The Times and Israel
Rupert Murdoch was right.

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch


Conrad Black

In Israel as in the international Jewish community and among Israel’s friends in the world, there is a natural division of opinion between those who believe in holding fast to the status quo until there is an explicit recognition of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, and those who believe that concessions will soften Arab hostility and accelerate Israel’s accession to unchallenged statehood. At Oslo, Wye River, Camp David, Taba, and Annapolis, Israel has offered all it could short of the right of return to inundate Israel with an Arab majority. The failure of these concessions to produce reciprocal concessions from the Arabs, apart from Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and, up to a point, Jordan’s King Hussein, has greatly weakened the preemptive-compromise wing of Israel’s peace party. But Rupert Murdoch is correct that American media outlets led by Jews are almost always minded to appeasement, and he was right to ask why. The answer necessarily mires discussion in consideration of whether the Jews are considered both a faith and a people, and what the relationship is between Israel and the diaspora Jews. As a non-Jew who has not particularly focused on these issues, I have no standing to take them very far, but there has long been a tendency among some Jewish American media leaders to downplay their own Jewishness, as if being a Jew connoted no racial aspect, any more than being a Presbyterian does, and to urge upon Israel an endless turning of the other cheek.

The New York Times should not be unduly singled out, but as the country’s most influential newspaper, in the hands of the Ochs-Sulzberger families for over 115 years, it is conspicuous and it has been consistent. In 1938, after the “Night of Broken Glass” and the anti-Semitic riots and vandalism and persecution in Germany — which caused President Roosevelt to withdraw his ambassador from Berlin, having already stated to the world that “there can be no peace [if there is] the dispersion, all over the world, of millions of helpless and persecuted wanderers with no place to lay their heads” — the Times’ chairman and publisher, Arthur H. Sulzberger, was one of a group of influential Jews who asked Roosevelt not to name Harvard law professor Felix Frankfurter to replace the deceased Justice Benjamin Cardozo on the Supreme Court. Sulzberger and his friends did not want there to continue to be two Jewish justices on the high court (Louis Brandeis was already there); they feared this would be seen as favoritism to Jews. Roosevelt ignored their advice, though he answered noncommittally, and Frankfurter was confirmed without significant opposition a few weeks later.

The same apparent spirit must have informed the notorious Times deemphasis of Holocaust matters, during and after the occurrence of those atrocities; and was probably in the mind of Times editor Max Frankel when he condemned the Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981 (a stance he later regretted). And the same spirit was present last week in the Times’ rather pusillanimous havering about the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. Murdoch is correct, it is an identifiable phenomenon and has the appearance of a discreditable reflex rather than a reasoned position. It is not clear whether the Gaza attacks were launched at the behest of Iran, or to underline the fact that the chaos in Syria had not defanged Hamas, or to strike a blow in the Hamas-Fatah rivalry, or just to show that Hamas could still exchange fire with Israel, and with relatively long-range Fajr-5 rockets. No one except the officials knows why it ended when it did, as Israel could certainly pulverize Gaza if it wished, though it seemed to have run out of good targets and Hamas out of Fajr-5s, so the next step would have been Israeli destruction of the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt (which will probably happen next time).

The American response to Middle Eastern crises is made fuzzier by the predictable and unreasoned reaction of many influential American Jews, and instead of flaring up at Murdoch or anyone else for observing the obvious and peculiar, they should work hard on the maturity of their own judgment, and give serious advice to their kindred country.

 Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and the recently published A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at [email protected].