Media Analysis

The real significance of Bari Weiss’s resignation from the New York Times

Change is in the air and the Israel lobby can no longer stamp it out by using its gatekeepers to censor and malign opposing voices.
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Bari Weiss’s letter of July 14 announcing her resignation as an editor of the New York Times opinion page has received considerable publicity and has won praise from prominent right-wing spokespersons, including Donald Trump, Jr., political commentators Ben Shapiro and Bill Maher, and U.S. Republican senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Kelly Loeffler.   In that letter, posted on her website, Weiss accuses her colleagues of “bullying” her and silencing writers whose views clash with the Times’s “orthodoxy.”  “Intellectual curiosity,” she claims, “is now a liability at The Times.”  These claims are breathtakingly dishonest, coming as they do from an editor who has herself engaged in systematically barring from the Times any op-ed or letter to the editor contrary to the orthodoxy of the pro-Israel establishment she represents.  

Although Weiss emphasizes the “necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society”—principles I fully support—nothing could better illustrate “tribalism” than the censorship of voices criticizing Israel or pointing out the inherently undemocratic nature of a state that privileges Jews over non-Jews.  A flagrant example of the tribalism that the Times opinion page exhibited under Weiss’s editorship is its publication of an op-ed titled “On the Frontlines of Progressive Anti-Semitism” by Blake Flayton, a sophomore at George Washington University, and its failure to publish a single one of the letters that poured in from Jewish students at George Washington and other universities contradicting Flayton’s allegations about both antisemitism among progressives and about quasi-universal support for Israel among young Jews.  Frankly, the Times is much better off without Bari Weiss.  Perhaps now the Op-Ed and letters to the editor page can finally begin reflecting the remarkable shift that has been occurring in Jewish attitudes toward Israel and Palestinians, as indicated by Peter Beinart’s two articles, “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State”, and “Yavne: A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine” and by Eric Alterman’s “In New York, Zionism and Liberalism Faced Off—And Liberalism Won.”

Both Beinart and Alterman describe a long process of grappling with the contradictions between their ideal of Israel as a haven for Jews that could also be a democracy for its Palestinian citizens and their growing awareness of the brutal repression Palestinians endure under Israeli rule.  Confronted by more and more evidence that “With each new election, irrespective of which parties enter the government, Israel has continued subsidizing Jewish settlement in a territory in which Palestinians lack citizenship, due process, free movement, and the right to vote for the government that dominates their lives,” Beinart concludes: “The painful truth is that the project to which liberal Zionists like myself have devoted ourselves for decades—a state for Palestinians separated from a state for Jews—has failed. . . .  It is time for liberal Zionists to abandon the goal of Jewish-Palestinian separation and embrace the goal of Jewish-Palestinian equality.”  Similarly, Alterman acknowledges: “As Israel grows increasingly illiberal—embracing not only annexation but also official racism, theocratic governance, and increasingly anti-democratic restrictions on the freedoms of its Arab minority . . . Liberal Zionism—a cause to which I have committed myself for my entire adult life—has come to look like a contradiction.” 

Alterman’s article actually comments on another example of what his subtitle calls “a sea change for American Jews”: the defeat of Eliot Engel, the powerful chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, by Jamaal Bowman, an African American former middle school principal.  As Alterman notes, Engel used his position to deliver “one hundred percent support for Israel” in lockstep with AIPAC and the ultra-conservative Zionist Organization of America, while neglecting the needs of his constituents, nearly 60 percent of whom are Black and Latino.  Bowman, in contrast, balanced his commitment to “the right of Israelis to live in safety and peace” with an affirmation that “Palestinians are entitled to the same human rights, safety from violence and self-determination in a state of their own.”  Instead of his stand’s costing him the election, as it probably would have in years past, however, “Bowman won in a landslide,” and Engel did not even carry the district’s Jewish voters.  As Alterman explains, the result showed that “Israel had lost its centrality” among constituents who were “reeling under the threat of the pandemic and inspired by the politics of racial reawakening.”  They also showed that whereas in the past, liberals “chose just to make an exception for Israel while sticking with the rest of their left-leaning agenda,” this time liberalism had clearly won out over Zionism.

In short, change is in the air, and the pro-Israel lobby can no longer stamp it out by using its henchpersons to censor and malign opposing voices.  This is the real significance of Bari Weiss’s resignation from the New York Times.

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Right ON, Carolyn!

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