Over the last 24 hours, social media has shown its immense power in the widespread denunciation on Twitter of the New York Times‘s decision to run an op-ed by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton that called for deploying the U.S military to quell the nationwide unrest. Thousands of critics said the Times violated its own policy of not publishing advocates for violence. Over several hours the Times defended the decision on free speech grounds, including the publisher saying that op-eds are “accurate, good faith explorations of the issues of the day,” but then the paper backed down and said it probably should not have run Cotton’s article. It was a breathtaking flipflop, unimaginable in the days when readers had to write letters to the editor.
The Cotton Op-Ed debacle, although obviously a direct consequence of the police killing of George Floyd, is also reviving questions about how the paper covers Israel. Here are some of them:
Opinion editor Bari Weiss defended the Cotton article, arguing on Twitter that a liberal old guard at the paper was being overrun by young “woke” staffers motivated by emotions (“the right of people to feel emotionally and psychologically safe trumps what were previously considered core liberal values, like free speech”).
Weiss has been mocked for this claim partly because she began her public career by trying to shut down discussion of the Israel issue at Columbia University, participating in a chilling campaign that called on the administration to fire pro-Palestinian scholars. As Steven Salaita wrote:
Those of you dragging Bari Weiss: don’t fucking be vague about it. She wasn’t trying to get “professors she disagreed with” fired. She was trying to get ARAB AND MUSLIM professors fired because she’s a pro-Israel fanatic. Name the problem: Zionist repression.
Writes Rula Jebreal:
Bari Weiss who consistently defends Israel’s racism/ apartheid, led hate campaigns to chill Arab academics, denigrates her Black colleagues, horrified at publishing a fascist op-ed during uprising over racist police violence, as ‘mostly young wokes,’” Some ally.”
Cotton’s op-ed is also a reminder that the New York Times ran four defenses on its op-ed pages of Israel’s slaughter of nonviolent demonstrators at the Gaza fence in 2018, and never backed down, though Donald Johnson repeatedly raised this issue on our site.
Regarding Gaza, Bret Stephens wrote that the Palestinians brought the killings and maimings on themselves through a “culture of. . . violence.” Shmuel Rosner made a Trumplike fascistic argument: “[S]ometimes there is no better choice than being clear, than being firm, than drawing a line that cannot be crossed by those wanting to harm you.” Matti Friedman said that Israel was restrained and maybe should have done more. [W]ould a more aggressive response deter further actions of this kind and save lives in the long run?” Thomas Friedman blamed Palestinian leaders for “the tragic and wasted deaths of roughly 60 Gazans [on March 30] by encouraging their march.”
Israel killed more than 200 demonstrators over that year, including 59 on the day Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and maimed thousands, in what human rights organizations called war crimes.
Yesterday at least one commenter on Twitter asked why Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens have jobs at the newspaper, given their proven records of incompetence. The main answer is that the paper has a longstanding attachment to Zionism, and zeal for Israel is the core value for both Weiss and Stephens.
Other Times writers have made no secret of their pro-Zionist passions. Former editorial page editor Max Frankel revealed that he personally wrote all the editorials on Israel: “I was much more deeply devoted to Israel than I dared to assert,” he said in his memoir. Thomas Friedman said last year that he would defend Israel whenever necessary: (“Israel had me at hello. . . In times of crisis, I know where I will be. When the Jewish state is under threat”). David Brooks has said that he got “gooey-eyed” over Israel, and Palestinians are to blame for no peace. Investigative reporter Ronen Bergman recently praised the rightwing lobby organization AIPAC for having Israel’s back. And during an Israeli assault on Gaza, former Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren said Palestinians seem “a bit ho-hum” about the deaths of family members, compared to Israelis who are “traumatized” by violence.
Even alongside that pro-Zionist list, though, Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens stand out. Support for Israel has always been at the heart of their journalistic careers, and you will struggle to find any other subjects that they feel nearly as passionate about.
The free speech argument might be more convincing if the Times ever ran anti-Zionist op-eds. It rarely ever does so. Where are Rashid Khalidi and Ian Lustick, both of whom have lately published books saying the two-state paradigm is over?
The pro-Zionist pattern at the New York Times is not a conspiracy. The paper is historically comfortable with supporting Israel, and naturally hires people who share its outlook. Unfortunately, and sadly, this unexamined bias has forced America’s leading newspaper into endorsing violent responses to Palestinian demands for human rights.
These days it is only fair to ask whether the paper holds a similar bias against African Americans.