Statues, Slavery, and the NY Times

Irony may be dead in America, but if any were left alive, this would count.

Consider the work of Vincenzo Miserendino (1875-1943). An Italian-American sculptor, he created statues and busts of famous Americans and other notables, including several of Theodore Roosevelt and Christopher Columbus. In today’s America they can only be called “endangered.” One of his Columbus statues, in Hartford, Connecticut, has been quietly removed; another, in Reading, Pennsylvania, is the subject of a petition to remove it and has already been vandalized.

It’s interesting that few of the articles about the vandalism and removal of “offensive” statues mention the names of the sculptors who labored to create them. But that isn’t surprising. The story is about destruction, not creation.

Miserendino also created statues and busts on commission for people who thought they were important enough to be immortalized in bronze. And one of those was Adolph S. Ochs, the publisher of the NY Times from 1896 until his death in 1935, the man who made it into the profitable powerhouse of the newspaper industry, a so-called “newspaper of record,” and whose family continues to run it today.

Miserendino made at least three busts of Ochs, one of which is located in the lobby of the Times building in New York. Others are on Long Island and in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia.

The Times has established itself as the flagship of “woke” culture with its “1619 project” to change the perception of the historical foundation of the United States from the Founder’s vision of a just society, to one of a vicious enterprise built on the stolen labor of black African slaves. Although there are numerous historians and others who believe that it is a tendentious left-wing ideology-laden tract, it has had great influence, especially on the young people who see in it a justification for their attempts to rectify the relationship of Americans to their past by destroying monuments.

One would think, therefore, that nothing is safer than the bust of Adolph S. Ochs at Times Square. But one would be wrong, at least as soon as the vandals learn a few facts uncovered by NY Post writer Michael Goodwin about the father of the Times:

It seems that Ochs’ uncle owned slaves. His mother was a “charter member of a Daughters of the Confederacy chapter and requested that a Confederate flag be draped across her coffin, which it was.” Her brother and several cousins fought for the Confederacy. Ochs, who owned the Chattanooga Times before he purchased the NY Times, published an editorial referring to the “evils of Negro suffrage” and another praising Jefferson Davis. He contributed to the Confederate monument at Stone Mountain, Georgia. His brother George was “simultaneously an officer of The New York Times Company and a leader of the New York Chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.”

After Ochs died in 1935, his son-in-law Arthur Hays Sulzberger took over as publisher. And his grandson, A. G. Sulzberger (who is also the great-great grandson of Adolph Ochs), holds that position today. Goodwin claims that there is “compelling evidence” that an ancestor of the Sulzbergers, Abraham Mendes Seixas, born in 1750, was “a slave trader and/or auctioneer.” I am certain that most, if not all, of this is known to the Ochs-Sulzberger family. But every copy of the Times has the name of Adolph Ochs on its editorial page.

So there you have it. The feet of the family that owns the holy NY Times are filthy with the mud of slavery. Will they remove the bust of Ochs from their lobby and take his name off the editorial page? Will there be an abject, groveling apology for his crimes from his descendants? Tune in tomorrow.

And now, in the immortal words of the great Paul Harvey, you know the rest of the story.

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The Government Fiddles while the People Burn

There is reason to believe that the present government of Israel is not only bloated and venal, but that it is staggeringly incompetent.

The Prime Minister acts almost exclusively to protect himself, and not on behalf of the country. The evidence for this is the absurdly fat and expensive “unity” (one has to laugh) government with its 35 ministers and 8 deputy ministers. This structure exists so that Binyamin Netanyahu can continue to be Prime Minister. There is no other reason.

There are countless difficult issues facing the government, but here are three major ones. In each case the government has failed to deal with them through laziness or indecision, or by its members seeking political advantage for themselves. They are:

The Corona crisis. The numbers of newly diagnosed cases, the percentage of positive test results, and the number of seriously ill are all rising precipitously. The recommendations of the Health Ministry are passed through a political filter so that various constituencies are protected from inconvenience. The 35-minister government has created a 20-member “Corona Cabinet,” supposedly to make quick decisions. But there is also a Knesset Corona Committee which needs to approve them.

The Ministry is trying to find someone who will accept the job as “project manager” [the Hebrew word is “projector”] for the fight against the disease. But so far, nobody has agreed to take the job, because they don’t believe that they will be given the necessary authority. Even the Health Minister, Yuli Edelstein, has complained that the recommendations of his ministry are “gnawed away” by the politicians.

The objective that everyone pays lip service to is to stop the spread of the disease without killing the economy. So far, the effect of the government’s actions has been to not stop the disease, although they have done an effective job of crushing the economy.

The extension of sovereignty. The offer of American support for the extension of civil law to the Jordan Valley and to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria was an unprecedented opportunity for Israel. The window, however, is closing every day. PM Netanyahu first promised that he would act almost immediately after the election; then he said it would be at some point after 1 July. Now it seems that it has receded to an undetermined future date. The main reason seems to be the lack of agreement in the “unity” government. If this does not occur before the pre-election period in the US, it will probably be on ice until the next Republican administration (if we are lucky).

The Iranian threat. This is probably the most serious of all, even more than the epidemic. As everyone knows, Iran has been developing a murderous ring of proxy militias armed with what Maj. Gen. [res.] Yitzhak Brik estimates as 200,000 rockets and missiles in Lebanon,  Syria, Iraq, and Gaza. Several hundred of them may also have already been converted to precision-guided missiles that can strike within a few meters of a selected target. Hezbollah also has been training ground forces to invade Israel and capture civilian towns near the border.

The scenario of accurate missiles hitting our runways, refineries and chemical plants, power stations, desalination plants, military headquarters, nuclear reactors, cities – I could go on – is frightening, especially since such an attack could cripple our ability to retaliate. For this reason, the IDF has been carrying out the so-called “War Between the Wars,” a campaign of attacks on Iranian bases and supply lines in Syria and Iraq, to prevent the transfer of equipment to add precision guidance to the inaccurate rockets and missiles that make up their arsenal. Possibly some of the recent mysterious explosions in Iran are also part of the campaign to pull Iran’s teeth (including nuclear ones) before the outbreak of hostilities.

But no matter how hard we try, we can’t totally prevent the upgrading of Hezbollah’s weapons; we can only slow it down. We can bomb truck convoys in Syria, but (at least as far as I know) we have not dared to shoot down Iranian civil aircraft flying to Lebanon. Brik calls Israel’s campaign “a drop in the ocean.”

We have various missile defense systems in place, but they are limited. We do not have the ability to defend against a sustained mass attack, even with inaccurate rockets, from Hezbollah, which could launch thousands of rockets a day. Precision-guided missiles tip the balance even more in the direction of our enemies.

Brik argues persuasively that the fact that we are able to pursue the “War Between the Wars” with very little retaliation from Iran is not an indication of strength, but rather a danger sign. Iran, he says, is displaying restraint so as not to provoke a larger conflict until they are ready. Meanwhile, every day, more of their weapons are fitted with precision guidance systems.

Such a conventional attack would not justify a nuclear response; and in any event, most of the missiles would be coming from Lebanon, and even vaporizing Tehran wouldn’t stop them. The IDF, Brik believes, has not sufficiently upgraded either its offensive or defensive capabilities to counter such an attack. And if Iran succeeds in obtaining its own nukes (which it might even buy from another rogue regime), then Israel would be deterred from using its nuclear option.

Brik has been criticizing the IDF’s level of preparedness for some time, and the response has always been “don’t worry, we have it covered.” I am not so sure.

The citizens of Israel have an implicit contract with its government: we pay heavy taxes and allow the government to control many aspects of our lives. In return, it protects us against attacks from outside and responds to natural disasters like epidemics. We accept a certain amount of waste and even graft, because the alternative of anarchy would be far worse.

But the feeding frenzy of the politicians that accompanied the formation of the “unity” government, the gobbling up of salaries, offices, staffs, cars, and more by the unnecessary ministers, as well as the personal greed shown by the Prime Minister, has brought us to a historic moral nadir. Combined with the fumbling of the major issues facing the state, it’s clear that fundamental change is needed.

But what change, and how, and – importantly – who?

I don’t have the answers. But neither do the morons who rioted in front of the PM’s residence in Jerusalem last night and threw eggs (and worse) at the police. I am sure that any cure they would propose would be worse than the disease.

Posted in Iran, Israeli Politics, Israeli Society, War | 1 Comment

The 800-Pound Gorilla of American Judaism

I won’t write about Peter Beinart’s latest obscene appropriation of Jewish concepts in the service of putting an end to the third Jewish commonwealth and returning the Jewish people to a condition of persecution and dispersal. He gets too much attention as it is. If you care, read this or this.

But I am interested in exploring where he and the Jewish audience that applauds him came from. What happened to the immigrant Jews like my grandparents, who put a few pennies in the pushka on Shabbat for the Jews trying to create a state? Their descendants go to college, join If Not Now, and say kaddish for Hamas terrorists. My grandmother would have kicked their butts around the block.

Much is written about the “gap” between American Jews and Israelis. Israelis wonder how American Jews can fail to understand the geopolitical insecurity that’s a fundamental fact of life for them. Americans think that Israelis are arrogant and treat them as “not real Jews.” There are several things that make communication difficult.

To start with, most non-Orthodox Jews in America have almost nothing in common with Jewish Israelis, religious or secular. Everything is different. Most Israeli Jews do compulsory military service and reserve duty, but few American Jews serve. Most American Jews go to university immediately after high school; Israelis wait until after their army service (and usually after several months or years of travelling). Israelis get married and have relatively numerous children; Americans often do neither.

Recent Israeli history includes numerous conflicts in which soldiers and reservists have been killed or seriously wounded; America’s professional military insulates the rest of the society from their losses. Terrorism is an almost daily occurrence in Israel; at least as yet, America has experienced comparatively few incidents of terrorism. The last time artillery shells struck the American mainland was during the Civil War; the last rocket attack against Israeli towns was last week.

Israeli Jews, even secular ones, tend to know more about Judaism. Every child studies the bible in school. Biblical themes are found in popular culture. In America, religion is an aggressively private matter. Non-Orthodox American Jewish children may have some religious education in the very non-rigorous weekly lessons provided by Reform or Conservative congregations, if their parents are members. Israeli children are surrounded by Jewish history and customs. The fact that Hebrew is the mother tongue of most Israelis makes it much easier for them to obtain basic Jewish literacy.

I like to say that the Torah is a story about the three-way relationship between God, the Jewish people, and the land of Israel. But even an Israeli that does not believe in God can feel the connection with the land. Consider the atheist kibbutzniks who plowed during the day and wrote poems to Eretz Yisrael at night.

I believe that there is a reason that so many Jews of America have lost that connection.

In America, the largest denomination is the Reform movement, representing 35% of Americans who identify as Jews (another 30% have no denomination, 18% are Conservative, 10% Orthodox, and 6% “other”). The movement claims to have 1 million members and even more adherents in the US and Canada, although the membership has been dropping steadily in recent decades since its heyday in the mid-to-late 20th century.

The Reform Movement started in 19th century Germany, in part as an attempt to make it possible for Jews to enter the broader society and take advantage of the opportunities which they believed would become available as a result of the climate of relative tolerance that was sweeping Europe, while still maintaining their Jewish faith – or a version of it.

The early reformers did away with those parts of Jewish ritual that set Jews apart. They dressed like Germans, they ate like Germans, they worshiped (on Sunday) like Germans, and some even called themselves “Germans of the Mosaic Persuasion.” As everyone knows, German Jew-hatred managed to overcome even this.

Reform Judaism took root in America for similar reasons. Although there were few civil laws that oppressed Jews, the strict rules of Orthodox Judaism prevented full participation in society. The founders of the Reform movement also believed, like the Germans, that much traditional Jewish ritual was superstitious and meaningless to modern Americans, who would not be rebuilding a Temple in Jerusalem. And, like the Germans of the Mosaic Persuasion, they did not want to be seen as foreigners. Indeed, the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform, the first manifesto of the Reform movement in America, explicitly stated that

We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.

They believed that they would be able to fill the voids left by the elimination of the so-called “ritual commandments” like observance of kashrut and Shabbat by emphasizing the “ethical commandments” and the prophetic tradition, which they interpreted as a call for social justice.

The early Reform rabbis at least were well-grounded in the tradition that they were rejecting. But one of the advantages of Reform Judaism for many Americans was that it was easy*. You didn’t have to find kosher meat, you could work on Shabbat if your boss wanted you to, and you didn’t need to learn a foreign language. This is as true in the 21st century as it was in the 19th.

The Boomer generation was sent to Reform religious school by their first generation American parents who felt guilty for the fact that they had neglected the Judaism of their immigrant parents. They were not observant themselves, but they wanted their kids to be Jewish in some sense. The future rebels of the 1960s were bored out of their minds. They couldn’t see how any of this stuff, these holidays when their parents would get all dressed up and drag them to interminable services that were simply meaningless, had any relevance to them.

Later they got religion of a different kind, throwing themselves into the civil rights or antiwar movements, or the various unfocused  leftist causes of the 1960s. Most of them did not connect any of this to what they had ignored back in religious school.

The Reform movement, meanwhile, was having trouble. People were looking for spiritual content in their religion, and traditional Reform Judaism had squeezed it all out. Many Jewish seekers embraced Buddhism or other Eastern traditions. Nothing was less spiritual than repeating the prayers in the Union Prayer Book, written in archaic English, praising an abstract God over and over.

The Reform Movement flailed around, trying to recapture its public. It reintroduced some Hebrew into its services, invented new traditions, and most importantly, embraced its version of Tikkun Olam – understood as social justice action – as the centerpiece of Reform observance.

The emblem of Tikkun Olam was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel walking arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But as time went by, it became harder and harder to distinguish the specifically Jewish character of the “mitzvah” of Tikkun Olam from liberal politics – and then from more and more radical progressive ideology.

Unfortunately liberal and progressive politics isn’t very friendly to Israel. At best, they want the Jewish state to make dangerous concessions to the Palestinians. Or they believe – like Peter Beinart – that a Jewish state is unnecessary, and in the name of justice should be replaced by some kind of binational state. At worst, they want Israel to disappear.

After the movement appointed Rabbi Rick Jacobs its president, the movement adopted the position that Jewish ethical principles call on them to “help” Israel become better, in spite of herself. Who would think that American Jews, who neither understand the situation in Israel’s neighborhood nor will have to face the consequences of any mistakes, should have the right to dictate what Israel should do? But Jacobs has said over and over that his movement not only has the right, it has a duty to do so.

Not all anti-Israel Jews are Reform Jews. Some are Reconstructionists, some secular, some are atheists. Some hate all religion. And the Reform movement has not (yet) endorsed Beinart’s binational state or followed Jewish Voice for Peace into the company of Haman and Amalek.

But it is the 800-pound gorilla of American Judaism, and its embrace of progressivism, with its component of intersectional support for the Palestinian Cause, that has legitimized anti-Zionism for all American Jews.

* I’m reminded of the early Jewish followers of Jesus, who found that they would have an easier time attracting former pagans to their group by dropping all that hard stuff.

Posted in American Jews | 3 Comments

Interesting Times

It’s been an interesting week for Israelis, mostly in the bad sense of the word.

The news about the application of civilian law (not “annexation”) to parts of Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley is that there is no news. Whatever Netanyahu is planning, if anything, is a secret. Unlike many “secrets” in this country (e.g., the contents of police investigations of Netanyahu), there are no leaks. Naturally, the European Union, the American Reform Movement, the Palestinian Authority, and others continue to react to what hasn’t happened in ways ranging from alarm to death threats. Meanwhile, nothing is still nothing.

A somewhat bright (and loud) spot is a series of explosions and fires in Iran, almost one a day, some in locations critical to its nuclear and missile programs. Did Israel have anything to do with them? Who knows? There are highly speculative reports from various sources that mention everything from cyberattacks, to local regime opponents, to F-35s. Maybe the US is doing it? Regardless, it’s wonderful to wake up to reports of advanced centrifuges wrecked and missile factories burning.

Also loud but not so wonderful have been the rocket attacks on Israel’s south from the Gaza strip. Nobody was hurt, and the IDF bombed underground rocket launchers belonging to Hamas in retaliation. It could be that Iran-linked factions in the strip were responsible, in retaliation for what Israel did or didn’t do in Iran, or perhaps for a recent IDF strike on a weapons convoy in Syria. The “War Between the Wars” continues with little letup. In fact, right now (Wednesday morning) I’m hearing military aircraft. Training or operational? Yes.

In the “I can’t believe she’s still here” department, Australian sex criminal Malka Leifer, who escaped to Israel in 2008, has now appealed to the Supreme Court to delay her extradition yet again. Her extended saga of court hearings and political interference has caused great embarrassment to Israel and pain to her victims in Australia. When a district court judge recently ruled that she was mentally fit to be extradited, we thought we’d finally seen the last of her. Not yet.

The biggest (and worst) news is the explosive growth of the second wave of Coronavirus infections. Yesterday there were 1,473 new cases, by far the greatest number since the start of the epidemic. New deaths and serious cases are up. And the percentage of positive results from the tests being performed is rising. There are outbreaks in nursing homes and a mental hospital.

Yesterday, the Director of Public Health in the Ministry of Health, Prof. Sigal Sadetzki, resigned. In her letter of resignation, she sharply criticized the government for creating layers of bureaucracy that made a quick response to changing conditions impossible, and for making decisions based on political considerations rather than professional ones. She was especially critical of the way the public schools were reopened after the first wave, in many cases ignoring guidelines for separating students and teachers into small groups, and almost all at once instead of more gradually as her ministry had recommended. She also noted that the government has adopted guidelines for the number of people at weddings and other events that far exceed the ministry’s recommendations. With the new government, we got a new Health Minister, and a new Director-General of the Ministry (Sadetzki’s boss). They are not up to speed yet, and it shows.

Another example of politicization: MK Moshe Gafni of the Haredi United Torah Judaism party threatened to withdraw his party from the coalition if yeshivot – which have experienced a wave of Corona cases – were closed, as the Health Ministry and National Security Council had advised. The yeshivot stayed open, Gafni’s party stayed in the government – and Sadetzki quit.

Naftali Bennett, the former Defense Minister (whose party, Yamina, now sits in the opposition) established his own private “civil corona cabinet” which has already made several very sensible suggestions. Unfortunately, some years ago when he was Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff, he reportedly told Sara Netanyahu that “I work for your husband, not for you.” Netanyahu, following his wife’s instructions, has carried on a vendetta against him ever since, and does his best to prevent Bennett from having influence or getting credit for anything.

Sadetzki’s complaints about the government are on target, but her own ministry is also guilty. The Health Ministry was charged with managing the epidemiological part of the Corona response – researching the people and places with which confirmed patients had contact, tracking down and quarantining those who have been exposed. They couldn’t keep up, and so breaking the chains of infection has been impossible. The Ministry claimed that this work can only be done by qualified public health nurses, and there aren’t enough of them. Bennett suggested that trained and supervised students could do much of this work, and finally they are starting to do this. I am reminded of how Israel won its War of Independence with soldiers that had only months ago been released from internment camps, and before that had been in Nazi concentration camps.

El Al, Israel’s flag airline was privatized in 2003. Known for high prices, excellent security and safety, indifferent service, and very high labor costs, it suffered a massive financial blow as a result of the epidemic. Now it will be bailed out by the government, which will probably result in its re-nationalization. There is simply no alternative, because Israel cannot depend on foreign airlines for its transportation lifeline to the rest of the world.

In short, the economic situation of most Israelis can be described as rotten. Official unemployment numbers after the beginning of the second wave of the epidemic aren’t available yet, but some analysts say it is probably close to 10% now. In January, it was only 3.6%. The restaurant and events (weddings, etc.) sectors are crushed, all retail is suffering, and tourism is close to zero. The increasing Corona numbers imply that things are not going to improve any time soon. Government programs to compensate those without income have been slow in starting and have many gaps. Workers in performing arts have been holding demonstrations and blocking traffic to protest. Even where businesses are operating, customers are scarce – they are worried about exposure to the virus or they just don’t have extra money.

Last week I said that I hoped the overconfidence acquired by our success in dealing with the first wave of Corona would be replaced by intelligence. I don’t see that happening yet. On the other hand, someone is doing a great job blowing up stuff in Iran and Syria.

Posted in Israeli Politics, Israeli Society | 1 Comment

How “Wokeness” is Wrecking Journalism

Yesterday I got into an argument on Facebook: does this article in the NY Times reporting on the speech Donald Trump made at Mt. Rushmore constitute good journalism?

I noted that the writer, Annie Karni, used pejorative language – she called the speech “dark and divisive,” said that it used “ominous language and imagery” and was aimed at a “straw-man version of the Left.” She chastised Trump repeatedly for making the wrong speech, not talking about the pandemic (and presumably his failure to deal with it), and instead “rail[ing] against what he described as a dangerous ‘cancel culture’ intent on toppling monuments…” The article also quoted several comments by individuals critical of Trump and none that were positive.

I argued that I wouldn’t object to the publication of such an article on the editorial pages, but that it did not belong in the news section. It should have been labeled “opinion,” not “news.” I did not wish to have a conversation about Trump (and I don’t now, either). I was only concerned with the new idea that the Times’ staff seems to have about the nature of journalism, and how it differs from the traditional conception.

Most of the replies to my comment were simply attacks on Trump, but one person did respond to my point. He said that in his view, “the journalist’s use of “dark and divisive” is not a value judgement, it is not an attempt at persuasion. It is a fair description of the content of the president’s speech,” and therefore is legitimate news reporting.

I think I understand what is going on here. The Times’ reporter and my Facebook interlocutor share a progressive worldview that is an internally consistent conceptual scheme. What may appear axiomatic to them might be controversial to someone with a different worldview, and vice versa. They also probably exist in a “bubble” of “woke” discourse in which contrary opinions are rarely heard. Both social and mainstream media are now partitioned into such bubbles; indeed, the inhuman algorithms by which social media providers determine what their users will see enforce that partitioning.

But when they are writing news articles, journalists are (or used to be) supposed to do their best, if not to totally overcome their prejudices, at least to remain aware of them, and to write – to the best of their ability – an objective story. This is very hard, but so is being an ironworker or a firefighter, and the people that do those jobs are expected to learn to do hard things. Of course the consequences of not learning are much greater for ironworkers and firefighters than for journalists!

So what should Annie Karni have written? She could have quoted and paraphrased Trump, described the tone and delivery of his speech, the reactions of the people present and the general atmosphere of the event, and presented a balanced selection of reactions by political figures. Boring? Comparatively, yes. But an objective report of most political speeches will be boring. She could still write a more exciting attack piece for the op-ed page, but we need the news report.

The NY Times has always had its biases. All newspapers do. But as A. J. Liebling said, “freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one,” and a corollary to this is that if you own a press, maybe it’s because you want to exercise that freedom. The NY Times has endorsed Democratic presidential candidates since Kennedy, and it is not unfair to say that they lean in the liberal direction. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it seems that recently the attempt to distinguish between news and opinion has been abandoned. And that is a big deal.

This works in both directions.  Recently, after a staff rebellion, the Times fired (officially, they resigned) two editors for allowing an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas which called on the president to use the military to suppress rioting after the killing of George Floyd. The Times also added an apology to the op-ed. Many commenters pointed out that the Times had also published op-eds with bylines like Taliban terrorist Sirajuddin Haqqani, Hamas terrorist Ahmed Youssef, imprisoned murderer Marwan Barghouti (leaving out the fact that he was in prison for five murders), Vladimir Putin, and one in 1979 by terror apologist and antisemite Richard Falk praising Ayatollah Khomeini and saying that he was misunderstood.

But the Times’ young and “woke” staff claimed that Cotton’s op-ed “endangered the lives” of black people (including some of them) and therefore was out of bounds. And that was enough.

The importance of objective journalism can’t be overemphasized. So much media is biased; we must be able to see a byline and trust that at least the facts will be correct. Particularly in connection with Israel, the media have served us ill. For example, in 2002, the IDF entered Palestinian cities in Judea and Samaria in response to a wave of bombings and shootings that had left more than 1000 Israelis dead, and countless more seriously injured or maimed. Terrorists were holding out in a neighborhood in the city of Jenin, and rather than pulverize the area with artillery and air attacks (as the Russians did in a similar situation in Chechnya), the IDF sent in ground troops. When the battle was over, 23 Israeli soldiers were dead, and 53 Palestinians – 48 of whom were combatants.

The media rushed to publish stories – some by correspondents on the ground like British reporter Phil Reeves – that described a massacre of civilians and the destruction of the entire city. Numbers of dead ranging in the thousands were bandied about, with “eyewitness” accounts of large numbers of bodies buried by bulldozers, and the “sweet and ghastly reek of rotting human bodies” seeping from the ground. An Israeli Arab filmmaker, Mohammed Bakri, made a “documentary” which used footage from other conflicts, accused the IDF of summary execution of civilians, and described the destruction of a hospital wing that had never existed (to this day, he is embroiled in a libel suit filed by IDF soldiers who were in the battle).

Despite the truth about Jenin having come out – just as it has in the case of the alleged shooting of Muhammad al-Dura in 2000 – many people still accuse Israel of war crimes in Jenin. And both Mohammad Bakri and Charles Enderlin, the (Jewish!) French TV bureau chief who narrated the fake footage of al-Dura that inflamed the world, admitted that “the details” of their accounts – that is, the facts – were wrong. But both were convinced of the rightness of the Palestinian Cause, and so their reporting served a higher truth.

And this is why the kind of advocacy journalism that denigrates facts in favor of advocacy (because the “correct” political outcome is so important) is dangerous.

I am not comparing Annie Karni to hacks like Phil Reeves; and the blame for destroying the distinction between opinion and news falls on the Times’ management and editors too.

But if journalists won’t give it to us straight, who will?

Posted in Media | 3 Comments