I have not been the biggest fan of Ethan Bronner of the New York Times. The reportage by Bronner, who spent the last four years as the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, was a mixed bag. Though he was clearly a talented reporter who often did some good work highlighting the realities of the Palestinian war on Israel, he was also prone–as virtually every other member of the foreign press corps in Israel–to take Palestinian claims at face value and to omit the context of Palestinian rejectionism from accounts of diplomatic and political encounters there.
Nevertheless, Bronner spent the last two years under constant fire, not so much for his role in the Times’s blatant bias against Israel (for which the editors back in New York were chiefly responsible anyway), but because his son served in the Israel Defense Force. Once the news came out about Bronner’s son serving in the army like most Jewish boys his age in Israel, he was subjected to withering criticism from the pro-Palestinian left as well as a nasty column from Clark Hoyt, the paper’s public editor at the time. Now that Bronner’s leaving the post after a four-year term, the story is being recycled, but the notion that he was compromised by his son’s service is just as absurd today as it was then.
Hoyt took the position, as did many cheerleaders for the Palestinians, that: “The Times sent a reporter overseas to provide disinterested coverage of one of the world’s most intense and potentially explosive conflicts, and now his son has taken up arms for one side.”
The problem with this formulation is the assumption that the Times ought to regard an ongoing war to extinguish the life of the Jewish state with complete objectivity. But that is no more reasonable than to expect any American journalist with relatives in the U.S. military to have no opinions or stake in attacks on the United States or its forces abroad. While news reporters ought not to take part in partisan politics or advocacy on issues related to their beats, the notion that they should take no position on wars between Western democracy and Islamist terrorists extends rules about objectivity beyond reason. Those who are neutral about the idea that it is okay to single out the one Jewish state in the world for destruction should be accused of a far worse sin than a lack of complete objectivity.
Just as American reporters can and do report stories that can put the government and/or the U.S. military in a bad light while still acting as loyal citizens of this country, so, too, can any person living in Israel report honestly while not choosing to remain completely aloof from that country’s war of survival. Having a son in the IDF did not make Bronner a stooge of the Israeli government.
On the contrary, the vast majority of the foreign press contingent in Israel who proclaim neutrality about the conflict but treat Arab terrorism with kid gloves and assist the delegitimization of the democratic state in which they are living are the ones who deserve censure for bias. Whatever Ethan Bronner’s sins, at least he was not guilty of that. Let’s hope his successor is no worse than him.