Who says many of the more upwardly mobile and thoroughly assimilated American Jews are at best dormant Jews? Who says they are estranged Jews, disdainfully detached from the Jewish collective? Who says they couldn’t care less about Jewish solidarity, to say nothing of Jewish national interests?
Of course they care. Passionately. They are, if anything, political creatures. Did they not kick a god-awful fuss over news magnate Rupert Murdoch’s stirring defense of Israel during the latest Gazan round?
Did they not let him have it? Is that apathy? Did they not rush to pillory Murdoch for asking on Twitter: “Why is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?”
Wow, they came out punching! It wasn’t the actual negligible matter of Israel’s ongoing struggle which stirred them. Siding with Israel or welcoming Murdoch’s warm support of Israel wasn’t what aroused their emotions. Nor were they moved by the issue of anti-Israeli media bias. Far from it. This is just the sort of preoccupation that leaves them cold and consistently condescending.
But Murdoch, unawares, struck a raw nerve when he appeared to obliquely suggest the existence of Jewish-controlled media. Talk of Jewish control, potentially lending credence to canards about Jewish cabals, impacts directly on the standing of American Jews in American society. This, in contrast to Israel’s dispensable self-preservation, is something that can sent them howling indignantly on the warpath.
And so, given American Jews hauled over the coals an ardent ally of Israel because of his insinuated criticism of the failure of some of them to stand by the Jewish state. Such is the Jewish spirit that permeates through some of Jewish America.
Poor Murdoch likely never suspected what his query would unleash and so great was the backlash that he soon deleted his offensive Tweet and apologized.
Nonetheless, Murdoch essentially wasn’t far off the mark, even if he didn’t word his Tweet carefully enough. The issue of outright individual ownership isn’t as overriding nowadays as it once was because most of the media is held by publicly traded companies.
Yet there are media to which the overwhelmingly liberal American Jews gravitate and which they cultivate. Moreover, these are often also the same news outlets in which many Jews are active, be it in publishing, reporting or commentating. And they are the very ones that, as Murdoch asserted, tend to be “consistently anti-Israel in every crisis.”
For them it’s almost a badge of enlightenment not to give in to what Arthur Hays Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times from 1935 to 1961, used to put down as “Parochial Jewish attitudes.” Sulzberger himself was a scion to two eminent Jewish lines – one of German Ashkenazi ancestry and the other descended from America’s Sephardi grandees.
His own descendents still run the Times, but they are no longer Jewish. Yet for many of America’s liberal Jews the Times remains an authority of near-biblical validity, through which they filter current events. The Times still depicts itself as “America’s most important newspaper” and for most American Jews it is just that.
With that in mind, when scrutinizing the Times’ record on Israel it’s hard to disagree with Murdoch’s disapproval of coverage that is “consistently anti-Israel in every crisis.” We don’t even have to focus on the big dramas of armed conflict. In my files is an entire Times broadsheet devoted exactly six years ago to a Peace Now contention that most of Israel’s settlements in Judea and Samaria, including whole Jerusalem metropolitan area neighborhoods, were constructed on “usurped Arab private property.”
The Times rushed to amplify these claims, though they were hardly substantiated. It saw fit to uncritically play up Peace Now’s allegations, not stinting on space and promotion. Inevitably it is hotly denied that such outrageous distortions of the criteria of newsworthiness are anti-Israel. Presumably both Peace Now and The New York Times know better than the majority of Israelis do what is best for Israel. And the Times hypes its favorite Israelis of the Peace Now mold with the particular relish it reserves for knocking the Jewish national cause.
There’s a compelling inbuilt logic here and it harks back to old-time predilections which anti-Zionist Jewish moguls and Zionist Jewish socialists incongruously shared. Historically the Times always favored less nationalist and more compromising Jews, the ones closer to the Sulzberger clan’s own inclinations.
Concomitantly, Peace Now’s ideological forbears were chillingly callous to the plight of existentially vulnerable Jews, even on the eve of their bleakest hours, as the Holocaust loomed and Jewish horizons darkened.
Regrettably, forgotten today is the most distressing episode in the annals of this country’ Left – its campaign against “illegal” immigrants just prior to WWII, when the ground already burned under European Jewry’s feet. The Left-dominated Jewish Agency was charged by the British Mandate with distributing the paltry number of “certificates” (immigration permits) allocated. The Agency apportioned these with unabashed discrimination, effectively barring “undesirables,” i.e. political rivals.
Those determined not to be impeded by prejudice had to resort to various “illegal” options to reach these shores, including the exploitation of bogus student and tourist visas, as well as fictitious marriages to fortunate certificate-holders. All above “illegals” became prey in what would become known as the “hunt.” British police conducted raids and the Left avidly collaborated with spot-checks on buses, cafes, lodgings and work-places.
While sparing no hyperbole to denounce the “illegals” for supposedly jeopardizing the entire Zionist undertaking, left-wingers edged towards identification with inimical Arab perceptions. It’s a psychological process not far-removed from that of their progeny and torchbearers today, who increasingly subscribe to the enemy’s point of view.
And just at that time, as well as during the subsequent most monstrously deliberate and systematic bloodletting the world has known, the assimilationist Jewish then-owners of the Times engaged in an unconscionable cover-up and/or diminishment of the slaughter and of the identity of its victims.
It took a thick volume to scrutinize the Times’ sordid under-reporting and minimizing of the Holocaust. Journalist and academician Laurel Leff’s exemplary 2005 book, Buried by the Times, offered an engrossing examination of a great newspaper’s abject moral failure, given its unparalleled opinion-molder distinction.
“The Times’ coverage,” Leff concludes her extraordinarily exhaustive analysis, “mattered because other bystanders... took cues from the Times.” Yet in the end “the Times helped drown out the last cry from the abyss.”
During all of WWII it saw fit to publish only two lead editorials on Jewish issues. One, on January 22, 1942, was an acerbic attack on demands for all-Jewish military units under British auspices (which were eventually created as the Jewish Brigade). While the extermination of Jews continued unabated, the Times’ indignation was spent on preventing the formation of “a Zionist army.”
In February 1942, the rickety illegal immigrant ship Struma sank after the British Mandatory authorities refused to let its refugees enter Eretz Yisrael. All but one of its 768 passengers perished after a cruel 75-day standoff in Istanbul harbor, where the ill-fated passengers, including young children and babies, were stranded hungry and cold on a peanut shell of an unseaworthy vessel.
The Times accorded the tragedy that unfolded right before the watching world’s eyes a mere four bland paragraphs on an inside page. The New York Post and Mirror and the Washington Post judged the horror deserved editorial condemnation.
Contrast that with the Times’ earlier front-page treatment for the capsizing of another vessel, the Patria used by the British to deport illegal immigrants to Mauritius. The Patria’s tragedy was caused by a miscalculated Hagana effort to disable the ship’s engines so the British couldn’t move it from Haifa port.
The Times’ scale of values was unmistakable – a story that embarrassed the Zionists won pride of place; the one that highlighted Jewish misfortune and reflected badly on Zionism’s foes was downplayed. It’s still oppressively so. Been there. Seen that. Which brings us back to Murdoch’s cogent question. Leff somewhat answers it, even if in the context of the Second World War period.
She writes: “Widespread anti-Semitism led even successful Jews to feel insecure about the position of Jews in American society. Since the Times had come under Jewish ownership at the turn of the twentieth century, its managers had communicated those concerns to the paper’s journalists.”
Thus Jewish ownership “made the newspaper more hesitant to highlight” the Jewish story. “Assimilated Jews in particular,” Leff argues, “did not want to be seen as emphasizing Jewish suffering.”
Arthur Hays Sulzberger, she notes, felt that his own Jewishness “carried with it no special obligation to help fellow Jews.” To his mind, in fact, “American Jews who helped other Jews because they were Jews threatened to undercut their position as Americans, Sulzberger believed.” So do in today’s US many Jewish media luminaries.
Sulzberger’s fiery anti-Zionism “drew the publisher into fierce, public fights with American Jewry’s top leaders that colored his views not only of their activities on behalf of a Jewish state, but also of other efforts on behalf of European Jews.”
These days, such “fierce, public fights” are waged by Jewish American news personalities against leaders of the Jewish state.
Specific circumstances, dates and names have all changed since the 1940s, but not so the essence of how the more well-heeled American Jews see the Zionist endeavor – foremost its crowning achievement, Israel – as an discomfiture and a bother.
Herein lies the answer to Murdoch’s question. He may not have phrased it delicately but his antennae were sensitively attuned to Jewish self-loathing in influential places.
“Another Tack” is taking time off and will be back at the end of January. www.sarahhonig.com