From the beginnings of the massacre in Gaza we have insisted that Israel’s actions have changed American opinion, and alienated people who were once supportive of Israel. “A frankly unconscionable use of force,” Chris Hayes said, while David Rothkopf called the slaughter the anti-Passover: “A supposedly Jewish state violating the most basic concepts of the religion in order to defend its ‘right to exist.’”
Now Eric Alterman in The Nation bluntly states that Israel used to be “a source of pride and admiration” for liberal Jews, but “today brings only shame and sadness.”
The longtime liberal Zionist acknowledges the weight of this moment. The killings are “appalling,” Alterman says; and together with Israel’s 70th anniversary and the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem give “every indication of being a turning point.”
His piece is important because he points out that Israel’s defenders are hard at work: “the punditocracy remains filled with those who do not merely excuse Israel’s use of excessive force but actively praise it.”
This is particularly true of the New York Times op-ed page, which, aside from Michelle Goldberg’s laments for the fate of liberal Zionism, is dominated by apologists for the Netanyahu government. Shmuel Rosner is one of a dwindling number who see their role as defending Israel to liberal Jews. He authored a Times op-ed that was headlined with a phrase that ought to shock defenders of Israel: “Israel Needs to Protect Its Borders. By Whatever Means Necessary.” In the piece, Rosner argues, “Guarding the border was more important than avoiding killing, and guarding the border is what Israel did successfully.” Rosner even tried to justify the use of live bullets. We so often hear that Israel is a technocratic marvel, but is murder by sniper really the best method of border control it can come up with?
No doubt the most prominent member of the “Israel is always right” brigade is the Times’ Bret Stephens, formerly of the Journal, where he was known to complain of the “disease of the Arab mind.” In his latest column on Gaza, Stephens can’t even write the word “occupation” without derisive quotation marks. He whines, Trumplike, “Why is nothing expected of Palestinians, and everything forgiven, while everything is expected of Israelis, and nothing forgiven?”
This, of course, is transference of the first order. As the pro-Israel (and mostly conservative) Economist observed in a lead editorial, “Gaza is a prison, not a state…one of the most crowded and miserable places on Earth. It is short of medicine, power and other essentials.
Let me fill in the picture. Michelle Goldberg was very good. She called the killings a “massacre” that was condemned by the world, and described the two-state solution as a figleaf for apartheid:
But even if you completely dismiss the Palestinian right of return — which I find harder to do now that Israel’s leadership has all but abandoned the possibility of a Palestinian state — it hardly excuses the Israeli military’s disproportionate violence…
A rising generation of Americans may see an apartheid state with a Trump Square in its capital and wonder why it’s supposed to be our friend.
A Times editorial also faulted Israel’s actions, after a sniper killed journalist Yaser Murtaja. But the criticism was indirect. The right of people to demonstrate peacefully
should not be controversial. But ordinary Palestinians have few defenders, and much of the world has been shockingly mute about what’s happening in Gaza.
That’s about it. Rosner’s piece actually said that the Palestinians were being shot for their own good, so as to end their illusions about returning to their land: “I believe Israel’s current policy toward Gaza ultimately benefits not only Israel but also the Palestinians.”
Bari Weiss, the outspoken opinion editor, has echoed Israeli talking points about Hamas and terror. Showing complete indifference to the human toll, Weiss wrote that 50 of 60 killed on May 14 “were Hamas.” And she said the negative headlines are just what Hamas was looking for: “The press coverage was a major success in a war whose battlefield isn’t really Gaza, but the brains of foreign audiences.”
“I get why Israel has no choice but to defend its border with Gaza with brute force.”
Friedman says Palestinian refugees need to move on.
Why should they pay with their ancestral homes for Jewish refugees who lost theirs in Germany or Iraq? The only answer is that history is full of such injustices and of refugees who have reconciled with them and moved on — not passed on their refugee status to their kids and their kids’ kids. It’s why so few Arabs, so few Europeans, so few anybody, rose to Hamas’s defense. People are fed up with it.
Roger Cohen was critical to a point. He called the shootings indefensible and “stomach turning” and said that “When snipers shoot to kill civilians approaching a wall,” it is reminiscent of Eastern Europe. But Cohen tempered that condemnation by saying that the killings are what Hamas sought: “Israel haters, and Jew haters, have a field day.”
He all but equated the killings with the insistence of Palestinians on the right of return, which he also labels “stomach turning,” because it would supposedly push Jews into the sea. As Friedman did, Cohen told Palestinians to move on from “fantasies” about Israel’s land.
Half the territory is now less than a quarter in any imaginable deal. I don’t see why that trend would be reversed absent creative, unified and pragmatic Palestinian leadership focused on a two-state future: laptops for kids rather than keys to lost olive groves.
Conservative David Brooks sounded liberal themes in this thumbsucker. He called the Nakba a “historic wrong,” and went on to fault Israel’s response to the demonstrations: “There was plenty of time to figure out how to handle the crowds without bloodshed.” But the thrust of his column was blaming Hamas’s “extremism”: the group incited “a massive border invasion.” In the end, both sides are responsible, but Israel is “soiled.”
I may be missing some opinions, but I’m surprised. I thought Times opinion writers would seek to reflect this moment in some of its horror. But no, at a time of moral reckoning, the stable of New York Times has been strongly on Israel’s side, excepting Goldberg. That’s what you get when you hire only pro-Israel columnists, several with an ideological commitment to Zionism. Many readers are turning the page.