Andrew Vitelli

Credulous Kristof, the NYT’s most vacuous Israel critic

After months spent vilifying Israel and its government for its response to Hamas’s October 7 terror attacks, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was posed the question: What would you do if terrorists were firing rockets from Vancouver into Portland, Oregon? His non-answer exemplified just how vacuously moralizing this two-time Pulitzer Prize winner has long been on this topic.

“My answer is: what I would not do is kill 31,000 people in Vancouver, including 12,500 children,” Kristof posted on X (formerly Twitter), regurgitating the long-debunked Hamas casualty numbers. He made no attempt to answer the tough question being posed – would you accept your own people being targeted, killed and kidnapped if the alternative, fighting back, meant collateral damage? Instead, as has become his norm, he responded to a difficult question with an activist’s talking point.

Since Hamas launched its barbaric onslaught of rape, murder and kidnapping on October 7, there has been no shortage of hypocrisy and moral relativism from the commentariat class. But few voices are as utterly vapid as Kristof, a human rights columnist who rose to fame for his coverage of the genocide in Darfur.

Kristof lacks the radical fervor of the Karen Attiahs of the world; to his credit, he does not romanticize Hamas or call for Israel to be wiped off the map. Kristof’s M.O. has long been the same: he will acknowledge in theory the threats facing Israel and its right to defend itself but will always find a way to chide the Jewish state for its response to any attack, citing alleged human rights abuses, excessive force, or whatever the social justice crowd on X are claiming at that moment.

This is not an unusual formula for Israel’s tepid critics, those who “support Israel” until the moment Israel is forced to support itself. But Kristof stands out for the lack of substance in his commentary, his inability to engage at all with the obvious counter-arguments, and the resulting columns that often read more like a political pamphlet than an opinion piece for America’s most influential paper.

For example, one good rule for columnists to follow would be: do not pose a supposedly provocative question if the answer is screamingly obvious. A columnist could argue that a mouse is more threatening than a bear – unpopular and counterintuitive “hot takes” are part of the business. But to state, “If we are worried about being mauled by a bear, why wouldn’t we be worried about a mouse attack?” without so much as nodding to the difference in size between the two creatures would just cast doubt on the questioner’s common sense and baseline knowledge of zoology.

But that is precisely Kristof’s approach. In a recent column, Kristof approvingly quotes Bernie Sanders asking, “How can the US condemn Russia’s bombing of civilians in Ukraine as a war crime but fund Netanyahu’s war machine, which has killed thousands?”

One might respond: Did Ukraine invade Russia and kill, rape, and kidnap 1,500 innocent Russians in a surprise attack, then promise to repeat the attacks until Russia is wiped off the map? Is Ukraine’s government dedicated, since its founding, to using terror against Russian civilians to erase Russia’s very existence? Or could Russia, whose invasion strongman Vladimir Putin tries to justify with appeals to centuries-old geopolitical grievances, pull its forces tomorrow and live without threat of attack?

Anyone with a passing understanding of both conflicts should reflexively see these distinctions, but Kristof simply does not acknowledge them. “We Americans condemn Russia, China or Venezuela for their violations of human rights, but the United States supports Israel and protects it diplomatically,” Kristof says, without for a second considering the manifest differences between, for example, Israel’s defensive war and China’s attacks on its Uyghur minority.

To the degree that Kristof does put forward any evidence to support his position, it usually comes as appeals to authority, be it a politician or activist group. He will find a stray comment by a government official or elected leader and cite it as a religious fundamentalist quotes a foundational text.

“Of course Israel had the right to respond militarily to the Oct. 7 attacks,” he writes. “But none of this excuses Israel’s ‘indiscriminate’ bombing, in the words of President Biden.”

He never takes a moment to question whether Israel’s bombing is, in fact, indiscriminate. Every comment made by a politician comes with a world of political consideration, and one job of a journalist is to probe and question their veracity. But Kristof makes his case by treating any stray remark that supports it as infallibly true.

This has been his schtick since well before October 7. In a 2021 column penned during that year’s brief war with Hamas, he accused Israel of war crimes by simply citing “experts,” including the virulently anti-Israel Human Rights Watch. His appearance shortly thereafter on Real Time with Bill Maher is worth watching today – when challenged by Maher on what Israel should do in the face of rocket attacks from a genocidal terror group, Kristof meekly falls back on, “well, experts say…” before changing the topic to his more defensible criticism of Israel’s West Bank policy.

Fool me once…

But these deflections are better than Kristof’s rare attempts to substantiate his criticisms. In January, Kristof penned a column attempting to answer some of the pushback leveled at his position. He argued that Israel could be justified in attacking Gaza, but that the scale of the offensive was unprecedented.

“For example, Israel had dropped 29,000 bombs, munitions and shells by mid-December, while the United States dropped 3,678 munitions in Iraq between 2004 and 2010, according to The Wall Street Journal,” he wrote.

Except the US invaded Iraq in March 2003, and by the start of 2004 Saddam’s government had fallen, with the tyrant in captivity. In the first four weeks of the Iraq War, the US dropped more than 29,000 bombs on the country – more than Israel had used two-and-a-half months into its Gaza war. Kristof’s claim was akin to stating “Alec Baldwin killed more people in a day than the Nazi Party did from 1946 to 2024!” The article still has no correction.

Kristof again embarrassed himself this week when he unquestioningly repeated in a post on X a claim that 30,000 aid trucks were stuck at the Egyptian border. There is no evidence of such a convoy, which would stretch most of the way to Cairo and would be pretty hard to hide. He has since deleted this tweet.

And, as Brenda Yablon has detailed in these blogs, Kristof routinely quotes Hamas’s most outlandish claims about civilian deaths as self-evidently true, and treats Hamas-affiliated groups like UNRWA as non-partisan actors.

This week, Kristof again quoted Senator Sanders – another serial liar regarding Israel – to blast the State Department’s determination that Israel is not restricting humanitarian aid into Gaza.

“The U.S. loses credibility when we say things like this that are manifestly false,” he tweeted.

Kristof is certainly an authority on saying things that are manifestly false. Fortunately for him, he has long had no credibility to lose.

About the Author
Andrew Vitelli is a New York-based journalist. A former Fellow for the Government Press Office in Jerusalem, Vitelli earned his master's degree from Tel Aviv University.
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