Jacob's Voice

Exposing The New York Times’ Top Man in Gaza

New York Times readers have reason to wonder how Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, its primary Gaza war reporter, has gained access to the Palestinian civilians whose tragic plight she has so incessantly recorded. Ms. Rudoren has acknowledged that she cannot speak Arabic, which inevitably raises questions about her access to the sources she cites.

The answers are entwined in the identity of the Times’ primary Gaza journalist, who only recently shared a by-line. Until then he was invariably described as having “contributed reporting” from Gaza. He is Fares Akram, described by Rudoren as “brave, committed, talented … indefatigable.” He may be all of these, but there is more to his story, and to Times coverage, than that. Indeed, living in north Gaza City, Akram’s life among Gazans, within the framework of his own family history in Gaza, have decisively molded – and distorted – Times coverage.

Akram is the grandson of Fares al-Ghoul, a Palestinian refugee from Ashkelon in 1948, whose son Akrem (Fares’s father), became a lawyer and judge employed by the Palestinian Authority. Fares Akram’s 48-year-old father was killed on his farm near the northern Gaza border during an Israeli air strike at the beginning of the 2009 Gaza war, launched to destroy Hamas rocket sites that were firing missiles into Israel.

His father, Fares Akram wrote mournfully five years ago, “hated what Hamas was doing to Gaza’s legal system, introducing Islamist justice, and he completely opposed violence.” Had he lived, “he would have worked hard for a just settlement with Israel and a better future for Palestinians.” But as “a grieving son,” Fares wrote, “I am finding it hard to distinguish between what the Israelis call terrorists and the Israeli pilots and tank crews who are invading Gaza.” He asked: “What is the difference between the pilot who blew my father to pieces and the militant who fires a small rocket?” The difference  was – and remains – that Hamas launched war against Israel. The distinction between attacker and responder still eludes Fares Akram.

His own political identity was expressed, and likely deepened, by his work as a research consultant, which began in 2007, with Human Rights Watch. He contributed to its sharp indictments of Israel for alleged war crimes during the Gaza war that resulted in his father’s death. His relationship with the organization continues. But Human Rights Watch is hardly a neutral observer or reporter. Financially sustained by the George Soros Open Society Foundation (Soros gained notoriety a decade ago for blaming anti-Semitism on Israel and the United States), it was sharply criticized for its delegitimization of Israel during Operation Cast Lead. Then as now, Israel was pilloried for retaliating against Hamas attacks from behind civilian shields.

The Times is not Akram’s only journalistic employer; he also reports for Al Jazeera. As Richard Behar wrote in his comprehensive Forbes article on “The Media Intifada” against Israel (August 21), Akram’s recent writings “show a stark blood-soaked landscape of burned Palestinian corpses and suffering Palestinian civilians – with not a single Hamas fighter to be found.” Reporting the devastation in Shujayea, with its intricate web of Hamas tunnels and underground command centers, Akram refrained from assigning any responsibility to the Gaza terrorists who instigated and perpetuate the current carnage from their concealed hiding places.

The problem, Akram revealed in a Times interview (August 6), is that “the story of Gaza is my story too.” He believes that he can set aside his own feelings “when necessary to maintain my fairness and rigor as a reporter.” But he acknowledges that “because of security concerns,” Hamas officials have “disappeared,” remaining unavailable “to respond to questions about whether their tactics are appropriate, effective or enjoy popular support.” Furthermore, Hamas militants “are Israel’s declared targets, so trying to get close to them endangers us.” To stay alive, he must keep his distance, focused exclusively on the plight of Gaza civilians amid Israeli responses to Hamas aggression. That is the only narrative its leaders permit.

The Times evidently believes that “all the news that’s fit to print” about Gaza can be provided by a partisan Gazan stringer who is handcuffed by Hamas. Akram’s tendentious lamentations should encourage reconsideration of its heavy reliance upon his reporting. It is otherwise impossible to understand why the death toll among Gazans (now just over 2000, including many hundreds of Hamas fighters) is endlessly reiterated in the Times while the mounting civilian death toll in Syria, approaching 200,000, is virtually ignored.

Postscript: On August 23, one week after the Times published a front-page interview with a Holocaust hero who now lacerates Israel for its racism at home and war crimes in Gaza, it printed a half-page ad signed by scores of Holocaust survivors and descendants. Expressing alarm at “the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society” and “the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people” in Gaza, they advocated “the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.”

In a twist of historical irony to which they were evidently oblivious the signers selected the most appropriate forum for their appalling anti-Zionist jeremiad. Had The New York Times not buried the Holocaust in its inner pages, whenever it even deigned to notice the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews, many victims whose memory these morally obtuse relatives claim to honor might have found safe refuge  in the nascent State of Israel that their misguided descendants now calumny so viciously.

Scanning the names of signers I felt a stab of shame by association to discover an Auerbach among them. Thankfully, there is no known family connection with this betrayer of his people and desecrator of our shared family name.

All the News That’s Fit to Castigate Israel

Jewish Press (August 13, 2014)

Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who succeeded his father-in-law Adolph S. Ochs as publisher of The New York Times in 1935, embraced Ochs’s determination that the Times would never appear to be a “Jewish newspaper.” It would publish “all the news that’s fit to print.” A month before Israel declared independence Sulzberger lamented: “JEW is to be the common denominator for everything we do. God help us!”

The Times remains faithful to Ochs-Sulzberger dogma. The unrelenting Hamas missile assault against Israel, punctuated by deadly tunnel invasions of Israeli territory, provoked a fierce – and eminently justified – Israeli air and ground response. It also triggered the repetitive Times story line of moral equivalency that equates Israeli retaliation with Hamas provocation.

The Gaza war afforded the Times a perfect opportunity to highlight Palestinian suffering from Israeli responses to Hamas assaults. The benefit to Hamas from using human shields to protect its command centers and rocket storage sites was evident: Israel would be blamed. As Prime Minister Netanyahu declared: “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using civilians to protect their missiles.” The Times carefully ignored that distinction.

Israel received little credit for warning Gaza civilians to evacuate neighborhoods where Hamas fighters sought refuge and rocket launchers were stored, often adjacent to – or inside – hospitals, mosques and schools. While a bevy of Times journalists reported from Gaza not one was posted in Sderot or kibbutzim in southern Israel, the constant target of Hamas rockets long before the current attacks began.

Neither combatant, the Times inaccurately reported (7/14), was prepared to “signal interest in international appeals for a cease-fire as they continued their barrages.”

In fact, Israel accepted the Egyptian cease-fire proposal that Hamas instantly rejected. Times reporter Anne Barnard reported (7/15) that Israel was to blame (so her Palestinian sources asserted) for its continued “occupation” of Gaza – which, Barnard failed to note, ended nearly a decade ago.

Times columnist Nicholas Kristof demonstrated his mastery of moral equivalency. It is “hard-liners on each side,” he wrote (7/16), “who are driving events.” To be sure, he conceded to Israel “a right to respond” to Gaza rockets – but only “with some proportionality” that he did not demand from Hamas, which launched rocket attacks unprovoked by anything other than Israel’s existence. Only a “minimalist response” from Israel to Hamas rocket attacks could end the conflict. He imposed no such constraints on Hamas.

The Times became so transfixed by Gaza suffering that even its photographers became partisan journalists. Tyler Hicks’s self-proclaimed responsibility “to document… the news” expanded to include editorial commentary. After photographing the tragedy of four young boys killed by an Israeli missile, he wrote (7/17): “Children, maybe four feet tall, dressed in summer clothes … don’t fit the description of Hamas fighters.”

The Times refrained from exploring in any depth the location of Hamas missiles in civilian neighborhoods, in or near schools, hospitals and mosques, the better to trigger wrath against Israel for the civilian casualties that inevitably resulted from its retaliatory strikes. Indeed, it was revealed that United Nations Relief and Works Administration representatives discovered rockets stored in a Gaza school, only to turn them over to Hamas.

After enduring nearly two weeks of constant rocket assaults, the Israel Defense Forces spotted armed Hamas terrorists exiting a tunnel inside Israel to attack a nearby kibbutz. Israel then launched a ground assault into Gaza to destroy the tunnels. The Times response, co-written by Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren (7/18), predictably focused on the toll exacted on Palestinian civilians by Israeli retaliation for the Hamas invasion. Hamas responsibility for the suffering of its own people was ignored.

In a Times opinion column (7/17) Nathan Thrall claimed that Israel’s refusal to ease its “suffocating border closures” in Gaza, and its attempts to isolate the Hamas government internationally, forced Hamas into “seeking through violence” what it could not obtain otherwise. Two days later the lead Times editorial approvingly cited Thrall’s blame-Israel approach. Conceding that Israel could not be expected to tolerate bombardment, for which “Hamas leaders deserve condemnation,” it nonetheless emphasized that “innocent Palestinians are being killed and brutalized” – largely, to be sure, because Hamas aggression exposed them to danger. But military action, it advised, “is not a long-term solution.” Jodi Rudoren, evidently enthralled by Thrall, insisted that it was “somewhat dangerous” for Netanyahu to emphasize demilitarization of Hamas as the Israeli objective.

The Times continued to provide variations on the theme of moral equivalency. Asking “Who’s Right and Wrong in the Middle East,” Nicholas Kristof (7/20) began with “Israeli troops again invading Gaza” before moving to “cross-demonization” by “two peoples who each have plenty of right.” In the end, for Kristof, it is “a conflict between right and right.” Rejecting “equivalence,” he prefers “symmetry” – between Hamas terrorism and Israeli democracy.

In an opinion column (7/31) Timothy Egan blamed “extremists on both sides” for the war Hamas initiated. The Israeli response, not Hamas aggression, remained the centerpiece of moral equivalency in Times reporting, commentary and editorializing – and the difficulty a reader might encounter trying to distinguish one from the other.

As the Gaza war reached a crescendo of violence, moral equivalency shaded inexorably into palpable anti-Israel bias. In one lead story (7/21), Anne Barnard and Isabel Kershner skimmed quickly past the tunnels that transported Hamas fighters into Israeli territory in search of civilian and military targets. Barnard wrote poignantly about the plight of Gaza civilians without mentioning Hamas responsibility for launching the rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel that caused their hardship.

With the increasingly heavy toll of Hamas aggression on Gazans, civilian suffering – but not the Hamas rockets and terror tunnels that provoked it – became the virtually exclusive focus of Times coverage. It focused on the morgue in Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, not the Hamas command center below where its leaders took refuge. Its endlessly reiterated update on Gaza “civilian” deaths, provided by UNRWA, did not disclose how many were combatant-age males.

The Times’s barrage against Israel was encapsulated in an opinion essay by Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer (7/22). He succinctly described Gaza, where “nowhere is safe. Not a mosque. Not a church. Not a school, or even a hospital.” He did not say why: because Hamas rocket attacks from those locations provoked and sustained the conflict. Mentioning damaged and destroyed homes, he noted the impossibility of rebuilding because cement is “severely rationed” by Israel, which “suspects” that it is used to build tunnels for Hamas attacks. Only “suspects”?

Rudoren finally reported from Sderot (7/22), one mile west of Gaza, whose residents have been targeted by rockets ever since the total Israeli withdrawal nearly a decade ago. There she discovered Koby Hill, where middle-aged men (occasionally joined by women and children), seated on a sofa and beach chairs, contentedly munched watermelon and cheered the spectacle of the Israeli rocket “show.” (To be fair, that was a journalistic improvement over the CNN reporter whose Twitter post described the hilltop Israeli spectators as “scum.”)

Defending its Gaza coverage, Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy responded to a sharp critique in The New York Observer (which I authored) by asserting that it “was written by someone with a particular point of view on the subject of Israel” – as though the Times itself has none. She airily dismissed critics “because they’re not interested in fair reporting” – disregarding the palpably slanted reporting in the Times.

Ms. Murphy ignored the glaring reality, documented by Noah Pollak in The Weekly Standard, that Times coverage all but ignored pictures of Hamas fighters, tunnels, rockets, and human shields. Virtually its only photos exposed the civilian casualties caused by Israeli retaliation for Hamas attacks. These are “balanced” by photos of Israeli tanks and soldiers. It is not difficult to discern who, according to the Times,are the aggressors.

Even its front-page headline “Israel Says Hamas is Using Civilians as Shields” (7/24) implied doubt about what could not be more obvious. Although Israel “says” so, Barnard and Rudoren wrote: “Nothing is ever so clear in the complex and often brutal calculus of urban warfare.” The Times reporters claimed “There is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack — the legal definition of a human shield under international law.” False. The Geneva Conventions assert: “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.”

“At the root of the dueling allegations,” they wrote, “are the two sides’ very different views.” The retreat to moral equivalency was blatant. It ignored the reality that justified the Israeli bombing of Al-Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which housed a Hamas military command-and-control center and access shafts to its tunnel network. The Israeli attack triggered damaging secondary explosions, suggesting a substantial arms cache beneath the hospital.

The death of Sergeant Max Steinberg, the Golani Brigade “lone soldier” who made aliyah from Los Angeles and was killed in battle fighting for his adopted homeland, reverberated throughout Israel, and in media outlets worldwide. In a remarkable outpouring of sorrow and respect, 30,000 Israelis attended his funeral at the Har Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem. The Times, however, mentioned his name (7/24) only in the caption of a photograph taken far from the burial site showing nothing more than two dozen spectators and an Israeli flag. Given the Sulzberger legacy,an American Jew fighting and dying for Israel could only arouse primal anxiety at the Times over allegations of divided loyalty.

It took three weeks of rocket attacks before Times coverage displayed any sign of moderating the paper’s prevailing narrative of blaming Israel for responding to Hamas aggression. There was a discernible shift in its coverage (7/25) of terrible explosions at a UN school killing 16 Gaza civilians who had gathered there for safety. The page 1 story by Ben Hubbard, its young Cairo-based reporter, was distinctive for its refusal to fault Israel, noting “the source of the blasts was unclear.” Even the lead Times editorial conceded that Israel “has reason” to respond with “strong military action” against rocket attacks while Hamas deserved “the strongest possible condemnation” for locating weapons in densely populated areas.

But the Times quickly recovered its equilibrium. Editorial board member Serge Schmemann, hewing to Times dogma, proposed (7/27) the creation of “two separate states” as the “only solution,”with the United States as “the only viable mediator.” Rudoren, who had returned to Jerusalem, glibly described her underground tunnel “tour” as “part of the propaganda push” conducted by the IDF (7/29).

Only displaced Gaza civilian victims of Hamas warfare were deemed worthy of Times attention. Nearly four weeks into the fighting the Times still ignored the mass exodus from border kibbutzim as thousands of Israelis fled Hamas rockets for safety elsewhere. Nor had it mentioned Hamas responsibility for the deaths of scores of Gaza children who had died in “workplace accidents” while building its tunnels. It also ignored the rocket fired from the parking lot of Al-Shifa hospital, a war crime reported by a Finnish TV journalist despite Hamas warnings of retribution for such revelations. The booby-trapped UNRWA clinic whose explosion killed three Israeli soldiers was not mentioned. Similarly, only near the end of a lengthy Page 1 article (8/3) did Times reporters refer to five mosques concealing Hamas weapons attacked by Israel.

Barely one hour into the cease-fire announced by Secretary of State Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on July 31, Hamas suicide fighters killed three Israeli soldiers including 2d Lt. Hadar Goldin, initially believed to have been kidnapped. President Obama and Secretary Kerry – but not the Times – denounced that “outrageous” cease-fire violation. Rudoren and Kershner merely noted that “neither side” is ready to end the conflict until its goals are met (8/2). Columnist Roger Cohen (8/3) preposterously blamed “the open-air prison of Gaza” on Israel’s “failing to reach out to Palestinian moderates and extending settlements in the West Bank.” After all, “millions of Palestinians are oppressed” under “Israeli domination.” About Hamas oppression and domination in Gaza he remained silent.

One month after Hamas launched its war against Israel the Times spearheaded the media chorus of denunciation of the Jewish state. Two lengthy front-page articles (8/4) were devoted to Israeli damage to Gaza civilian sites and harm to their inhabitants. Buried near the end of one came the brief, but hardly irrelevant, aside: “Israel said that 55 rockets were fired from Gaza” the day before. But that was not a story line the Times cared to pursue.

On the first day of the first August cease-fire, the Times ran a poignant article about a traumatized Gaza psychologist and lengthy wartime diary extracts by a Gaza writer. By then, however, even the pretense of moral equivalency had vanished. There was no mention of Israelis, traumatized by incoming rockets and underground tunnels, who had fled their homes for safety. No interviews with Israeli psychologists treating terrified children were included.

But two weeks earlier, in its Sunday Travel Section (7/20), readers were invited to participate in a forthcoming “Times Journey through “the geographical, cultural, historical and political landscapes of Israel and the West Bank.” Its leader was identified as a “featured expert” – none other than Hanan Ashwari, a member of the PLO Executive Committee. So much for Times objectivity.

No careful reader of the Times could be surprised by the anti-Israel tilt of its reporting and editorializing. The newspaper that buried the Holocaust on its inside pages, whose publisher resolutely opposed Jewish statehood, and whose editors, reporters, columnists and op-ed contributors routinely engage in Israel-bashing, undermines Adolph Ochs’s commitment to “all the news that’s fit to print.”

Its current translation means all the news that fits its unrelenting castigation of Israel.

The Algemeiner (August 6, 2014)

The Gaza ceasefire is prompting an array of assessments, in Israel and worldwide, of the costs and potential benefits to Hamas and the Jewish state from their month of bitter conflict. A quick glance at the morning-after New York Times (August 6), featuring reports by present and past Jerusalem bureau chiefs, provides an illuminating glimpse of its unrelenting message of moral equivalency.

During the month-long conflict Jodi Rudoren focused on the toll exacted from Palestinian civilians by Israeli retaliation for the Hamas rocket assault and tunnel invasion. She all but dismissed Hamas’s strategy of using Gazans as civilian shields, writing (with Anne Barnard): “Nothing is ever so clear in the complex and often brutal calculus of urban warfare.” Insisting that it was “somewhat dangerous” for Netanyahu to emphasize demilitarization of Hamas as the Israeli objective, she glibly described her underground tunnel “tour” as “part of the propaganda push” conducted by the IDF.

In her morning-after “Memo From Jerusalem,” Rudoren concluded that “open discourse and dissent appear to be among the casualties of the month long war in Gaza” – at least “according to stalwarts of … the Zionist left” with whom Rudoren is clearly aligned. Even Facebook users were defriended (gasp!) for posting photos of death and devastation in Gaza. Audience members at the Jerusalem Cinematheque were berated for standing for a moment of silence in memory of four Palestinian boys killed on a Gaza beach – but not for the scores of Israeli soldiers killed protecting their country from Hamas invasion.

Rudoren’s primary source of lamentation was Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, founder of the ultra-liberal Reform congregation Kol Haneshema. There, she noted (acknowledging her occasional attendance), the traditional Jewish prayer for peace had been modified to include a line from a Muslim prayer. In a statement of moral equivalence confirming Rudoren’s approach to the conflict, Rabbi Weiman-Kelman bemoaned the absence of “a nuanced position that recognizes the suffering on both sides.” But there is hardly nuance in the unrelenting war  that Hamas has waged ever since Israel departed from Gaza nearly a decade ago.

Lamenting the “war casualties” of “open discourse and dissent” in war-torn Israel, Rudoren nonetheless managed to cite examples of their survival: an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv; a Haaretz editorial warning against Israeli “McCarthyism”; the claim by leftist Naomi Chazan in that newspaper that “intolerance runs rampant”; and a Tel Aviv protester who freely asserted that Israeli media covered soldiers’ funerals but rarely showed videos from Gaza. That omission offset the daily deluge of Gaza civilian photos in the New York Times, which did not cover the funeral of Sgt. Max Steinberg, the “lone soldier” from the United States who was killed in battle.

A belated entry from Thomas Friedman, elsewhere during most of the Gaza war, appeared the same day. His focus on the decline and inevitable fall of immoral Israel dates back to his coverage of the first Lebanon war in 1982. Then, “boiling with anger” and determined too “nail Begin and Sharon,” he “buried” the Israeli commanding officer on page one and “along with him every illusion I ever held about the Jewish state.” As Jerusalem bureau chief between 1984-88, Friedman proudly claimed (erroneously) that he broke the “old unwritten rule” at the Times never permitting a Jew to report from Jerusalem. (He overlooked Joseph Levy, who was posted there between 1928-35 and provided criticism of Zionism no less incessant than Friedman’s.) One of Friedman’s valued Jerusalem mentors was liberal Orthodox Rabbi David Hartman who, like Rudoren’s Rabbi Weiman-Kelman, believed that “something had gone terribly wrong” in the Jewish state.

Friedman still reiterates his familiar litany of complaints about Israel. It was “not deterred by the prospect of substantial collateral civilian casualties” (because Hamas protected its leaders and rockets with civilian shields). Hamas scored “a huge victory” because it focused attention (really?) on Israel’s “reckless Jewish settlement project,”  which constitutes “colonial occupation.”  To stabilize Gaza, Friedman hallucinates, Israel must make “territorial concessions in the West Bank,” relinquishing the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. His Gaza tunnel inspired “awe” over the “craftsmanship” and “sheer dedication” required to build them. He barely noted the “apocalyptic jihadist agenda” that inspired them. In Gaza and Israel alike, according to his vision of moral equivalency, “the religious-nationalist forces have the real energy.”

From Friedman (indeed from Joseph Levy) to Rudoren and back, the more its Jerusalem reporters change the more things stay the same at The New York Times.

May His Memory be A Blessing

 Algemeiner (July 23, 2014)

There is no more touching – and revealing – story to emerge from the Gaza war than the life and death of Sergeant Max Steinberg, the American “lone soldier” who was killed fighting for the State of Israel, his adopted country. He made his decision for aliyah during a Birthright visit in 2012. At the Har Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem he found the grave of a soldier who had come from the United States to fight for the Jewish state. Inspired by his example, twenty-two year-old Steinberg left Los Angeles for Israel to become a sharpshooter in the elite Golani Brigade. Now he, too, is buried in the Har Herzl cemetery.

In a remarkable outpouring of sorrow and respect, 30,000 Israelis attended Max Steinberg’s funeral. Lest he be buried in solitude, without due honor for his heroism, they came to demonstrate their respect for someone they did not know who made the ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish State. In his eulogy, MK Dov Lipman (who also emigrated from the United States) recounted the words of Moses in last week’s Torah portion: “Will your brothers go to war while you remain here?” Max Steinberg knew the answer to that question.

At the memorial service in Los Angeles his father described Max as “a free spirit.” The pleasures of Los Angeles life – surfboarding, skateboarding and football – proved insufficient. He “fell in love” with Israel, a friend remembered, after his Birthright experience. “He wanted to get his life straight. He thought it would get him away from dangers here.” It did so, while exposing him to far greater dangers. His IDF unit was assigned  the destruction of Hamas’s underground maze of tunnels, its source of unrelenting missile and cross-border terrorist attacks against Israel.

In his final telephone conversation with his mother at 4 a.m. last Saturday morning he told her: “Mom, I’m not scared at all for me, I’m scared for you. I’m fine, I’m going back in.” A friend recalled Max’s enthusiasm for Israel: “He loved it. He loved the people. He loved his unit. He felt like he belonged.” Another friend posted on Facebook: “You are our hero, our inspiration, our savior. Thank you for protecting us.” As Knesset member Lipman told his parents at the funeral: “your son is a Jewish and Israeli hero.” Bidding farewell to Max Steinberg, he offered thanks on behalf of Israeli citizens and Jews worldwide, “for protecting our children, … our state, … the Jewish people, and …  for showing us that a regular American boy from California can raise himself to the level of Jewish and Israeli hero.”

The predictable counterpoint to expressions of sorrow and gratitude for Jewish heroism in the face of Hamas terror came from The New York Times. Its ongoing barrage against Israel was encapsulated in an Opinion essay by Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer (7/23). He succinctly described Gaza, where “nowhere is safe. Not a mosque. Not a church. Not a school, or even a hospital.” He did not indicate that Hamas rocket attacks on Israel provoked and sustain the conflict. Mentioning damaged and destroyed homes, he notes the impossibility of rebuilding - because cement is “severely rationed” by Israel, which “suspects” that it is used to build tunnels to facilitate Hamas attacks. Suspects?

On an inside page Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren reported from Sderot, one mile east of Gaza, whose residents have been targeted by rockets ever since the Israeli departure nearly a decade ago. There she discovered Koby Hill, where middle-aged men, comfortably seated on a sofa and beach chairs, contentedly munched watermelon and cheered the spectacle of the Israeli rocket “show.” To be fair to Rudoren, who is rarely fair to Israel, she did better than the CNN reporter who (in a Twitter post) recently described Koby Hill Israelis as “scum”.

In its coverage of the Gaza war the Times exemplifies moral equivalence at Israel’s expense. But Max Steinberg – the brave “Hayal Boded” (Lone Soldier) who sacrificed his life for his people and his adopted homeland – represents what Israel alone can provide: inspiration and courage to confront unrelenting enemies who seek to annihilate the Jewish State.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moral Equivalency in The New York Times

(NY Observer, July 23, 2014)

When Adolph S. Ochs purchased The New York Times in 1896 he pledged “intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.” He bolstered his commitment with a new motto for the newspaper, promising: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” But Ochs was also determined that the Times would never appear to be a “Jewish newspaper.” His pledges have competed for ascendancy ever since.

Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who succeeded his father-in-law as publisher in 1935, feared that Zionism would “exacerbate doubts about every Jew’s ultimate loyalty.” Editors were instructed not to refer to “the Jewish people” but to “the Jewish faith.” There was, he insisted, “no more reason to reconstitute the Jews as a nation than the Angles, the Celts or the Saxons.” A month before Israel declared independence Sulzberger lamented: “JEW is to be the common denominator for everything we do. God help us!”

The Times remains faithful to the Ochs-Sulzberger dogma. An unrelenting three-week Hamas missile assault against the Jewish State has recently been punctuated by tunnel invasions of Israeli territory, provoking a fierce Israeli air and ground response. But the Times has relentlessly pursued a story line of moral equivalency that equates Israeli retaliation with Hamas provocation.

Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren led the way. Initially preoccupied with the Israeli “crackdown” in its desperate search for the likely Hamas murderers of three hitchhiking Israeli teenagers, which “raised questions about the asymmetry of the Israeli Palestinian conflict,” Rudoren was oblivious to the asymmetrical bias in her own reporting. After all, she wrote (6/30), Palestinians “see the act of attending yeshiva in a West Bank settlement as provocation.” It was Palestinian suffering, not the horrific murder of innocent Jews, that offended her moral sensibility – and compromised her journalistic objectivity.

So it was that the ghastly retaliatory kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teen-ager provided the Times with a perfect opportunity for false moral equivalence. Times editors erroneously accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of “days of near silence” in response to the killing of the Palestinian boy. Even its printed “Correction” for that glaring misstatement failed to note that Netanyahu had labeled the murder “reprehensible” on the day it occurred. The noxious Times editorial also erroneously converted Netanyahu’s quotation from a poem denouncing vengeance and vigilantism into a statement of approval.(7/7) For that egregious error it offered no correction.

Three days later the Times lead Opinion column was entitled “A Palestinian Mother’s Fear in East Jerusalem.” Rula Salameh was understandably frightened by loud crashes and explosions outside her home: “We assumed these were rockets from Gaza.” Indeed they were. Rather than criticize, no less condemn, Hamas rocket attacks against civilian targets (including, ironically, Palestinian neighborhoods), she sadly pondered the fate of Gaza civilians who would “pay a heavy price for their leaders’ attempt to hit the Israeli seat of government” in Jerusalem.

Salameh recited the familiar litany that the Times finds so appealing that it cannot miss an opportunity to reiterate it in editorials, columns and news coverage: “The world must hold the Israeli government accountable for its actions,” most of all for “the entire occupation, whose violence and cruelty is the dark context for so much of what has happened over the past few weeks.”

But who will hold Hamas accountable for its actions, from kidnapping to murder to indiscriminate shelling of Israeli cities and towns? That question is of no interest – either to Rula Salemeh or, evidently, to The New York Times. It has yet to provide similar prominence for the expression of a Jewish mother’s fear as Hamas rockets explode nearby.

The Gaza war has provided the Times with a perfect opportunity, eagerly seized, to highlight Palestinian suffering. But Hamas cruelty to its own people is rarely noted. Recruits for martyrdom in the holy war against Israel are urged to gather on rooftops, instructed by their leaders to serve as human shields against Israeli retribution for two thousand rockets that have been fired into the Jewish state during the past weeks. Beneath the rooftops are Hamas command centers and tunnels, where leaders take refuge and weapons are stored and fired. The benefit to Hamas from Palestinian civilian deaths is evident: Israel will be blamed. That seems obvious to everyone but Times editors and reporters.

It is no small irony that the Times blames Israel for what is a source of pride to Hamas. Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, ignored by the Times, declared: “This attests to the character of our noble, Jihad-fighting people who defend their rights and their homes with their bare chests and their blood.” As Jeffrey Goldberg observed (Bloomberg, July 11), “Hamas is trying to get Israel to kill as many Palestinians as possible.” Prime Minister Netanyahu told Fox News: “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using civilians to protect their missiles.” The Times has carefully ignored that distinction.

Israel receives little credit for warning Gaza civilians to evacuate neighborhoods where Hamas fighters take refuge and rocket launchers are stored, often adjacent to – or inside - hospitals, mosques and schools. Reporting from Gaza City, Steven Erlanger and Isabel Kirshner interviewed fleeing Palestinians, gathered in a school building, who were eager to identify the current Hamas war against Israel as another Palestinian Nakba like the catastrophe of 1948 (when five Arab nations and Palestinian fighters waged a war to exterminate the fledgling Jewish state). No Times reporters were posted in Sderot in southern Israel, the constant target of Hamas rockets long before the current attacks began.

Neither combatant, reported the Times (7/14), was prepared to “signal interest in international appeals for a cease-fire as they continued their barrages.” In fact, Israel accepted the cease-fire that Hamas instantly rejected. Times reporter Anne Barnard reported (7/15) on Gaza families who are “financially and psychologically depleted” by the endless fighting. Israel is to blame, her Palestinian sources assert, for its continued “occupation” of Gaza – which ended nearly a decade ago.

Ms. Barnard devoted most of her article to the plight of a Palestinian woman whose family has been in flight whenever Hamas attacks Israel. But only Israeli “bombardments” and “assaults” receive attention. No reasons for the Israeli response – and it is always a response to Hamas attacks – are provided. Included, however, are the concluding words of praise from her Palestinian source for the “mujahedeen,” the holy warriors who “defend our people, ourselves, our land.”

The following evening Barnard joined three Arab men chatting under a date palm at a Gaza City café. “We have the right to defend ourselves against occupation,” one claimed. Another Gazan joined in the popular chant for Hamas rocket brigades: “Strike, strike Tel Aviv.” How this might play out in Tel Aviv went unrecorded. No Times journalist found it nearly as enticing a posting as Gaza City.

Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is the master of moral equivalency. His coverage of poverty, illness, and abuse in the underdeveloped world makes Gaza – like genocide in Darfur – a magnetic attraction. It is “hard-liners on each side,” he writes (7/16), “who are driving events.” To be sure, he concedes to Israel “a right to respond” to Gaza rockets – but only “with some proportionality” that he does not demand from Hamas.

Kristof hold Israel accountable for the current hostilities: after all, it “helped nurture Hamas.” Urging “a two-state peace agreement,” repeatedly rejected by Palestinians ever since 1937, his preferred model is Secretary of State Kerry’s recent “admirable” peace initiative, which failed dismally. But Israel must impose a “halt to settlements” (during the last decade Israel has abandoned more settlements than it has built); cooperate with moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (who recently decided to partner with Hamas); and strengthen business development in Gaza (although the rocket import and tunnel construction businesses have flourished). Only a “minimalist response” from Israel to unrelenting Hamas rocket attacks, defined by “tough-minded conciliation and restraint,” can end the conflict. He recommends no such constraints on Hamas.

The Times became so transfixed by Gaza suffering that even its photographer emerged as a partisan journalist. Tyler Hicks photographed the tragedy of four young boys killed by an Israeli missile (7/17). To Hicks, “children, maybe four feet tall, dressed in summer clothes … don’t fit the description of Hamas fighters.” His self-proclaimed responsibility – “to document … the news” – now seems to include editorial commentary. So it was that Hicks joined fellow Times staffers in blaming Israel for the unprovoked Hamas attack against it.

The Times has yet to explore in any depth the location of Hamas missiles in civilian neighborhoods, in or near schools, hospitals and mosques, the better to call down wrath upon Israel for the civilian casualties that inevitably result from its retaliatory strikes. (Indeed, it has been revealed – not by the Times – that the United Nations Relief and Works Administration discovered rockets stored in a Gaza school and, according to Israeli officials, turned them over to Hamas.) Where is the moral equivalency between providing shelters for civilians (Israel) and willfully using them as human shields (Hamas)?

After nearly two weeks of waves of rocket assaults, the Israel Defense Forces spotted armed Hamas terrorists exiting a tunnel inside Israel to attack a nearby kibbutz. Israel then launched a limited ground assault into Gaza to destroy the weapons sites. The Times response, co-written by Rudoren (7/18), predictably focused on the toll exacted on Palestinian civilians by Israeli retaliation. Conspicuously illustrating her account were mournful photos of Palestinians leaving their homes after Israeli tanks entered Gaza and injured Palestinian children being carried to a hospital. Hamas responsibility for the suffering of its people, except for a quote from Prime Minister Netanyahu, was ignored.

In a Times Opinion column (7/17) written just after the Israeli incursion into Gaza began, Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group claimed that the source of the current conflict was Israeli obstruction of the Palestinian consensus government, formed in early June, between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Israel’s refusal to ease its “suffering border closures” in Gaza, and its attempts to isolate the new government internationally, forced Hamas into “seeking through violence” what it could not obtain otherwise.

Two days later the lead Times editorial approvingly cited Thrall’s analysis. Conceding that Israel could not be expected to tolerate bombardment, for which “Hamas leaders deserve condemnation,” it emphasized that “innocent Palestinians are being killed and brutalized” – largely, to be sure, because Hamas aggression exposed them to danger. But military action, it advised, “is not a long-term solution.” Instead, Israel should pursue a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority – which now partners with Hamas.

In a nearby Opinion column entitled “Faith-Based Fanatics,” Timothy Egan equated “the rage that moved Hamas to lob rockets on birthday parties in Tel Aviv, and Israelis to kill children playing soccer on the beach in Gaza.” In a disgraceful display of moral equivalence he blamed “extremists on both sides” for what Hamas intended and Israel did not.

In its Sunday Review section (7/20) the Times provided further variations on that theme. Thomas Friedman, introducing a column on an entirely different subject, gratuitously bracketed “bad actors” – Hamas, Vladimir Putin and Israeli settlers – who are “trying to bury the future with the past and divide people.” Asking “Who’s Right and Wrong in the Middle East,” Nicholas Kristof began with “Israeli troops again invading Gaza,” moving to “cross-demonization” by “two peoples who each have plenty of right.”

Kristof, who demonstrates his startling lack of knowledge about Israel whenever he writes about it, preposterously assigned special blame to “the Israeli right” for undermining the (non-existent) peace process. Israeli settlements, which have absolutely nothing to do with the current conflict except for providing three innocent teen-agers who were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas agents, “are a gift to Palestinian extremism.” Kristof seems never to have learned that Palestinians have fought to destroy Israel since 1948, twenty years before the first settlement was built. In the end, for Kristof, it is “a conflict between right and right.” Rejecting “equivalence,” he prefers “symmetry” - between Hamas tyranny and Israeli democracy.

As the Gaza war reached a crescendo of violence on Sunday, the Times responded with its own surge of moral equivalency, shading inexorably into palpable anti-Israel bias. “Both Sides Engage in a Battle of Words,” headlined a report by Jodi Rudoren. But after a brief account of reciprocal insults in text messages and videos, she relied on “analysts” who conveniently turned out to be leftist Israeli writers David Grossman, Etgar Keret and Amos Elon, for whom Ha’aretz is the newest edition of the Hebrew Bible.

In its lead story Anne Barnard and Isabel Kershner skimmed quickly past the tunnels that transport Hamas fighters into Israeli territory in search of civilian and military targets. (The Times of Israel, not The New York Times, reported that 10 Hamas gunmen emerged from a tunnel opening inside a mosque.) Barnard wrote poignantly about the plight of Gaza civilians without mentioning Hamas responsibility for launching the rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel that are the cause of their hardship. The Israeli response, not the Hamas declaration of war, remains the centerpiece of moral equivalency in Times reporting, commentary and editorializing – and the difficulty a reader may encounter trying to distinguish one from the other.

Anyone with doubts about the veracity of Times coverage was invited in its Sunday Travel Section to participate in a “Times Journey through “the geographical, cultural, historical and political landscapes of Israel and the West Bank,” to be led by a “featured expert.” That will be none other than Hanan Ashwari, who happens to be a member of the PLO Executive Committee. How likely is it that she will identify “the West Bank” as Judea and Samaria, the ancient homeland of the Jewish people?

In its Page 1 sub-headline on July 22 the Times proclaimed: “World Seeks Cease-Fire.” How would it know; did it poll the world? And whose interests would be served by a cease-fire before Israel can destroy every Hamas tunnel? Surely not Israel’s.

Adolph Ochs and Arthur Hays Sulzberger would be pleased that unrelenting criticism of the Jewish state dominates all the news that’s fit to print. But entrenched moral equivalence at the Times has become indistinguishable from moral blindness. Its editors and journalists might want to glance at the Hamas Charter, whose Preamble reads: “Israel will exist … until Islam will obliterate it.”

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing Makes Hamas Happier Than Dead Palestinians

The Algemeiner (July 16, 2014)

Nothing plays better in the mainstream media these days than wailing Gazans, mourning their dead from Israeli missile strikes responding to the unprovoked deluge of Hamas rockets on the Jewish state. As Ben Wedeman (CNN) recently reported from Jabalia, “There is no Iron Dome in Gaza to protect civilians.” But Gaza civilians most need protection from Hamas. Its leaders intentionally jeopardize their lives by embedding rocket-launching and ammunition storage sites in schools, mosques and hospitals located in civilian neighborhoods.

In Gaza recruits for martyrdom in the holy war against Israel are urged to gather on rooftops. They are instructed by their demented leaders to serve as a human shield against Israeli retribution for thousands of rockets that have been fired into the Jewish state during the past week. The designated locations for martyrdom are not random. Beneath the rooftops are Hamas command centers and tunnels, where leaders take refuge and weapons are stored.

According to Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri: “This attests to the character of our noble, Jihad-fighting people who defend their rights and their homes with their bare chests and their blood.” He proudly cited the exemplary “martyr” Nizar Riyan, the senior Hamas leader during the 2009 Gaza war. Receiving a warning phone call from the IDF to evacuate his house, he chose to remain in place, thereby consigning his four wives, ten children and himself to martyrdom from the Israeli air strike that he knew was imminent.

Last Sunday, following rocket attacks on the Tel Aviv area, the IDF dropped leaflets in northern Gaza urging residents to evacuate their homes in advance of a retaliatory military strike to destroy embedded rocket launchers. After 4000 residents heeded the Israeli warning the Hamas Interior Ministry urged them to disregard “random messages to instill panic” and return “immediately” to their homes, the better to become human shields and gain world attention.

As Jeffrey Goldberg observed (Bloomberg, July 11), “Hamas is trying to get Israel to kill as many Palestinians as possible.” Why not? Dead Palestinians “represent a crucial propaganda victory” for an inhumane regime that has abjectly failed to provide its own people with even the most minimal amenities of civilized life: safety, food, employment, education, medical care. (It is an irony seldom noted that Gazans are still admitted for treatment in Israeli hospitals.)  But Hamas leaders do not hesitate to protect themselves. They take refuge in a vast web of underground tunnels and shelters reserved for their exclusive use.  Gaza civilians are expendable. Urged to become targets, their dead bodies are garishly paraded in public to stoke the Hamas cause.

As rockets fall on Israel the world grants Hamas immunity for its war crimes. Blaming the Jewish targets of Palestinian terrorism has long been a popular international trope. As the commissioner general of UNRWA, which invents Palestinian “refugees” by the millions to stay in business, recently declared: “I urgently call on the Israeli Security Forces to put an end to attacks against, or endangering, civilians … which are contrary to international humanitarian law.” About Hamas rockets targeting Israeli civilians he had nothing to say.

Palestinian suffering inflicted by cruel Israelis is the preferred worldwide narrative. Where better than Frankfurt, as a recent protest demonstrated, for Israel to be equated with Nazi Germany? With the cease-fire proposed by Egypt evidently crumbling, and Israeli retaliation for Hamas attacks resuming, the number of Palestinian martyrs is likely to increase. Nothing could make Hamas happier. Indeed, today’s death of four soccer-playing Palestinian boys in Gaza, struck by an Israeli missile, is certain to ratchet up rampage against Israeli retaliation for Hamas rockets.

Nobody summed up the situation more succinctly, and accurately, than Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who told Fox News: “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using civilians to protect their missiles.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How The New York Times Treats Jewish Victims

The Algemeiner (July 11, 2014)

The New York Times could hardly ignore the ghastly murder of innocent Jewish teenagers or the unrelenting Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. But count on the Times to find ways to deflect attention from Jewish victims and targets while evading the responsibility of zealous Hamas perpetrators and their ecstatic followers.

Two glaring examples during the past week are illustrative. On June 7 the lead Times editorial, entitled “Four Horrific Killings,” bracketed the unprovoked murder of three hitchhiking Israeli boys, most likely by Hamas militants, with the reprisal killing of a Palestinian teen-ager by “extreme right-wing” Jews. Fair enough. But its moral equivalence failed to distinguish between the initial murders and the response they triggered. Both were undeniably reprehensible, but surely there is a distinction to be drawn between provocation and retaliation.

The editorial devoted two full paragraphs to right-wing Israeli protesters who demanded revenge, blocked roads in Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs,” and posted hate-messages on Facebook. In one sentence, by contrast, it noted: “Palestinians have been fully guilty of hateful speech against Jews.” No examples of such speech – to say nothing of hateful actions - were provided, but moral equivalency was honored: “each side dehumanizes the other.” There was no indication that Palestinian terrorists are enthusiastically and publicly celebrated as heroes by the Palestinian Authority and its loyal followers.

Times editors erroneously accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of “days of near silence” in response to the murder of the Palestinian boy. Even its printed “Correction” for that misstatement failed to note that Netanyahu had labeled the killing “reprehensible” on the day it occurred. And, as Seth Mandel noted on his Commentary blog (July 10), the noxious Times editorial also erroneously converted Netanyahu’s quotation from a poem denouncing vengeance and vigilantism into a statement of approval. There was no correction.

Three days after the Times editorial its lead Opinion column was entitled “A Palestinian Mother’s Fear in East Jerusalem.” Rula Salameh was understandably frightened by loud crashes and explosions outside her home. “We assumed these were rockets from Gaza.” Indeed they were. Unwilling to seek safety in bomb shelters in nearby neighborhoods with predominantly Jewish populations, she stayed home with her son to ponder the fate of Gaza civilians who would “pay a heavy price for their leaders’ attempt to hit the Israeli seat of government.” She did not consider the wisdom or morality of unremitting Hamas attacks on innocent Israeli civilians.

Then followed her litany of grievances, from “the Israeli military occupation” to the inability of her  “Palestinian” ex-husband, “like millions of other Palestinian refugees,” to visit the West Bank. He was, it turns out, born and raised in Qatar, which hardly qualifies him as a “Palestinian refugee.” Except, of course, for UNRWA, the international organization that lists 5 million Palestinian “refugees” although fewer than 50,000 who ever lived in and left Palestine are still alive.

Her greatest fear, quite understandably in light of the appalling retaliatory murder of the Palestinian teen-ager, is that a similar fate might befall her 17-year-old son. Thinking of “the mothers whose sons have been arrested, beaten and humiliated by the Israeli police,” she asks: “How can a mother let her children out of the house, knowing now that in addition to the harassment and threats they have always faced from the Israeli police and authorities, they may be grabbed off the street and murdered?” She does not inquire how Israeli mothers might react to the unprovoked murder of three Jewish teenagers.

In the end, she recites the familiar litany that the Times finds so appealing that it cannot miss an opportunity to reiterate it in editorials, columns and news coverage: “The world must hold the Israeli government accountable for its actions,” most of all for “the entire occupation, whose violence and cruelty is the dark context for so much of what has happened over the past few weeks.”

But who will hold Hamas accountable for its actions, from kidnapping to murder to indiscriminate shelling of Israeli cities and towns? That question is of no interest – either to Rula Salemeh or, evidently, to The New York Times. It has yet to provide similar prominence for the expression of a Jewish mother’s fear.

The New York Times Double Standard, Again

The Algemeiner (June 30, 2014)

No one is more enamored of stone-throwing Palestinian teen-age boys than New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren.

Nearly a year ago (August 5, 2013) she described stone-throwing attacks against Israeli targets merely as “a rite of passage and an honored act of defiance” – indeed, a “game.” She romanticized assaults by a 17-year-old Palestinian whose five brothers and father had already served prison time for heaving rocks through the windshields of passing automobiles. Indeed, in their village of Beit Omar thirty-five teen-agers had been arrested within the preceding year for stone throwing.

To Rudoren, the attacks represented nothing more than a “Palestinian pushback” against Israeli “occupation.” Indeed, it was a popular recreational activity in a town where there was no swimming pool, cinema, or after-school music lessons to keep teen-agers otherwise occupied.

Not two years earlier, on the same road where Beit Omar teen-agers gleefully targeted passing Israelis, Palestinian stone-throwers had hurled rocks through the windshield of a car driven by Asher Palmer, accompanied by his infant son Yonatan. Asher’s face was crushed and his skull was fractured, the car crashed, and father and son died. Rudoren, who only belatedly learned of the tragedy, merely noted that “a man and his 1-year-old son” were killed in a Palestinian stoning attack.

For Rudoren the opportunity for moral equivalency that diminishes Israeli tragedy and Palestinian responsibility is a repetitive trope. In her current front-page reiteration (June 30), she offers a predictable variation on her familiar theme. For two weeks Israelis have been riveted by shock, hope and fear during the search for three teen-age boys, kidnapped while hitch-hiking home from their yeshiva studies. Indeed, Rudoren’s article begins with the pre-dawn arrival of Israeli police at the home of Rachel Fraenkel, in search of her missing son and fellow students. But the focus quickly shifts to a Palestinian town, two weeks later, where a mother is informed that her 15-year-old son has been killed during a stone-throwing attack by “a crowd of youths” on Israeli soldiers who were “storming their neighborhood” in search of the three kidnapped students.

Rudoren is preoccupied with “Israel’s security crackdown,” not the kidnapped Israeli teenagers whose fate remains unknown. It has, she writes, “raised questions about the asymmetry of the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the value of lives on both sides.” But it is Rudoren’s assertion of moral equivalency that raises questions about journalistic integrity. “Most Israelis,” she writes, “see the missing teenagers as innocent civilians … and the Palestinians who were killed [now numbering five] as having provoked soldiers.” True enough, both as perception and reality. Palestinians, however, “see the act of attending yeshiva in a West Bank settlement as provocation, and complain that the crackdown is collective punishment against a people under occupation.” Rudoren does not consider that “a crowd of youths” hurling stones poses a potentially lethal assault.

Ever since the Israeli students disappeared the primary theme of Rudoren’s reporting has been Palestinian suffering from the sweeping Israeli search for their kidnappers. Two weeks ago, she noted that an Arab family in Hebron was “worried” that wedding plans for their daughter might be “ruined” by the Israeli “crackdown.” Worse yet, “sweet shops and cellphone stands, car dealerships and clothing boutiques all sat idle behind roll-down gates or wooden shutters.” On a slightly more consequential level, she concluded, Israeli-Palestinian relations have been “destabilized” by the Israeli response – not by the kidnapping.

All too predictably, as CAMERA Jerusalem Director Tamar Sternthal perceptively observed (in the more reliable Times of Israel, June 16), The New York Times “singles out Israeli efforts to bring the boys home as the key cause of friction.” It ignored the Palestinian cartoon depicting three skullcap-wearing rats (yeshiva students) hanging from a fishing line. That, too, she notes, was “unsuitable to The Times narrative.”

Rudoren focuses on two mothers who serve her symbolic purpose: Rachel Fraenkel, whose innocent hitch-hiking son was kidnapped, most likely by Hamas, and Aida Dudeen, whose stone-throwing son was killed by an Israeli soldier he targeted. Ms. Fraenkel is the latest Israeli parent “symbolizing the sacrifice generations of Israeli children make growing up amid enemies,” who are unidentified. Ms. Dudeen is “the mother of yet another of the thousands celebrated as martyrs in the decades-long struggle against Israel” who wants “my homeland to be liberated from Israeli colonialism.”

Providing equal time for mothers, according to the ostensibly neutral headline, who “Embody a Mideast Divide,” Jodi Rudoren has confounded an intentional Palestinian terrorist assault with an accidental Israeli response, the better to blame Israel for Palestinian terrorism. All the opinion, it seems, that the Times deems fit to print.

But now that the bodies of the murdered boys have been discovered,  what moral equivalence will the Times offer?

Real Refugees

The Algemeiner (May 22, 2014)

Palestinian nationalism is deeply embedded in, and derived from, Jewish history in the Land of Israel. Without Zionism as their primary source of inspiration Palestinians would lack a historical narrative of their own.

According to Columbia history professor Rashid Khalidi, an expert on Palestinian identity, “Palestine” did not exist in the Arab imagination before World War I. Local Arabs neither perceived “Palestine” as a distinct country nor themselves as “Palestinians.” Shortly before the birth of the State of Israel Arab historian Philip Hitti acknowledged: “There is no such thing as Palestine in history.”

To compensate for their missing past, Palestinians plunder Jewish texts and history, and Zionist nation-building, to frame their own national identity. They claim the Canaanites as their ancestral people. They demand recognition of the burial sites of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people as their own holy sites. They frame their naqba as the real “holocaust” that Israel inflicted on them. Copying Israel’s Law of Return (1950), which granted to all Jews the right to settle in their ancient homeland, they insist upon the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

According to Palestinian sources, between 800,000-900,000 Arabs were forced to abandon their homes during the fighting in 1946-48. Many left of their own volition to escape the turmoil; others because their leaders urged them to do so, assuring their return once the Zionist enemy was defeated. Israeli historians claim that the number was closer to 600,000-700,000, while Efraim Karsh concludes, based on his extensive research in Palestinian and Israeli sources, that between 583,000-609,000 Palestinians became refugees.

But who is a “refugee”? As originally defined by the United Nations, refugees were “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” Fair enough. But according to best current estimates, only 30,000-40,000 of those displaced persons are alive to legitimately claim “refugee” status. They could easily be permitted to return to their homeland without undue demographic disruption for Israel. The Palestinian refugee problem would be instantly solved.

Not so fast. To stoke Palestinian claims against Israel the United Nations Relief and Works Administration (UNRWA), established in 1949, expanded its definition of “refugees” to include “descendants” of refugees. Only Palestinian refugees are so defined. With that alteration, five million children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original refugees now claim refugee status even if they never spent a day in Palestine. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be 15 million Palestinian “refugees.” Only Palestinians embrace perpetual refugee status. If this sounds like a formula designed for the demographic destruction of Israel, it is.

The Palestinian Authority seems to care little about its own “refugees.” Thousands are still confined to camps in Jericho, under Palestinian Authority rule since 1994. According to former Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, they live in “miserable conditions.” The Palestinian Authority needs suffering refugees to nourish its narrative of Israeli oppression.

But Palestinian “refugees,” few in actual number if many in anti-Israel rhetoric, now confront a serious challenge to their victimization supremacy: they are vastly outnumbered by actual refugees from Syria. According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), more than 2.6 million Syrians, whose primary places of refuge are the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, now qualify for refugee assistance. Collectively, they comprise the world’s largest refugee population.

More people have already been killed in the Syrian civil war than in all the Arab-Israeli wars and Palestinian intifadas combined. Even if they were still alive, the estimated one million Palestinian refugees from Israel’s Independence and Six-Day wars would not reach even half the number of current Syrian refugees. What that says about the vile double standard that Israel confronts in the international community, where it is relentlessly castigated, boycotted and sanctioned for causing and ignoring the plight of Palestinian refugees while Syrian refugees are ignored, is self-evident.

FDR and the Jews

Society (May 10, 2014)

Among American presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt confronted the most agonizing challenges of reconciling politics and morality. For Lincoln, preserving the Union, whether or not it was stained by slavery, was paramount. Yet within two years of taking office the moral imperative of human freedom dictated his Emancipation Proclamation, even though its scope was confined to the very states whose secession had removed them from the reach of presidential authority. For Roosevelt, the devastation of the Depression and the looming danger of world war molded his political agenda. But the moral imperative of coming to the rescue of European Jews confronting annihilation, or even proclaiming his concern for them, eluded him and continues to indelibly stain his presidential record.

Lincoln has been revered for wrestling with the agonizing contradiction of human slavery in a nation whose Declaration of Independence proclaimed equality. Roosevelt continues to encounter intense criticism for his “abandonment of the Jews” (the title of historian David Wyman’s scathing indictment published nearly two decades ago). To the enduring shame of the United States, and its 32nd president, the memorable words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty as the credo of the American promised land - “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – were callously ignored while six million Jews were systematically exterminated. Yet Roosevelt’s most devoted, indeed reverential, supporters were then – and have remained ever since - American Jews.

Two new books add fuel to the fire of debate over the failure of the Roosevelt administration to respond to the Holocaust. FDR and the Jews, by Professors Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman of American University, stakes out the historiographical and moral middle ground between critics of Roosevelt’s dismal failure to rescue Jews and his unabashed defenders. FDR and the Holocaust by Rafael Medoff, founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, offers a sharp critique both of Roosevelt and the scholars who continue to absolve the president for his indifference to the looming annihilation of German, and eventually all European, Jews.

Roosevelt’s perception of Jews, Breitman and Lichtman recognize, had been nurtured within the conventional anti-Semitism of his aristocratic Hyde Park family and social class. As a New York state senator in 1912 he linked human progress to the “Aryan races.” A decade later he supported Jewish quotas at Harvard, his alma mater. In his first term, the authors concede, Roosevelt was a “bystander,” responding only tepidly, at best, to Nazi persecution while he was preoccupied with the domestic economic catastrophe of the Depression. In 1933 he informed William E. Dodd, his new ambassador to Germany, that persecution of Jews was “not a [US] government affair.”

The consequences of Roosevelt’s indifference were catastrophic. In the mid-1930s, only 20% of the American quota level for immigrants from Germany was met, depriving 60,000 German Jews of admission to the United States even under existing stringent immigration laws. After Kristallnacht (November 1938), when Jewish lives, synagogues and business were destroyed by rampaging Nazi mobs, Roosevelt would not press Congress to ease immigration restrictions. With war – and an election - approaching, he “sought to avoid giving any speck of credibility to the charge that Jews dictated his pro-Allied policies.”

Eventually, the authors claim, Roosevelt “shifted course and ministered to Jewish concerns,” loosening immigration restrictions and promoting plans to safely resettle European Jews (anywhere but in the United States). But even as Nazi persecution became mass murder, the president would not “jeopardize his political fortunes.” His cohort of Jewish advisers - Samuel Rosenman, Louis D. Brandeis, Herbert Lehman, Felix Frankfurter, Joseph Wyzanski, Benjamin Cohen – provided, at best, “wary counsel” on Jewish issues. He urged the British government to admit more Jews to Palestine, but his “hopes and efforts” to move German Jews to other countries excluded the United States. In a tortured multicultural evasion that any modern academic administrator would recognize, Roosevelt cited “the many religions that Hitler sought to abolish,” including Protestants, Catholics, Mohammedan, Hindu, Buddhist - and Jewish.

Three episodes provide the ultimate litmus test for Roosevelt’s enduring indifference to desperate European Jews who were seeking refuge from annihilation: the refugee ship SS St. Louis; establishment of the War Refugee Board; and the decision not to bomb the rail lines into Auschwitz or the gas chambers and crematoria that implemented Hitler’s Final Solution.

In May 1939 Cuban authorities denied entry to nearly one thousand German Jewish refugees who had arrived in Havana harbor from Hamburg on board the S.S. St. Louis. After a week of futile negotiation, during which a passenger from Buchenwald slit his wrists and jumped off the ship in despair, the captain steered the vessel along the coast of Florida toward Miami. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. tried to persuade State Department officials, including Secretary of State Cordell Hull, to find a solution that would avoid the return of the refugees to Germany. But “politically pragmatic” Roosevelt, write Breitman and Lichtman, “decided not to risk political jeopardy through an uncertain battle with Congress over the fate of the St. Louis.” This was “a debatable judgment,” they conclude, “but cannot be interpreted as indifference to Jewish refugees.” Really?

“There is no truth to the notion,” they claim, “that American officials ordered the coast guard to prevent any passengers from reaching American shores.” That, however, is not the shared memory of four SS St. Louis survivors, revealed after publication of FDR and the Jews: “We saw the Coast Guard planes that flew around the ship to follow its movements. We saw the Coast Guard cutter that trailed us and made sure the St. Louis did not come close to the Florida coast. We heard the cutter blaring its warning to the St. Louis to stay away.” They conclude: “The Coast Guard planes and cutter were tragic symbols of a coldhearted government decision. It was President Franklin Roosevelt who decided our fate.” (http://www.stlouislegacyproject.org)

The establishment of the War Refugee Board (1943) marked a significant, if ultimately inadequate, turning point. Pressured by Morgenthau, Roosevelt acceded to its creation. But its work was impeded by presidential indifference, inadequate funding, and military concerns lest the war effort be undermined by attempts to save Jews. At best, Breitman and Lichtman acknowledge, the Board could “deploy the power of words.” They note that even Winston Churchill’s Cabinet did not create such a board, a comparison that “must weigh into any retrospective judgment.” Endorsing a declaration against Nazi atrocities, Board members hoped for “a strong declaration by the President.” It never came. That, too, must be weighed.

Instead, Roosevelt merely stated at a press conference that not enough refugees had escaped from Nazi-occupied territory to consider their admission to the United States. Only after the successful D-Day invasion in 1944 did he agree to the transport of one thousand refugees, mostly women and children, from Italy. With Roosevelt’s pledge that they would leave the United States when the war ended, they were confined to a camp in upstate New York.

Two months earlier, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler had escaped from Auschwitz to provide detailed information about its extermination facilities and procedures. With nearly two million Jews already murdered there, and the deportation and annihilation of Hungarian Jews looming, their report was meant to provoke action to prevent further slaughter. American planes were already making bombing runs on German oil factories, some of which were located within five miles of Auschwitz. But they would not even be diverted to bomb the railroad tracks that led to the notorious “Arbeit Macht Frei” entrance sign. Military resources were, however, diverted by War Department officials to protect art, architecture, and Lipizzaner dancing horses.

Roosevelt, Breitman and Lichtman dryly note, “did not generally intervene in strategic targeting decisions.” Since even “key Jewish figures did not lobby the administration to bomb Auschwitz,” they reject any attempt to make American inaction “a symbol of Roosevelt’s alleged failure during the Holocaust.” Conceding, as they must, that Roosevelt “did little” to aid Jews, Brietman and Lichtman nonetheless rebuff “politically charged” criticism from revisionist historians for his tepid – at best – response. But exoneration can also be politically charged, and the passivity of Winston Churchill hardly is the only standard of comparison, or judgment.

In his withering analysis of Roosevelt’s “breach of faith,” historian Rafael Medoff challenges the findings of those who exonerate Roosevelt’s “inaction and indifference” to the plight of European Jewry. Medoff asks pointed, and necessary, questions:  “Why were Jewish refugees turned away, even though America’s immigration quotas were largely unfilled? Why were Jewish refugee children denied haven, while British children were welcomed with open arms? Why did some Roosevelt administration officials not only ignore the plight of Europe’s Jews, but actually obstruct opportunities for rescue?” And why, in light of persistent presidential indifference toward the rescue of Jews, did more than 90% of American Jewish voters support Roosevelt in three presidential elections between 1936 and 1944?

Medoff is the appropriate historian to ask these questions. In FDR and the Holocaust, and in a virtual avalanche of articles since its publication, he builds upon his discoveries in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem to bolster his indictment of Roosevelt. These documents reveal that in 1933 American Zionist leader (and sycophantic Roosevelt loyalist) Rabbi Stephen S. Wise reported “nothing but indifference and unconcern” from the President regarding Hitler’s mistreatment of Jews. Five years later the president, claiming that there was only room in Palestine for 100,000-150,000 new immigrants, urged Wise to consider “a second choice for the Jews.” In a meeting with Jewish Congressmen five years later, Roosevelt expressed his unwillingness to press the British government to cancel its White Paper policy that stifled Jewish immigration to Palestine.

 There were alternatives to passivity, even if none proved successful in overcoming Roosevelt’s resistance or Wise’s deference. The Bergson Group led by Hillel Kook, one of the founders of the right-wing Irgun resistance force in Palestine, persistently lobbied government officials and organized massive protest rallies. They were, however, anathema to most American Jews: too loud, too pushy, too “Jewy.” At the suggestion of a senior adviser to Vice President Henry Wallace, four hundred (mostly Orthodox) rabbis arrived in Washington in October 1943, just days before Yom Kippur, to conduct a protest march against the indifference of the Roosevelt administration to the increasingly desperate plight of European Jews.

Predictably, some Jewish members of Congress had tried to dissuade the rabbis from making “their bearded appearances” in the nation’s capital. New York Democratic Representative Sol Bloom advised one of them that it would be “very undignified for a group of such un-American looking people to appear in Washington.” After stopping at the Lincoln Memorial, where they sang the national anthem, the rabbis gathered in Lafayette Park. A delegation was greeted at the White House gate across the street by Roosevelt’s press secretary, who informed them that the president’s busy schedule prevented a meeting. In fact, Medoff recounts, Roosevelt had nothing scheduled between lunch and a late afternoon ceremony at a nearby air base. Then again, the president was only heeding the advice of his close adviser and trusted Jewish friend Samuel Rosenman not to meet with a rabbinic delegation.

Roosevelt’s unresponsiveness to the plight of Jews, Breitman and Lichtman indicate, seems to have served as a model for his successors to emulate. Jimmy Carter did not respond to Pol Pot’s slaughter of one-fifth of his own Cambodian population. Bill Clinton did nothing to stop the genocide of 800,000 Rwandans, and neither he nor his predecessor George H.W. Bush acted vigorously to restrain the Serbian slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia. Neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama intervened effectively to stop the slaying of innocents in Darfur. Obama remained paralyzed by indecision and inaction in response to the slaughter of 100,000 Syrian civilians by the Assad regime.

The extermination of six million Jews during the Holocaust remains the standard for horrific barbarism toward innocent people – and official American indifference. As Medoff indicates, the debate continues over Roosevelt’s acquiescent culpability. Was it bias or bureaucratic indifference? Was Roosevelt anti-Semitic, indifferent, or merely a shrewd leader protecting his political base? Throughout the pre-war and war years, Breitman and Lichtman conclude, Roosevelt was – for better or worse – consistent: the best way to protect Jews, he insisted, was to win the war. But by 1945, few Jews in Europe remained alive to protect. It is damning with faint praise to claim, as they do, that Roosevelt did more for Jews than any other world leader.

Upon his death the Rabbinical Assembly of America, representing Conservative Judaism, praised Roosevelt as an “immortal leader of humanity and a peerless servant of God.” The veneration of American Jews for the president who did so little for their endangered European counterparts, including their own family members who had remained behind, still challenges comprehension. Are they to be blamed for their cowardice in remaining silent, pitied for their timidity, or viewed with empathy for the nagging dilemma of divided loyalty that plunged them into paralyzing silence?

The American Jewish community was demographically divided. Descendants of the German Jews who had arrived in the mid-19th century were, by 1933, settled, prosperous, and assimilated. But they remained apprehensive lest Jews, whether they were proud Zionists in Palestine or merchants in Venice and peasants in Eastern Europe, would bring opprobrium upon American Jewry. To avoid any insinuation of divided loyalty they faithfully abided by Louis D. Brandeis’s dictum as he rose to prominence in American public life: Jews must demonstrate above all else “loyalty to American institutions.”

Indeed, leadership in the Jewish community required affirmation of the inherent compatibility of Judaism and loyal Americanism. As Joseph M. Proskauer - lawyer, judge and rising leader of the anti-Zionist American Jewish Committee during the 1930’s (and its president during the war years) – asserted: “the Jews of American suffer from no political schizophrenia… . We are bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of America.” That required Proskauer, New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger (notorious for burying reports of the Holocaust as news unfit to print), and other distinguished members of “Our Crowd” and Roosevelt’s inner core of advisors, to remain silent in the face of an unprecedented Jewish – and world – catastrophe.

The newer and far larger cohort of American Jews, immigrants and their children with roots in Eastern Europe, demonstrated their loyalty to the United States with their passionate political embrace of Roosevelt. No one experienced the excruciating torments of this devotion more acutely than Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, leader of the American Jewish Congress who counted himself as a friend of the President. Wise knew, as early as 1933, of the “war of extermination that Hitler is waging.” The “timid and fearful German-Jews,” in Germany and the United States, infuriated him. And he had already learned that Roosevelt “has not by a single word or act intimated the faintest interest in what is going on.” Yet Wise remained loyal and deferential to the president, pressing Brandeis (who also remained silent) to speak out publicly about the Nazi menace.

Wise knew that Roosevelt’s Jewish advisers (he had in mind Morgenthau and financier Bernard Baruch) could be “safely trust[ed] not to trouble him with any Jewish problems.” He also knew that the president, “immovable, incurable and even inaccessible” to those who pressed him to act, “has not lifted a finger on behalf of the Jews of Germany.” But Roosevelt, Wise realized, was not the problem. “I wonder how much we have gained,” he lamented, “by walking warily, by being afraid to be ourselves, by constantly looking over our shoulders to see what impression we make upon others.” He predicted: “if we are done in the end, it will not merely be because of the effectiveness of our foes but because of the timidity and cowardice of ourselves.”

“If only he [FDR] would do something for my people,” Wise lamented in 1943. But he would not go public with his concerns. One year later, in a belated moment of anguished self-insight, Wise wondered (in a letter to Justice Felix Frankfurter) “whether I am getting to be a Hofjude [Court Jew].” By then, however, he had long since become Roosevelt’s devoted enabler, willing to relegate Jewish issues to the sideline to protect the president, his own access to the White House, and his leadership role in the American Jewish community.

Historian Henry Feingold, author of The Politics of Rescue, has claimed that any indictment of Wise or American Jews for their failure to mobilize public opinion and pressure on Roosevelt to help beleaguered European Jews “cannot produce authentic history.” To be sure, it was not “realistic” to expect the Roosevelt administration to act to save Jews, even when they floated past Miami on their way back to Hamburg. But why was it unrealistic to expect American Jewish leaders to speak out rather than remain silent when the survival of six million Jews hung in the balance? American Jews were indeed powerless to save Jews in Europe, but they surely were not powerless to protest – loudly – against the Final Solution or the silence of Roosevelt and his loyal Court Jews.

Such was the American Jewish dilemma. The core bargain of acculturation – the repeatedly asserted compatibility of Judaism and Americanism – paralyzed American Jews between 1933 and 1945, and arguably still does. During the worst catastrophe in Jewish history since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the loss of national sovereignty that followed, leaders and their followers, with few exceptions, remained silent. American Jews made their choice clear: they would stand with their president, who provided them with passports to American respectability even as besieged European Jews were denied entry to the United States and condemned to death.

With their silence, American Jews hoped to demonstrate - to anyone (and there were many) who might doubt their loyalty to their new promised land - that they were genuine Americans. But a new generation of American Jews may yet confront a similar quandary. If the survival of six million Jews in the State of Israel is imperiled by an impending nuclear attack while an American president dithers, will they once again cower in fearful silence?