OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Nicholas Kristof, ‘The New York Times’ and Israel

Writing about the region (mercifully rarely), it is unclear whether bias or ignorance guides his conclusions.

Rockets are launched towards Israel, as seen from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 14, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Rockets are launched towards Israel, as seen from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 14, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Jerold S. Auerbach
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of 12 books, including Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel (1896-2016) and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a “Best Book for 2019.”

The closer that Israel comes to the destruction of Hamas’s rocket attack capacity, the more intensely it is pressured to halt the protection of it citizens. President Joe Biden, not known for his resistance to pressure from left-wing anti-Israel Democrats—with Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) leading the way—demanded (May 19) that Israel stop its fire “within a day.” He has yet to issue that ultimatum to Hamas.

Predictably, The New York Times has joined the chorus of disapproval of Israel. To be sure, that is hardly news. Its hostility to Zionism before there was a Jewish state, evasion of Holocaust horrors (because Jews were the primary victims) and relentless criticism of Israel for its perceived malfeasance by refusing to yield to Palestinian demands for its obliteration have been meticulously documented.

A current example—one among several that have recently punctuated Times “coverage” of the violent attacks launched against Israel by Hamas—came (May 20) from columnist Nicholas Kristof, not known for his comprehension of the Middle East or empathy for Israel. He begins, predictably, by noting that (unnamed) “experts” agree that “both Hamas and Israel are engaging in crimes of war.”

Oblivious to the obvious distinction between Hamas attackers and Israeli responders, Kristof suggests that if “we deplore Hamas’s shelling of Israel, shouldn’t we also demand that [Israeli] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu … stop bombings that kill far greater numbers of innocents?” The simple answer, of course, is no.

Responding to attacks must be distinguished from the initiation of attacks. Hamas, not Israel, bears responsibility for the deaths of Gaza residents.

Kristof’s presidential exemplar is Barak Obama for proclaiming “the deep bonds of friendship” between the United States and Israel. He ignores the reality that Obama was the least friendly American president towards Israel since its proclamation of independence in 1948.

After these warm-up exercises, Kristof turns his attention to Netanyahu, for whom his dislike is evident. He blames the prime minister for using “American cover to expand settlements and pretty much destroy any hope of a two-state solution.” Oblivious to history, Kristof ignores the concessions of land for peace made by Israeli prime ministers during the 1990s that PLO head Yasser Arafat rejected.

Kristof wonders: “Why should our tax dollars subsidize a rain of destruction that has killed scores of children, damaged 17 hospitals and clinics and forced 72,000 people to flee their homes?” The answer, of course, is because Hamas—surely aware of the benefit it derives in world opinion for Palestinian suffering—has embedded its weapons and launched its attacks from civilian neighborhoods, assuring the death of its own people for the reward of a blameworthy Israel.

Kristof might consult the Hamas covenant claiming that “the Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day.” Since “the Zionist invasion is a vicious intrusion … using all evil and contemptible ways to achieve its end,” the struggle against Israel is obligatory. Indeed, “Leaving the circle of struggle with Zionism is high treason, and cursed be he who does that.” Palestine, after all, is “an Islamic land.”

Kristof claims that “many of us admire a great deal about Israel.” After all, “it has a robust democracy that gives more rights to Arab citizens than its neighbors do.” But his focus is on “the other Israel that systematically discriminates against Palestinians in the occupied territories”—land known in Jewish history as biblical Judea and Samaria. How Israel can “occupy” its own historic homeland is beyond Kristof’s comprehension.

Yet for Kristof, “the rise of this hawkish, more extremist Israel” is, understandably perceived by “some young Americans” (and surely by Kristof himself) as “an oppressive military power” that commits “crimes of apartheid.” He insists that “it’s not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel for possible war crimes.” Writing about Israel (mercifully rarely), it is unclear whether bias or ignorance guides his conclusions.

America, Kristof writes, should aspire to have allies “with a higher moral standard than ‘better than Hamas.’ ” He praises Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) “for showing leadership in Congress by standing up to Netanyahu.” But Sanders’s “standup,” as his recent Times column revealed, locates Israel among “similar authoritarian nationalist movements” that “exploit ethnic and racial hatreds in order to build power for a corrupt few.”

With friends like Bernie Sanders—and Nicholas Kristof—Israel hardly needs enemies. But their ignorance about the Jewish state, mixed with their mindless criticism, suggests that they are their own worst enemies.

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author ofHebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel” and “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.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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