NY Times Book Reviewer Misleads About Israel And Its American Supporters

The New York Times Book Review section of Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019 contained the review, Difficult Love: Why Are American Jews Falling Out of Love With Israel? by Judith Shulevitz (pictured above) which duplicated her Times Sept. 24, 2019 piece. The article is problematic.

The Nexis journalism database contains both the September and November versions of Shulevitz’ screed. The only change is not in the 1392-word body, but rather to the title. The phrase “Difficult Love” is prefixed to the original title.

The book reviewed is We Stand Divided: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel by Daniel Gordis.

Gordis’ thesis is that there is a growing rift between Jewish Americans and the Jewish state that stems mainly not from what Israel does but from what it is, which is an “ethnic democracy” favoring Judaism and Jewish culture over other religions and cultures (this is not to say that other religions or cultures are discouraged).  

Reviewing the reviewer and refuting her misinformation

Seemingly criticizing the book’s author for what she perceives as a failure to emphasize what she considers to be the paramount issues, Shulevitz writes: “Gordis’ answer to the American-Jewish critique of Israel is that the Americans don’t understand the nature of the state. The problem isn’t what Israel does but what it is… It’s an ‘ethnic democracy.’” Shulevitz complains about “bellicose leaders,” “settlements” and “occupying force”:

Once upon a time, American Jews supported Israel almost unanimously. Now they’re disaffected, the non-Orthodox ones anyway, mostly because of its bellicose leaders (or leader, since there has been only one for the past decade) and West Bank settlements. The millennial generation is recoiling from the Israel-right-or-wrong line usually taken by mainstream Jewish organizations. Even rabbis (the non-Orthodox ones) ask tougher questions than the rabbis of my childhood. Is the Jewish state a liberal democracy or an occupying force?

Shulevitz problematically writes:

The sad truth is that Israel owes its existence in part to the violent expulsion of Arabs during its War of Independence… But Gordis’s biases are nothing compared with the louder silence that echoes through this book. He never tests his premise against the really hard questions: the Palestinians, the West Bank settlements and Israel’s recent embrace of so-called illiberal democracies like Hungary and Poland, as well as dictators… Gordis’s failure to grapple seriously with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank also undercuts his argument. The settlements go further than Israel’s hybrid democracy in explaining the alienation of its Diaspora brethren.

Expulsion charge. Shulevitz falsely claims, “Israel owes its existence in part to the violent expulsion of Arabs during its War of Independence.” This echoes a key element of the Palestinian propaganda narrative — that as a result of the war in 1948, the Arab refugees were forcibly expelled from their towns by Israeli forces. But this is incorrect. The large majority of the Arabs who exited Israel were not expelled by the Israelis. Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Dore Gold wrote in December 2018:

[Consider] the recent words of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, at the PLO Consultative Council on December 9, 2018 … Looking back historically, Abbas declared: “… in 1948, when the Nakba or catastrophe, took place, we weren’t a party to it. We were taken out, and we were told, after a week we will return you.” Elsewhere he was even more explicit on this point. Back in March 1976 in the Palestinian publication Falastin El-Thawra that came out in Beirut, he said that the Arab armies forced the Palestinians to emigrate and to leave their homeland.

In other words, Abbas is saying that the Arab states caused the Palestinians to flee with the false promise that they would come back. The truth is that throughout the State of Israel, in places like Haifa, Tiberias, and the villages of the coastal plain, Israeli leaders told the Palestinians to stay. They begged them to stay!

CAMERA has reported in detail on the causes of this Arab flight.

Settlements charge. The complaint is misleading while consistent with media misinformation (including failure to provide context) that may explain why much of the American public lack an adequate understanding of the matter.  The reality is that communities of Jews have continuously lived in their ancestral home in the Holy Land including the entirety of Jerusalem and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria – referred to as such in the Christian New Testament as well as other historical sources – part of the ancient homeland of the Jewish people). Furthermore, there is a strong legal case here. This is shown by, among others, Talia Einhorn, a law professor in Israel. Einhorn’s analysis shows that “Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are not inconsistent with international law.”

Occupation charge. Shulevitz’ characterization, “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank,” is misleading. First, Israel’s presence in the West Bank is a result of self-defense during a war about Israel’s right to exist. Israel is the obligatory and legal military authority of the West Bank having taken the territory from Jordanian control in self-defense in the 1967 Six-Day War. Jordan had militarily occupied the West Bank from 1948 to 1967. The land is not “Palestinian” since there exists no national entity of “Palestine” (there never has been such a national entity). Since the area is disputed, there is a need for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations according to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), and the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement.

Second, the argument is made that under international law, the West Bank cannot be considered “occupied” because there was no previous sovereign in the area. Is there a basis for this reasoning? Yes. For example, passages in prestigious international law journals indicate that international occupation law deals primarily, if not exclusively, with occupied land that is part of another’s sovereign territory. Examples: “Occupation law is the international law of military occupation (often accompanied by civilian administration) of foreign sovereign territory.” (American Journal of International Law); “All the territories reverted to the state recognized as the lawful sovereign prior to the occupation.” (European Journal of International Law and Oxford International Journal of Constitutional Law).

Meanwhile the Palestinian Authority insists on various conditions unlikely to be accepted by any Israeli government before peace negotiations can take place, including Israel abiding by Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (evidently, 22 Arab Muslim states is fine but one Jewish state is one too many) and Israel’s acceptance of a “right of return” (that does not exist in international law) for millions of Arabs (nearly all of whom have never lived in Israel), which would inevitably result in the Jewish state becoming unviable. Furthermore, West Bank Palestinians are self-governing with Israeli personnel mainly only entering Palestinian communities to deal with  terrorists who injure and murder Israelis.

The obsessive use by the media, among others, of the term “occupied” with respect to the West Bank, is unfair to Israel since the term is rarely (if ever) heard, for example, regarding China’s occupation of Tibet, Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine or Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus.

• “Embrace of … charge. The complaint about “Israel’s recent embrace of so-called illiberal democracies like Hungary and Poland …” fails to provide context. The Visegrad group of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, have worked to defend Israel from European Union biased condemnation.  For example, Visegrad has tried to block the unfair, illogical E.U. statement condemning the U.S. transfer of its embassy to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel.

• Ethnic democracy. The idea of a rift between Israelis and Americans in this matter seems to be exaggerated. While Israelis legally favor Judaism  over other religions and Jewish culture over other cultures, it’s also true that Americans legally have traditionally favored Christianity over other religions and Christian culture over other cultures (e.g. Christmas season activities). So, why make such a big deal out of the matter? The real gulf relating to such matters would seem to be with the dozens of Islamic countries that mainly discourage and sometimes even prohibit the Jewish and Christian religions and cultures.

What about the impact of the rift?

It’s probably not much. There is continuing strong support for Israel in Congress and in public opinion polls. The most recent Gallup poll (August 2019) shows that 95 percent of Jewish Americans have favorable views of Israel, while only 10 percent have favorable views of the Palestinian Authority. This is more pro-Israel than the overall national averages of 71 percent favorable views of Israel and only 21 percent favorable views of the Palestinian Authority.

The media effect

And whatever rift there is can be at least partially attributed to the opinion makers — particularly the media — misinforming about “occupation” and “settlements” and so forth. Clearly, anyone seeking accurate information about Israeli aims, policies and actions should avoid relying upon the New York Times which continues to be the flagship of the mainstream media.

The unreliability of the Times has recently been noted by award-winning journalist Michael Goodwin, a former Times staffer:

The separation of news from opinion was an ingrained part of the culture at The New York Times when I started there in the 1970s… The top editor then was the late Abe Rosenthal. He said he knew reporters tended to lean left politically, so he steered the editing process to the right. That way, he said, the paper would end up in the middle… So what happened? How is that we are witnessing the collapse of the paper’s credibility?…