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‘Fit To Print’?

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Volunteer workers picking grapes and pruning vines in Bordeaux would hardly expect the world to take notice. But when 130 volunteers (Christian evangelicals, no less) come to Har Bracha, a settlement in Samaria, to help out in its winery, it became worthy of attention – indeed, extraordinary preoccupation – from The New York Times.

In an unusually lengthy July 6 article, focusing on tax-exempt donations to settlements, nearly 5000 words spilled over from the front page to fill two full inside pages. Hardly coincidentally, it appeared the morning Prime Minister Netanyahu was scheduled to meet in the White House with President Obama, whose opposition to settlements as “obstacles to peace” is well known.

The Times labored diligently to turn a molehill of familiar facts into a mountain of Jewish scandal. Accompanied by six photographs and a large map of Jewish “settlements” (including a Jerusalem neighborhood), three reporters explored what has been public information for years: charitable groups make tax-exempt donations to Jewish settlements.

As far back as 1997, Salon magazine published a hostile article decrying “armchair Jewish nationalists who, assisted by generous tax breaks,” funded settlements and purchased property in Jerusalem. Like Salon, and in virtually identical language, the Times expressed its displeasure that while the American government opposes Jewish settlements the American Treasury Department helps to sustain them through “tax breaks.”

This all comes as no surprise. Any knowledgeable New York Times reader is familiar with its enduring “Jewish problem.” Publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the assimilated Jew who tightly controlled editorial policy between 1935-61 (and whose grandson is the current publisher), was terrified lest the Times be considered a “Jewish” newspaper. It persistently buried news about the Holocaust while pursuing the anti-Zionist editorial policy that expressed Sulzberger’s fervent personal views.

Since the Six-Day War, the Times has been palpably hostile to any Israeli claims to land resting on religious or historic grounds. With the Obama administration asserting that truncated Israeli borders are “vital to defusing Muslim anger at the West,” the newspaper effectively functions as his house organ.

But rarely in its obsessive coverage of Israeli settlements has the Times made so much of so little. It revealed that at least forty groups have donated more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for these communities, as by law they are entitled to do. Times reporters seem acutely uncomfortable that donors, American evangelicals and Jews alike, actually believe the territory of Judea and Samaria is “critical to Israeli security and fulfillment of biblical prophecies.”

An array of curious asides punctuates the Times story. Settlers are identified as “men with skullcaps and sidelocks, women with head coverings, and families with many children.” (They are, in a word, Jews!) “Militant” settlers, “aided by tax-deductible donations from Americans,” are likely to violently resist forcible evacuation from their homes. (Who wouldn’t?) Its reporters even managed to discover a senior Israeli military commander (surely secular) who lamented that donations went to “a radical religious academy whose director has urged soldiers to defy orders to evict settlers.”

In the settlement of Yitzhar, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira of the Od Yosef Chai synagogue seems suspect for his “strong views.” Plaques inside his synagogue even thank American donors. Shocking! Curiously, the only reference in the article to biblical Judea and Samaria as a promised land comes from a Palestinian Arab: “It is not the Promised Land. It is our Land.”

As it frequently does when it reports on Jewish settlers, the Times ran a revealing photograph that subverted its own allegations. Prominently displayed on the front page, it showed the Lavi family of Har Bracha, owners of a vineyard. Six family members were dancing exuberantly on a hilltop rock. None wore skullcaps or head coverings, although there did seem to be a handful of children.

Surely intended to reinforce its denigration of settlers as illegal trespassers, the photo challenged the imputation that they squat on inhabited “Palestinian” land. A broad expanse of empty landscape extended to the far horizon. No Palestinian towns, villages, homes or tended fields were visible. Many other Jewish settlements, though not all, are similarly situated.

Hostile critics of Israel, such as the Obama administration and The New York Times, are inclined to bundle settlements in Judea and Samaria with neighborhoods in Jerusalem (including the Old City), the better to challenge the legitimacy of Jerusalem as capital of the Jewish state. The Times devoted more than half a column to the fund-raising activities of The Jerusalem Reclamation Project/American Friends of Ateret Cohanim. With generous donations from Dr. Irving Moscowitz (who was also prominently featured in the Salon article), it has purchased property in the Old City and East Jerusalem for homes and yeshivas. To be sure, Jews had lived in some of these neighborhoods before Arabs expelled them.

About the Author: Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy,” to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.

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