The Israel/Palestine conflict is the central issue in American public life today. The New York Times has five stories that touch on it in today’s paper.
–On the front page, a long piece about the Presbyterian divestment vote by Laurie Goodstein highlights the Presbyterians’ anguish over the measure, their seriousness, and the important role played by a small but growing organization per the Times, Jewish Voice for Peace, and specifically the interfaith prayers led by Rabbi Alissa Wise in favor of divestment. The established Jewish organizations’ threats to break off relations with the Presbys are lower in the story and the church leaders express a sophisticated understanding that they must risk the labeling and weather that storm in order to do something, anything about Palestinian human rights.
–Jodi Rudoren does a long profile from an illegal settlement in the West Bank of an American-Israeli mother whose son was killed by Palestinians during the Second Intifada. The piece is totally inside the American-Israeli Jewish experience, which is Rudoren’s stomping ground, the territory familiar to her, as she told Hadassah Magazine. The issue of the illegal settlement as a Palestinian grievance–Tekoa, the West Bank is the dateline– is never considered in the piece. The fact that Israel has killed three Palestinian youths in the last week while searching for the missing Israeli teens– who are widely believed to have been abducted — is not mentioned. What about those young men’s mothers?
–On the next page of the Times, A6, the Israeli killings of Palestinian youths are reported, along with the Israeli sweeps across the West Bank; but right under that is a story about Jews leaving France for Israel because of rising anti-Semitism in Europe. Not till the fourth paragraph do we learn that the number is small: 1407 out of 500,000 French Jews in the first three months of the year. Not till the fourth paragraph from the end of the story do we learn that economics as much as anti-Semitism is prompting the French Jews to leave: business opportunities in Israel. Should the piece have also discussed the great levels to which Jews have risen in French business and political life? We feel that the Times is proclaiming a molehill to be a mountain.
–In the arts section Anthony Tomassini, the classical music critic, says he is dismayed by the decision of the Metropolitan Opera, bowing to “intense pressure from some Jewish groups,” to cancel the broadcast of the opera The Death of Klinghoffer in October. Tomassini says that yes the work is controversial, but that’s “Fine.. let audiences grapple with the piece.” Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League didn’t even see the opera before he twisted Met gm Peter Gelb’s arm to shut down the broadcast, we learn, and Tomassini also avers that the opera is better than John Adams’s other works, on Nixon and nuclear science. The piece does not mention an ad that appeared in yesterday’s Times from the Metropolitan stating the “alarming” news that its funding is now 48 percent reliant on donors as opposed to 34 percent ten years ago. The Met’s financial crisis and dependence on benefactors are obviously a factor in its censorship decision; Jews are an important factor in support for the arts in New York, and Zionism is an important factor inside Jewish life.
Overall, two steps forward, one or two back. The Times is disputed territory. The old guard is hanging on. But as Laurie Goodstein’s splendid coverage of the Presbyterians’ decision shows, the wave is moving in one direction, toward greater openness, in the American heartland and at our leading newspaper too..