One day not long before Robert Bartley died, the long-time editor of the Wall Street Journal was honored at a banquet in Manhattan for the newspaper’s courageous support of Israel. The story was told about how Bartley was once asked how he managed to defend Israel with even more verve than some of the Jewish newspapers. “Oh, I had it easy,” Bartley was quoted as replying, “I’m not Jewish.”
We thought of Bartley as we read the vitriol being directed at Rupert Murdoch, now the Wall Street Journal’s chairman, for his tweet in respect of the current fighting at Gaza. “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?” Mr. Murdoch tweeted. Press critic Howard Kurtz said Mr. Murdoch “had gone beyond outrageous to offensive.” A columnist of the Daily Beast suggested federal regulators should get involved. Mr. Murdoch apologized.
By our lights, his apology was unnecessary. What he had tweeted, after all, was the opposite of the anti-Semitic jibe about Jewish newspapers being beholden to Israel. What Mr. Murdoch is wondering is why Jewish newspapers don’t rise to Israel’s defense. This is a question that is usually raised in respect of the New York Times, which in the current crisis has packaged its acknowledgement of Israel’s right to defend itself in an editorial urging Israel to be more forthcoming in giving away parts of Judea, Samaria, and Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.
If Mr. Murdoch was thinking of the Times, he wouldn’t be the first person to suspect that the paper has bent over backward to avoid being thought of as a Jewish newspaper. Several years ago, Cambridge University issued a history of the Times’ failure during World War II to front its coverage of the Holocaust. The author, Laurel Leff, made clear how uncomfortable the Times’s proprietors, the Sulzberger family, were with the Jewish issue. It led to journalistic error.
People still talk about an editorial the Times issued in 1981, when Prime Minister Begin sent a flight of U.S.-made warplanes to destroy the atomic-bomb-making facility that Iraq was building at Baghdad. The Times’ editorial derided the action as a “sneak attack” and called the raid “an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression.” Years later, the Times’s former editor, Max Frankel, wrote in a memoir that the editorial was one of his “major mistakes.”
Mr. Frankel also wrote of how it was “especially satisfying” to realize in America “the wildest fantasy of the world’s anti-Semites: Inspired by our heritage as keepers of the book, creators of the law, and storytellers supreme, Jews in America did finally achieve a disproportionate influence in universities and in all media of communication.” He wrote of how the publisher of the Times in his generation, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, “unconsciously abetted this movement” and “had none of his father’s hang-ups about being Jewish.”
Even so, Mr. Frankel wrote, “I was much more deeply devoted to Israel than I dared to assert.” He wrote that he “had yearned for a Jewish homeland ever since learning as a child in Germany that in Palestine even the policemen were Jews!” But he wrote that “[l]ike most American Jews” he had “settled on a remote brand of Zionism, which rejected all importuning to move to Israel to share its hardships and dangers.” Few who held high office at a newspaper have addressed such questions so forthrightly.
Surely Mr. Murdoch knows all this. He is ahead of his critics. When he was honored two years ago by the Anti-Defamation League, he warned that we are in a new phase of the war against the Jews. In the new phase, he said, “[t]he battleground is everywhere,” including the press and broadcasting, multinational organizations, and non-governmental organizations. The aim, he said, was the same, “to make Israel a pariah.” At the time, The New York Sun called his remarks a “radical and newsworthy speech.” If the speech weren’t so long it would have made a terrific tweet.