Between Netanyahu and Obama, The NYT Picks Fear of Amalek

By James M. Wall        Trees outside wall cropped

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu  came to Washington with one thing on his mind: Attack Iran. 

President Obama was not buying it.  His focus was on a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

How did the venerable New York Times report the high-level meeting? Bibi’s spin was the winner, going away.  

When the New York Times reports a story, it becomes the gospel which the rest of the nation’s media follows with the fervor of a congregation listening to an evangelical preacher with the literal biblical truth clutched in his hand.

David Bromwich begins his Huffington Post column with this scathing exposure of the Times’ biased coverage, a blatant pro-Israeli spin that recalls the days when Judith Miller was feeding the Bush-Cheney WMD line to a frightened American public.

The New York Times assigned to the story a campaign-trail reporter, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, whose political perceptions are bland and whose knowledge of Israeli-American relations is an antiseptic zero.

At the newspaper of record, a thing like that does not happen by accident. They took the most anxiously awaited meeting with a foreign leader of President Obama’s term thus far, and buried it on page 12.

The coverage of a major event, which the same newspaper had greeted only the day before by running an oversize attack-Iran op-ed by Jeffrey Goldberg, has officially now shrunk to the scale of a smaller op-ed.

The story of the meeting, which the Times buried on page 12, made no reference to Obama’s post-meeting statement in which the President stated firmly:

We also had an extensive discussion about the possibilities of restarting serious negotiations on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians.  I have said before and I will repeat again that it is I believe in the interest not only of the Palestinians, but also the Israelis and the United States and the international community to achieve a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side by side in peace and security.

Instead, the Times refined its coverage in a next-day correction which focused again on Netanyahu’s bottom-line hard line demand, a repeat of Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”, otherwise no talks will be possible. 

In a union negotiation that would be a deal-breaker, as, for example, the corporation agrees to talk with the union provided the union agrees to give up all health coverage in its contract. 

The correction, which sounds like AIPAC had made its call to the Times, provides a fascinating look at media manipulation, a nuance wrapped within a nuance that is not a nuance but a blatant spin.

A Correction: An article on Tuesday about a meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel paraphrased incorrectly from Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks about the prospects for negotiations with Palestinians.

Mr. Netanyahu said, “If we resume negotiations, as we plan to do, then I think the Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” He did not say that Israel was prepared to resume negotiations only if the Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish state.

Got that duped reader?  The NYT reworded Bibi’s phrase. It failed however, to offer a factual correction. The original story said the two men held a “two hour meeting”. In fact, the meeting lasted four hours.” This suggests that the story went on line prior to the meeting and was based on pre-meeting briefings from Israel’s spin doctors.

 Is it possible to write a story before it happens?  It is if you know the outcome you favor going in.

According to the correction, Bibi

did not say that Israel was prepared to resume negotiations only if the Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish state.” What he did say was, “If we resume negotiations, as we plan to do, then I think the Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” 

Where is the correction in that?  Help me out here. Is AIPAC trying to gild the lilly a bit? Health care is still off the table. 

Why should the Palestinians or the United States, or the EU, or the UN, or Grovers’ Corners in New Hampshire, or God, recognize Israel as a Jewish state?  What’s with this adjective thing? Israel can call itself what it wants. But don’t demand that the Palestinian negotiators call it a Jewish state.  

The rest of us would prefer to call Israel what it is, a secular democracy which includes a population of 1.5 million non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs, a majority of whom are Muslims. 

Of course, ever the diplomatic balancer, and still under the influence of pro-Israel advisors like Dennis Ross, President Obama gave the Times the opening the paper seized to run with Iran over the two-state angle. Richard Silverstein shares this unhappy news in his Tikun Olam site:

The president seems to have adopted an articulation favored by Iran envoy Dennis Ross and the Israelis, by which Iran will be given until the end of the year to accede to demands that it renounce its nuclear program.  If it does not do so, then in the next phase the U.S. will advocate harsher penalties and sanctions.  The final phase, of course, will be military action.

Obama should have known the NY Times would be prepared to use what it needed to undermine his stern words about making the two-state solution a priority. Rahm Emanuel could have told  him that. So could David Alexrod.

Indeed, the media choice between Bibi and Barack was a set up from the start. The Bromwich column explains how it played out. 

Links to the original Times story, and the column by the Times latest Zionist columnist, Jeffrey Goldberg, are in David Bromwich’s story referenced above. Bromwich, Stolberg, and Goldberg (who now sits in Bill Kristol’s Times chair) should be read in full, and carefully. (Kristol lasted a year at the Times; he now writes a column once a month for the Washington Post.)

When you read the links from Bromwich, Stolberg and Goldberg, keep in mind that the version of “truth” the Times would have you embrace is, for most Americans, the “gospel truth”. 

Are you ready for this? The Times‘ Jeffrey Goldberg’s column describes Bibi as Israel’s modern-day Amalek.

Amalek has long been a trump card in Israel’s spin arsenal.  It is rarely used in speaking to a notoriously biblically-ignorant American public. But it resonates with conservative religious Israelis, an influential minority in a population where the majority is secular.

That minority currently runs Israel’s foreign ministry and is the driving force behind the settler movement which continues to capture Palestinian land with expanded (and far from frozen) settlement growth. 

Read Exodus 17:16  before you continue with this petinent section of Goldberg’s defense of Netanyahu’s obsession with Iran.  And think back, Pilgrim; before there was an Iran, Saddam Hussein was the Amalek who worried Israel’s right wing leaders.

Did Amalekite-driven Israeli conservatives, and their U.S. neo con backers, influence the Bush administration to attack Iraq in 2003?  As my late friend Richard John Neuhaus might have said, “there are those who would say so, though I would never say such a thing”. 

Here is the heart of  Goldberg’s defense of Bibi Netanyahu’s current thinking, tracing the biblical rationale for Israel’s fears from Exodus to the present moment:

Nevertheless, the prime minister’s preoccupation with the Iranian nuclear program seems sincere and deeply felt. I recently asked one of his advisers to gauge for me the depth of Mr. Netanyahu’s anxiety about Iran. His answer: “Think Amalek.”

“Amalek,” in essence, is Hebrew for “existential threat.” Tradition holds that the Amalekites are the undying enemy of the Jews. They appear in Deuteronomy, attacking the rear columns of the Israelites on their escape from Egypt. The rabbis teach that successive generations of Jews have been forced to confront the Amalekites: Nebuchadnezzar, the Crusaders, Torquemada, Hitler and Stalin are all manifestations of Amalek’s malevolent spirit.

If Iran’s nuclear program is, metaphorically, Amalek’s arsenal, then an Israeli prime minister is bound by Jewish history to seek its destruction, regardless of what his allies think.

President Obama might want to place a call to his old pastor Jeremiah Wright, and ask him about Amalek. Dr. Wright has graduate degrees in religion and a distinguished career as a pastor in the United Church of Christ.  I suspect he has a different reading on using Amalek in this 21st century foreign policy conflict.

(The photo above  was taken by Connie Baker next to the Wall surrounding Bethlehem. In the distance you will see illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land.) 

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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1 Response to Between Netanyahu and Obama, The NYT Picks Fear of Amalek

  1. Claude Sitton says:

    The NYT’s covering of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting goes beyond shocking. Its so-called correction turns a reporter’s biased misdemeanor into a journalistic felony.

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