Media Analysis

‘NYT’ adopts laughable approach to Engel-Bowman race: pretending Israel is not an issue

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The Eliot Engel-Jamaal Bowman race in the Bronx/Westchester could be a “watershed moment” for the Israel issue in the Congress, as we reported last week. Rep. Engel is chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and his brand is supporting Israel; polls show him running behind ahead of next week’s Democratic primary.

Haaretz certainly sees it as a battle for Israel in U.S. politics: “AOC All Over Again? This pro-Israel Jewish Democrat Faces the Fight of His Life in N.Y.C.”


So does Jewish Insider‘s Jacob Kornbluh, who reports today that several pro-Israel organizations are rallying to try to “save” Engel, with Norpac holding a Zoom fundraiser for him last night with 120 co-chairs, and a local Jewish leader saying that the race has national consequences for the pro-Israel community. “Engel is one of the strongest — if not the strongest —  member of the House in support of Israel, and to lose him as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee would be a horrible thing for the Jewish community.” 

The Jewish Democratic Council of America is all in for Engel. So is Democratic Majority for Israel, the sister organization to AIPAC inside the Democratic Party, which is running attack ads on Bowman’s supposed financial difficulties and desperately touting the incumbent’s progressive bona fides: Medicare for All, Green New Deal, $15 minimum wage, high ratings by the NAACP, NARAL, and National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.

The two candidates truly disagree on Israel. “The only differentiator is Israel,” Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, tells Jewish Insider.

Engel is against President Obama’s Iran deal and for the lavish aid package to Israel even if it continues its settlement project on the West Bank, which Engel has never regarded as a problem. Engel is a flack for the rightwing Israel lobby group AIPAC and sought to undermine Obama’s mildly-critical policy on Israel.

Bowman wants the U.S. back in the Iran deal, and he believes in conditioning American aid to Israel over its human rights abuses — a position supported by a majority of Democrats and now backed by a handful of progressive elected officials, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have endorsed Bowman.

Now here’s the shocker: The New York Times doesn’t seem to think that Israel matters in the race.

It has run two big stories on the hot contest lately and can’t bring itself to address the issue at all. The first story, on June 15, left it to the last paragraph to report that “[A] group called the Democratic Majority for Israel has reported more than $600,000 in spending for Mr. Engel.” Why would an organization with that name care about the race, to the tune of more than half a million dollars? Reporter Shane Goldmacher had nothing to say, though he quoted Hillary Clinton’s vanilla endorsement of Engel: “He is deeply committed to working with our allies to maintain American leadership on the global stage.”

Rep. Eliot Engel speaks at Temple Israel Center in Westchester, at an AIPAC event on Oct. 8, 2018.

Today Times reporter Jesse McKinley covered the race and left out Israel entirely, though he grudgingly allowed that foreign policy is an issue.

“[Engel’s] opponents have zeroed in on several hawkish positions he took, including rejecting the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 and supporting the invasion of Iraq more than a decade before.”

Neither story mentioned the many pro-Israel organizations and leaders rallying behind Engel’s troubled campaign, or the desperation that Jewish Insider is reflecting from the pro-Israel community.

How do we explain this dereliction of a journalist’s duty, even at a time when the New York Times staff is openly critical of hawkish orthodoxies at the paper? Israel is still a third rail. The paper has long been pro-Israel, and is leery of reporting honestly on the Israel lobby lest it feeds anti-semitism or conspiracy theory. That inhibition runs deep. And on a big story, it has made the newspaper irrelevant.

Thanks to Annie Robbins.

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Not exactly on topic, but relevant to Israeli influence on politicians.

In reality, Israel is not an issue in in the contest for the 16th Congressional District.

In the obsessive world of Mondoweiss, it is.