From Hebrew School to the UN, NY Times Touches Up Attacks on Israel’s Legitimacy

The New York Times has a sordid history of whitewashing animus to Israel’s very existence as “criticism” of Israel. Every country is subject to criticism, and criticism of governments is a healthy phenomena, a vital hallmark of democracy. But is there any democratic country besides Israel whose very existence comes under frequent attack? (Amnesty International’s scandalous “apartheid” report is the latest, high-profile salvo in this ongoing assault.)

Given the unique targeting of Israel’s legitimacy, the repeated failure of New York Times’ news story to accurately identify attacks on Israel’s right to exist is all the more striking. 

Thus, The Times has repeatedly recast the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) movement as “a movement to end the occupation of the West Bank,” has said that BDS merely is “critical of Israel’s policies toward the West Bank,” has described it as an “international group that advocates Israel’s withdrawal from disputed territories where Palestinians live,” referred to it as “an international lobbying movement that advocates Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian territories,” and so on. 

The Times’ deflections on the anti-Israel movement prompted BDS leader Omar Barghouti himself to publish a letter in that same paper clarifying that BDS is about so much more than the Gray Lady lets on. BDS, Barghouti clarified, advocates for the so-called “right of return,” which is widely understood by all fair observers as tantamount to the destruction of the Jewish state.

But it’s not only BDS which is treated to the New York Times makeover. The “Paper of Record” equitably extends this courtesy to relatively unknown individuals who take umbrage with Israel’s right to exist.

Enter the Feb. 3 headline: “A Jewish Teacher Criticized Israel. She Was Fired.” The accompanying article fails to substantiate the headline’s suggestion that teacher Jessie Sander was fired for criticizing Israel, as if she objected to a particular Israeli policy or policies. To the contrary, the article reports that the teacher’s objectionable blog post did not merely contain “criticism” of Israel, but expressed opposition to the very existence of the Jewish state.

 Liam Stack reported:

Her boss, Rabbi David E. Levy of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., had come across a recent blog post she had written that renounced Zionism and sharply criticized Israel, Ms. Sander, 26, said in a lawsuit filed on Jan. 25. The rabbi had questions: Did she support Hamas? When she called herself “anti-Zionist,” what did that mean? . . .

At Westchester Reform Temple, rabbis have criticized Israel in the pastIn his Rosh Hashana sermon in September, Rabbi Jonathan Blake criticized “extremists, cynical political officials and wealthy patrons” in Israel for promoting “a grandiose vision of Jewish totalitarianism in the biblical Holy Land.”

But their critiques never challenge the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, as opposed to a state whose structure favors no ethnic or religious group.

In the blog post, published on May 20 during last year’s conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, Ms. Sander and a co-author, Elana Lipkin, wrote that they embraced a position that “rejects the Zionist claim to the land of Palestine.”

The post continued, “Zionism is not equivalent to, or a necessary component of, Jewish identity.”

They also described Israeli actions against the Palestinians as genocide and accused Jewish institutions in the United States of spreading “one-sided narratives and propaganda” about the conflict. (Emphases added.)

Headlines in other publications managed to accurately convey Sander’s opposition to Israel’s existence. Haaretz‘s headline plainly stated: “Jewish Educator Sues New York Synagogue in Claim She Was Fired For anti-Zionist Post.” Similarly, The Times of Israel headline states: “Jewish educator sues NY synagogue, saying she was fired for ‘anti-Zionist’ beliefs.” Interestingly, Jewish Currents, where anti-Zionist Peter Beinart is editor-at-large, earlier ran a headline nearly identical to The Times’, but which explicitly cites Sander’s anti-Zionism: “A Hebrew Teachers Called Herself an Anti-Zionist. She Was Fired.”

An affiliate of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), the Westchester Reform Temple holds Zionism as a core value, making Sander’s anti-Zionist sentiments the key point on which her legal case rises and, ultimately, falls. As The New York Jewish Week (via JTA) reported

Responding to Sander’s claim that she was fired for a “recreational” activity conducted outside of work, the AJC’s Stern said that those protective employment laws are not applicable to organizations where speech and ideology are at the center of the organization’s mission — like a synagogue that views Zionism as a core tenet.

“You can’t force an ideological organization to associate with people who undermine its mission,” he said.

As such, Sander’s anti-Zionism is not a peripheral point; it is the salient fact of the story. Thus, beyond the headline which miscasts her animus towards Israel’s existence as mere “criticism” and the paper’s concealment of the fact that her case has no legal standing as the protective employment laws do not apply to a Zionist synagogue which chooses not to employ an anti-Zionist, the question remains: why, then, is this even a story? What’s news about an ideological organization which opts not to employ an ideological opponent?

From the young Hebrew teacher to the storied halls of the United Nations, The New York Times’ touch ups of anti-Israel sentiment are apparent. Thus Rick Gladstone’s Jan 20 piece, “U.N. Approves Israeli Measure to Condemn Holocaust Denial,” paints the international body’s consistent anti-Israeli bias in much more palatable terms, referring to “the United Nations, where the narrative is often perceived by Israelis to be biased in favor of Palestinians’ aspirations for their own state.” (Emphasis added.)

 This language wildly twists the “Israeli narrative” in a way that not only misstates and minimizes the actual concerns of the country, but that effectively is dismissive of those concerns by claiming they amount to no more than hostility to Palestinians (and, specifically, Palestinian statehood).

 In fact, Israel’s central criticism of the United Nations, shared by other world leaders and even United Nations officials, is the body’s overwhelming anti-Israel bias, in which the Jewish state is singled out for disproportionate scrutiny and lopsided obloquy.

 To restate it simply: Gladstone’s language inaccurately, unfairly, and rather absurdly misrepresents opposition to anti-Israel discrimination as being opposition to Palestinian statehood.

 As Shmuel Rosner, an Israeli commentator and contributing opinion writer to the New York Times, put it not long ago in his Op-Ed about UNESCO:

 The organization’s shameful record makes clear that it is obsessed with Israel…

 Israel has, appropriately and almost unanimously, been incensed: It called Unesco ”shameful and anti-Semitic”…

 Several United Nations agencies have similar anti-Israel tendencies. In fact, the entire United Nations is biased against Israel. It tends to pass one-sided resolutions when Israel is engaged in a conflict; it pays constant attention to Israel and its supposed misbehavior, while other countries, guilty of much worse, barely get mentioned for censure. …

None of this is new. The United Nations’ hypocrisy and bias has been a constant irritation since Israel was founded.

Israel and Rosner are hardly alone in that understanding. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council in 2016 that “During the past 10 years, I have argued that we must never accept bias against Israel within UN bodies. Decades of political maneuverings have created a disproportionate volume of resolutions, reports and conferences criticizing Israel.” (See also: “NY Times Conceals Widespread Criticism of UN Rights Body.”)

The New York Times, with its own relentless assaults on Israel, represents the journalistic counterpart of the United Nations and its bottomless well of anti-Israel hostility. Without a Ban Ki-moon equivalent holding up a mirror to the paper’s behavior, is it any wonder that The Times so often opts for smoke and mirrors to whitewash others’ anti-Israel sentiment?