Media Analysis

Who knew? ‘NYT’ bias on Israel stems from editor’s Jewish mother’s wedding in church

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A pro-Israel journalist has determined the cause of the New York Times’s alleged bias against the Jewish state: the number of church weddings in editorial page editor James Bennet’s family.

Ira Stoll followed up what he calls a lot of “whispered speculation” about Bennet’s background to unearth the “crucial context” in a 2012 interview of Bennet’s mother by the US Holocaust Memorial. in which she criticized Israel for behaving as Nazis toward Palestinians and detailed the assimilation in the Bennet family. As if this explains — well who knows what it explains? Stoll’s headline at Algemeiner is “Is New York Times editor influenced by mother’s negative view of Israel?”

Credit to Stoll for finding that interview. Susanne Klejman Bennet, 80, was a toddler when she escaped the Warsaw ghetto with her parents and came to the States. She and husband Douglas Bennet Jr. had three children, including journalist James and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, now a candidate for president.

Here’s Susanne Bennet’s comparison of Israelis to Nazis. US Holocaust Memorial interviewer Gail Schwartz asked her about Israel:

I feel very apprehensive about what’s going to happen to Israel. I feel that they have made some very serious mistakes in how they treat the Palestinians. And what I saw when I was there was pretty god awful and it simply made me think that they were doing the same thing that the Germans had done with the Jews in making them non-people. You know at one point, at one of the check points which were really set up massively during the Intifada, I saw some soldiers being absolutely horrible to a couple of old Palestinian men. And that brought back memories. And they have you know totally ghettoized them. I think in the end if Israel wants to continue to be there they have to develop a relationship and a decent relationship with the Palestinians. And you know even realizing that the Arabs have deliberately kept the Palestinians living in the situation which they are as a provocation to Israel, even realizing all of these things, I think that Israel has become very, very conservative in recent years. I was amazed to find when I was there, I’m trying to remember what year it was that James was there. The majority of Israelis at that point were either middle east, I mean born in Arab countries or from Russia. So they had grown up in countries where in countries where in the Middle East where religion and government were completely intertwined. Which was not a good thing for Israel. They were trying to have the same thing happen in Israel. And I knew I mean when I was growing up in New York Teddy Kollek would come and visit my parents. Moshe Dayan would come and visit and so forth, and they were secular people. And they understood. You know they were Jewish but they understood the need for secular government and not to have religion be the one that ran the government. And I think this is an enormous danger now in Israel. I mean you have people who are so unaware of their own history I think in many ways. And treating people the way they are treating the Palestinians who are of course an enormous danger to them. Only makes it more dangerous.

Ira Stoll, from his twitter feed

Now here is Stoll’s investigation of James Bennet’s origins, including a lot of weirdness about church weddings.

Bennet’s Jewish family background had previously been the stuff of whispered speculation among those concerned by Times coverage. Now, all of a sudden, it has become arguably crucial context…

Google [his mother’s name], and it turns up the wedding announcement of James Bennet’s parents from the June 28, 1959 New York Times. “The Rev. Dr. Ralph Johnson, minister of the Parsippany Presbyterian Church, performed the ceremony,” the Times reported…

“[My husband’s] family goes back to the Mayflower — literally goes back to the Mayflower,” she told the Holocaust Museum interviewer. Douglas Bennet, she said, was descended on his mother’s side from a long line of Presbyterian ministers. The line started with Abner Benedict, a 1769 graduate of Yale who volunteered as a chaplain on the patriot side of the American Revolution.

“Neither my husband nor my children are particularly religious, although the children consider themselves Jewish,” Klejman told the interviewer.

The interviewer asked, “Do you consider yourself Jewish?” Klejman replied, “Yes. As an ethnic identity but not a religious identity.”

The museum interviewer pressed the point. “Were your children raised at all in the Jewish tradition?” Klejman replied, “No, they weren’t raised in any tradition.”

“They all married Episcopalians,” Klejman said, noting, though, that they had all “incorporated some Jewish tradition” into their wedding ceremonies. She speculated that sending her three children to schools affiliated with the National Cathedral in Washington, DC may have turned them against religion. Klejman worked as a librarian at one of the schools…

In an earlier interview — on August 12, 1998, with what is now known as the USC Shoah Foundation, Klejman was asked, “What, if any connection do you have with Judaism?”

“I would say almost none,” she replied. She said her children “consider themselves to be Jewish, but they haven’t pursued it.”

Stoll justifies the deep dive into church life by saying, “it’d be a mistake too to think that there aren’t individual influential people [at the Times] whose personal histories may help shape the institution.”

The one thing the article demonstrates is the pressure on establishment figures by pro-Israel forces. The premise of the article is that the New York Times editorial page doesn’t like Israel. Really? In the last year, the Times op-ed pages (which Bennet supervises) have published four columnists’ justifications of the killings of non-violent Palestinian protesters in Gaza (we can only imagine what “balance” would mean on the part of Palestinian voices). Bennet has also hired two hair-on-fire neoconservatives in the last couple years, Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss (balanced by liberal Zionist Michelle Goldberg).

I’d note that in this fuller excerpt of the interview, Susanne Bennet offers a good portrait of secular religious values in the American elite.

[Religion] was just not, it was not a big part of our lives. I mean neither my husband nor his siblings are particularly religious…. It’s just never been an issue. You know, people intermarry. They don’t worry about it. I mean we have, in that generation one of my nieces, another daughter of another sister of my husband’s was married to a Muslim imam for a while. She’s now divorced and has a little girl who is from Ghana. No one worries very much in their generation any more about either – I mean I have Jewish friends who have been quite adamant that their children should not, should marry in the faith and then their children go off and marry a Buddhist or something.

A friend comments on the investigation: “Stoll’s piece is offensive on so many levels that it is hard to know where to start. As if her criticisms are not valid because she is not an observant Jew. As if an observant Jew would never criticize Israel’s human rights record. As if his upbringing more informs his views than his experience on the ground covering Israel as a reporter. As if his father had no influence on his views (because his views on Israel are not explored at all). Her experience as a Holocaust survivor is negated because she is not more supportive of Israel whereas many Holocaust survivors are trotted out as endorsers of Israeli policy on the basis of their experience. The piece contradicts itself repeatedly. The supposed hostility of Bennet’s page but the hiring of Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss. He’s biased but praised by the lobby for his fair coverage. I wonder how Ira Stoll’s mother raised him. (Father’s don’t matter, apparently.)”

I’d add that these flailing attacks are likely to increase. The good news this week is that two leading American publications have shown some spine about Israel, running highly-critical articles. NBC News published a superb piece by Josh Lederman yesterday that studies Mid East negotiator Jason Greenblatt’s twitter feed and concludes that Greenblatt is hopelessly biased against the Palestinians. And The New Yorker ran Isaac Chotiner’s devilishly good interview with loony Michael Oren.

H/t James North. 

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I’m very surprised Ira Stoll didn’t consider the effects of James Bennet’s 2001 marriage to Sarah Jessup on his editorial page decisions, too.

“Father’s don’t matter, apparently”

“Apparently”? Is this your first ever contact with Judaism?

I’ll stay mum about the greengrocer’s apostrophe, which is RoHa’s job but, really, don’t tell me you never heard about the matrilineality rule.

“Here’s Susanne Bennet’s comparison of Israelis to Nazis. US Holocaust Memorial interviewer Gail Schwartz asked her about Israel:…” Ms. Bennet’s comparison “of Israelis to Nazis” is certainly not unique among Jews: Jan 19, 2018 – Haaretz Opinion: “In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism” by Zeev Sternhell.** EXCERPT: “I frequently ask myself how a historian in 50 or 100 years will interpret our period. When, he will ask, did people in… Read more »

Interesting background. Fascinating, in fact.

Didn’t I tell you socio-religious backbiting is our favorite indoor sport?