The five of us all had our eyes open when we spoke with a reporter from the New York Times about the Israel-Hamas War.
With different levels of trepidation, my wife, daughter, son, and his wife each agreed to Zoom individually with Emma Goldberg, who co-authored with Marc Tracy “Jewish American Families Confront a Generation Divide Over Israel” (published December 5 online.)
The article generated an outpouring of support from family, friends and strangers. It also attracted hateful comments across unfiltered social media platforms. Nothing unusual on either score.
That we were specifically referenced by an Arab United Nations representative in last week’s Security Council briefing before the vote on a ceasefire came as a surprise. But that’s what can happen when a newspaper of record singles you out.
What disappointed me was that the article lost the complexity of the trees in the generalities of the forest. Engaging and professional, Ms. Goldberg read us parts of her story before publication to make sure she got things right. There were no glaring inaccuracies in the text.
However, the story created a simple, binary version of our layered family dynamic. Young vs. old. Pro-Israel vs. anti-Zionist. End of story.
Our daughter, Ms. Goldberg reported, has moved in the opposite direction from my wife Judith and me. Louisa, 31, laments the creation of the modern state of Israel; Judith and I, like our son Jake and his wife Tamar, both of them in their mid-30s, support its existence. Lou lives in the US; we four live in Israel. Lou demands a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas War; we are obsessed with the hostages. Those facts are irrefutable.
However, while survey data may indicate that more young Jews think like Louisa than me, there are also Jews my age who stand in Loui’s camp, going beyond what she advocates, as they overlook Hamas’s barbarism while vilifying Israel. (Forget about the battalions of older non-Jews who revile both our new country and Jews.)
Granted, Ms. Goldberg intended to explore family angst vis-à-vis the war, rather than dissect the conflict’s origins. Still, her article did include some discussion of politics, and I saw little nuance. There were missing details that I thought were crucial to include at a time when the fog of war promotes propaganda as fact.
The fact that Louisa is an Israeli citizen like us didn’t appear. Ms. Goldberg explained on social media that there wasn’t enough space to include everything.
The fact that my wife and I strongly oppose the current Israeli government and support a two-state solution didn’t make it into the article.
The fact that I’ve written Times of Israel blog posts questioning the occupation was left out.
The fact that Lou has volunteered as a peace activist to watch over Palestinians being menaced by settlers in the same West Bank area where I produced a documentary giving Palestinians a voice were omitted.
Judith and I felt that the article’s binary set-up depicted us as conservative Zionists. I wasn’t surprised by this, as one of the phrases that Ms. Goldberg read back to me, and agreed to cut, was that our move to Israel was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
In fact, we did not settle in Tel Aviv to follow in the footsteps of Golda Meir, who grew up in Wisconsin where both of our children were born. Read my first Times of Israel post, written in 2019. There you’ll find our reasons spelled out. There is no paean to Zionism.
In short, we are not so far away from our daughter in seeing Israel’s flaws. And we are all devastated by the war.
What differentiates us from Louisa with regard to the conflict is that she is certain there is only one answer to ending the crisis. Judith and I are not. We question what comes after Loui’s permanent truce when our enemy aims to murder us and destroy the state of Israel. Jake and Tamar, Lou’s contemporaries, feel as we do.
A while back, Loui gave me a book, Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections and Saving America by Ian Haney Lopez, a professor of law at UC-Berkeley. In it, Lopez devotes considerable attention to the right’s use of dog-whistle words to whip up others in their camp. Donald Trump is a master at this.
I spoke about the book with Ms. Goldberg, pointing out that when our beloved daughter stands with people who chant “From the river to the sea,” she is finding common cause with those who are employing one of the most pernicious dog-whistle phrases in use today. When she uses the phrase herself, I see red. No part of that exchange made it into the article.
On a lighter note, Lou wrote that my recent video about our respective cats offers a “very accurate representation of their dynamic and the larger geopolitical context.”
The gold standard of the media world is organizations that revere the plodding work of fact-checking. The New York Times is a member of this illustrious club. That said, the Times, AP, the Economist, and Wall Street Journal, among others, are not perfect, as readers will attest. Their reporters and editors have blind spots, harbor biases. (See the BBC, as of late.)
In a follow-up email, after her article was published, Ms. Goldberg wrote that she learned a lot during our chats. As for me, her desire to get things right and leave her interviewees feeling heard and respected demonstrated what it meant to be a professional and a mensch.
My reservations aside about what made it into print, I say long may Ms. Goldman and others like her carry on their worthy work, helping the world find the light in the fog.