Nothing is likelier to rile New York Times editors — and, not infrequently, columnists and contributing writers — than Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people.
The current round of censure began three weeks ago (May 7) in a Times column by Daniel Pipes, listing six reasons why Israel should not annex any part of the West Bank. Among them, curiously, was that President Donald Trump might “erupt in fury,” although he had already indicated his approval of the plan. Annexation would also “alienate and weaken Israel’s diminishing number of friends in the Democratic Party,” as if their long-receding support for Israel mattered.
Pipes’ critique was only a warm-up exercise for the Times, not known as a friend of Israel.Ever since Zionism raised its “ugly head” more than a century ago, the Times repeatedly lacerated it for pursuing the restoration of Jewish national sovereignty and its culmination in the State of Israel. Its Jewish publishers were frightened lest American Jews like themselves be seen as disloyal citizens.
Its May 31st issue featured a two-column editorial diatribe titled “Annexation Violates International Law.” It focused on the malfeasance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for declaring his intention to annex Jewish settlements. Attentive to the opposition of “international organizations” (never renowned for their embrace of Jewish statehood), it spelled out “many reasons” why annexation is “a bad idea.”
The “main reason” for Times opposition is that “the West Bank is regarded by international organizations and most of the world as occupied territory, and the Jewish settlements as illegal under the Geneva Convention.” According to Article 49, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” It also prohibits “individual or mass forcible transfers.”
Yet Times editors concede that Israel, even assuming that it is “the occupying power,” did not “deport or transfer,” or forcibly compel, anyone to move there. Unlike the forced population transfers by Nazi Germany during World War II (the source of this prohibition), Jewish settlers eagerly returned of their own accord to Biblical Judea and Samaria, the ancient homeland of the Jewish people (as even the Times acknowledges). So much for that misplaced analogy. The Times editorial pleasingly notes that Joe Biden has declared that if elected president he would “reverse” a Trump annexation decision.
Annexation, the editors warned, “would render the West Bank into a patchwork of simmering, unstable Bantustans” (a familiar Times equation of Israeli settlements with South African apartheid). It would also “weaken Israel’s support in the Democratic party,” already at a low level, and among “American youth,” most of whom do not embrace the Jewish state they know little about.
Moreover, annexation might ”destabilize Jordan,” where, the editors note, “Palestinians form the majority.” It is a curious inclusion by the Times, undermining its claim of Palestinian homelessness. The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine defined it as the land east and west of the Jordan River. But the Churchill White Paper (1922), issued following Arab rioting, gifted Palestine east of the Jordan River to King Abdullah for what became his Kingdom of Jordan. With its majority Palestinian population in the land internationally recognized a century ago as part of Palestine, there hardly is need for another “Palestine” west of the Jordan River.
Times editors recognize that the portions of Judea and Samaria that Netanyahu would annex have already become “integral parts of Israel in all but name.” So why the fuss? Because “on the tawdry political level where Mr. Netanyahu thrives,” annexation would solidify support from his right-wing base and “cloak him with the mantle of a Jewish hero” before his pending trial.
Dire consequences (surely for Times editorial writers) would inevitably follow: a rising threat of violence that would “undermine Israel’s standing in the world,” harm relations with Arab states, and reduce the possibility of a peace settlement (that Palestinians have relentlessly resisted).
Left unsaid: it would leave Times editors upset, even angry. Too bad, but pleasing The New York Times is hardly a priority for Israel, nor should it be.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a “Best Book” for 2019.