AMAC Exclusive – By David Lewis Schaefer
As the war in Gaza enters its fifth month, the media, along with members of the Biden administration, are displaying decreasing interest in the welfare or survival of Israel, and instead have taken to scolding Israel for taking decisive action to defend itself.
One of the most recent examples of this was a full-page illustrated story in the New York Times on February 6 titled “Modern Visions of Letters Home Show Mockery and Destruction” – referring to videos shared on social media by Israeli soldiers that show Israeli Defense Force (IDF) members celebrating (against army regulations) as they bulldoze Gazan buildings and streets.
According to the Times, which reports having viewed hundreds of the videos, while some “show unremarkable parts of a soldier’s life” such as eating or “sending messages to loved ones back home… others capture soldiers vandalizing local shops and school classrooms, making derogatory comments about Palestinians, bulldozing what appear to be civilian areas, and calling for the building of Israeli settlements in Gaza,” which the Times terms “an inflammatory idea that is promoted by some far-right Israeli politicians.” The media clips even include a parody version of an Israeli song performed by a reservist who is also a D.J., mocking the destruction of a Gazan home.
In response, the Times quotes the judgment of an “international human rights lawyer with the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights,” calling the videos “heartbreaking” and “inhumane.” Additionally, the newspaper, like other media outlets, uncritically quotes Gazan “health authorities” who allege that “more than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed” since the Israeli counterattack began (as if so-called Hamas “authorities” don’t have every incentive to inflate the unverifiable figures).
When the Times sent the geographic coordinates for 63 structures that the IDF had destroyed to its commanders “asking for comment on the military necessity for their destruction,” the officers understandably responded that in the midst of this “complex war… there are difficulties in tracing back specific cases with specific coordinates at this time.”
Nonetheless, the Times cited “four legal experts” who said that the videos and satellite images “could be used to show unlawful destruction, a violation of the Geneva Conventions” (emphasis added). One such authority, an emeritus law professor at Ohio State, maintained that “the scope of destruction of residential buildings in Gaza suggests that the I.D.F. is using a standard for protection of private property that does not comply with international standards for warfare.” It should be noted here that Hamas military equipment, rocketry, and command locations have been found in many similar residential areas.
Finally, “legal experts” that the Times quotes “have questioned the legality” of Israel demolishing buildings in a buffer zone alongside the Gazan border so as to protect against future surprise attacks, “noting that it is unlikely that all of the destroyed buildings posed an immediate military threat” (my emphasis).
The manifest bias of the Times story is breathtaking. How can any of the videos posted by the operators of IDF bulldozers compare to the horror of those circulated by Hamas terrorists on October 7 as they committed, with glee, war crimes on par with some of the worst regimes in history? And how can it find the gall to broadcast inflammatory accusations of war crimes against the Israeli military for the actions it describes?
As a hypothetical benchmark, imagine how the Times would have treated the speeches and deeds of Western combatants during the Second World War. Would it have recoiled in horror at American G.I.’s mocking their enemies? When cities like Dresden and Tokyo were bombed on a massive scale, would the Times editors have warned against possible war crimes?
Assuming that satellite imagery had been available, would the editors have sent American commanders the coordinates of destroyed buildings, asking for the military justification for bombing each one? Would it have questioned the justification for destroying a building that could not have been proved to constitute an “immediate” military threat? In what way, contrariwise, could the Hamas attacks on civilians be said to have been restrained by respect for the “laws of war”?
These questions answer themselves. But they also exhibit a pattern of anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic bias that has long characterized the Times’s reporting, as documented at length in Wellesley historian Jerold Auerbach’s study “Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel (1896-2016). It is also treated in Rafael Medoff’s The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust, which describes how, when an “extensive and detailed report” on the Nazis’ massacre of Jews in Poland reached London in June, 1942, smuggled out by the Jewish Socialist Bund, the Times downplayed it.
When the Times reported the massacre of 60,000 Jews in the city of Vilna, the paper added what Medoff calls “an unusual qualifier” to the effect that, “the information was ‘impossible to confirm now.’” Eleven days later, Medoff notes, the paper “published just two paragraphs about the Bund report and buried them at the bottom of a stack of war-related items.”
Medoff attributes the Times’s reticence to the fear of the paper’s publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who was of Jewish ancestry, “that giving prominence to Jewish-related news would provoke antisemites to accuse the Times of promoting Jewish interests.” In a column from last March denying that the Times retained that bias, even Eric Alterman, editor of the increasingly left-wing New Republic, acknowledges that Sulzberger was “intensely anti-Israel” and even “blamed Zionists for the alleged sacrifice of Jewish lives in the Holocaust” due to their “emphasis on statehood.”
But, contrary to Alterman, the Times’s one-sided reporting of the war on Gaza forms part of a continuous record of anti-Zionist, anti-Israel bias. Following the end of World War II, as the Jewish population of British-governed Palestine grew with the influx of Holocaust refugees, the Times continued to favor a “binational” state rather than allowing the Jewish people a country of their own – this despite the massacres that Arab populations had already inflicted against the Jews prior to the war.
Not until 1953, as Auerbach reports, did the Times editorial page deign to recognize Israel as “an outpost of democracy in the Middle East.” But that support was “short-lived.” Following the unsuccessful attempt by five Arab nations to destroy the country in the Six-Day War of 1967, Times editors urged Israel to display “magnanimity” towards its Arab “victims.” Six years later, when Egypt and Syria launched the Yom Kippur War, the Times again counseled Israeli “restraint” following its close-call victory.
With the accession of Menahem Begin as prime minister in 1977, the Times called Israel, in Auerbach’s words, “the major impediment to Middle East peace.” A year later it was Begin who signed the Camp David peace treaty with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
Despite Alterman’s denials, there is little danger, nowadays, that any but the most extreme Islamists or KKK members would accuse the Times of philosemitism. Rather, its history of anti-Zionism reflects the firm commitment of its publisher, editors, and most of its staff nowadays to supporting the Democratic Party, the cause of left-liberalism, and the maintenance of its (hardly justified) reputation as the cosmopolitan, unbiased “newspaper of record.” When it comes to Israel, at least, it is a “record” of shame.
To add to the offense, just three days after its inflammatory story on IDF soldiers celebrating their advance, the Times ran a follow-up two-page photo story of “Portraits of Gazans,” including a pregnant woman, an orphan, and a 12-year-old burn victim, featured on the front page, whose lives had been either “scarred” or lost in the war. The Times evidently makes no moral distinction between the hundreds of Israeli civilians who had been specifically targeted by Hamas atrocities, and Gazans who suffered injury or death, as happens in all wars, as lamentable but inevitable byproducts of armed conflict – in this case, as a consequence of purely defensive military action.
This appears to be an attitude which characterizes the contemporary Democratic Party’s approach to Israel as well. While the Biden administration has until now been generally supportive of Israel’s right to eliminate the threat of further Hamas attacks, at a news conference in Tel Aviv on February 7, just one day after the initial Times story, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken exhorted Israelis not to “dehumanize” the residents of Gaza as the IDF continues its campaign. Although Israelis were “dehumanized in the most horrific way on October 7,” Blinken stated, and “the hostages [taken by Hamas] have been dehumanized every day since” (at least 30 of them are already known to have died in captivity), that “cannot be a license to dehumanize others.”
Blinken’s posture of moral equivalence between the Hamas massacre and Israel’s response is inexcusable. In contrast to the barbarism and sheer evil of Hamas’s October 7 attack, which included horrific scenes of violent rape, sadistic sexual mutilation, the decapitation of infants, and the murder of parents before their children (and vice versa), the Israeli military has striven to minimize civilian casualties, despite the fact that Hamas has long hidden its arsenals and rocket launchers in schools, hospitals, and private homes.
But this moral equivalence must be understood, as editors of Commentary magazine pointed out in a February 8 podcast, as part of an electoral strategy by the Biden administration to placate Arab voters – including the quarter-million Arab voters in the crucial swing state of Michigan. It is no coincidence that, on the same day as Blinken’s latest Mideast visit, the administration sent representatives to meet with leaders of the Arab community in the Dearborn area (one of the nation’s largest Arab-American enclaves) led by deputy national security adviser Jon Finer.
As reported in the Times, in a recorded meeting Finer told the Arab-American leaders that he lacked “any confidence” in the current Israeli government, specifically regarding its readiness to take “meaningful steps” toward the creation of a Palestinian state, and also called some unnamed Israeli leaders “abhorrent.”
Later the same day, Biden himself, in a hastily called press conference – just before misidentifying Egyptian President Sisi as the President of Mexico – uttered the sweeping judgment that Israel’s response to the October 7 attack had been “over the top.” The president’s backtracking reflects a desperate attempt to overcome what a Times Magazine story of February 11 describes as a potentially unbridgeable divide within the Democratic Party itself over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Once again, it seems, leading American media and top Democratic Party pols are operating in lockstep.
David Lewis Schaefer is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at College of the Holy Cross.