated in France and Switzerland. If this is not state-promoted terrorism, then what is? Yet the West’s response has been shamefully squeamish.” Back in 1992, the Times said, “Far more than Mr. Rushdie’s life is at risk if Western states do not jointly warn Iran that it cannot win the trade it covets until it ceases exporting, and exhorting, terrorism.”

A week after Rushdie was stabbed in New York, the sole editorial comment from the Times on Iran has been to urge New Yorkers to vote to elect the congressman, Nadler, on the grounds that he favored providing $700 billion in sanctions relief to the terror-sponsoring nation that has vowed to wipe Israel off the map, in exchange for unverifiable short-term promises of a pause in work on nuclear weapons.

Perhaps the 1992 Times headline “Spineless on Rushdie” could apply to the current Times publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, and his editorial page editor, Kathleen Kingsbury. They are the ones “cowed” now. The Times editorial endorsing Nadler was even published by the Times in Spanish and in two Chinese translations, so that America’s enemies in Cuba, Venezuela, and Communist China can see for themselves how spineless and squeamish the Times editors have become in their pursuit of sanctions relief for the Iranian government that thirsts for Rushdie’s blood. It’s one of the main issues the current Times editorial writers say they consider in choosing their congressman. Maybe the Times wants to re-start the $135,000 a person “Times Journeys” luxury tours it had been running to Iran?

The primary election for the congressional race, in a district created by redistricting, is August 23. The claim that Nadler thought he “was taking his political life in his hands” by backing the deal seems odd, given that his district contains a lot of liberal Democrats who were quite fond of Obama and of the deal-championing secretary of state, John Kerry. But on August 23 the voters will have another chance to prove Nadler correct about the political risks of supporting the deal. The voters will also have an opportunity to let the New York Times know, with their ballots, what they think of the newspaper’s strange combination of enthusiasm for the Iran nuclear deal and spineless silence about the stabbing of Rushdie.

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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