A Very Loud Silence

New York Times GazaRespect them or not, it is undeniable that the New York Times remains preeminent among its competitors and over the many decades has displayed courage in publishing the Pentagon Papers and in the high quality of its investigative reports. No issue, however controversial, seemed untouchable.

So I ask: How is it that for eight long days (at this writing), its editorial board has chosen to remain voiceless during the Israeli-Palestinian Gaza War, with its pitiless air war, soaring rockets, a growing army of refugees, and mounting civilian deaths? You can name virtually every conflict since the end of WWII and be absolutely certain that the Times’ editorial writers were on the job, advising, cajoling, criticizing and commending—even apologizing after its initial support for the Iraq War.

In its last editorial before it went unaccountably still, the paper used the gruesome murders of four youngsters in Israel/Palestine to warn both sides “to think again about the need for a permanent peace, but the loss of four young men may not be motivation enough.”

Then silence. Other than some exemplary field reporting and a commendable Op Ed “A Palestinian Mother’s Fear in East Jerusalem,” not a word.

But on the eighth day it finally took Op Ed columnist Roger Cohen, speaking only for himself, to write what the Times should have been doing, namely speaking on behalf of its management about a war for the preservation of an ungodly status quo that dooms all sides to perpetual conflict. “Jews should study the Nakba. Arabs should study the Holocaust. That might be the first step toward two-state coexistence,” wisely concluded Cohen, adding “The Jews and Arabs of the Holy Land are led by men too small to effect change.”

murray-polnerThe paper’s editors also missed a fundamental difference in Jewish opinion about the war that was revealed in the independent Jewish Daily Forward. J.J. Goldberg, its former editor, now editor-at-large and by his own reckoning a dedicated Zionist, wrote that much of the early information emanating from the Netanyahu government about the three Jewish boys’ disappearance was “simply put, a lie” because the Israelis knew they were dead and the refusal to reveal that fact helped lead to “an unnecessary war.”

“Nor was that the only fib,” Goldberg wrote. “It was clear from the beginning that the kidnappers weren’t acting on orders from Hamas leadership in Gaza or Damascus. Hamas’s Hebron branch—more a crime family than a clandestine organization –had a history of acting without the leaders’ knowledge, sometimes against their interests. Yet Netanyahu repeatedly insisted Hamas was responsible for the crime and would pay for it.” An explosive charge, it heightened hopes that Hamas could at last be eliminated in the West Back and then Gaza. “Hamas in Gaza began preparing for it. The Israeli right—settler leaders, hardliners in his own party – began demanding it.”

Not so, Gil Lainer, the counsul for public affairs at Israel’s Consulate General in New York, angrily snapped back , calling Goldberg’s story a “tall tale of conspiracy that Israel hid the deaths of our three boys so that it could crack down on Hamas.” Goldberg, he went on, was “dangerously naïve” in claiming that this war is one ‘that nobody wanted…not even the enemy, Hamas.” And more: “To claim that Hamas does not want this war is to ignore what Hamas is: the physical and organizational manifestation of a century old Palestinian hatred towards the Jewish people.” To which Goldberg returned to ask, “Is This [the] Best Defense Israel Can Muster?”

murray-polnerIn the end, this war of words between Zionists would have made a great story for the Times, and still does. But infinitely more important is its obvious reluctance to comment editorially. Is it because of fear of losing advertisers? Or being caught between readers who believe Israel is always right and those who don’t? Is there no advice to offer: A cease fire, or a negotiated truce? Another go at failed negotiations? An international crackdown on both parties? Perhaps sympathy for endangered men, women and children? If African, Iraqi, Ukrainian and Russian civilian lives count, why not war’s latest victims too?

Murray Polner


  1. Ryder says

    Killing and a promise of Israeli genocide falls like rain from the Arab world. Regular. The times is probably tired of reporting on rain.

    All it would take to end all of it, is for Arabs to stop killing… and it would be done. Forever. But that’s not going to happen. It’s sufficiently built into the Arab belief system.

    But like the rain, you have to dress for it when it comes. And always have your umbrella handy.

    • says

      Simply count the bodies if you wish to see all it would take to end this madness. Any loss of life is a tragedy. However, it’s the numbers are always so lopsided. Killing hundreds for what are little more than ineffectual harassment by hardliners who seek the death of innocents by an uncontrollable wing of Hamas is inexcusable. The focused and VERY effective collective punishment inflicted on mostly innocent women and children by Israel is very different from mere harassment. It is illegal and immoral death from above. During the last incursion into Gaza over 1400 people were killed by Israeli forces, again mostly innocents. The only outcome of this kind of barbarity is more hatred and violence. For Peace to come to this region the vastly stronger and better armed side needs to seek peace not simply revenge

      • JoeWeinstein says

        In effect Hamas sought and continues to seek these innocent deaths through a deliberate human shields policy. Because innocent civilian deaths create sympathy for your side – especially if you can show them off to ‘reporters’ (i.e. useful idiots) from typical western media – even if you are the one who makes sure that these deaths will happen. That’s why the numbers are lopsided. Hamas has carefully and correctly banked on the notion that the side that is seen to suffer more innocent casualties will be deemed the more virtuous.

        I agree that the stronger side needs to seek peace, not simply revenge. What that means in practice is that, given the nature of Hamas’ jihadist ideology, the most practical way to get a lasting peace is to stamp them out – to ensure that they can be the martyrs that they themselves say they ought to be. Obama will do his best never to let that happen: his latest foreign policy pronouncements want Israel to use more ‘restraint’ (i.e. toleration of Hamas and its human shields defense) in Gaza than anyone uses (or is ever asked by Obama to use) anywhere else – including in Syria and Iraq and Ukraina.

      • Ryder says

        Hi Vincent… body count does not tell you who is right, and who is wrong… or tell one what the “right” course of action is.

        Example: If our domestic police are well equipped and trained, we should hope to see, ideally, that none of them die… and that they are successful at killing criminals in the midst of violent acts… hostage takers, murderers, rapists (not as policy to “kill on sight”, but recognizing that it can happen).

        Again, *IDEALLY*… Police death: 0 Violent offender deaths: many.

        The “lopsided” nature of this ideal outcome is not a problem…. so we can’t get much from body count alone.

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