As the wise sage Yogi Berra proclaimed, life often is “déjà vu all over again.” He probably was not thinking of The New York Times when he uttered that memorable phrase. But it serves as apt commentary on Times coverage of the surging Palestinian violence that is once again sweeping through Israel.
To be sure, the Times has struggled with its own Jewish problem ever since Adolph S. Ochs became its first Jewish owner when he purchased the failing newspaper in 1896. Married to Effie Wise, whose father Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise was the prominent leader of 19th century Reform Judaism, Ochs elevated the Times to journalistic eminence. The marriage of their daughter Iphigene to Arthur Sulzberger, a cotton merchant, eventually launched the family dynasty that has ruled the Times ever since. Its embedded discomfort (to say the least) with Zionism and Israel still endures after 120 years – not an insignificant biblical number (Genesis 6:3).
Two weeks ago my research into this history had just reached the outburst of the Second Intifada in September 2000, when Palestinians erupted in violence following Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount. According to a Times editorial, Sharon “did Israel no favor by provocatively leading his supporters to the Temple Mount,” the location of “two of Islam’s holiest mosques,” and “asserting Jewish claims to the Muslim holy site.” Sharon’s visit, according to a subsequent editorial, was “provocative and irresponsible.” Once again there was no mention of the Temple Mount as the holiest site in Judaism, location of the First and Second Temples centuries before the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem.
As I tracked Times coverage from 15 years ago, current events – and Yogi Berra’s aphorism — intruded. In a televised address last week Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, now serving the eleventh year of his four-year term, urged his people to “go forth and defend Jerusalem with all your might, for every drop of blood spilled there is sacred. At whatever price, do not let the Zionist usurper place his filthy feet anywhere near Al Aqsa.”
His obedient Palestinian followers responded, and not only in Jerusalem, giving every indication that a third intifada might be imminent. The ghastly murder of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin in a drive-by shooting attack, while their four young children watched from the back seat, was blessed by Hamas as a “heroic” act. Within the past week twenty Israelis – in Jerusalem, inside the Old City near Lion’s Gate, in Tel Aviv, Afula, Kiryat Gat, Nazareth and Kiryat Arba – were victims of Palestinian knife, gun, stone, screwdriver and car-ramming assaults. Little wonder that a South African immigrant in Tel Aviv was swamped by more than one thousand responses to his offer of free self-defense courses.
New York Times “coverage” of Palestinian assaults and Israeli victims has been characterized by evasiveness over who did what to whom. Readers were informed (October 6) that a 21-year-old Palestinian was shot and killed by Israeli police. Only twelve paragraphs later did the Times report that he was shot after he stabbed a 15-year-old Jewish boy. One of the reporters, Diaa Hadid, happened to work at Electronic Intifada before joining the Times. It aims at “combating the pro-Israeli, pro-American spin” that it believes to exist “in mainstream media accounts.” No pretense of objectivity there. The Times article noted that the dead Palestinian was “the second of four Palestinians killed by Israeli forces” in a week. But it did not indicate that three of the four were committing violent acts, including murder, when they were killed. Nor that Hadid, some years ago, was a self-described “front-line” protester at an Israeli checkpoint.
Assessing causes for the collapse of peace following the famous Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn in 1993, Times editors recently (Oct.1) enumerated “suicide bombs and other acts of terrorism” (Palestinian) and “unceasing expansion of settlements” (Israeli) as the causes. As it happened (outside Times editorial memory), Palestinian terrorists claimed 566 Israeli lives between 2001-4; no Palestinians were killed by an expanding settlement.
One week later (Oct.9), in a blatant denial of (Jewish) history in Jerusalem, Times reporter Rick Gladstone questioned whether the two ancient Jewish temples ever were located on the Temple Mount. The claim is “integral to Jewish history and to Israel’s disputed assertions of sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.” Yet abundant historical and archeological evidence, cited in his article, “support the narrative that the Dome of the Rock was built on or close to the place where the Jewish temples once stood.” And in one sentence, more revealing than he cares to explore, he notes that the Muslim Waqf, guardian of the Temple Mount, “has never permitted invasive archeological work that could possible yield proof of either temple.” Instead, some years ago it sponsored excavations beneath the Mount to effectively destroy remaining evidence of Jewish history on the site, which Israeli sifting of the debris has confirmed.
So the Times continues to print all the news that fits its enduring discomfort with the Jewish state. No wonder I was reminded of Yogi Berra’s whimsical – but wise – adage.