Nicholas Kristof on Israel: More of the Same

If it was written by almost anyone other than Nicholas D. Kristof on the editorial pages of the New York Times, “Is Israel Its Own Worst Enemy?,” October 5, 2011, would be shocking and outrageous. However, given Kristof’s long history of anti-Israel writings, it’s predictable and almost tiresome.

The one statement in the editorial that is mostly true is the first sentence which states “for decades, Palestinian leaders sometimes seemed to be their own people’s worst enemies.” One could argue that it wasn’t “sometimes” and they didn’t just seem to be, they were. There can be no argument that from that sentence on, however, as the piece spirals into disregard of the facts, selective reporting, and blatant misstatements. Kristof closes with the cliché that “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” meaning that his ceaseless rants against Israel are an act of friendship. But Kristof’s rants bring to mind a different cliché, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”

Where you stand depends on where you sit, and since Nicholas D. Kristof sits in the editorial pages of the New York Times, it’s no surprise that he views the conflict between Israel and the Arabs, and indeed wider conflicts in the Middle East, as Israel’s fault and more specifically as the fault of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Seen through this clouded lens, Netanyahu is “isolating his country,” is leading Israel to “national suicide,” has “thumbed (President Obama) in the eye,” “is to blame for the failure of the Middle East peace process,” has “undermined Israeli security,” and is one of Israel’s “worst enemies.” If only Mr. Kristof spent half as much time acquainting himself with the facts as he does railing against the freely elected leader of a democratic country, he might know some of the following:

Although Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas have both negotiated with Israeli leaders while settlements were under construction in the West Bank and Gaza, Benjamin Netanyahu took the unprecedented step of freezing construction – even within existing settlements – in order to restart stalled peace talks. Even so, Abbas did not return to negotiations until the moratorium was about to expire and when it did, he promptly walked out. Kristof’s fetish about settlements completely ignores the fact that in 2005, Israel exited Gaza completely, removing Jewish settlements, dismantling synagogues and even disinterring Jewish dead. If settlements are the issue, why didn’t peace break out in Gaza? Instead, Gaza was taken over by Hamas, a violent Iranian-supported terrorist group designated as such by the United States and even by the European Union.

Kristof repeatedly calls the settlements “illegal,” yet under international law settlements are legal, since Israel has rights to the land under the Palestine Mandate, which called for “close settlement by Jews on the land.” (For more details on this, as well of the question of the Fourth Geneva Convention, see BACKGROUNDER: Jewish Settlements and the Media.)

Moreover, Israeli towns built in the West Bank are built on land that was either vacant state land, or purchased from Palestinian landowners. If this were not the case, the Palestinian Authority would not have found it necessary to outlaw such land sales and make them punishable by death.

He says that Israel’s settlements “erode hope of a peace agreement in the future,” but Kristof says nothing of the Palestinian textbooks that glorify jihad, nothing of the Palestinian media with programming based on the fictitious and virulently anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He says nothing of the Palestinian Authority’s failure to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism. To the contrary, Abbas’ Fatah recently entered into a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, which has yet to renounce terror or give up the fight to eliminate Israel entirely. None of these things creates hope of a peace agreement in the future yet they go without mention.

The new apartments to be built in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem are not in any part of the city that would, even in Kristof’s wildest imagination, be part of a Palestinian capital, should one be established in Jerusalem. Gilo is in southwest Jerusalem. In fact, it is west of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. These apartments are hardly a thumb in the eye of President Obama, who himself called for land swaps in any final peace deal. Gilo is certain to remain part of Israel under such an arrangement.

Unfortunately, Kristof has a fixation with the settlements to the detriment of any reasonable understanding of the issues. Imagine if the Palestinians would actually negotiate with Israel. Imagine borders were agreed upon. Then some of the settlements would remain within Israel, and some might be part of the new Palestine, as Prime Minister Netanyahu described to the US Congress in May of 2011. Such negotiations leading to real peace ought to be considered an extremely positive outcome. Except, it’s not even contemplated by Nick Kristof and flatly rejected by Palestinian Authority President Abbas who was quoted by Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, as stating on July 28, 2010 in Cairo, “I would not agree… that there will live among us even a single Israeli on Palestinian land.” More recently, Palestinian Ambassador to Washington Maen Rashid Areikat was asked if any Jew inside the borders of Palestine would have to leave, and he answered “Absolutely.”

The Middle East Quartet, made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, recently issued a statement calling for a resumption of peace talks without preconditions. This is precisely Israel’s position. Yet Kristof would seek to make the cessation of Israeli construction, even in Jerusalem, a precondition.

Of course, he would never dream of making cessation of Palestinian construction a precondition for negotiations, since he’s already decided that the land is exclusively Palestinian. And he would not even make the cessation of Palestinian incitement a precondition, nor the re nunciation of the Palestinian “right of return,” the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure nor the acceptance of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland. None of these has been agreed to by the Palestinians, most especially not the renunciation of the “right of return,” which numerous Palestinian officials have recently reaffirmed.

When he does criticize Hamas, Kristof lists their crimes as repressing the people of Gaza and devastating the peace movement in Israel. Put aside the fact that the vast majority of Israelis want peace with all their neighbors, Kristof neglects to explain how Hamas “devastated the peace movement in Israel.” It does not fit with his anti-Israel view to write about the thousands of rockets Hamas has launched against Israeli civilians, killing many, their targeting of school buses with missiles and their incursions into Israel, killing Israeli soldiers and capturing Gilad Shalit whom they have held for five years in violation of the Geneva Convention. Kristof then writes “the saddest thing about the Middle East: hard-liners like Hamas empower hard-liners like Mr. Netanyahu.” That’s right, seemingly without any shame, Kristof likens Prime Minister Netanyahu to vicious terrorists.

While exhorting Palestinians to emulate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the editorial fails to mention what Dr. King himself wrote: “Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.” (A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King Jr., HarperCollins 1991, pg. 670) King also wrote, “When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews–make no mistake about it.”

Kristof himself admits that Palestinians tend to redefine the nonviolence advocated by Dr. King “to include stone-throwing” but minimizes the severity of such “non-violent” violence. It is doubtful that the family of Asher Palmer and his infant son Yonatan downplay the severity. The father and son were killed when their car overturned after being attacked with boulders. Another Jewish family was recently targeted as the husband drove his pregnant wife, who was in labor, to the hospital.

Netanyahu is also vilified for alienating Turkey. The truth is that the relationship began to cool after the Gaza Flotilla incident in May of 2010 in which nine Turkish militants aboard an aid flotilla attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip were killed. In July, a UN committee headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer issued a report finding that, contrary to Turkey’s position, the Israeli blockade of Gaza is legal, as was its boarding of the flotilla on the high seas. The Palmer Report faulted Israel for using excessive force, but acknowledged that the commandos who boarded the vessels were obliged to use force when attacked by the militants with knives and metal rods. It is hard to see how the strained relationship with Turkey is entirely the fault of Netanyahu, when Israel has been exonerated by the UN, a body not known to be friendly to the Jewish State.

Though nearly at the end of the editorial, Kristof still has space for several more misleading and absurd remarks. He lectures Israel on the meaning of democracy: “people have the right to vote on the government that controls their lives.” This is laughable in the Middle East, where the only democracy is Israel. The only Arabs who enjoy this right are the Arab citizens of Israel who vote and have representation in the Knesset. The Arabs in Gaza have no such rights living under Hamas, which Kristof himself admits oppresses them. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority is years overdue for Presidential elections.

Kristof “pleads guilty” to “focusing on Israeli shortcomings while paying less attention to those of other countries in the region.” That is at least truthful, though the moral equivalency is stunning. Whatever Israel does cannot honestly be compared to Syria’s gunning down of its own citizens, Iran’s hanging of gays, Saudi Arabia’s flogging of women drivers, Egypt’s oppression of its Christian minority, Turkey’s bombing of the Kurds (not to mention the Armenian genocide), Bahrain’s imprisonment of protesters, Yemen’s attacks on demonstrators, Sudan’s genocide in Darfur… the list is interminable.

But in his defense, Kristof says he applies “higher standards to a close American ally like Israel that is a huge recipient of American aid.” America’s foreign aid to Israel amounts to less than one tenth of one percent of the US budget and the vast majority of it is spent in the United States buying US-made goods. This is in stark contrast to the aid we give to another close ally, Pakistan, which is roughly equivalent to Israel’s aid, is spent abroad, and which Pakistan uses to target American troops.

Yes, friends don’t let friends drive drunk – or write editorials full of misrepresentations and untruths. We hope Mr. Kristof understands that it’s an act of friendship on our part to point them out. You see, our feelings of friendship for Nick Kristof run every bit as deep as his for Israel.

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