Prophets of Doom and Gloom

The New York version of The Times could not resist closing 2016, and then ushering in the new year, without a quartet of anti-Israel diatribes. A two-column editorial (December 29) embraced Secretary of State Kerry’s unbridled fury at Israel for daring to criticize American abstention from the unanimous U.N. Security Council Resolution vote condemning settlements. Columnist Thomas Friedman, who thirty years ago persistently hectored Israel as Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief, accused the Jewish State of “driving drunk toward annexing the West Bank,” leading to its inevitable fate either as “a bi-national Arab-Jewish state” or a “Middle Eastern version of South Africa.”

Three months from now the appropriate response to such hysteria would be “dayenu.” But the Times, with its long history of discomfort with the very idea, no less reality, of Jewish statehood might not understand the reference. It anticipated 2017 with a diatribe from Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi, identified as “an adviser to the Palestinian delegation during peace negotiations” in the 1990s.

Khalidi affirmed Secretary Kerry’s “obvious” conclusion: “Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land has all but destroyed the two-state solution.” Substantially exaggerating the settler population,  he lamented the fate of Palestinian children “growing up under a brutal occupation” devoted to the “colonization of Palestinian land.” Noting that “Gaza has been under siege for a decade,” he omitted mention that Hamas, ruler of that territory ever since all settlers were removed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005, launched sustained rocket attacks in 2008, 2012 and 2014 that provoked Israeli responses.

Khalidi anticipates a nefarious Trump-Netanyahu partnership that will assure “unending occupation and colonization in Palestine” – in violation of international law. To the contrary. The right of Jewish settlement in biblical Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) has been protected under international law since 1920, when the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine cited “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and the legitimacy of grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” Originally guaranteed the right of settlement in Palestine east and west of the Jordan River, Jews were limited to the west (biblical Judea and Samaria) when British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill bestowed three-quarters of Mandatory Palestine upon Abdullah for what became his Kingdom of Jordan.

After World War II, Article 80 of the new United Nations Charter preserved the right of the Jewish people to settle in their historic homeland west of the Jordan River. Following the Six-Day War, UN Security Council Resolution 242 permitted Israel to administer the West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights until “a just and lasting peace” had been achieved in the Middle East. (In case Khalidi has not noticed, that has yet to happen.)

Even then, Israel would only be required to withdraw its military forces (civilians were not mentioned) from “territories” – not “the” territories or “all the territories.” Khalidi to the contrary notwithstanding, Israel has been “colonizing” and “occupying” its own internationally guaranteed land – indeed, its biblical homeland.

In what passes for “balance” in The New York Times, Khalidi’s partisan critique was embellished on New Year’s Day by a no less partisan critique from Bernard Avishai, whose self-explanatory first book was entitled The Tragedy of Zionism. Avishai, most enamored of the secular liberal ethos of Tel Aviv, nonetheless divides his time between Jerusalem and a tiny New Hampshire town. In New England (more likely in Harvard Square than in Wilmot) he finds Jews who are “proudly erudite, emancipated, attending synagogue only sporadically, comfortable with intermarriage, identified with the Democratic Party” (and J Street) and “cannot imagine rallying to an apartheid Israel.” Indeed, they seem to resemble Howard Jacobson’s “ASHamed” Jews in The Finkler Question.

Nor can Avishai imagine many American Jews identifying with President-elect Trump’s selection (gasp!) of “righteously Orthodox” David M. Friedman as Ambassador to Israel, where he is likely to preside over an embassy relocated to Jerusalem. Trump’s “professed friendship” for Israel, Avishai fears, “will advance the cause of extremists in Israel” while antagonizing American Jews.

The embassy move, Avishai predicts in his doomsday scenario, would destabilize relations with Jordan, trigger violence in “the occupied territories,” and “signal approval for Israel’s annexation of the whole of Jerusalem.” With liberal queasiness, he warns that “Israeli advocates of Greater Israel, and their American allies” will “subvert” Israeli democracy.

Welcome to 2017 and The New York Times’ enduring commitment to “all the news that’s fit to print.”

Jerold S. Auerbach is a widely published historian of the United States and Israel.

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.