Mondoweiss

Bret Stephens’s greatest hits

Bret Stephens (Photo: Jason Smith)

I was shocked last night when I learned that Bret Stephens has been hired as an op-ed columnist by the New York Times. Being an idealist, I’ve always believed that the Times is going to begin to reflect progressive opinion on Israel and Palestine; but this hire told me I’m dreamin. It goes to show, there really is a neoconservative bloc at the Times. That’s why Jodi Rudoren was Jerusalem bureau chief (and told readers about “a sliver of opportunity” in Gaza). It’s why Bill Kristol was a columnist for a while. It’s why editors always let through stupid headlines about Jerusalem. It’s why the op-ed page is all Zionist, from Roger Cohen to David Brooks to waffling Tom Friedman. And why the paper slags the boycott movement against Israel without rejoinder from pro-BDS voices.

But let’s hear from the temperamental Stephens himself; let’s see why I think this hire is so problematic. What characterizes Stephens’s speech is an irritable callowness that easily flares into prejudice. That prejudice is conventional neoconservative, and Jewish-centric with a boyish gloss. A former editor of the Jerusalem Post— the launching pad for Wolf Blitzer and Jeffrey Goldberg — Stephens is often Islamophobic.

Two years ago Stephens said there’s a “clash of civilizations” between the west and Islam (yawn) and he’s “almost grateful” that the kosher supermarket in Paris was attacked. Four people died in that attack.

Now with the attack on the kosher supermarket, I think [the anti-Semitism is] at last out in the open, and in that sense I’m almost grateful that this happened, that at last I think Europe is coming to recognize that it has a real problem with anti-Semitism that can’t be denied or can’t be passed off as a function of a reaction to Israeli policy.

Remember: Israeli policy is always blameless. Two years ago he wrote a piece called, “Palestine: The Psychotic Phase” and said that Palestinians are guilty of “blood lust” for Jews, because they were attacking Israeli soldiers chiefly in the occupation.

The significant question is why so many Palestinians have been seized by their present blood lust—by a communal psychosis in which plunging knives into the necks of Jewish women, children, soldiers and civilians is seen as a religious and patriotic duty, a moral fulfillment. Despair at the state of the peace process, or the economy? Please. It’s time to stop furnishing Palestinians with the excuses they barely bother making for themselves.

So it’s always about Jew-hatred, never about Israel (as Yakov Hirsch explained).

Remember when that Egyptian judo-wrestler refused to shake hands with the Israeli who beat him at the summer Olympics in Brazil? Bret Stephens said that was “the disease of the Arab mind”:

Bret Stephens on the disease of the Arab mind

Then there was the Iran Deal. Fearing that it was going to go through, Bret Stephens went to Hiroshima and told us why nuking Japan was such a good thing. This is the callow part I mentioned. How many of us could be so glib in the cinders of a genocide?

The bomb turned the empire of the sun into a nation of peace activists…

Modern Japan is a testament to the benefits of total defeat, to stripping a culture prone to violence of its martial pretenses… It is a testament, too, to an America that understood moral certainty and even a thirst for revenge were not obstacles to magnanimity. In some ways they are the precondition for it…

There are lessons in this city’s history that could serve us today, when the U.S. military forbids the word victory, the U.S. president doesn’t believe in the exercise of American power, and the U.S. public is consumed with guilt for sins they did not commit.

Watch the lights come on at night in Hiroshima. Note the gentleness of its culture. And thank God for the atom bomb.

As for the irritable Jew-centrism, this was also from 2014, a speech to a Zionist group called the Tikvah Fund. It’s about the power of the Israel lobby:

Thank God I was born a Jew because otherwise I’d be a raging anti-Semite… [be]cause I tear my hair out all the time at my fellow Jews. But rare is it in history that we’ve been blessed to live in a country where we can say anything we want and actually get away with it. And it is a scandal, it seems to me, if we fail to live up to the promise of our American citizenship to do all we can to assure the survival of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.

More of that temperament; here is a passage from the book The Israel Lobby, 2007:

In August 2003…writer Ian Buruma wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “How to Talk About Israel.” He made the obvious point that it is sometimes difficult to talk “critically and dispassionately” about Israel in the United States, and pointed out that “even legitimate criticism of Israel, or of Zionism, is often quickly denounced as anti-Semitism by various watchdogs.” In response, Bret Stephens, then the editor of the Jerusalem Post and now a columnist and editorial board member at the Wall Street Journal, published a vitriolic open letter in the Post that began by asking Buruma: “Are you a Jew?” Two paragraphs later, Stephens declared “What matters to me is that you say, ‘I am a Jew’.” Why did this matter? Because in Stephens’ view, “One must be at least a Jew to tell the goyim how they may or may not talk about Israel.” The message of this remarkable letter, in short, was that non-Jews should only talk about this subject in ways that Jews deem acceptable.

I tried to find the letter. This is as much as I could find. In fairness, Stephens was then in his late 20s, but the impulse is quite racist, and the mannerism is boarding-school.

Dear Mr. Buruma: Are you a Jew?

For reasons somewhat obscure to me, this was the first question that sprang to mind while reading your article in last week’s New York Times magazine, “How to Talk About Israel.” Buruma is not an obviously Jewish name (neither is Stephens, for that matter), and what little I knew about you is that you’d written a great deal about Asia. I did remember a piece you wrote in The Guardian some time ago, when Tom Paulin accused you of having “Zionist credentials” and your answer was somewhat coy. Rightly so, I suppose. Paulin is an anti-Semite and he was accusing you, in effect, of “thinking like a Jew.” Your answer, as I recall, was: Whether or not I’m a Jew, what possible difference does it make?

Still, I want to know: Are you a Jew? A Google search on “Buruma” and “Jew” brings me to an Irish website called “Palestine: Information with Provenance.” There’s a snapshot of you there, and above it a line that reads: AUTHOR CLASS: BRITISH JEW. The effect is sinister – sinister enough to make me wonder whether I’m badly out of line for asking if you’re Jewish. Yet it doesn’t really matter to me that some Irish Leftists have classed you in a way that would have done Eichmann proud. What matters to me is that you say, “I am a Jew.”

Bret Stephens double standard for US and Israel

Finally (above), here is Bret Stephens detecting anti-Semitism in Chuck Hagel and fascism in Donald Trump; but declaring that Netanyahu’s Israel is a healthy democracy. From Yakov Hirsch’s devastating analysis:

One of the biggest experts on “prejudice” is Bret Stephens, Pulitzer-winning columnist for the Wall Street Journal. He made his name as a “prejudice expert” during the confirmation hearing of former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in 2013. There had been many accusations of anti-Semitism thrown at Hagel but no solid evidence to convince the skeptics. Till Bret Stephens broke the impasse by proclaiming “Eureka!” in his column:

“Prejudice—like cooking, wine-tasting and other consummations—has an olfactory element–“

And then he pronounced that with Hagel the smell was “especially ripe.” That performance gained Stephens quite the reputation in the “prejudice detecting” field. And this election season with Donald Trump and his movement going from one victory to the next, Stephens has been especially busy. In fact Stephens has likened Trump to Mussolini and other fascists of the ’30s. And he found Trump’s stench to be so bad that racists the world over were coming to him.

“With the instinct of house flies… [they] recognize the familiar smell, and they want more of it.”

Looks like New York Times readers are in for quite a ride.

Thanks to Scott Roth and James North.