The New York Times' Israel Problem

A daily dose of venom.

The New York Times has for the last 40 years – roughly, ever since the execrable Tom Friedman began reporting “from Beirut to Jerusalem” — become ever more anti-Israel, in its biased reporting, in its Israel-calumniating columnists, in its scolding editorials, in the articles it puts on the opinion page from outside contributors who find fault always and everywhere with the colonial-settler state of Israel. Recently the paper has increased its near-daily dose of venom; Prof. Jerold Auerbach examines three examples of anti-Israel bias here: “Fantasies of Israel’s Disappearance,” Algemeiner, May 21, 2021:

Just when it seems that The New York Times might finally set aside, at least for the moment, its unrelenting obsession with Israeli “occupation” of “Palestinian” land, it falls into the same anti-Israel rut that has long framed its discomfort with the Jewish state. Sometimes in bits and pieces, other times in columns by its own journalists or outside contributors, the consensus invariably is to blame Israel first.

So it was in its May 21 edition. In his front-page article, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Patrick Kingsley revealed his obsession with Israeli “occupation” of the “West Bank” (its Biblical homeland of Judea and Samaria). Seemingly unknown to him, that label referred to Jordan’s occupation of territory west of the Jordan River between 1948 and 1967. So it remained until Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War restored the land Biblically identified as Judea and Samaria to the Jewish state. Kingsley seems either oblivious to that history or determined to disregard it.

Apparently Patrick Kingsley believes that the correct toponym for that area west of the Jordan River that the Jordanians seized in 1948 is “the West Bank,” while “Judea and Samaria” are used only by wild-eyed Israeli settlers trying to convince the world — just imagine! – that the territory in question has a long historical link to the Jews. Actually, it is “the West Bank” that is the toponymic usurper, for the term “West Bank” only came to be used in 1950, when the Jordanians decided that, in order to sever the Jewish connection to the land, that area would henceforth be known as “the West Bank.” Kingsley might have enlightened his readers with a short history lesson, letting them know that there is a historical precedent for this renaming of Judea and Samaria as the “West Bank” by Jordan.

After the Bar Kochba revolt was suppressed in 135 A.D., the Emperor Hadrian changed the name of the Roman province of “Judea” to “Syria Palaestina” or “Palestinian Syria,” which then was shortened to “Palestine.” Hadrian had wanted to sever the Jewish connection to the land by eliminating “Judea” and substituting “Palestine.” The Romans did not succeed in effacing the place names Judea and Samaria, that were in the Bible and thus were in continuous use in the Western world for more than 1800 years — until Jordan rechristened the area as the “West Bank” and most of the world cravenly went along with that name change. How many people today think it is Israel that is being unreasonable and aggressive – those colonial-settlers! – by insisting on calling that area “Judea and Samaria” instead of by its “correct” name, the one that Jordan concocted only in 1950, “the West Bank.”

In a companion article Lara Jakes, diplomatic correspondent for the Times Washington bureau, ignores a different reality. She refers to “more than 5.7 million Palestinian refugees” who receive financial aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Administration (UNRWA). The agency is a scam; there are only an estimated 30,000 actual Palestinian refugees still alive. But their descendants, unto eternity it seems, will continue to be labeled “refugees” so that UNRWA employees will continue to have jobs and Israel can perpetually be blamed (in the Times) for the Palestinian “refugee” problem. Recognizing the scam, the Trump administration halted lavish UNRWA funding but, predictably, President Joe Biden has restored it.

Lara Jakes should not have uncritically accepted the notion that there are “5.7 million Palestinian refugees,” but rather, taken the time to explain to readers that UNRWA simply decided, on its own, to treat the status of “Palestinian refugee” as an inheritable trait, so that the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on, world without end, of he original refugees, are also regarded as “Palestinian refugees” themselves. She could have noted that no other group of refugees – there have been tens of millions since World War II — is similarly privileged, and no one at the U.N. has ever questioned why this special dispensation should exist for the Palestinians alone. These “5.7 million Palestinian refugees” are entitled to receive the full panoply of benefits — housing, education, medical care, family allowances – that UNRWA, largely funded by the West, supplies in such abundance. The true figure for the “Palestinian refugees” – that is, those who actually left Mandatory Palestine/Israel in the period 1947-1949 – is 30,000, and those numbers decrease every year, while the UNRWA rolls constantly increase, as each new generation of pseudo-refugees is born. Jakes might have tried to make her readers aware of this unique definition by UNRWA of “Palestinian refugees” as including all the descendants, no matter how many generations removed, of the original refugees. Instead of accepting, without comment, UNRWA’s figure of “5.7 million Palestinian refugees,” she might have tried to make her readers think about the matter, and whether such privileged treatment of that one group of “refugees” is justified. But that would take thought. How much easier to simply repeat what others have been saying.

The centerpiece of the Times trifecta of criticism of Israel was a column by Yousef Munayyer, identified as “a writer and scholar at the Arab Center in Washington, DC” Munayyer — born in the city of Lod, a site of intense fighting during Israel’s War of Independence — grew up in New Jersey and (like the renowned Palestinian advocate Edward Said) became a staunch advocate from the land of the United States for presumed Palestinian rights in the Land of Israel.

As Munayyer sees it, the Hamas-initiated Gaza war represents the Palestinian goal of “breaking free from the shackles of Israel’s system of oppression.” These “shackles” include “the impending expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.” The only problem (ignored by Munayyer) is that these homes are not theirs; in 2008 the Israel Supreme Court affirmed that the property is owned by the Sephardi Jewish community, which purchased it more than a century ago.

What “system of oppression” by Israel is there in Gaza? No Israelis are in the Strip; the last Israelis pulled out in 2004. Israel provides Gaza with electricity and with three billion gallons of water yearly. Like Egypt, Israel does blockade certain materials from entering Gaza — not food or medicine, but only those that have a military use, including the building of tunnels. It is Hamas itself that oppresses the people of Gaza. It is Hamas that threatens, imprisons, and even murders, any who dissent from its despotic rule. It is Hamas leaders who have stolen so much of the aid money meant for the people of Gaza. Just two Hamas leaders, Khaled Meshaal and Mousa Abu Marzouk, have amassed fortunes of at least $2.5 billion each, while there are also 600 upper-echelon Hamas millionaires living in villas in the Strip. About that oppression of the Palestinians by Hamas, Youssef Munayyer has nothing to say.

As for the “impending expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in…Sheikh Jarrah,” what Munayyer dishonestly describes as “their homes” are in fact properties which Israeli courts have repeatedly concluded belong to Jewish owners, who not only have the deeds to prove their ownership, but also the testimony of the squatters themselves, who have admitted to not owning the properties in which they now live.

Grounded in this false claim, Munayyer writes: “Palestinians across the land who identified with the experience of being dispossessed by Israel rose up, together.” In translation, Palestinians were justified in pursuing their false claim of property ownership with waves of violence in Jerusalem and a cascade of rockets from Gaza. Palestinian defiance, especially in Gaza where Arabs are “caged and besieged,” exposed the “ugliness” of Israeli rule. The only problem is that Israel does not rule Gaza; Hamas does, and bears full responsibility for launching waves of rockets — against Israel.

Munayyer seems to favor the (preposterous) goal of “equal rights in a single state if the two-state solution fails.” But the two-state solution has failed because Palestinians have repeatedly rejected it, preferring the disappearance of Israel, by war if necessary. The alternative, for Munayyer, is another fantasy: “equal rights in a single state.” That would only require Israel to relinquish its identity as the Jewish state that it is, and always will be — a state, he fails to notice, where twenty per cent of its population are Arab citizens.

As Auerbach notes, every proposal for a so-called “two-state solution” that Israel has made has been rejected unceremoniously by the Palestinians. In 2000, Ehud Barak offered Yassir Arafat almost the entire West Bank, but Arafat wanted it all, wanted Israel to agree to be squeezed back within the 1949 armistice lines; he walked out. In 2008 Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas 95% of the West Bank, as well as part of Israel as territorial compensation, and even agreed to put the Old City of Jerusalem under international control. Just like Arafat with Barak, Mahmoud Abbas simply walked out.

But even a two-state “paradigm,” Munayyer suggests, is “dead.” Why? Because, predictably, “Israel buried it under settlements long ago.” In the end Munayyer is the perfect New York Times advocate for the disappearance of the world’s only Jewish state. Not coincidentally, it is located in the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people.

There are many versions of the “two-state solution,” ranging from those that would require Israel to return to the 1949 armistice lines, to the Trump proposal, according to which Israel would retain 30% of the West Bank but would, in compensation, give up two enclaves of land on the Negev border that would be included in the Palestinian state. If the “two-state paradigm” (not “solution”) is dead, it’s because the Palestinians have refused to accept any of the offers made so far, or even to negotiate on the basis of those offers. Israel’s building of settlements in the West Bank (a/k/a Judea and Samaria) is entirely licit under international law. The League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine delineated the area to be included in the future Jewish National Home; it included all the land from the Golan in the north to the Red Sea in the south, and from the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean sea in the west. Jordan’s seizure of the West Bank in 1948 did not deprive Israel of its right and title to Judea and Samaria; Jordan for 19 years (1948-1967) was merely the “military occupier”; its claim to sovereignty was recognized by only two countries, the United Kingdom and Pakistan.

When Israel won the West Bank in the Six-Day War, this victory did not create a new right, but allowed the Jewish state to exercise its pre-existing right, under the Mandate, to that territory. Israel has long shown its willingness to give up territory for the sake of peace. It returned the entire Sinai to Egypt, comprising fully 87% of the territory Israel won in the Six-Day War. It removed all of its citizens from Gaza in 2004. It has shown a willingness to agree to the Trump plan, according to which it would not only give up 70% of Judea and Samaria (a/k/a the “West Bank’), to a Palestinian state, while retaining 30%, either for security reasons, like the Jordan Valley, or because there are other compelling reasons, historical, religious, and demographic, for retaining them. Given that there are now half-a-million Israelis living in the West Bank, those living in the major settlement blocs will not be uprooted. Israelis vividly remember the national trauma over the removal of 9,000 Jews from Gaza in 2004 and have no desire to repeat that experience. In addition to giving the Palestinians 70% of the West Bank, Israel was willing, under the Trump plan, to give the Palestinians two large enclaves of land inside Israel that would compensate them for the 30% of the West Bank Israel would retain. Yet Mahmoud Abbas refused even to look at the plan.

For Munayyer, the two-state solution is “dead” because it “was buried under the settlements.” He is refusing to recognize Israel’s claim, according to the provisions of the Mandate for Palestine, to all of the land on which those “settlements” have been built. He insists that the settlements are obstacles to any “two-state solution” and therefore would have to be removed if such a “solution” is to be found. The necessary condition precedent for a “solution” would be, according to Munayyer, one where those half-million Israelis are removed from the West Bank, and Israel is again squeezed within the 1949 armistice lines, with a nine-mile wide waist from Qalqilya to the sea.

Munayyer now seems to favor the (preposterous) goal of “equal rights in a single state if the two-state solution fails.” Apparently he thinks Israeli Jews would be willing to live in a single state, consisting – as of this year — of 6.9 million Jews and slightly more than 6 million Arabs (2.16 million in the West Bank, 2 million in Israel, and 1.9 million in the Gaza Strip). Given the higher fertility rate – though it has, admittedly, gone down dramatically – of Palestinian Arab women as compared to Jewish women, and also given the likelihood that the Arabs in this “one state” would use their political power to bring in other Palestinian Arabs exercising their “right of return,” Israeli Jews might within a few years become a minority in their own homeland, and what was always supposed to be the only Jewish state could instead become, if Yousef Munayyer were to get his way, the 23rd Arab one.

Fortunately, the Israelis are not – and never will be — in the mood to commit national suicide. There is still a reasonable, carefully crafted, and spectacularly generous offer still available for the Palestinian Arabs (who would be provided not only with land for their state equal in area to 100% of the West Bank, but with a $50 billion aid package as well) to accept — the Trump administration’s “Peace-To-Prosperity” plan, ready to be acted upon.

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