The New York Times is in panic mode. A front-page article by Jerusalem reporter Isabel Kershner (Dec. 30) began with an expression of trepidation that Israel’s “right-wing and religiously conservative government,” led by newly elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “will undermine the country’s liberal democracy.”
How so? By ensuring “increased tensions with Palestinians,” “undermining” judicial independence, and “the rolling back of protections for the L.G.B.T.Q. community” and “other” (unidentified) “sectors of society.”
But for Kershner it gets even worse. The Netanyahu governing coalition has “declared the Jewish people’s exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel,” including biblical Judea and Samaria (until the Six-Day War identified as Jordan’s “West Bank”). It has also “pledged to bolster Jewish settlement in the West Bank,” which would undercut the “recognized formula for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.” In translation, Israel would reclaim its biblical heritage.
Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, Kershner writes, might “complicate” Israeli-American relations. Although President Biden proclaimed his eagerness to work with Netanyahu (“my friend for decades”), he reiterated American support for “the two state solution” that the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas (now beginning the 18th year of his four-year term) have repeatedly rejected.
Moving closer to enduring Times concerns, evident even before the birth of Israel lest a Jewish state compromise the loyalty of American Jews to the United States, Kershner focuses on the discomfort of Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs. Netanyahu’s policies, he fears, “are meant to push us away.” As Kershner notes, “hundreds” of American rabbis “have signed an open letter protesting the government proposals.” But the likelihood of Reform Jews, long the least supportive of Israel among religiously identified American Jews, impacting Israeli politics is virtually nil.
Netanyahu’s coalition platform, Kershner writes with evident displeasure, focuses on “promoting Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.” The result would be “further entrenching Jewish settlement in the heart of the land that Palestinians have envisioned as their state.”
Palestinians are, of course, free to “envision” whatever they wish. But the location of that “state” happens to be biblical Judea and Samaria, a reality of history that Kershner does not recognize. No matter how fervently the New York Times wishes, it is unlikely that a Jewish state would relinquish its ancient homeland to Palestinians, not even to satisfy Times publishers, columnists and reporters.
Kershner adds “many Palestinians” to her lengthy list of critics of the new Israeli government. According to the Palestinian ambassador to Britain, Israel’s “annexation agenda of Jewish supremacy is now very blunt and clear.” (No other Palestinians are mentioned.) But, Kershner notes, “an ultra-conservative anti-gay minister” has been granted “wide powers” over “some” public school programs, while ultra-Orthodox parties in Netanyahu’s coalition “have secured copious funding” for adults “who choose full-time study over work.” A shanda, a disgrace.
Kershner concludes her list of complaints and criticism by quoting a former United States ambassador to Israel. He expresses concern that the newly elected government is “unlike anything we have seen before,” with “issues of national and Jewish identity, religion and state and democracy unlike any previous Israeli right-wing government.”
Times discomfort with Zionism, Israel and its right-wing prime ministers is hardly new. For decades a parade of Jerusalem bureau chiefs and columnists, beginning—and continuing—with Thomas Friedman, have unceasingly criticized Israel for occupying “Palestinian” land (biblical Judea and Samaria).
Benjamin Netanyahu has become a favorite target. Ironically, Times editors welcomed him as Israel’s new prime minister in 1996, praising him for “sensibly reaching for the center in Israeli politics” and “minimizing the role of hawkish ideologues and religious fundamentalists.” But times change and so does the Times.
By far Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu must be doing something right—pleasing Israeli voters if not New York Times editors, columnists and reporters.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of 12 books, including Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Best Book for 2019.