The New York Times had a problem with Zionism 20 years before the State of Israel existed. It began in 1928 with the hiring of Joseph W. Levy as a foreign correspondent based in Jerusalem. One year later, murderous Arab riots leading to the slaughter of Jews in Hebron and Jerusalem prompted Levy—for reasons unknown—to become an anti-Zionist partisan. Before long, the Times followed his lead.
In 1935, Arthur Hays Sulzberger became publisher, launching the enduring family dynasty. A Reform Jew, he worried lest Zionism raise doubts about the loyalty of American Jews. The very idea of a Jewish state was anathema, and its reality was (and remains) problematic for the Times. It took nearly 50 years before Sulzberger would permit a Jew—Thomas L. Friedman—to report from Israel.
Friedman was a perfect choice. As an undergraduate at Brandeis University, he joined Breira, a left-wing Jewish advocacy group that favored a two-state solution along pre-1967 lines; that is, before Israel won the Six-Day War and returned to its ancient biblical homeland in Judea and Samaria (previously Jordan’s West Bank). In his years working as Jerusalem bureau chief (1984-89) and ever since as a columnist, Friedman has relentlessly focused on Israel’s moral flaws as a conqueror of “Palestinian” land.
For Friedman, settlements are the bane of Israel’s existence—“a cancer for the Jewish people” that “threatens the entire Zionist enterprise.” Even more menacing, its “colonial occupation” and “insane land grab” might provoke a war launched by Islam against the West. (It has yet to happen.) Friedman preposterously bracketed Israeli settlement expansion with Palestinian suicide bombings. He favored “a single bi-national state from the Jordan [river] to the sea,” effectively eradicating Israel as a Jewish state.
For decades, the Times narrative of Israeli malfeasance and Palestinian victimization has been unrelenting. Times editors—long convinced that settlements undermine Israeli democracy—criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “aggressive settlement-building.” Settlements were blamed for the absence of peace, which had been non-existent before the first settlement was built.
Why, in 2022, should this history matter? Primarily because the Times found another highly qualified critic of Israel to preserve continuity with his predecessors. Current Jerusalem Bureau Chief Patrick Kingsley is so preoccupied with Israel’s “occupied” territory—biblical Judea and Samaria—that he seems incapable of writing an article without its inclusion and repetition.
Within the past week, his obsession boiled over. Writing about the recent eruption of Palestinian violence on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the ancient Jewish temples were located millennia before Muslims appeared to claim the site, Kingsley’s opening paragraph (April 16) referred to “the occupied West Bank.” Two paragraphs later, he repeated himself. But he could not restrain himself. He noted that violence had “escalated … in the occupied West Bank,” shortly after Arab terrorists had murdered 14 civilians in Israeli cities. In response, the Israeli military was “prompted to step up raids in the occupied West Bank.” Near the end of his occupation preoccupation, he referred to “rising tensions across Israel and the occupied territories.”
Kingsley’s obsession—perhaps a Times requirement for coverage of Israel—spilled over into an adjacent article by Jerusalem reporter Isabel Kirshner. Writing about a Palestinian tattoo artist in Jerusalem, she segued to “Israeli counterterror operations in the occupied West Bank.” Then she reminded readers that “much of the world” considers Old City Jerusalem to be “occupied.” No worldwide poll was cited.
Two days later, Kingsley, writing about “an unusually deadly wave of Arab attacks that killed fourteen people” (unidentified as Jews), noted “the ensuing Israeli crackdown” in (where else?) “the occupied West Bank.” As for Jerusalem’s Old City, “captured and later annexed” by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, “much of the world still considers it occupied.” No supporting evidence was provided, largely because there is none.
With his “occupation” obsession, Kingsley echoes nearly a century of New York Times anti-Zionism and anti-Israel coverage. If, as is said, the past is prologue, then Israel will continue to be lacerated by Times columnists and Jerusalem bureau chiefs—many of whom are Jews. They remain clueless about its history in its promised, not occupied, land.
In the Times, coverage of Israel is most likely to remain criticism of Israel.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of 12 books, including “Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel (1896-2016).”