Look what I started: a journalistic daisy chain involving a NYT correspondent, a couple of Jewish journalists, a frequent critic of Israel, and — well, that’s basically it, but it’s still kind of interesting.
Last week I wondered about NYT‘s Israel correspondent Isabel Kershner’s curious use of the phrase “Jewish nationalist” in an article. I sought some perspective from J.J. Goldberg at the Forward, who’s a maven when it comes to — well, just about everything. J.J. replied in a blog post that Kershner’s phrase is derived from current Israeli nomenclature for a certain breed of settler, adding that Kershner:
immigrated to Israel from her native England as a young woman and spent a couple of decades in Israeli journalism and Jewish education before joining the Times a few years ago. By now she’s thoroughly Israeli (and, for full disclosure, a friend).
Now Philip Weiss, whose Mondoweiss blog is dedicated to blaming Israel for everything wrong in the Middle East (at least), jumps on J.J.’s comments in service of his peculiar obession with Kershner’s background: Because she is Israeli, or at least a longtime resident, and presumably Jewish (Weiss tosses in a mishpoche joke), and married to an Israeli, Weiss suggests Kershner [and her fellow Times correspondnet Ethan Bronner, also married to an Israeli] is disqualified from writing objectively and accurately about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
(The joke here is that while Weiss is convinced of the Times’ pro-Israel bias, a huge swath of the pro-Israel community reviles the Times as pro-Palestinian. In fact, J.J. was pointing out how Kershner’s use of the term “Jewish nationalist” was bound to anger some in the pro-Israel community – something you’d think Weiss would appreciate.)
Anyhoo. Now Ron Kampeas at JTA reports on a Twitter war between Weiss and Israel-Canadian freelance journalist Lisa Goldman. Goldman tweeted Weiss that she is “appalled that you judged reporters for their religion/creed/nationality rather than their work.” To which Weiss replies, “Is it not relevant that both Times reporters have close ties to Israel? Can you imagine the response if they were Palestinian?”
“Close ties to Israel” is the revealing phrase here. When he writes “Israel” he doesn’t mean the government — no, what he means is their nationality or ethnicity or long-term residency. And such “ties” are pertinent — no, essential –when judging them as journalists.
For Weiss, to be Israeli is to be incapable of reporting honestly or objectively, as if “Israel” means one thing, and that its citizens, by nature of their Israeliness, share a common ideology or worldview that renders them incapable of professionalism. (Spend a minute in Israel, or just look at the typical Knesset vote, or read an Israeli newspaper, and you see how quickly this notion falls apart.)
Is Weiss willing to apply this critique consistently? Are Palestinian reporters incapable of writing fairly on the conflict because they have “close ties to Palestine”? Are Americans in the White House press corps compromised because they are U.S. citizens? Should we ban native stringers in Iraq and Afghanistan because they couldn’t possibly be objective?
If Weiss isn’t willing to apply this standard across the board, then he must explain why Israel is a special case.
And you don’t have to be Israeli — merely being Jewish is enough to disqualify your Mideast reporting or perspectives as trust-worthy, according to Weiss’s peculiar ethnic check-point. Weiss is also obsessive in tracking Jewish journos who have relatives or friends living in Israel and/or the occupied territories. Weiss has written that if you are a journalist and have relatives in Israel, they have “power over” you, whatever that means. Considering how many Jews have either relatives or freinds in Israel, that’s a pretty stiff ethnic test. There’s a word for judging someone on the basis of their religion and ethnicity as opposed to the content of their character or quality of their work.
For Weiss and critics of Israel like him, Israel is a “special case” — so strange, so singular, so uniquely corrupt and corrupting that it’s citizens are rendered incapable of autonomy or judgment. ”Israel” is not a country populated by zealots and slackers, secularists and Orthodox, nationalists and universalists, peaceniks and warmongers. For this kind of obsessive, it’s an idea — an idea of evil, an idea so perfidious that not only its citizens but those in its orbit (again, the word for them is Jews) are inherently and irrevocably compromised.