Something May Have Broken in U.S.-Israel Relations

There is an illuminating article at Mondoweiss that shows how the New York Times completely rewrote a piece they published on Benjamin Netanyahu’s “racism.” The first piece was authored by Isabel Kershner and Rick Gladstone and went up at 5:13pm on Election Day. The second piece went up at 9:08pm and was no longer attributed to Rick Gladstone. It appeared with only Kershner in the byline, and it significantly softened the tone of the piece and excised an official statement from the Zionist Union Party, as well as critical quotes from one of their officials and from Dov Hanin, a Joint Arab List candidate.

Netanyahu is quite simply whitewashed in the second article. This new draft—doubtless penned when NYT editors realized Netanyahu would likely be the next prime minister—is significantly kinder. Its thesis is essentially that Netanyahu is not actually a racist and that he does not truly unequivocally oppose the two-state solution. It features lines such as:

  • Mr. Netanyahu has a long history in power and has in the past demonstrated that he can change positions from campaigning to governing. His record is as a pragmatist, analysts said.
  • “I am sure that Netanyahu, with his broad historical perspective, if he is prime minister again, will be thinking long and hard about what legacy he will want to leave behind with regard to the demographic makeup of the country and its standing in the world,” said Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Reut Institute, an Israeli strategy group. “In the end I would not rule out his going back to the two-state solution.”

Euphemistically, the esteemed publication writes “In the final days of a closely fought election race, Mr. Netanyahu threw all political and diplomatic niceties to the wind.” That is one way of saying that, in order to attract votes, the right-wing Israeli prime minister resorted to base racism, fear-mongering, and—in what Ali Abunimah pointed out is strikingly reminiscent of early-20th-century anti-Semitic tropes—conspiracy theories about powerful foreign interests supposedly conspiring to unseat him.

Obviously, Mondoweiss is a harsh critic of Israel under all circumstances, but they have demonstrated how America’s most prestigious newspaper shades their coverage. What had been a blunt assessment of Netanyahu’s racist anti-Arab tactics and jettisoning of the two-state solution became very quickly a combination of a lack of “niceties” and some version of “he didn’t really mean it.”

Maybe some people are so beholden to the idea that Israel is a good faith partner for some future two-state solution that they simply couldn’t believe their ears, but the Obama administration isn’t revising history virtually at the same moment it is made. This piece in Foreign Policy is a shot across the bow:

After years of blocking U.N. efforts to pressure Israelis and Palestinians into accepting a lasting two-state solution, the United States is edging closer toward supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution that would call for the resumption of political talks to conclude a final peace settlement, according to Western diplomats.

The move follows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decisive re-election Tuesday after the incumbent publicly abandoned his commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state — the basis of more than 20 years of U.S. diplomatic efforts — and promised to continue the construction of settlements on occupied territory. The development also reflects deepening pessimism over the prospect of U.S.-brokered negotiations delivering peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Shortly before this week’s election, the United States informed its diplomatic partners that it would hold off any moves in the U.N. Security Council designed to put Israel on the spot at the United Nations in the event that Netanyahu’s challenger, Isaac Herzog, won the election. But U.S. officials signaled a willingness to consider a U.N. resolution in the event that Netanyahu was re-elected and formed a coalition government opposed to peace talks.

Further confirmation of a rift comes in Michael Crowley’s piece in Politico:

Angered by Netanyahu’s hard-line platform toward the Palestinians, top Obama officials would not rule out the possibility of a change in American posture at the United Nations, where the U.S. has historically fended off resolutions hostile to Israel.

And despite signals from Israel suggesting that Netanyahu might walk back his rejection, late in the campaign, of a Palestinian state under his watch, Obama officials say they are taking him at his word.

The default position for many observers of the U.S.-Israel relationship is a hard cynicism about the prospects that the U.S. will ever hold Israel’s settlers accountable, but Jonathan Alter may be right when we writes, “A reckoning is coming—faster than expected—for Netanyahu, his Likud Party and maybe even for the State of Israel itself.”

Sometimes things stay the same until they change.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.