December 20, 2011

Netanyahu forfeits to New York Times - brilliant?

The Prime Minister of Israel has surrendered the debate on Israel. Amazingly, his senior adviser responded to a New York Times request for an op-ed by Prime Minister Netanyahu with a long explanation of why he was refusing. As usual, faithful American Jews will be expected to cheer this bit of audacity and be fortified by it, but the real target audience -- those Jews and non-Jews who still need to be convinced of the justice of Israel's cause (at least as the Prime Minister sees it) -- will not even miss it, because it wasn't submitted in the first place.

No matter that the latest Israeli response could have easily formed the basis for a powerful opinion piece making the case that one of the world's -- and America's -- most prominent newspapers (the "newspaper of record," as even the Prime Minister's Office refers to it) is in fact promoting anti-Israel bias.

According to the Israeli missive, the final straw was a distorted and dishonest op-ed published in the Times by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Just as Israel effectively withdrew from UNESCO as soon as Palestine was admitted, Israel has now withdrawn from The New York Times because the world is unfair to Israel. Boo-hoo.

For all the talk about engaging the American public to make Israel's case, if the Prime Minister is either too proud or afraid to even publish an op-ed in The New York Times, then all the complaints about Israel's bad PR, and the need to spend countless millions on positive "hasbara" outreach, are pointless.

The current Prime Minister made a name for himself by engaging the enemy in public debate, including at the United Nations. And now The New York Times is the enemy? If that's really true, then it's time to give up. And that's essentially what has now been done.

So Tom Friedman wrote about the "Israel lobby" controlling Congressional voting on the Middle East... Even if that were as terrible a charge as Israel's Ambassador to the United States claims, is that a reason to just give up? Outside of The Wall Street Journal, no other major, serious U.S. newspaper comes close to supporting the Likud narrative on the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. So did the Prime Minister and his team expect this would be easy?

And despite the Journal's importance, it's the op-ed pages of Times and The Washington Post that are the most coveted policy space in American media.

Does the Netanyahu government really think The New York Times will now roll over and be "pro-Israel" or pro-AIPAC -- or pro-settlements -- just because little Israel won't submit an article for publication? Can Israel really afford to remove itself from the pages of leading American newspapers? Look out, Washington Post, your days are numbered...

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