By now the enduring motto of The New York Times – “All the News That’s Fit to Print” – is understood to mean all the news that fits its 120-year-old narrative of hostility to Zionism before 1948 and relentless criticism of Israel ever since.
The most recent illumination of Times discomfort with the Jewish state came in its Sunday Magazine (March 31). Written by journalist Nathan Thrall, it spread across twelve pages. Embracing the B.D.S. movement that advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel (thereby insinuating its similarity to the apartheid regimes of South Africa and Rhodesia), Thrall performs verbal acrobatics to erase any taint of its palpable bias against Israel.
Thrall’s view of Zionism, before the Six-Day War and ever since, is “decades of Jewish expansion into Arab territory.” Blithely disregarding modern history – to say nothing of ancient Jewish sovereignty in the biblical homeland of the Jewish people – Thrall ignores international guarantees dating from the 1920s (and never rescinded) that recognize land west of the Jordan River as the Jewish homeland. Instead, he sees “growing concern” among (unidentified) Israeli and American Jews that “continued Israeli occupation and Palestinian subjugation” disgrace Jewish statehood.
According to Thrall, citing (unnamed) Congressional staff members and “former White House officials,” Israel’s malfeasance is attributable to “the influence of [Jewish] megadonors.” His primary sources are a board member of J-Street and Obama advisor Ben Rhodes, somewhat less than an objective sample of opinion. This controlling pro-Israel “donor class,” Rhodes explained to Thrall, is “profoundly to the right of . . . the Jewish community.” It sounds suspiciously similar to Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s despicable recent claim that defense of Israel is “all about the Benjamins” (i.e. moneyed Jews).
Praising the BDS movement, Thrall cites its commendable goals. The “occupation” of the West Bank – unidentified as biblical Judea and Samaria – must end. “Palestinian refugees” (perhaps 30,000 of whom are still alive, although 5 million are falsely cited by UNRWA) must be allowed to return to their homes. Israeli Palestinians, who already enjoy citizenship rights that are denied to Palestinians in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, must enjoy “full equality.” Thrall seems accepting of “the argument that the Palestinian struggle is a fight against [Israeli] racism.” Without citation or reference – except to “American and Israeli Jews alike” – Thrall claims to discern “growing concern that the most likely future for Israel-Palestine is . . . continued Israeli occupation and Palestinian subjugation.”
Thrall seems unhappy that “there is little willingness among Democrats to argue publically for changing longstanding policy toward Israel.” Once again “the influence of megadonors” receives prominence in his narrative. He cites wealthy Jewish contributors to the Democratic party, one of whom suggests that the United States “needs to threaten Israeli with cutting military aid.” Another wonders, given Israeli affluence, “why does Israel need financial help from anyone?” Thrall’s narrative exudes disdain for Jewish money, unless it comes from critics of Israel.
Toward the end of his diatribe, Thrall shifts to campus boycott and divestment movements that target Israel. But “the real goal of divestment votes,” he claims to know, is “consciousness-raising” rather than actual divestment. He does not comment on the revealing oddity that in smaller liberal arts colleges J-Street remains the only pro-Israel(?) organization on campus. But Thrall offers a 55-word sentence detailing the wealth and influence of the University of Michigan affiliate of Hillel International. Despicable wealthy Jews are everywhere.
Except, perhaps, in Hebron, burial site of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs and location of King David’s rule before he relocated his throne to Jerusalem. Thrall focuses on African-American Maryland Representative Donna Edwards, whose J-Street sponsored visit to the tiny shabby Jewish sector of Hebron – where Jews are vastly outnumbered by Palestinians – reminded her of the segregationist South. She clearly does not know, or care, that after the centuries-old Jewish community was decimated during the 1929 Arab riots, Hebron remained Judenrein for the next forty years. By now Palestinian Hebron – with shopping malls, office buildings and mosques – is the commercial hub of the West Bank. Thrall is as oblivious as Representative Edwards to this reality.
But Thrall is convinced that “standing for Palestinian rights is guaranteed to be a major topic in the 2020 election.” Given his evident anti-Israel bias, one might even say that he is enthralled by the prospect.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016, recently published by Academic Studies Press.