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Monday, May 20, 2019

I was about to write an article about how The New York Times had reached a new low—and then, in its international edition, it published a cartoon of Donald Trump wearing a yarmulke, being walked by a dog with the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a Star of David collar. The Times apologized after a backlash, with an official stating: “Such imagery is always dangerous, and at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise worldwide, it’s all the more unacceptable.”

I was initially planning to write about Michelle Goldberg, the latest writer to bring an anti-Israel animus to the Times’ opinion page. Coming from the generally anti-Israel magazine The Nation, this should not have surprised readers; however, in the short time that she’s been a columnist with the Times she’s distinguished herself as one of the worst.

In January, I pointed out the absurdity of her column claiming that anti-Zionism was not anti-Semitism. Her ignorance was again on display in a new column defending Omar Barghouti and the BDS movement. “The B.D.S. movement doesn’t engage in or promote violence. Its leaders make an effort to separate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism,” she claimed. Goldberg further misstated the goals of the movement as “agnostic on a final dispensation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Finally, in protesting Barghouti’s ban from the United States, she asserted: “Barghouti threatens America’s defenders not because he’s hateful, but because he isn’t.”

Rather than cite all the examples of what Barghouti and other supporters of the anti-Semitic BDS campaign have said, readers can find them online. The crux of the matter is that the BDS movement’s aim is to demonize Israel and convince the international community to dismantle it. Barghouti and the rest do not recognize the Jewish people’s right to self-determination; they claim it only for the Palestinians. They are only non-violent if you ignore their desire to destroy Israel.

It was not enough, however, for the Times to publish Goldberg’s defense of the BDS movement and thereby contribute to the normalization of anti-Semitism. Instead, the paper doubled down on her position by printing a letter from Barghouti in which he quoted Jewish (of course) philosopher Joseph Levine, saying, “The very idea of a Jewish state [in Palestine] is undemocratic, a violation of the self-determination rights of its non-Jewish citizens, and therefore morally problematic.” Barghouti added the reference to Palestine. What he doesn’t mention is that Levine’s article, published in the Times, also argued that Israel has no right to exist and that saying so is not anti-Semitic.

In a twist on the old Palestinian propaganda line that their goal was a “secular, democratic state,” Barghouti says: “A true inclusive democracy, free from all colonial subjugation, discrimination and oppression, would enable Palestinian refugees to return and include Jewish Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building a new shared society.”

As even Goldberg acknowledges, this “would likely lead to oppression or worse for Israeli Jews.” Setting aside the small matter of destroying Israel, nothing like his vision exists in the Arab/Muslim world. Moreover, the dictatorial rule of Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, and their persecution of gays, women, Christians, journalists and dissident Palestinians, is a preview of what Barghouti’s one-state solution would look like.

Contrary to Goldberg’s assertions, Barghouti was not kept out of the U.S. because of his views, nor was he denied his freedom to speak: he’s been phoning into the events where he was scheduled to appear, and also given a platform by the Times.

And I didn’t even mention the lengthy defense of BDS and the hit piece on Israel and the pro-Israel community written for The New York Times Magazine by yet another detractor. Later it was disclosed, though not by the Times, that the author, Nathan Thrall, works for an organization whose major donor is Qatar, the principal funder of Hamas.

Bret Stephens wrote this when discussing the controversy:

The reason is the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism, including by this paper, which has become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry. So long as anti-Semitic arguments or images are framed, however speciously, as commentary about Israel, there will be a tendency to view them as a form of political opinion, not ethnic prejudice. … the publication of the cartoon isn’t just an “error of judgment,” either. The paper owes the Israeli prime minister an apology. It owes itself some serious reflection as to how it came to publish that cartoon—and how its publication came, to many longtime readers, as a shock but not a surprise.

Times defenders may point to the hiring of Zionists like Stephens and Bari Weiss, and the fact that the paper gets criticism for their views. This is a straw man trotted out whenever journalists’ biases are documented. Just because two sides of an issue complain does not mean that a story is accurate or balanced. Furthermore, Weiss and Stephens do not offset the anti-Israel animus at the heart of the paper, which regularly moves from the editorial pages into the news coverage.

This is not to say that either Jews or Israel should be immune from criticism. What readers expect, however, is news coverage that is fair and placed in context. Similarly, critical voices have a right to be heard on the editorial page; however, being a detractor of Israel should not be the principal criterion for publication. The paper already has a coterie of regular critics—Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof and Roger Cohen—who reinforce the decades-old image of the Times Stephens lamented.

Criticism is one thing; the publication of blatantly anti-Semitic material like the cartoon, however, is inexcusable. The paper needs more than reflection; its biases have been dissected for decades. What it needs is a total overhaul and new ownership.

Insert shaded bio box: Mitchell Bard is executive director of the American-Israel Cooperative Enterprise (AICE).

By Mitchell Bard