Did New York Times opinion editors giggle when they chose to publish an article claiming that Israel is losing the propaganda war, and that it’s all Israel’s fault? If they have any sense of the comedy that exists in irony, they surely did.
Although the Jan. 31 Op-Ed admits that the hateful slurs hurled at Israel are false, and although it benevolently grants that the extremists who spread those falsehoods are in some small part responsible for misconceptions about Israel in public opinion, the real culprit, according to author Hirsh Goodman, is Israel.
Goodman argues that, “inexplicably, blindly, Israel is letting itself be branded an apartheid state — and even encouraging it.” The damage, he insists, is “self-inflicted,” because “Israel is doing almost everything it can to help its opponents achieve their goal.”
The great irony, which must have tickled the editors, is that it isn’t Israel “doing almost everything it can” to delegitimize the country, but rather the very New York Times opinion pages that published Goodman’s piece. Those opinion pages stand among the greatest poisoners of public opinion, having served as a platform for relentless attack against the Jewish state.
If “relentless” and “attack” sound like strong words, remember that Goodman’s column was published on the last day of January, and consider how Times editorials, columns and Op-Eds treated Israel during that month as a whole.
On New Year’s Day, staff columnist Roger Cohen wrote a piece that, after listing things Israel has done that “infuriated Palestinians,” argued that Israel is wrong for insisting Palestinians accept its existence as the Jewish state, and the Palestinians are right for rejecting this key demand. While Cohen did offer a few criticisms of the Palestinian side, he immediately suggested Israel should be blamed for any Palestinian intransigence because “nothing in Israel’s actions facilitates” Palestinian moves toward compromise and peace.
The very next day, the paper published an Op-Ed by Ami Ayalon arguing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “dead wrong” for not understanding the urgency of solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It called on Netanyahu to take unilateral steps, and on Israelis to “vote him out of office” if he does not. The piece did not mention the Palestinians as actors who might have responsibilities of their own.
A Jan. 4 editorial criticized Netanyahu for claiming that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas embraced terrorists responsible for the murder of Israeli civilians. This was published only days after Abbas was photographed literally embracing terrorists.
The newspaper took a break from Israel on Jan. 5, and instead ran a piece about a Jewish person’s journey to discovering that he doesn’t identify with being a Jew.
For the next Op-Ed on the subject, New York Times editors turned to David Landau, the man who once called on Israel to be “raped” by the US and used the “apartheid” slur to describe the country. Surprisingly, Landau’s Jan. 14 eulogy of Ariel Sharon was somewhat sympathetic to the late Israeli leader. But an editorial published that same day made sure readers didn’t forget the true nature of the country. It blamed Israel and its supporters in America for pushing a “hard line” that would derail an Iranian nuclear deal.
A Jan. 15 Op-Ed focused on the sins of Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew who provided Israel with classified information in the 1980s and has spent the rest of his life in prison. A Jan. 16 Op-Ed harshly criticized Israel’s attempts to deal with challenges created by the influx into the country of tens of thousands of African economic migrants and refugees. A Jan. 18 Op-Ed criticized Israel for a controversial bill that would ban the use of the word “Nazi” in certain contexts. That piece didn’t limit itself to suggesting that the peculiar bit of proposed legislation might be “fascist and anti-democratic.” It also drifted off topic to state that Israel’s government is not genuinely interested in peace with the Palestinians, who seemingly have done nothing more harmful than “seeking freedom and self-determination.”
Anti-Israel errors filled a venomously anti-Israel Op-Ed on Jan. 22 by a former Palestinian government minister. The piece dishonestly implied that the Israeli army massacred Palestinians in Lebanon’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps (the culprits were actually Lebanese Christians), claimed Ariel Sharon entered the Al Aqsa mosque (he did not), insisted that this supposed intrusion set off the 2nd intifada (it did not), and asserted that Israel controls the Gaza Strip’s land borders (also not true — Israel controls its own land border with Gaza, but does not control the border between Gaza and Egypt.)
A couple of days later, on Jan. 24, an Op-Ed claimed that “Israel built a wall around Palestine.” In truth, Israel’s security barrier is almost entirely a fence, and it does not encircle the West Bank but rather separates its non-Israeli population centers from vulnerable Israeli towns that have been the target of Palestinian suicide bombings and other attacks.
And the month ended, like the grand finale of a fireworks show, with an explosion of anti-Israel pieces. It started quietly. In a Jan. 29 column, Thomas Friedman at least critiqued both Israelis and Palestinians, even if he seemed a bit upset when he grumbled that “Palestinians do not seem willing or able to mount another intifada that might force Israel to withdraw.” (Recall that the 2nd intifada was, more than anything else, about killing Jews — an uprising in which hundreds of Israeli civilians were targeted and murdered by Palestinian gunmen and suicide bombers.)
A Jan. 30 Op-Ed criticized the Israeli rabbinate, apparently one of the more important issues facing the world. There were several more jabs against Israel in Roger Cohen’s Jan. 31 column about the Middle East, although those paled in comparison to the Op-Ed published that same day entitled “Israel Needs to Learn Some Manners.” This screed, by a notoriously anti-Israel historian, was dedicated to accusations about Israeli “chutzpa,” “obstruction and whining,” “ingratitude and scorn,” “habitual violations of international law” and worse.
And to close out the month, The Times brought its online readers another duo of Israel-blaming Op-Eds. The first, by a leader of the anti-Israel “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement, opened by insisting that his movement “doesn’t pose an existential threat to Israel,” a brazenly dishonestly claim coming from a man who has admitted that his goal is to replace Israel with a state where “by definition, Jews will be a minority.” (Would The New York Times likewise offer its pages to someone who called for, say, Baltimore to be demographically engineered into a city in which blacks will be a minority?)
The BDS leader, Omar Barghouti, again distorted by referring to Israel’s “self-definition as an exclusionary Jewish state.” Of course, as New York Times editors surely know, Israel does not define itself as “exclusionary.” On
the contrary, its Declaration of Independence, the most important document relating to Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state, asserts that the country “will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants,” says that the country “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” promises “freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture,” and appeals to “the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.” This didn’t stop editors from publishing Barghouti’s false slur.
And the last online piece of January was Hirsh Goodman’s “How Israel is Losing the Propaganda War,” the article claiming that, to whatever extent public opinion turned against Israel, it is basically Israel’s own fault.
There could be no more convenient a climax by the newspaper’s opinion page editors. After a month of battering Israel by focusing obsessively on its problems, real and invented, without even one column dedicated to Palestinian faults, and after many prior months of the same, their final jab at the Jewish state not only strikes at the country’s reputation, but also feigns innocence, ignoring their own major role in the battle to poison public opinion about Israel. It’s a clever twist. Not only are New York Times opinion editors trying to harm Israel’s reputation, but to the extent that they have succeeded, this is cast as yet another reason to dislike the country.
While the New York Times propaganda war needs to be taken seriously, it is worth remembering that, in fact, Israel does not seem to be losing that war at all — at least not in the United States, the subject of a Gallup headline in mid-2013 that read, “Americans’ Sympathies for Israel Match All-Time High.”