A friend pointed out to me that the speech that I reported on by the New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem is evidence of the "bubble" that New York Times people live inside. They don’t like to go out of a bubble of assumptions about western culture/Jewishness/establishment status. That is what was so arresting about Times columnist Roger Cohen’s reporting last year; he dared to break out of the bubble. And the Times is hardly along: most American Jews were raised inside that bubble, and the challenge is to break out of its limited consciousness.
Reaching for my shelves here, here are a few of the close personal connections that have existed between the New York Times and the Jewish state:
1. Columnist C.L. Sulzberger wrote in his diaries, A Long Row of Candles, that he had personally received the Stern Gang’s threat to kill UN negotiator Folke Bernadotte in 1948 from "Two handsome, tall young fellows in khaki shorts" who knocked on his door in Tel Aviv. Sulzberger planned to pass the warning on to "Ben Gurion’s high muckamuck in secret service and dirty tricks." Bernadotte was murdered two months later.
2. Max Frankel, former executive editor of the Times, wrote in his autobiography, "I was much more deeply devoted to Israel than I dared to assert. I had yearned for a Jewish homeland ever since learning as a child in Germany that in Palestine even the policemen were Jews!… I did indeed have many close Israeli friends, not only relatives and journalists but high officials, ranging from Yitzhak Rabin to [Labor official] Lova Eliav. That is why I well understood the full range of Israeli opinion on all of that country’s vital security issues."
3. Frankel’s successor as executive editor, and protege, was Joseph Lelyveld, a liberal writer. Lelyveld’s father, the late Reform Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, was president of the Zionist Organization of America and an active lobbyist for the Jewish state. He met with Harry Truman in 1948 shortly before Truman recognized Israel. Lelyveld also lobbied the New York Times, urging the owners to abandon their anti-Zionism. It’s not clear from Joseph Lelyveld’s memoir whether he was a Zionist…
4. Here is Palestinian doctor Ghada Karmi talking to Democracy Now a year ago about her family’s house in West Jerusalem that they were forced from during the Nakba. The New York Times comes in in the third paragraph; and you can see in Karmi’s story the institutional discomfort that the Times has with the Palestinian narrative:
I wanted to find the house. I looked for it desperately in the early 1990s, couldn’t find it, because I didn’t remember. My brother and my sister, who did remember, weren’t with me.
But then I tried again, and I did find it. And we went in. There was a Canadian Jewish family living in it, Orthodox, and they didn’t speak Hebrew. I didn’t speak Hebrew either, but I had an Israeli friend in case I couldn’t make myself understood. So, however, we needn’t have bothered, because they spoke English. And they went—they were very uncomfortable. They didn’t want me to look around. I said, “Can I look around? This was my home.” And they said, “It’s nothing to do with us. It’s nothing to do with us.” In fact, they were tenants. And I went around, but they hurried me out. I didn’t have much time to look around, to relive the memories, to get the feelings, the feelings back, because as a child, you know, it’s the feeling that comes back. You don’t really remember where that chair was, where that wall was, where that—you know. I had to leave, and it was terribly—as you can imagine, it was extremely upsetting.
But then a very strange thing happened. I returned to Palestine in 2005, where I worked in Ramallah for the Palestinian Authority. I wanted to live in Palestine for a while, and I had a visa, and I went in there to do work. I was working for the United Nations. And one day, I got a message from a man called Steven Erlanger, whom I had never met. I didn’t really know who he was, but of course I realized he was the bureau chief for the New York Times, saying “I have read your marvelous memoir, and, do you know, I think I’m living above your old house.” And it was amazing. He said, “From the description in your book, it must be the same place.” Anyway, we arranged to meet. I went over to Jerusalem, and I met him. And indeed, it was my house.
And what had happened was somebody at some point had built a story above the old house, which was of course a one-story place, a villa, typical of that kind of architecture. But somebody had built a floor above it, and that belonged to the New York Times. And the incumbent at the time was Steven Erlanger, who had been moved by the memoir and said, “This is your house?” And I said, “Yes, it is.” And he took me—I remember he took me—he had made friends with the people downstairs, who were not the Canadian Jewish family. They were somebody else. They were really quite nice people, Jewish, and—Israelis, in fact. And they—he told them, “Look, this lady used to live here.” And they said, “Please, come in.” And I had all the time in the world. I went around. I felt terribly sad. He took loads of photographs of me.
And actually, we talked, he and I. I said, “Look. Look at what’s happened. You’ve seen this—you’ve seen me. You know what happened here. How do you feel about Israel now?” And I couldn’t get him to say that what happened in 1948 was an iniquity and an injustice. He didn’t say anything like that. He remained diplomatic, I suppose you would say, noncommittal, very pleasant to me, but it was a very strange episode.