Michelle Alexander and the Old Gray Lady and the misuse of Dr. King

I’m long past feeling any surprise at NY Times reports and columns about Israel that find truth to be a flexible commodity. Still, on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, Times columnist Michelle Alexander gives us a pot of whoppers in her “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine” January 19, 2019.


Using MLK as a model for what she argues ought to be a newly voluble American response to the cause of the Palestinians, she speculates first on what Dr. King’s response might be to the current situation in the West Bank. However, Dr. King, assassinated on April 4, 1968, did not live even a full year after the Six Day War, and could not have had any reasoned perspective on that situation.

But her main point in raising Dr. King (other than to join him to her) is more to reflect about the great heat Dr. King took when he spoke out against the Vietnam War, which at the time took great courage in the face of the criticism he received from the media. In light of his moral courage, Alexander says, it’s time for her to break her silence “on one of the great moral challenges of our time: the crisis in Israel-Palestine.”

Let me be among those welcoming her to the fight and ask, well, where have you been the last several decades? It’s about time someone of your obvious moral and intellectual caliber stepped into the fray and helped clarify matters so to help bring a speedy resolution to this seemingly intractable conflict.

Perhaps you can help persuade Mahmoud Abbas to take negotiating seriously, and, while you’re at it, convince him it’s time to call elections, now overdue by more than a decade.

Perhaps your powers of moral persuasion can have some luck altering the vitriolic blind hatred of the leadership of Hamas so as to bring relief to the suffering population of the residents of the Gaza Strip and the endless hatred of Israel.

Perhaps you might find the ability to contain the UN General Assembly’s obsession with Israel and press that august body focus to focus on actual murderous regimes well worthy of UN censure.

But no. Ms. Alexander’s silence breaking aims to address some well-worn complaints.

For example, that “Our elected representatives, who operate in a political environment where Israel’s political lobby holds well-documented power, have consistently minimized and deflected criticism of the State of Israel…” Wow, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s rehearse that old one that says Israel controls American foreign policy.

Other examples of breaking the silence include:

Citing the highly disreputable Jewish Voice for Peace as her source, Ms. Alexander credits JVP with “aim[ing] to educate the American public about “the forced displacement of approximately 750,000 Palestinians that began with Israel’s establishment and that continues to this day.””

My Lord. Yes, let’s say whatever we want from whatever source we wish, and publish it in the Times.

The argument goes that the Palestinian refugee problem lies entirely in Israel’s hands, whose soldiers during the War of Independence expelled all of those Arabs living in the newly declared state. Right? Wrong. No responsible historian cites that figure as the number forcibly expelled. No responsible journalist cites JVP as a legitimate source. But let’s pick something from JVP’s website and publish it in an op-ed in the Times, and it becomes a claim apparently immune from fact-checking, and gives overtly anti-Israel nonsense the patina of truth.

Ms. Alexander further states, “We must not tolerate Israel’s refusal even to discuss the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.”

Without being too obtuse about this matter (for surely she refers to what she believes is a tendency to refuse to discuss the issue of the refugees’ right of return, not a total abstaining from discussion), how in the world does she know Israel fails to engage in such a conversation? I doubt she’s literate in Hebrew, so perhaps she’s employed a team of Hebrew readers to scour the Hebrew press and has learned, to a reasonable extent, there exists a broad refusal to raise this topic among thoughtful Israelis?

Or, to the contrary, and more likely, perhaps she’s repeating something someone said somewhere and, truth being a flexible commodity in the Times, she feels free to say whatever pops on her computer screen. She’s an op-ed writer for the NY Times, where a statement is true because it’s on pages of the Times.

Or, for another example, let’s flagellate Israel’s new Nation-State law yet again by citing it as an example of, supposedly, some 50 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinians. This Nation-State Law, one of those fifty, she claims, “says explicitly that only Jewish Israelis have the right of self-determination in Israel, ignoring the rights of the Arab minority that makes up 21 percent of the population.” Ms. Alexander fails to quote that part of the Nation-State Law that proves her claim that the law explicitly denies Arabs that right. Because it’s not there.

The complexity of Israel-Palestine is abundantly clear to anyone who bothers to open a book or two and bothers to examine reality. The extent of the debate in Israel about these issues is clear to anyone who eyes the Israeli press. The so-called silence in America about these matters is actually a roaring, bellicose shout, if only one knows where to look.

But this is not the way of the Gray Lady, nor, quite obviously Michelle Alexander. America’s most respected newspaper publishes muddled hash about Israel with such regularity that readers devoted to its pages, such as myself, have long grown accustomed to one area of its coverage of the world that is lazy and ignorant and thereby willingly sacrifices a value that responsible journalism eternally stands for, namely the truth. Ms. Alexander’s column, dressed in the nobility of Dr. Martin Luther King, bent and twisted with ignorance, becomes another example of the Times’ growing armory of appalling non-sense.

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