Politics & Policy

The Times and Israel

Rupert Murdoch was right.

Rupert Murdoch and I have had our differences over many years, and especially during my recent legal travails, but I must join with him entirely in his recent tweeted complaint that most American media outlets that are controlled by Jews seem to be reflexively, or at least habitually, anti-Israel. For mentioning this notorious fact, Murdoch was lambasted by the usual suspects, led by the New York Times, upon whose franchise as the premier quality newspaper of the world’s greatest market Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal is steadily encroaching. My sometime colleagues at the Daily Beast, whose grievances against Murdoch are profound and not unreasonable, even suggested that there was room here for a regulatory intervention. I understand the temptation to attack Murdoch, but this was seriously uncalled for. And yet, Murdoch actually apologized for his tweet. He did use some indelicate language, but to illustrate his pro-Israeli views.

From my long-sought sanctuary outside the United States, I urge that we all in the West, including the most febrile interveners on all sides of the dispute over the status of Israel, face a few facts. Apart from the founding members and permanent Security Council countries of the United Nations (the U.S., the U.K., France, and the former Soviet Union and Nationalist China), no state has a higher claim of legitimacy than Israel. All the other members of the U.N. were admitted, at the outset or subsequently, but Israel was created by the U.N. as a Jewish state, on the motion of Stalin’s ambassador, seconded by President Truman’s.

In 1917, as Russia fell into the hands of the Bolsheviks and Germany turned her full force on to the Western Front at the climax of World War I and before the U.S. was fully mobilized, Britain promised that when it evicted Turkey from what is now Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, it would make Palestine a “homeland for the Jews” without compromising the rights of the non-Jews there, effectively selling the same real estate simultaneously to two separate and opposed buyers. If the Arab powers had accepted the U.N. demarcation of Palestine in 1948, an Israel of extremely modest borders would have been born and would today remain confined to those borders. Israel expanded beyond its original boundaries only because the Arab powers attacked Israel and the U.N. demarcation unsuccessfully in 1948. The endless caterwauling about the 1967 borders is rubbish. The Arabs had those borders and could have kept them if they had not carefully planned an aggressive sneak attack on Israel and lost the war that resulted. Originating and defending against aggression, and losing and winning wars, do not create identical rights and interchangeable moral positions.

There was never, after the British conflicting promises of 1917, any possible solution except a division of the territory between the Jews and Arabs. For some decades the Israelis considered any concessions to be a step backwards toward the horrors that exterminated half the world’s Jewish population during World War II, but they have been ready for a two-state solution for nearly 20 years. The Arabs have considered the creation of a Jewish state around Jerusalem to be the last straw in nearly 13 centuries of retreat since Charles Martel expelled the Arabs from France at the Battle of Tours in 732, and have held up a succession of ever more spurious obstacles to agreement. One obstacle they propose now is the settlements, which are effectively confined to the natural growth of intra-settlement populations following the Ariel Sharon–George W. Bush agreement; and they do so despite the readiness the Israelis showed, in Sinai and in Gaza, to uproot settlers in exchange for a general agreement.

Beyond the settlements is the right of return, in which the Arabs claim the right of many millions of alleged former Palestinian Arabs and their numerous issue to return to Israel and inundate the country (and, sometimes explicitly and sometimes not, subjugate, expel, or kill the Jews). The whole land-for-peace formula that was in vogue from Camp David in 1978 to after Oslo in 1993 was a confidence trick: irrevocable Israeli givebacks of territory taken from the Arabs in wars the Arabs started, in exchange for non-binding cease-fires that were rarely fully observed even at the outset.

The Arabs could have peace tomorrow if sufficient numbers of Palestinians were not content to be used as cannon fodder in fruitless assaults on Israel, even as the surrounding Arab powers distract the Arab masses with the red herring of Israel while retarding their countries with their repression and corruption. It is not Israel’s fault that when the Korean War ended nearly 50 years ago, Egypt had a higher standard of living than South Korea, and South Koreans now have eight times the per capita income of Egyptians.

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 cbletters@gmail.com.


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