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Bret Stephens’s greatest hits

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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. 

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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20 Responses

  1. eljay on April 13, 2017, 11:43 am

    Mr. Stephens appears to be yet another hateful and immoral hypocrite in a long line of (pro-)Zionist purveyors of hate and defenders of evil.

    • inbound39 on April 13, 2017, 7:57 pm

      @ eljay……It’s hard for these people to curb their arrogance when they are so damned imperfect.

  2. Citizen on April 13, 2017, 12:25 pm

    Vinyl or digital, I smell a rabid Jewish Zionist racist supremacist. It’s a witchy brew they breed in some born & bred American homes.

    • wondering jew on April 13, 2017, 5:12 pm

      Did you write that in ball point pen?

      • Mooser on April 13, 2017, 5:51 pm

        “Did you write that in ball point pen?”

        “Citizen” I think that’s a trick-question. No matter how you answer it, “Yonah” looks dumb.

  3. John O on April 13, 2017, 12:34 pm

    At least the Guardian is finding a bit more courage these days. An article by Manuel Hassassian (described in the print edition as “ambassador from Palestine to London”) on the victims of the Balfour declaration:

    And, yesterday, an article on Saffiyah Khan (the photo of whom, facing down an English Defence League moron with a bemused smile, went viral a few days ago). Note the “Free Gaza, Free Palestine” t-shirt in the photo, that was spread over two pages in the print edition:

    • chocopie on April 13, 2017, 9:42 pm

      That was great to see her photographed in the Gaza t-shirt, right after her image went viral and everyone was lauding her as a hero. Smart woman.

    • Maghlawatan on April 14, 2017, 3:31 am

      That tshirt is a sign of how difficult it will be for Israel to manage the conflict going forward. Say the Palestinians were a tribe in Uganda. Israel might get away with it. Gaza is not so important.

      Khan is a Muslim. And she knows what is going on. so do millions of other Muslims and Arabic speakers. Israeli logic doesn’t work outside the Zionist spaces.

      And that must keep Israeli strategists up at night.

  4. festus on April 13, 2017, 1:54 pm

    “Being an idealist, I’ve always believed that the Times is going to begin to reflect progressive opinion on Israel and Palestine”…. Why? Isn’t it clear that the NY Times is hasbara central, protecting Israel’s image while pushing wars for Israel and vilifiying anyone opposed?

  5. WH on April 14, 2017, 3:27 am

    That article on Hiroshima was one of the most obscene things I’ve ever read.

    • pabelmont on April 15, 2017, 5:59 pm

      Obscene — and remarkably stupid: “Modern Japan is a testament to the benefits of total defeat, to stripping a culture prone to violence of its martial pretense”.

      Does Stephens really think the USA would be better off (or the world better off) if the USA were totally defeated? Would everyone be better off if Israel were totally defeated?

      I might think so, but does Stephens? And if not, why is it better off just because Japan was totally defeated — is it because Japan was, up to then, “prone to violence”? But aren’t USA and Israel to violence”? Seemed so to me. I would call Israel’s repeated “mowing the grass” violence. Anybody disagree?

      What a remarkable twit Stephens is! And the NYT hires him! Twits, all.

      And, of course, and more important, EVIL.

  6. Maghlawatan on April 14, 2017, 3:39 am

    The NYT is a power centre running groupthink. Brett Stephens is an idiot who is out of touch with US public opinion. But the NYT thinks it’s still 2001.

    “The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things.”

    The Trump vote was partly a revolt against the ineptitude of the foreign policy establishment. Stephens is part of that establishment. The NYT is not on top of what is happening either politically or economically.

    Ya salam.

    I don’t think this appointment is a big deal.

    • captADKer on April 14, 2017, 11:21 am

      “I don’t think this appointment is a big deal.”

      to this “rabid jew zionist” it’s huge🇺🇸💪🇮🇱

      • Mooser on April 14, 2017, 11:51 am

        “to this “rabid jew zionist” it’s huge”

        You might want to get that hydrophobia treated.

      • eljay on April 14, 2017, 2:25 pm

        I don’t know there’s a smiling, twisted yellow penis between the American and Israeli flags but, for some reason, it makes sense.

  7. Boomer on April 14, 2017, 7:15 am

    re: “Bret Stephens has been hired as an op-ed columnist by the New York Times”

    Sad news, reflecting a disturbing reality in this era of Trump.

  8. ckg on April 14, 2017, 7:36 am

    In order to unsubscribe to the WSJ a few months agoI had to call a 800 number and explain my reasons. I simply said “Bret Stephens.” Now I will do the same to the NYT. But at least I can go back to the WSJ now.

    • marc b. on April 16, 2017, 9:53 am

      wsj suffers from neoliberal toxicity. It used to provide some relatively objective reporting for the elite, or those simply interested in what the elite found important, even some humor from time to time. (An article on the ‘glass floor’ saving idiot nephews and other favored relations from inevitable failure, or another piece on the lack of need for mental health coverage in publicly-subsidized health care, since the most deranged folk were sitting on the management boards of Fortune 500 companies.). Now it mostly sucks.

  9. John Salisbury on April 14, 2017, 11:44 pm

    His world view informed by an intense and unforgiving tribalism.

  10. Maghlawatan on April 16, 2017, 11:53 am

    Stephens wrote a stunner about Climate change in 2010

    He is a Koch sucker

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