Why, one might wonder, would a book about The New York Times be published in a series on anti-Semitism in America? Evidence to the contrary seems overwhelming. Since 1896, when Adolph Ochs purchased the flagging newspaper, which passed upon his death to his son-in-law Arthur Hays Sulzberger, a proud Reform Jew, the Times has been identifiably Jewish – if only by its staunch anti-Zionism and, since 1948, palpable discomfort with Israel.
Therein lies the story behind a book that consumed five years of online trolling (where every article ever published in the Times on any subject is accessible); research in the Times archives (in the New York Public Library); and probing more than a dozen books about the newspaper by its own reporters (including two Pulitzer Prize winners who had been Jerusalem Bureau Chiefs) and other professional journalists.
I had been an avid Times reader ever since I was nine years old. One day my father pointed to its photo of a baseball player greeted by exultant teammates after hitting the grand-slam home run that won the pennant for the Detroit Tigers and excitedly revealed: “That’s Hank Greenberg. He’s our cousin!” So he was; and so I became a faithful Times reader. To be sure, for years to come the sports pages remained my primary focus.
But in 1972 I qualified for a two-week trip to Israel, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (once, ironically, a staunch opponent of Jewish statehood). It was designed for disaffected Jewish academics who, like me, had not previously visited the Jewish State. It became the transformative experience of my life.
One year later I was teaching American history as Fulbright Professor to Israeli students at Tel Aviv University. One of them was Kol Israel broadcaster Rafi Amir, who had excitedly reported to an exultant nation the miraculous arrival of Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall in the Six-Day War. Haggai, a Tel Aviv University professor who had fought in the Independence War and then became a kibbutz pioneer in the Negev desert, attended every class and illuminated Israel for me during our weekly lunches together.
Returning home after that year in Israel, I began to wonder where my home really was. The more closely that I read the Times every morning with breakfast, focusing on its coverage of Israel, the more distant I felt from the newspaper that had long been my daily companion and model for “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” its daily front-page motto ever since Ochs became its publisher. The Times, I finally understood, had a Jewish problem.
During those years (indeed, decades) my teaching and scholarship began to reflect my own transformation. I offered a seminar on the history of Israel; I began to write articles and books about the Jewish state – and, for much of the world, a pariah nation. Along the way, I realized that the Times pledge of “All The News That’s Fit to Print” masked its intense discomfort with any expression of Jewish nationalism that challenged its liberal assimilationist dogma.
Once my Times research and writing finally neared an end I began what became a tortuous journey to publication. My list included both commercial and academic publishers, including several that had previously published my books. As the author of eleven books, one of which had been chosen by the Times for its annual listing of “Notable Books,” I did not anticipate a problem.
But a steady stream of rejections was aggravated by the silence of publishers who did not even respond. I could not help wondering whether their reluctance, without reading a page of my text, reflected discomfort lest they jeopardize future attention for their books in hallowed Times pages. Only one publisher even sent my manuscript to outside readers, whose suggestions would have consumed at least five more years to satisfy. Another previously welcoming publisher confessed to fear of a libel suit. After twenty-eight rejections I teetered on the edge of self-publishing, the idea of which I dreaded.
Instead, after two years of searching, I turned to a publisher of scholarly books in which two of my essays had previously appeared in its Anti-Semitism in America series. I hardly consider The New York Times as an exemplar of anti-Semitism. But my daily scrutiny and extensive research left no doubt that it has an enduring Jewish problem. It has been expressed in unrelenting criticism of Israel – and, before Israel, Zionism – by publishers, columnists and reporters. So I committed my manuscript to Academic Studies Press. Unlike so many of its publishing companions it was was not cowed by critical scrutiny of the Jewish problem that by now has been deeply embedded in The New York Times for nearly 125 years.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016, just published by Academic Studies Press.