The New York Times went ballistic over Vice President Mike Pence’s “Self-Serving Trip to Israel” (January 24). Beneath a half-page photo of him touching the Western Wall in “the contested Old City” of Jerusalem, the headline labeled his visit “a Brief Respite to Israelis,” which momentarily “buoyed” Prime Minister Netanyahu “but Did Not Bridge Conflict With Palestinians.”
The accompanying article, written by Times reporter Isabel Kirshner, conceded that President Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reinforced by Pence’s visit to the Kotel one day after announcing in his Knesset speech that the American Embassy would be relocated to Jerusalem in 2019, was a boost for Netanyahu. Israel’s Prime Minister “basked in the glow” of Pence’s visit. But once the Vice President leaves, she added, “it would be back to reality” for Netanyahu “in a less ethereal Jerusalem.”
The remainder of Kirshner’s article focused on the Vice President’s (and Netanyahu’s) critics. A political communications professor dismissed Pence’s visit as “a distraction” with “zero” impact on Israeli politics. (Why, then, was the Times so exercised over it?) Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay, while appreciative of Pence’s support for Israel, noted that it did nothing to solve the problem of “4.5 million Palestinians.” Maariv columnist Ben Caspit was dismissive of Pence’s appeal to Zionist evangelicals in the United States, who are “hopelessly in love with us” but otherwise inconsequential. “Enraged” Palestinians, boycotting the Vice President’s visit, launched a general strike.
Several pages further along Times editors dismissed Pence’s visit as “self-serving.” Introducing him as “America’s most prominent evangelical,” they noted his rebuff by Christian leaders in Egypt and Jordan for President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which the Times vigorously opposes. Pence’s Knesset speech was “replete with biblical references to Jewish ties to the Holy Land,” evidently a shanda that made the editors uncomfortable. They criticized him because “He mostly chose to ignore Israel’s shared history with the Palestinians” – “another slap in the face,” as though they were bickering lovers. To the editors’ dismay Pence even “played his political and religious cards by inviting West Bank settlers as his guests.”
The litany of editorial complaints continued. The Trump administration has “chosen to disqualify America as an honest broker” – as though honesty required refusal to recognize Jerusalem for what it has been ever since King David relocated his throne there from Hebron three thousand years ago. It has “weakened the Palestinians” by cutting UNRWA funding for “Palestinian refugees” – a scam that ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of refugees are no longer alive, while most recipients are not displaced refugees.
In the end, Times editors conclude, Vice President Pence’s visit to Israel and his Knesset speech only satisfied “American evangelicals and Israeli hard-liners who dream of a greater Israel.” That may seem true inside the liberal Times bubble of editors, Jerusalem reporters, columnists and readers, for whom President Trump is the devil incarnate and Jews returning to build communities in the biblical homeland of the Jewish people are misguided fanatics.
Believe it or not, there are those who disagree with President Trump on many issues who nonetheless hail his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his recognition of the fiction that UNRWA provides aid to Palestinian “refugees.” But the Times, committed to “All the News That’s Fit to Print” according to its long-standing Page One motto, has its own definition of fitness.
To be sure, the Times bias is hardly new. When Adolph Ochs purchased the newspaper in 1896 (several months after Theodor Herzl published The Jewish State), he was determined that it would never be identified as a “Jewish” newspaper. That commitment was sustained by his Sulzberger son-in-law and descendants. As Reform Jews (until the 1990s when they were Episcopalian), they remained wary of Jewish nationalism lest it be seen to compromise their loyalty to the United States. Its Jewish reporters in Jerusalem – Thomas Friedman, Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kirshner among them – have been relentless critics of Israel.
The Trump presidency suggests that Washington dogma may finally be changing to Israel’s benefit. But the Times seems determined to preserve its liberal identity with relentless criticism that ignores Israel’s astonishing achievements as its 70th anniversary of independence approaches.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, to be published this summer.