Ron Radosh

Two Liberal Journalists Who Simply Don't Get it: Stephen Kinzer and Nicholas D. Kristof

It seems many of our commentators who rush to condemn Israel have really lost it. Chief among them is the former New York Times foreign correspondent  in Central America and later Turkey, Stephen Kinzer.  The man was capable for many years of writing shrewd and insightful reports on Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 80’s, and later from Europe. And he is a well known connoisseur of American blues, who had a highly regarded radio show in Turkey that brought the genre to the attention of new listeners worldwide.

But now, writing about Israel, he has come up with what just might be the most misguided  analogy imaginable. On the Daily Beast website, Kinzer argues that the United States can solve the Middle East problem by simply treating terrorist fundamentalist Iran and democratic Israel as equivalent.  

The problem to Kinzer is that while the United States views Iran as “a pariah in the world” and “one of the major threats to global security,” the rest of the world sees Iran differently, as a country “no more or less threatening than any other.” On the other hand, they see Israel as a “violent, repressive [nation]” that is “contemptuous of international law.” This is how Kinzer also views Israel:

It has an active nuclear-weapons program but conducts it in secret; its security organs regularly kill perceived enemies of the state, both at home and abroad; its political process has been hijacked by religious fundamentalists who believe they are doing God’s will; its violent recklessness destabilizes the world’s most volatile region; and it seems as deaf to reason as it is impervious to pressure. Also: Its name begins with “I”.

He thinks we should stop doing things like working to gain support for “punishing new sanctions on Iran.” What we should do is to take Israel to task for already  being a nuclear power- rather than trying to stop Iran from becoming one. How unfair that we want “abject surrender” from Iran, and we let Israel get away with hell.

In Kinzer’s eyes, both Israel and Iran are “disturbers of whatever peace exists in the Middle East.” Come again? Iran wants to destroy Israel and arms Hamas and Hezbollah; Israel has sought and seeks a two-state solution- a Jewish state and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace, and is ready to negotiate and come to terms with any Arab nation that grants its right to exist. Yet Kinzer argues that we must treat them “by equivalent standards.”

I imagine if it was back in the early days of the Cold War, Kinzer would favor giving US atomic secrets to the Soviets, since we threatened Europe and world peace as much as the Soviets did. (Actually, that is what the Communists and fellow-travelers of the day advocated; some of them went to work for the KGB as spies-hoping to accomplish  that goal for the Soviets when they could not get US policy to do it.) 

And yes, Kinzer wants the US to equally pressure Israel and Iran to enact “higher human-rights standards.” Let me ask Kinzer a simple question. If you were a political prisoner or a Palestinian terrorist, would you rather be in an Israeli jail or an Iranian one?  If it makes no difference, I expect you to answer by choosing incarceration in Iran. Actually, Israel jails terrorists; they are not actually political prisoners. But as Kinzer sees it, both countries treat “honest critics as traitors of terrorists.”  That statement alone is a crude slander against Israel, and serves as an apologia for Iran, who claims inaccurately that its critics and non-violent demonstrators are terrorists.

The next blowhard is the ever more self-righteous New York Times columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof. Today, Kristof writes out of what he assures us is his pure motive, that of wanting to save “Israel From Itself.” I love the way columnists with bad advice preface their thoughts by giving us their good intentions—as if any Israeli with brains would take him seriously.

After all, he writes, Israel used  “lethal force on self-described peace activists.” Kristof does not pause to discuss the amassed evidence that the group on board the ship were really not peace activists, rather than a group of jihadists ready to spring a trap on boarding commandoes. Now, he writes, Israel is doing what the Palestinians used to do- lashing “out with force in ways that undermine [Israel’s] own interests.”

 As Ambassador Michael Oren points out in the same day’s Times in an accompanying op-ed, “the mob that assaulted Israeli special forces on the deck of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on Monday was not motivated by peace. On the contrary, the religious extremists embedded among those on board were paid and equipped to attack Israelis — both by their own hands as well as by aiding Hamas — and to destroy any hope of peace.”

Oren is clear as well about the raid’s actual intention. It was “not to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, but to create a provocation that would put international pressure on Israel to drop the Gaza embargo, and thus allow the flow of seaborne military supplies to Hamas. Just as Hamas gunmen hide behind civilians in Gaza, so, too, do their sponsors cower behind shipments of seemingly innocent aid.” And, he adds, “The real intent of breaking the embargo is to allow rockets to be transported to Gaza from Hamas’s suppliers in Syria and Iran. Israel has already intercepted several such ships laden with munitions.”

Kristof, however, writes in favor of the kind of pressure Oren is warning against; pressure that would enable Hamas to carry out its deadly aim, advised by liberal journalists like Kristof in the name of peace and security. Thus he tells Israel what it must do—freeze all settlements, do everything else Kristof thinks necessary to “make a deal more likely.” That Israel has made known time and time again its desire for a real deal is ignored; just as Kristof ignores the continual repetition by Hamas leaders that it never will accept Israel’s legitimacy, no matter what.

And yes, as proof that Israel is losing what Kristof calls its “support base” he points to the NYRB article by Peter Beinart, along with his repetition of the claim that General David Petraeus has disavowed many times, that the US favoring of Israel is breeding anti-Americanism and helping Al Qaeda.  So like Kinzer, Kristof knows the solution: Israel alone must act by quickly ending the blockade of Gaza. It has accomplished nothing, he says, except to make Gaza suffer.

Fortunately, for once, the editors of the Times offered its readers not only Oren’s article, but a powerful op-ed by Israeli writer Rabbi Daniel Gordis, who points out, contradicting Kristof, that “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza; if anyone goes without food, shelter or medicine, that is by the choice of the Hamas government, which puts garnering international sympathy above taking care of its citizens. Israel has readily agreed to send into Gaza all the food and humanitarian supplies on the boats after they had been inspected for weapons.”

Gordis also points out that the blockade is both necessary and essential, because “Israel has as its foremost obligation the protection of its citizens. Given that, why should it have allowed the flotilla to enter without inspecting its goods? If the United States were to impose a blockade on Iran (which seems unlikely), and another country dispatched a string of ships in a similar operation, is there any chance the United States Navy would let them through without inspection?  Israel will, of course, endure tremendous international condemnation for this week’s events. Sadly, though, we Israelis are becoming somewhat inured to such criticism. And we know that we dare not capitulate now.”

To the Israelis, the so-called  constructive criticism coming from liberals like Kristof appear as myopic; the kind of advice they instinctively know has to be ignored and challenged.  As for Iran- both Kinzer and Kristof should take note of what Gordis points out:

Iran finances Hezbollah and Hamas and does everything it can to weaken and marginalize Israel, inching toward its vision of a world without a Jewish state. The West has known of Iran’s nuclear intentions for well over a decade, but has effectively done nothing. Israelis understand that we — and we alone — will have to ensure our security and our survival.

Israel alone wants peace, but as Gordis points out, it has not been able to “find anyone to make a deal with us.” Hence the kind of advice both Kristof and Kinzer give, if taken, would help only a terrorist state like Iran, and move the region even further away from real peace and security. Israel, he points out, has a good reaso to ignore such supposed well-meaning but dangerous advice; its geographic vulnerability does not allow it to “have the luxury of caving in to the world’s condemnation.”

Writing from the safety of the United States, both Kinzer and Kristof are in no position to give Israel any advice. The world is fortunate that when Israelis read these columns, the only result will be the sound of their incredulous laughter.