The New York Times changes from moment to moment the stories at the top of its portion on my home page. If I had not seen an item on Gaza ("‘Forgotten Neighborhood’ Underscores the Poverty of an Isolated Enclave") in that prized spot we could have spent this time on something else.
But here we are, pondering the significance of something that says more about the New York Times, and perhaps journalism generally, than the substance of the article.
The 40 families at the focus are no doubt as miserable as the article describes, but probably not more so than an equal number of people who could be found within spitting distance of the New York Times'' editorial desks. The item itself notes that "There are certainly less-livable slums in Africa, South Asia or in Delhi, India’s financial center, or Cairo, just across the desert . . . "
The article passes other tests for journalistic balance. It mentions the charge that Israel is responsible due to "restrictions on trade, fishing and travel (that) make the place a concrete prison" and then notes that "Others say Gaza already attracts far more attention and international aid than other impoverished regions of the world, and that it is corruption, mismanagement and infighting among Palestinian factions that repress Gaza’s living standards." It notes a "report by the United Nations office in Gaza says the situation is worse now than in the 1990s and due to deteriorate further as the population surges to 2.1 million over the next eight years" balanced with "Israeli officials have been harshly critical of the United Nations operation in Gaza, which they view as pro-Palestinian and hostile to Israel’s security concerns . . . .the United Nations, which still provides food aid to some 1.1 million of the 1.64 million residents who remain classified as refugees generations after their families left what became Israel in 1948."
It also notes that "The Forgotten Neighborhood . . . is an extreme case (within Gaza). Much of the strip has seen a building boom since Israel eased its blockade two years ago, and the smuggling tunnels from Egypt are thriving once again after being closed briefly last month because of a terrorist attack on the border."
The item carries the bi-line of Jodi Rudoren, and notes that Fares Akram contributed reporting.
Given the inhospitable nature of Gaza, my guess that Jodi wrote the copy on the basis of what Fares e-mailed.
The larger question is why the prominence given to the piece. It describes poverty in detail, within the context of what politics and the UN bureaucracy contribute to its perpetuation. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Jewish angle is the best explanation for its prime location on the Times web site. It is yet another item in the category of "man bites dog" or more simply the attraction of a story connected to Jews. The Chosen People are again in the headlines, where they have been since the Hebrew Bible, in its many translations, became the Holy Book.
Has the status been good or bad for the Jews?
There is no definitive answer. The prominence of anti-Semitism from ancient times (Josephus, Against Apion) through to the Holocaust, the Muslim revival of the Protocols and countless condemnations by the United Nations are prominent on the negative side of the ledger. On the other side are philo-Semitism, the Balfour Declaration, and that questionable majority in the Democrats'' Convention restoring the line about Jerusalem as Israel''s capital. We can argue as to whether Jews'' standing on measures of income, education, and Nobel Prizes deserves association with the Chosen People designation or owes itself to something else.
Also to be reckoned are all those Democrats who booed the restoration of Jerusalem. They may be less significant for themselves (uncounted by the convention''s chair) than for what they suggest about political activists who have tired of others'' concern with Israel.
The latest from Gaza are rocket attacks, said to be from splinter groups tolerated by Hamas, now having a far enough reach to cause another day''s cancellation of school classes in Beer Sheva, followed by attacks against low-grade targets in Gaza along with routine comments from military and political sources that sooner or later Israel will do more.
One of the Chosen People''s newspapers, Israel Hayom, puts Iran''s nuclear threat in the middle of the American presidential election. The headline on the top of Monday''s page one says "Iran--the great failure of Obama. Two months before the American election, the Iranian threat is a significant issue. Romney, "Obama did not distance us from nuclear Iran."
You might wonder where Israel Hayom got its information if you had read Gallup''s reading of what Americans think are their most important problems. National security and war each got mentioned by one percent of the sample, while 31 and 23 percent mentioned the economy or unemployment.
We can best understand Israel Hayom''s corner of the Chosen People by virtue of its owner (Sheldon Adelson) being Mitt Romney''s biggest contributor.
Maybe I shouldn''t remind you about Jewish money.
Jewish comics have thanked God for the honor associated with the designation of being Chosen, and asked Him to choose someone else.
Too late. We''re stuck with the minuses and the pluses.
I will not promise to avoid writing in the next week, but this is an appropriate opportunity to remind you of the Jewish calendar, and wish you Shana tova. Or שנה טובה for those with a Chosen Computer.