The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief David M. Halbfinger seems startled by the “extraordinary four-year stretch” in the relationship between the United States and Israel. “Political Presents” from U.S. President Donald Trump to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the headline (Nov. 22) reads, “Kept Coming.” Prompted by the president’s decision to allow American spy Jonathan Pollard to complete his parole, leaving him free to relocate to the Jewish state, Halbfinger cites Trump’s “lavish” treatment of Netanyahu in his summary of the president’s generosity.
Among the “noteworthy gifts” that Trump has bestowed on Netanyahu—indeed, on Israel—are recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and Jerusalem as Israel’s capital with the relocation of the U.S. embassy there. The recent decision by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, changing passport rules to permit Americans born in Jerusalem to identify Israel, rather than Jerusalem, as their birthplace, as they had previously been required to do, affirms the reality that Jerusalem is, as it was millennia ago, the capital of Israel.
Were that not enough of all the bad things (implied by Halbfinger) that Trump has done for Netanyahu, his administration eliminated funding to UNRWA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency that has provided generous subsidies to 5 million Palestinian “refugees” displaced from their homes in 1948 when Arab nations invaded the fledgling Jewish state intending destroying it. Unmentioned by Halbfinger is the fact that among those 5 million UNRWA beneficiaries, only some 30,000 are genuine refugees whose number must inevitably decline. The others are descendants of refugees whose number is guaranteed to increase over time. UNRWA is, in a word, a scam—and Halbfinger seems oblivious to it.
There is more to Halbfinger’s documentation of imagined Trump administration malfeasance. As an example of “Israel’s designs on land that the Palestinians want for a future state,” he cites U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s endorsement of Israeli annexation of “West Bank territory.” (Halbfinger needs a reminder of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s memorable statement: “You cannot annex your own country.”) Friedman even urged the substitution of “Judea and Samaria” for the “West Bank” (the bygone name for Jordan’s land claim until the Six-Day War).
Halbfinger cites Pompeo’s use of “Judea and Samaria,” implicitly rescinding a 40-year-old U.S. State Department memo claiming that settlements were inconsistent with international law. Last month, Halbfinger notes, Friedman and Netanyahu gave permission for American government grants to Israeli research institutions in “occupied territory.” The only such institution is Ariel University, which Halbfinger pointedly notes is funded by Sheldon Adelson, “the casino billionaire who is a backer of both Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu,” as if that undermines the integrity of the gift.
Halbfinger also notes that Pompeo, who recently visited a settlement near Ramallah, became the first secretary of state to do so. New U.S. guidelines require that products made in areas controlled by Israel be labeled “Made in Israel,” the better to reach American “consumers.” Pompeo has also urged a policy of “maximum pressure” towards Iran, asserting demands “that could have been drafted by Mr. Netanyahu,” as if that would undermine their legitimacy. “With the Trump administration’s encouragement,” Halbfinger writes, Israel is even “making common cause with Saudi Arabia, the Emiratis and other Gulf states against Iran.” Shouldn’t that be celebrated, even by The New York Times?
Halbfinger’s litany of criticism for anything of benefit to Israel seems endless. It includes Trump’s order to kill Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Quds Force and “one of Israel’s most feared adversaries.” That signified “a joint American-Israeli strategy” for “short-of-war secret strikes against Iran.” Halbfinger notes that “the Trump administration has repeatedly stood by Israel in its diplomatic fights.” Would he prefer that the Trump administration support Israel’s enemies?
Concluding his indictment, Halbfinger notes that “the Trump administration has increasingly equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism,” as if there was no obvious and odious connection between them. Their linkage prompted Pompeo to announce that the BDS movement that targets Israel “would be deemed anti-Semitic.” That seems problematic for the Times, although it is the newspaper’s bias against Israel and its alliance with the United States that seems to be the problem.
It is not without significance that the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chiefs who have been most critical of Israel, dating from Thomas L. Friedman’s posting in 1984, have been Jews, among them Deborah Sontag, Clyde Haberman, Jodi Rudoren, and now, Halbfinger. They have, unknowingly, followed in the footsteps of Joseph M. Levy, hired by the Times in 1928 as its Palestine correspondent, who became the conduit for anti-Zionist critics to voice their opinions in the Times opinion columns.
The Times cannot acknowledge that the American president who has provided the most support and protection for Israel since Harry Truman recognized the Jewish state moments after its birth, is Donald Trump. Its conversion of blessings into curses is hardly a model of responsible journalism.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016,” which was recently selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a “Best Book” for 2019.