The debate about the extent of the New York Times’ anti-Israel bias was revived this past weekend in the book-review treatment of Joe Sacco’s Footnotes From Gaza, a volume that purports to tell the story of massacres of innocent Palestinian Arabs in Gaza by evil Israelis in 1956 during the Sinai Campaign.
The review is notable for two reasons.
First is the fact that the review is a rave for what can only be described as a 418-page piece of anti-Israel propaganda. Masquerading as history, this graphic novel is a detailed compendium of slanders against Israeli forces engaged in a counteroffensive against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, an area used as a base for murderous terror raids into Israel since the 1949 armistice. But that fact is ignored by the reviewer, who accepts the author’s single-minded obsession with placing all of the blame on the Jews for the fighting in Gaza at that time and for the entire duration of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The piece claims that it is a “bias against history” that has prevented the publication of more such accounts of Israeli brutality. Yet this book has nothing to do with a genuine search for historical truth and everything to do with anti-Israel bias. Indeed, the core accusation of Sacco’s book—that these incidents in 1956 “planted hatred” in Palestinian hearts against Israelis—is absurd.
The fighting in that year had been precipitated by Arab cross-border murder raids, whose brutality was rooted in anti-Jewish hatred and intolerance for the Jewish presence in the land, which long predated the events this cartoon purports to explain. The point of Sacco’s cartoons is not very different from more recent attempts to portray last year’s invasion of Gaza as aggression when, in fact, it was merely a response to missile attacks on Israel. But as with other such examples of “journalism” aimed at vilifying the Israelis, Sacco’s only goal is to paint Israeli self-defense as illegitimate and to portray the Palestinians as innocent victims whose agenda to destroy the Jewish state cannot be mentioned.
Sacco’s use of crude pictures to tell a one-sided story of Jewish evil will, no doubt, remind some readers of similarly crude anti-Semitic graphics employed by the Nazis. We need not linger on this obvious comparison to dismiss Footnotes from Gaza as the nastiest sort of polemic that sheds little light on either the origins of the current conflict or the nature of war. At a time when anti-Israel invective and Jew-hatred is on the rise around the world, the publication of works like this is far from unique. But when the Times’s prestigious Sunday Book Review not only treats books like Sacco’s as worthy of consideration but also lauds their use of cartoons as “highly informed and intelligent” and raves that “it is difficult to imagine how any other form of journalism could make these events so interesting,” it must be acknowledged that a tipping point has been reached.
The second important fact about this review is the choice of the reviewer: Patrick Cockburn, a virulent critic of Israel who has used his post as Middle East correspondent of Britain’s the Independent (as well as occasional pieces at CounterPunch, a leftist rag edited by his equally anti-Israel brother Alexander) to skewer every effort of Israel to defend itself and to delegitimize its people. You have to wonder what was going through the mind of Sam Tanenhaus, the Book Review editor, when he made such a choice. If his goal was to publish a sympathetic review of this vile book, then certainly Cockburn could be counted on because his writings about current Israeli efforts to stop Gaza-based terrorism have been as biased as Sacco’s book. But one would think that if the credibility of his section were his priority, Tanenhaus would have chosen a less obviously prejudiced reviewer.
That he felt free to choose a creature such as Cockburn to give a rave to this disgusting tract rather than selecting someone not already identified with hatred of Israel speaks volumes about the atmosphere at the Times. Based on the excellent biography that he penned of Whittaker Chambers, Tanenhaus himself has a reputation as a fine historian, though his most recent effort predicting the end of American conservatism was, as criticism of the Obama administration has mounted, obviously premature. But his championing of Sacco’s picture propaganda and his decision to allow Cockburn, of all people, to proclaim it a praiseworthy work of history, ought to debunk Tanenhaus’s claim to any distinction in either history or fair-minded journalism.