Media Analysis

For Bari Weiss, Israel advocacy was both ideology and good career move

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New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss has lately been at the center of an internet firestorm over her attacks on the left for not tolerating dissent. As Glenn Greenwald and others have pointed out, Weiss has a long record of seeking to muzzle critics of Israel, going back to her campaigns against professors — several of them Arab — as an undergraduate at Columbia University in the early 2000’s. She also had a role in hounding out a Columbia dean for hosting former Iranian president Ahmadinejad.

In looking over Weiss’s back pages, I was struck by the fact that Zionist advocacy has given Weiss quite a career. She’s 33 or 34 and has had one good break after another, leading up to opinion editing at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

It’s not a surprise. The Times has provided a haven to countless Israel advocates, from Max Frankel (who made sure that editorials supported Israel back in the 70s) to William Safire channeling Ariel Sharon to Bill Kristol getting a column even after he pushed the Iraq disaster, to the phalanx of pro-Israel voices the paper has today: global editorial director Jodi Rudoren, who promoted Israel as a reporter; columnist David Brooks, who has said he gets gooey-eyed on his many visits to the Jewish state; Bret Stephens the unreconstructed neoconservative and former editor of the Jerusalem Post; Roger Cohen, liberal Zionist; and Tom Friedman, keen-Zionist-as-a-boy though he is halfway honest about apartheid today. At least four Times reporters have had children serving in the Israel Defense Forces, including Brooks.

So Bari Weiss — whose father is a stalwart at AIPAC, the Israel lobby group — really came home when she came to the Times last year.

Here are the highlights from Weiss’s resume as an advocate for the Jewish state.

Weiss is the oldest of four children from a highly-Jewish-identified family in Pittsburgh and went to Israel nine or ten times by the time she got to college. As a high school senior, she was already proselytizing American Jews to support Israel with a program called “If Not Now, When?” From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2002:

“One of the purposes of the program is to try and answer the question why a Jew in Pittsburgh should care about what a Jew in Jerusalem is going through,” said Bari Weiss, 18, a Shady Side Academy senior who has been instrumental in putting the program together. “It’s to plant a seed of Israel advocacy.”

After graduating, Weiss went to Israel on a United Synagogue Youth fellowship. (Rudoren also went to Israel as a teenager with USY.) The “Nativ” program sends young Jews to Israel for a year, to prepare them to be Israel advocates in college. Weiss soon showed up in an article from the Jewish Telegraph Agency advising Nativ to use its young alums to turn other American Jews into Israel advocates, even if they’d never been there.

“Let the kids be the trailblazers,” Weiss said. “Let them convince the parents how much their children will learn on these programs, about religion, Jewish identity and Zionism.”

Weiss went on to Columbia University; and as she took on pro-Palestinian profs, the sponsorships flowed. Her next pro-Israel fellowship was a summer gig at the Shalem Center, a rightwing Zionist thinktank in Jerusalem (since reborn as Shalem College) that was heavily underwritten by Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who called on President Obama to nuke Iran.

Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Forward on “a circle” of young pro-Israel writers subsidized by a major Israel supporter, Roger Hertog.

Shalem acquired a $100,000 grant from one of its funders, American neoconservative businessman Roger Hertog, and set up a summer training institute for future editors-in-chief… The first interns included young activists like Weiss, one of several Columbia students who accused Joseph Massad, a professor in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Civilizations department, of anti-Israel bias….

David Hazony, the Azure editor [a Shalem production], trained the interns in writing, editing and publishing. The students were introduced to the “who’s who of Israel,” in [former Shalem staffer Tanya] Strusberg’s words: writer Yossi Klein Halevi, former Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky, and Moshe Ya’alon, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces. All served as research fellows at Shalem. At summer’s end, the interns returned to their universities to start their journals….

Shalem gave these journals $2,500 per edition, which covered half the cost of the production. The students raised additional funds themselves, sometimes reaching out to campus Jewish groups to make up the difference.

Bari Weiss emailed Zeveloff and said, Better not to name Shalem.

“From my experience, I think it’s always best to be transparent,” Weiss, who was starting The Current at the time, wrote in one e-mail. But then she contradicted herself: “Also, from now on, better not to bring up the Shalem name. Tell them its coming from Azure — from a grant given by Hertog, who also owns half of The New Republic.”

Weiss did at the Current what she does today at the Times– sells Israel as a liberal cause, chiefly to other Jews. Zeveloff:

Though decidedly Zionist in perspective, the publication did not eschew criticism of its own movement.

In The Current’s second issue, Weiss wrote that Zionism’s adherents did themselves a “huge disservice” by not touting the movement’s liberal values, such as human rights.

Jewish Week also covered the Current in 2005. Weiss, then a junior, described herself as a Jewish “activist.”

“I’m an activist at heart,” Weiss said this week, “but I think that a journal of ideas may have a longer lasting impact than protests and rallies.”

Weiss was fulfilling Hertog’s pro-Israel mission:

Hertog, board chairman of The New Republic and The New York Sun, said he became involved in the project because “universities can be lonely places for Jewish men and women, especially if they identify with Jewish or Israel interests.” He said that “while rallies and speakers are important, ideas really do matter” and that “journals can have a large impact” on the thinking of college students. Weiss agrees. She said her intense activism at Columbia last year taught her that “protests are really important sometimes” — Weiss still recalls attending the huge rally for Soviet Jewry in Washington in 1987 at the age of 3 — but that “ideas are very powerful,” and that Jewish students at Columbia are looking for something more compelling than “falafel and cool parties” to make them identify with Israel.

After graduating, Weiss went to work for Hertog at the New York Sun. Glenn Greenwald wrote up her Zionist resume in acid tones:

After she crusaded against these Middle East studies professors at Columbia, penning columns denouncing them, she was quickly hired by the standard organs for neoconservative opinion: the New York Sun, Tablet, then the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. She gushed that the Wall Street Journal op-ed age was perfect for her politics — it “can often be an island of sanity for those of us who care about Zionism and Israel” — and explained that she went to Tablet “because I wanted the chance to focus on Jewish issues.”

Along the way, Weiss got a third fellowship to Israel, says the JTA, in a story on Bari Weiss’s celebrity, at age 33, last month: 

[A]fter college [she] worked as a freelance reporter and wrote for the Israeli daily Haaretz on a Dorot fellowship, a Jewish leadership program.
Dorot is a pro-Israel foundation dedicated to “progressive social change.” It sends a dozen young people to Israel every year. During her fellowship, Bari Weiss was published by Haaretz– which she said gave her confidence as a journalist— attacking would-be Columbia prof Nadia abu El-Haj, as part of a campaign that the New York Civil Liberties Union would criticize as a witchhunt.

Wait, there might have been another fellowship in there, too: at the Wall Street Journal. From the JTA:

[Bret] Stephens… met Weiss when she was a student at Columbia and encouraged her to apply for a fellowship at the Journal

Zionist advocacy and journalism were part and parcel for Weiss. Greenwald again:

Weiss spoke on a panel at the 2012 Conference of the American Zionist Movement in which she explained (in a video on YouTube) that she “got involved in journalism through activism” — specifically, activism against Arab and Muslim professors at Columbia — and that she now devotes herself to the “connection between advocacy journalism and Zionism.”

Like daughter like father. Bari’s father is Lou Weiss. Two weeks ago, Howard Kohr, the ceo of AIPAC, did a shoutout at the lobby’s annual policy conference to Lou, a member of the AIPAC National Council. Lou and wife Amy Weiss own a home flooring company in Pittsburgh. He calls himself a “carpet salesman” and says he has “led several missions to Israel.”

Lou Weiss was active in lobbying local congressmen against the Iran deal. He once described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “the leading advocate for the Western world…. He definitely speaks for me.” That was after he and his wife sat in the gallery in Congress in 2015 for Netanyahu’s famous address. From the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle:

“It was electric,” said Weiss. “Netanyahu came in, and the Congress of the United States gave him a standing ovation. The gallery was full, and there was Netanyahu talking about the first Jewish state in 2,000 years. How can you not be moved by that?” Although Netanyahu was focused on Israel and Iran in his speech, Weiss said, “It’s not hard to extrapolate from that the whole challenge of Islamic extremism to the rest of the world. It was an historic address from a man who has become, through his moral clarity and eloquence, the leading advocate for the Western world. … And the thought that he is from Israel and Jewish is great. He definitely speaks for me.”

And here is Lou talking about Syrian immigrants— don’t let em come to Pittsburgh, because they hate Jews:

“How can Jews be so smart and yet so stupid at the same time?” said Lou Weiss of Squirrel Hill. “Everyone loves the immigration of people to our country to become Americans. But who’s in favor of bringing in immigrants from a country where they hate gays, where women are subjected to female circumcision and honor killings, and they hate Jews?”

Lately Bari Weiss tweeted about Olympic athlete Mirai Nagasu, “Immigrants, they get the job done!” Nagasu is not an immigrant. Weiss deleted the tweet in the ensuing fury– and cleaned up the line, saying she had said, “Immigrants, we get the job done.”

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“In looking over Weiss’s back pages, I was struck by the fact that Zionist advocacy has given Weiss quite a career. ”
All this proves is if you behave like a reasonable person and do the correct thing your career and when you don’t your career suffers. Bari Weiss has nothing to be ashamed of. The other Weiss, ya know the Harvard Grad, should look to Ms. Weiss as a role model.

I am baffled by Joe Scarborough’s comments to Bari Weiss on his MSNBC show: “You look at the attacks against you. You’re talking about free speech, and you were attacked of course after this column for trying to inhibit free speech at Columbia when, in fact, you were praised for actually being a free speech champion. And trying to get more voices out there. But still, you were attacked and people tried to stifle your… Read more »

PHIL- “In looking over Weiss’s back pages, I was struck by the fact that Zionist advocacy has given Weiss quite a career. She’s in her early 30’s and has had one good break after another, leading up to opinion editing at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.” That is, after all, the purpose of Zionism. The reestablishment of broad feelings of Jewish kinship under the banner of Israel and Zionism to facilitate… Read more »

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