The New York Times and its Zionist blind spot

The issue of New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, and the now confirmed state of his son in the IDF, is causing waves across the web.

The paper’s Public Editor comments:

There are so many considerations swirling around this case: Bronner is a superb reporter. Nobody at The Times wants to give in to what they see as relentlessly unfair criticism of the paper’s Middle East coverage by people hostile to objective reporting. It doesn’t seem fair to hold a father accountable for the decision of an adult son.

But, stepping back, this is what I see: The Times sent a reporter overseas to provide disinterested coverage of one of the world’s most intense and potentially explosive conflicts, and now his son has taken up arms for one side. Even the most sympathetic reader could reasonably wonder how that would affect the father, especially if shooting broke out.

I have enormous respect for Bronner and his work, and he has done nothing wrong. But this is not about punishment; it is simply a difficult reality. I would find a plum assignment for him somewhere else, at least for the duration of his son’s service in the I.D.F.

The paper’s editor, Bill Keller, has a different take and it’s odd (he doesn’t see the need for Bronner to excuse himself from reporting on Israeli-led wars while his son possibly fights in those wars):

Readers, like reporters, bring their own lives to the newspaper. Sometimes, when these readers are unshakeably convinced of something, they bring blinding prejudice and a tendency to see what they want to see. As you well know, nowhere is that so true as in Israel and the neighboring Palestinian lands. If we send a Jewish correspondent to Jerusalem, the zealots on one side will accuse him of being a Zionist and on the other side of being a self-loathing Jew, and then they will parse every word he writes to find the phrase that confirms what they already believe while overlooking all evidence to the contrary. So to prevent any appearance of bias, would you say we should not send Jewish reporters to Israel? If so, what about assigning Jewish reporters to countries hostile to Israel? What about reporters married to Jews? Married to Israelis? Married to Arabs? Married to evangelical Christians? (They also have some strong views on the Holy Land.) What about reporters who have close friends in Israel? Ethical judgments that start from prejudice lead pretty quickly to absurdity, and pandering to zealots means cheating readers who genuinely seek to be informed.

This line from Keller to the Public Editor reveals the problem:

Keller said that if Israel launched a new assault into Gaza and Bronner’s son were a foot soldier, “I don’t think I’d have any problem with Ethan covering the conflict.” It would be a tougher call if the son rose to a commanding role, he said, and if the son’s unit were accused of wrongdoing, Keller said he thought he would assign another reporter.

As Richard Silverstein notes, this ignores a key concern:

Israel conducts yet another war on Gaza in which Bronner’s son serves & the former can still remain objective and unconflicted?…  The only eventuality that would cause Bronner to substitute another reporter (but not rotate Bronner out of Israel) would be an accusation of war crimes against the son’s unit and then only if the son were an officer?…  And I’ve got news for Keller: the last Gaza war involved virtually all Israeli units engaging in savage acts that Goldstone has characterized as possible war crimes.…  What the Times’ senior editor does not understand about Israel and its military strategy is that it has become all-out war against military and civilian targets.…  And this is a global doctrine for the entire army.…  It’s not a question of a rogue unit here or there.

Bronner’s friend Bernard Avishai is offended even by the concept of moving Bronner to another round:

If Bronner had been found to be ignoring compelling questions, or cooking the evidence in some sly way, you would have the right to explore his state of mind: whether some pay-off or family loyalty explains his lapses. But what if there are no obvious lapses? Why go ad hominem when there is no rationale for this? The sophomoric revelation that “we all have biases”–worse, that biases come from determined psychological states, explicable by families, or class, or tribe, etc.–is not enough to discredit arguments or the person who makes them. One son of a factory owner turns out Richard Arkwright; another turns out Fredrick Engels. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but transferring Bronner from Jerusalem for his son’s decisions borrows from the same grotesque epistemology with which people were transferred to the Gulag for their son’s decisions.

The message from Mondoweiss is clear: The ”˜Times’ now owes it to its readers to assign an Arab-American reporter to Jerusalem

Personally speaking, the issue here isn’t so much Bronner or his ethics (though they aren’t irrelevant.) It’s the kind of focus the Times gives to the Israeli/Zionist perspective. Where are the anti-Zionist Jewish journalists? Would they even be considered? Of course not. Or the Palestinian writers? I remember asking Bronner directly in Israel last year why the paper didn’t employ more Palestinian journalists. He said they did and they would. Well, they aren’t bureau chiefs like Bronner. And we all know why.

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