Dear Nicholas Kristof, You Are a Fool

by A. Jay Adler on October 7, 2011
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Let’s begin with the title of that ejaculation of tendentious nonsense you and The New York Times have passed off as thoughtful commentary by a serious commentator on international affairs.

Is Israel Its Own Worst Enemy?”

Really, you mean that? You haven’t heard that spoken around the block a time or two. It’s your own, its original, you came up with it yourself in a flash of wordsmithing insight? In comparison to anti-Semitic terror organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and whole national governments of like nature – Iran – and Palestinian and other Arab public officials who repeatedly reveal in interviews to Mideast media that their true, private intent is never to accept Israel and even to destroy it, and a sea of racist religious, educational and cultural inculcation all around it, you ask if Israel is its own worst enemy?

Oh, it’s just hyperbole? Is it? Is that how you meant it? And in either case, you think such a trite formulation will educate your readers on the situation? You think it grasps essential rhetorical hold of a conflict spanning nearly a century and of the current moment too? This is the concentrated extract of your understanding?

You begin,

For decades, Palestinian leaders sometimes seemed to be their own people’s worst enemies. Palestinian radicals antagonized the West, and, when militant leaders turned to hijackings and rockets, they undermined the Palestinian cause around the world. They empowered Israeli settlers and hard-liners, while eviscerating Israeli doves.

This curiously, dumbly (as in mute, but make of it further as you will) frames that history as tactical error. But what was the aim of that terrorism? To reject Israel and make war, not just on Israel, but Jews, and others, around the world. To deny Israel peace and its very existence, just as was hoped in 1947. And you offer, instead of that clear truth, the empowerment of “Israeli settlers and hard-liners” as the unfortunate consequence of what were not only tactics but a strategy. All this hateful and warlike history has, in your expression of its consequences, the empowerment of Israeli hardliners as it worst outcome. What an odd distillation of historical meaning.

You write,

Nothing is more corrosive than Israel’s growth of settlements because they erode hope of a peace agreement in the future.

Nothing? Nothing is more corrosive? Really? (Why does your writing on this subject evoke repeated reality checks?) Are you unaware – are you Mr. Kristof – of the history and currency of Arab anti-Semitism? Its religious and political, even national, expression in every nation surrounding Israel, in schools, in media, in religious worship and sermon, in songs taught to children? Do you know how long is the history of this anti-Semitism? How far back in time, in contrast, do those settlements, the ones you are talking about (which ones, actually, are you talking about?) go in the history of this conflict? Do you care to meditate a little more deeply on matters of causation? But really (that word again) the settlements are more corrosive than that acid of hate that runs through the culture of the Arab world?

You acknowledge,

Every negotiator knows the framework of a peace agreement — 1967 borders with land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of both Israeli and Palestinian states, only a token right of return.

I wonder, Mr. Kristof, do you know why “every negotiator knows the framework of a peace agreement”? I mean can you review history a bit better than you’ve done so far and articulate how it is exactly that this truism of future outcomes has become that truism? I’m an impatient man. Forgive me. I’ll tell you: because the framework is indeed reasonable – and because Israel has on multiple occasions tentatively accepted (pending Palestinian agreement) or even itself offered these terms. It is Israel, in its acknowledged acquiescence to these rough parameters, that has made them the distantly perceived resolution that “every negotiator knows.” Can you offer a single instance of Palestinian negotiators having accepted these rough parameters or offered a like plan themselves, in toto? My arms are folded, my feet are tapping, I don’t mean to be rude.

You refer to

the demographic and political change within Israeli society, which has made the country more conservative when it comes to border and land issues.

I don’t wish to deny the truth in this. We are about seeing the complexity of situations and conflicts around here and not simplifying and distorting them – at least some of us are – but how is it you do not yourself acknowledge how decades of war and terror, and the horrific second intifada coming off Oslo, and after Camp David, turned many Israelis on the left to a harder right? You’re a reporter. I understand you travel a great deal. I’m confident you could find very large numbers of Israelis who meet that description. It isn’t  just “demographic” change, and by the way that word isn’t the simple comfortable placeholder for historical experience you intend it to be. But that’s for another time. So I’ll just ask again – why do you not mention here the effect on the Israeli electorate of Palestinian rejectionism and terror ?

Speaking of mention – I really do have to mention this:

That’s the saddest thing about the Middle East: hard-liners like Hamas empower hard-liners like Mr. Netanyahu.

Now, we’re both writers (well, you’re a tad more famous, with a few more awards, and you make a lot more money than I do – but we’re all brothers and sisters in the trade, right?) – does this particular column of yours leave you the least bit wary at this point of absolutes and superlatives? That’s “the saddest thing about the Middle East”? Benjamin Netanyahu? Not Hamas itself? What’s sad about Hamas is that it empowers Netanyahu? Netanyahu is worse than a genocidally constituted terror organization? Worse than Bashir Assad? Or Hezbollah or all that, you know, stuff I’ve already mentioned? The saddest thing? My goodness, Mr. Kristof, that is sad, and one can well understand those friends of yours whom you anticipate thinking you “unfair and harsh” thinking you – well, unfair and harsh is the least of it.

There are many only a little finer points to challenge in your column, but in the interests of length I have been focusing only on the howlers. I don’t mean funny, Mr. Kristof, I mean scream. I’ll close with the somewhat less obvious but greatest of them all, because you are a journalist of distinction, and I know that once pointed out to you it will be embarrassingly manifest. You close,

Some of my Israeli friends will think I’m unfair and harsh, applying double standards by focusing on Israeli shortcomings while paying less attention to those of other countries in the region. Fair enough: I plead guilty. I apply higher standards to a close American ally like Israel that is a huge recipient of American aid.

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk — or drive a diplomatic course that leaves their nation veering away from any hope of peace. Today, Israel’s leaders sometimes seem to be that country’s worst enemies, and it’s an act of friendship to point that out.

Now I want you to think about the logical implications of what you claim here. You acknowledge applying a higher standard to Israel, which rationalize it however you wish – “close American ally,” “huge recipient of American aid” – means a double standard. I clarify this point because we need to know, as they say, where you’re coming from. We talkin’ hardball, amoral client-state geopolitics here, or are we moralizing? Interested people want to know. Because in the first instance, sure – you takes the money, you do our bidding. The Soviet Union was awfully clear about that arrangement. Some people think the U.S. is more that way than it should be. I have previously understood that you might be one of those people. Perhaps I was mistaken.

If, on the other hand, you are moralizing, which I think is the tone, really, of your outpouring, then it is incumbent on us to acknowledge that double standards are not a very moral thing. Everybody has to play by the same rules, don’t you think, and nations all be held to the same standards? Aren’t the injustices of the world already deeply historically embedded in the truth that nations acted in variance from this moral imperative?

But more, Mr. Kristof, more. Your criticisms of Israel throughout your column are presented as objective realities: you look at the situation and what you perceive as the objective reality is what you have put down on paper for all to read. But when you write that you are holding Israel to a higher standard, that suggests something other. That suggests that at every point in your column where a judgment was offered, and no advise was provided as to how that judgment might be made according to equal standards, and how it was now being altered – distorted we might say – by the double standard, your argument is being subverted. You offer it all as true, and then in the end you say that all of it is not really true, but true by a special standard, a standard prejudicial toward Israel. You have rendered your entire argument – which wasn’t really an argument anyway, but a string of undisciplined hyperboles – entirely without force.

You compound this by closing with that tired refrain that you so misrepresent the history and the present of the Middle East, and prejudice untold readers against Israel – readers armed now with the ignorance and warped righteousness that is the currency of this historical moment – because you are Israel’s friend.

And friends, don’t you know, don’t let friends drive drunk. Or make fools of themselves either. They step in. They take away the keys. Or the keyboard. And I’m your friend, Mr. Kristof. I really am.

I mean it.

Sincerely,

 

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9 comments

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob October 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm

That’s the Kristof I disagree with and I remember cringing while reading that column. He does so much excellent reporting from places that truly need the attention and then he publishes earnest sounding BS like that.

Oy vey is an understatement.

VERY well done, Jay. Hope he read it.

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Gary Orin October 9, 2011 at 8:28 pm

I have stopped buying the NY Times after reading it for 35 years becuase of the columns by Nicholas Kristoff and others as well as the biased reporting of events by the NY Times.
I do not think Mr. Kristoff is a fool or stupid. He knows exactly what he is saying. Taking his advice would lead to the end of Israel. Obviously, that is his goal.

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Bert Gold October 9, 2011 at 7:28 pm

The NYTimes refused to post the following comment I made on Kristof’s piece. Yes, I contacted the Ombudsman, to no avail. See what you think:

I’ve always considered Kristof antisemitic, or at least favoring the arab side. In this piece he proves that he does (favor the arab side). Read his last few paragraphs. As for the antisemitic part, you would have to understand that his prescription would end the only Jewish State on Earth. And, with it, the hopes of all Jewish people that they could seek refuge should an awful new genocide against Jews occur. Jews, after all, have been on the receiving end of genocidal threats throughout most of recorded history. But, Kristof manages to conveniently forget that; or at the very least, lose his empathy for Jews in favor of his ‘soft-spot’ for the arab underdogs with 22 extant States.

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Benjamin H. October 9, 2011 at 2:11 am

And of course, Philip Weiss and the echo chamber that is his site are crowing over Kristof, wondering when he’ll go one-state. Anything to bash Israel over there, of course, no matter what the content. Keep up the good work.

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Bella Center October 7, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Thank you, that was delicious. I would also point out that the expression, friends don’t let friends drive drunk has been going round and round the block lately, especially at the Times. These guys are so LAZY.

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Nelida Kreer October 7, 2011 at 8:06 am

Dear A.J.: With friends like that, who needs enemies? Well written, and well done.

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