Election Lamentations at The New York Times

How many articles does it take for The New York Times to adequately express its discomfort with Benjamin Netanyahu’s election victory?

The front page sub-heading identified him as the “symbol of cherished security.” To reach the remainder of the article, it was necessary to pass two entire pages filled with five additional stories. Discounting Netanyahu’s victory, which soon will make him the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history, Times journalists preferred to explore “quite a showing” by Benny Gantz; the attempt by an Israeli public relations firm to lower Arab turnout at the polls; dimming dreams for a Palestinian state; how the victorious right-wing coalition may help the Israeli leader “stave off indictment” for corruption; and how Netanyahu, proving to be “a difficult partner” in peace negotiations during his first term as Prime Minister, was plagued by “charges of corruption, both large and petty” and “fraught” relations with American presidents, especially Times favorite Barack Obama.

After critical reports from six journalists it was the editors’ turn. Wasting no space for their lamentation, they immediately imagined Israel to be at “a fateful moment.” Although Netanyahu can “try to repair the damage from an ugly campaign,” his alliances with “extreme right-wing parties” make that unlikely. He has “set a course that could end Palestinian chances for statehood, threaten Israel’s democratic character” and – perhaps of greatest concern to Times editors – “deepen the alienation between its right-wing coalition government and a majority of American Jews,” whose worries the Times considers only when Israel does not follow their liberal wishes.

To be sure, the editors concede, Israel under Netanyahu’s leadership “has evolved into an economically vibrant, technologically innovative country that has improved ties to leading Arab states and expanded a number of international relationships.” But the likely inclusion in his coalition of the far-right Otzma Yehudit followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane is a warning signal of catastrophes to come, which Netanyahu exacerbated before the election by announcing his intention to annex “parts of the West Bank that are expected to be incorporated in any Palestinian state.” Expected by whom? Surely not by more than 400,000 Israelis who live in Judea and Samaria.

Even worse, for Times editors, is Netanyahu’s partnership with President Trump. He has “inserted himself on behalf of an Israeli leader in ways no previous American president has” by moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights (where a Jewish presence stretches back millennia). Consequently, the editors warn, Israel under Netanyahu’s leadership “is on a trajectory to become what [unidentified] critics say will be an apartheid state.” Their solitary source for this doomsday scenario is former Shin Bet head and Labor Party leader Ami Ayalon, who foresees the impending “end of our Zionist dream.”

Bureau Chief David Halbfinger, in editorializing mode in his front-page article, is apprehensive over the implications of Netanyahu’s victory. The “starkly conservative vision” of his supporters and their leader, he conjectures, express fear of Iran, Arab citizens, and the Israeli political left. An “enamored” Michael Oren may praise Netanyahu’s strategic vision and Israel’s impressive economic growth under his leadership, but Halbfinger is not persuaded.

Even as Netanyahu verges on becoming the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israeli history, Halbfinger dismissively identifies an election that was “all about personality and character” that “left little room for issues of policy.” Especially “peace with the Palestinians” who – unnoticed by Halbfinger – have spent decades rejecting every Israeli peace offer for a two-state solution.

Perhaps worst of all is that Netanyahu’s “settler- and ultra-Orthodox-dominated government,” and his “effusive embrace of President Trump,” have “rapidly alienated” Israel from “predominantly liberal and less-observant American Jews” – a favorite Times fan club. Only in The New York Times is the democratically elected leader – of the world’s only Jewish state – likely “to present a challenge for Israel’s democratic system.”

But New York Times bias, not Israel, is the problem that its election coverage vividly displays. For decades the Times opposed the very idea of a Jewish state lest it compromise the loyalty of American Jews to the United States. Given seven decades of palpable discomfort with Israel, it is little wonder that a Netanyahu victory is so upsetting to its assimilationist values that it cannot absorb the democratic reality that Israeli voters might think otherwise.

About the Author
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel (2009). His new book, Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, will be published in February by Academic Studies Press.
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