The New York Times has become a parody of itself. It is impossible for anyone to parody the paper’s fulsome coverage of Benjamin Netanyahu. Two stories in today’s paper mark a dismal low point in the paper of record’s failure to inform American readers. First, here is “a rare and unusually reflective interview” with Benjamin Netanyahu in which there is NO reference to the charges of fascism and incipient Nazism that officials and former officials in his own government have leveled at the rightwing prime minister.
But there are a lot of lines that could have written by the Onion. Like these ones about Netanyahu and his older brother Yonatan.
Yoni and Bibi. Bibi and Yoni. For years, these paired nicknames have been hard to escape.
As you read the interview, remember that former Jerusalem correspondent Jodi Rudoren never got access to the Prime Minister after a story for which the paper apologized in which it published gossip about his wife Sara. (The correction said, “While her purported temper has been widely faulted, her child-rearing methods have not. Ms. Netanyahu is a respected child psychologist.”) The Times is evidently seeking to restore access to the PM before its new Jerusalem correspondent, Peter Baker, arrives in town.
Right alongside that Netanyahu interview that has nothing to do with the news is this story-behind-the-story: a whiteknuckled retelling by reporter Jeffrey Gettleman about how he got that interview with Netanyahu, and flew to Entebbe, Uganda, with the prime minister to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the daring raid on a hijacked plane in which Netanyahu’s brother Yonatan died, and 100 hostages were freed.
This reads like a Marvel comic.
As I dug deeper into the research, I realized with a twinge of soberness — and anxiety — that in my hands was one of the most precious stories Israel has to tell, and that I had better not screw up.
Yoni is an icon. He was the ideal Israeli. It wasn’t simply that he was handsome, intelligent, adventurous and patriotic; he seemed to embody a sense of sacrifice, of serving a cause greater than his own
It is necessary to reflect, as you read this next passage, that American Jews will always feel inadequate to Israeli Jews, because they serve in wars and we don’t, so who are we to find fault. That blackmail is held over us by Bill Kristol and liberal Zionists, too, and it defines the relationship. Which is why Jeffrey Goldberg, who did serve in an Israeli uniform, gets to be king of the hill in US journalism. Jeffrey Gettleman, breathless:
“I’ve learned since how to kill at close range, too — to the point of pressing the muzzle against the flesh,” Yoni wrote toward the end of his life. “It adds a whole dimension of sadness to a man’s being. Not a momentary, transient sadness, but something that sinks in and is forgotten, yet is there and endures.”
Who writes like this? His openness and self-awareness stunned me.
Again, working for the Onion, Gettleman gets his questions ready.
“Why wasn’t Yoni wearing a flak jacket when he was shot?” I asked.
“When exactly was he pronounced dead?”
“How many people had he killed on the battlefield?”
“And what about Harvard? Any recollection of which classes he took?”
So when I showed up for my meeting with the prime minister, I was prepared.
These Israelis are humble and inspiring figures:
We climbed the steps of a blocklike office building on a sunny hillside in Jerusalem. The prime minister’s office suite was about the size of my high school principal’s and not much fancier.
Third World leaders are bizarre, but not Netanyahu!
The Entebbe visit came off without a hitch, despite a bizarre speech from Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in which he kept referring to Israel as “Palestine.”
The Israeli miracle is alive.
Maybe Entebbe made Israel feel invincible. When I considered what the Israelis had to work with at the time, I could see why. The intelligence had been spotty. Israeli military planes could barely fly that far. The whole thing had been thrown together fast, on a shoestring budget.
It’s hard to know what to say, beyond the fact that there is Huge institutional and cultural pressure on the New York Times and Jeffrey Gettleman to produce such pulp. We’re talking about the Israel lobby as a reflection of American Jewish life. What a story. And heavens to Betsy but the Times can’t touch it.
Thanks to Donald Johnson for the first idea in this post, and to James North.