New York Times' reporting on Israel must be ignored - opinion

Israel’s OK as long as it doesn’t embarrass, doesn’t inconvenience, doesn’t slow the American Jewish rush to fit in.

 SEND IT to the dustbin: The paper’s New York City office. (photo credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)
SEND IT to the dustbin: The paper’s New York City office.

It’s a tiresome ritual in the pro-Israel community. Something happens – or doesn’t happen – in Israel. The New York Times goes hysterical, catastrophizing, lamenting Israel’s moral collapse.

“The ideal of democracy in a Jewish state is in jeopardy,” the editors cry. Israel is “most likely” headed toward “a total mess” that will leave it “a cauldron of instability,” Thomas Friedman predicts, magically transforming Israeli-Arabs’ impressive progress as middle-class professionals into an indictment of Israeli bigotry that-could-be rather than a salute to Israeli democracy that-is. Bash Israel Firsters rejoice – while Team Israel laments the Times’ moral collapse.

Time’s up. Let’s face it. The Times will keep disappointing Israel’s supporters because its red-white-and-blue-blooded Jews need to keep finding Israel disappointing.

American dream-catchers against Israel’s Zionist dreamers

ALTHOUGH RECENT rounds attack Bibi, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich (oh my!), this story pits American dream-catchers against Israel’s Zionist dreamers. In 1900, 80% of the world’s 11.2 million Jews lived in Europe. The surge of European Jew-hatred already had ruined most European Jews’ fantasies of even being tolerated. European Jewish history became an ideological rumble between the Europe-wide shtetl (with a few cosmopolitan pockets), America’s Goldene Medina, and the land of Israel – the Promised Land. By 1945, after Hitler turned the continent into one mass Jewish grave, Europe lost.

Initially, America won the New Jewish Center sweepstakes. The two million mostly Eastern European Jews who escaped on “the boat” from 1880 to 1920 pursued the American dream enthusiastically. Zionism remained a marginal story, quietly building infrastructure and momentum.

 The New York Times building is seen in Manhattan, New York (credit: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON) The New York Times building is seen in Manhattan, New York (credit: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON)

The Times symbolized and recorded these Jewish boat people’s stunning success. Appearing in America’s newspaper of record became the ultimate American Jewish validator. American Jews read the Times more religiously than they read the Bible. Sunday brunch with the Times became a more defining American Jewish cultural act than Friday night with the family. And wherever the Times went ideologically, politically, culturally, culinarily, sartorially, literarily and cinematically, many American Jews followed zealously.

That the Ochs Sulzbergers, a High Church German-Jewish family, owned the paper made it even more delicious. Most important, the Ivy League elite, which American Jews craved to join, worshiped the Times equally blindly, despite its Jewish-ownership and strong Jew-York sensibility.

Unfortunately, the Times is a jealous god. Times-think imposes a particular reading of America and of Judaism. The “good Jew” New York Times-style could thrive individually – but shouldn’t make waves communally. The Times cemented the American Jewish desire for super success individually, while dissolving traditional Jewish commitments to the wisdom of the past and group loyalty in the present as pillars for building a meaningful Jewish future. There often seemed to be a disloyalty test – Jews who bashed the Jewish state earned extra Times cachet.

Initially, the Times was anti-Zionist. Adolph Ochs and his heirs defined Judaism as a religion. This demotion confirmed the Judeo-Christian American vision while dismissing Zionism’s Jewish nationalism. During the Holocaust, the Times so downplayed the Jewish nature of Hitler’s targets that critics mocked the paper’s motto “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” as “All the Jews That’s Fit to Hint.”

After 1945, the Times’ anti-Zionism ended. Its editorials and most columnists accept Israel as a Jewish state. But especially since 1967, when Israel dared to win a war for its existence as Times worshipers were idealizing the world’s losers, the approach has seemed like “Not Enough Zionism That’s Fit to Commit.”

This Zionism-lite is a probationary Zionism. Israel’s OK as long as it doesn’t embarrass, doesn’t inconvenience, doesn’t slow the American Jewish rush to fit in, with that Zionist willingness to stand up – and stand out. It’s often a tortured toleration of Israel, reinforced by blind spots about Palestinian brutality and Iranian threats.

Much of what Israelis need to survive is increasingly politically incorrect in the world the Times hopes to spawn. This gap grows as journalists become churnalists, committed to distorting, not reporting, pushing a line not navigating complexity objectively.

Israeli society is unapologetically family-oriented, communal, traditional, religious, nationalistic and ready to defend itself against illiberal enemies, even if they con today’s illiberal liberals. These red-white-and-blue-blooded Jews risk worshiping the “I” over the “us,” and the “today” over “yesterday.” Israelis happily risk worshiping the “us” over the “I,” and the “yesterday” over the “today.” And if Israel must choose between embarrassing red-white-and-blue-blooded Jews by defending itself or losing citizens but not losing face among liberals, most Israelis choose life, patriotism and pride over progressive popularity.

Even worse, Israel is now populated by many Jews who are not the “sophisticated,” “acculturated” heirs to America’s Jewish boat people red-white-and-blue-blooded Jews have become. An Israel of Mizrahim and ultra-Orthodox and religious and Ethiopians and Jews from the former Soviet Union who are decidedly not woke is not the Exodus-Israel that Times-Jews decided they could stomach.

Today’s Israel is more multicultural, liberal-democratic, tolerant, success-friendly, functional, and happier than the Israel-as-one-big-kibbutz Times-Jews grudgingly romanticized in the 1950s. But with Israel as the Jewish people’s proud, particularistic nation-state, red-white-and-blue-blooded Jews find it easier to join the pile-on. Israel now is not only defying the anti-nationalist tide, progressives accuse Israel of the West’s worst crimes – from racism to colonialism to imperialism.

THE FRUSTRATIONS and distancing, therefore, go deeper than this unwelcome incoming government – and did not diminish under Naftali Bennett. Red-white-and-blue-blooded Jews need to be disappointed with us so as not to be disappointed in themselves.

Like most Israelis, let’s stop caring what the Times says. Instead, focus on what we, our neighbors and our leaders do to keep Israel strong, safe, Jewish, democratic, and politically incorrect in all the right ways.

The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University and the author of nine books on American history and four on Zionism. He is the editor of the new three-volume set Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People (