The Times they are a changin’

A.M.Rosenthal who died in 2006 was the New York Times editor beginning in 1975. He was most noted for publishing the Pentagon Papers but also  one who quite smoothly integrated his Jewish identity into the storied paper of record. The Times  had always been wary of being deemed a Jewish newspaper (Jew York Times) even though it was located in the epicentre of Jewish power in the USA.

When Rosenthal joined the paper in 1944 there were already 2 Abrahams, an obvious semitic handle. Rosenthal then became A.M and not Abe. Rosenthal was the ultimate assimilationist with literally no connection to Judaism. And an Irish Catholic wife.

As history advanced, so did Rosenthal’s “Jewishness” and in his mid 70s he was bar mitzvahed and AM’s opeds reflected Likudnik policies.He also broke the taboo of using Jewish  reporters as Israeli correspondents beginning with Tom Friedman, followed  by Ethan Bronner.

Both were mildly critical of Israel but failed  badly when covering the brutalitty of occupation. One simply has to compare their reports to those of Israeli journalists Gideon Levy and Amira Hass. Try as they might, both were severely constrained by the virulent tribalism of American Jews who bristled at any criticism of Israel.

Bronner who served as Israeli correspondent from 2008-2002 was particularly compromised as it was reported that his son had enlisted in the Israeli Defense Forces. This fact was ignored as it later was with another Jewish columnist who also had a son in the IDF, David Brooks. Bronner wrote “The premise of the news coverage is that Israel is an ally of the U.S., a triumph of history, and homeland of Jews, all of which is praiseworthy.” This stunning statement with such blatant contestable assumptions indicates Bronner’s prejudice.

A 2003 study by the Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics found the Times more favorable to Israel than the Palestinians.

Joseph Berger, born in Russia to Yiddish speaking parents, educated in Jewish schools  covered  Jewish issues for the NYT until he retired in 2015. He admitted —and really who could blame him—that his coverage regarding Israel  “was probably shaped by my growing up in the 1950s with a sense of Israel’s vulnerability, the feeling that it was on the edge of destruction.”

Well times have changed. As the massive Israeli propaganda (hasbara) has been shredded by the omnipresence of computer technology, cell phones, cameras, the brutality of the occupation has become obvious to the world and more importantly forced serious Jews to break with a country whose values flew in the face both of massive oppression and important universal values of Judaism.

Coverage of Israel/Palestine under new NYT management  has allowed vigorous criticism of Israel to emerge. While the paper still gives a pulpit to blind Zionists like Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss, another more honest narrative is percolating.

Witness letters in last Sunday’s paper

To the Editor:

Re “A Look at the International Drive to Boycott Israel” (news article, July 28):

Thanks to The Times for publishing this largely evenhanded account of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. B.D.S. is working: Exhibit A is the massive investment by the Israeli government in seeking to combat it, and Exhibit B is this full-page article in The Times.

Israel’s claim to be a vibrant democracy is incompatible with its disenfranchisement of millions of Palestinians, and the B.D.S. movement makes that hypocrisy impossible to ignore. I support the B.D.S. movement as an American Jew because it reflects the essence of Judaism. We are taught that Hillel, when asked to explain Judaism while standing on one foot, said: “ What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary .”

Jethro Eisenstein

New York

The writer is a former chairman of the national board of Jewish Voice for Peace.

To the Editor:

While providing a glimpse into boycotts for Palestinian rights, “A Look at the International Drive to Boycott Israel” misses important context on why Palestinians are asking people to support their struggle for freedom.

For centuries, movements have used the tactic of boycotts to pressure states and complicit institutions to end discrimination, colonialism and apartheid. From the Boston Tea Party and the Montgomery bus boycott to apartheid South Africa and the anti-transgender law in North Carolina, the historical pedigree and legitimacy of boycotts as a tool to challenge injustice, including against another country, are unimpeachable.

Like my Indian relatives who tired of living under British colonial rule, Palestinians are asking for noncooperation with their undemocratic overlords. Yet their movement is being singled out with false charges of anti-Semitism for focusing on the state that denies them their rights. Those who wouldn’t accuse Gandhi (and his supporters) of being anti-white for singling out Britain should ask why they’re holding Palestinians to a different standard.

Radhika Sainath New York

The writer is senior staff attorney for Palestine Legal.