by Hugh Fitzgerald
Just after the ceasefire in Gaza was declared, Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, who rivals his colleague Tom Friedman for the title of World’s Greatest Authority, wrote an article blasting Israel for committing “war crimes” in its recent conflict with Hamas. Now the rebarbative Kristof has just written another piece on the Israel-Hamas war, a defense of what he wrote in that first article. Prof. Jerold Auerbach is not impressed. His response to Kristof is here: “New York Times Absurdities,” Algemeiner, June 4, 2021:
The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, whose writings repeatedly demonstrate how little he knows about Israel, cannot be restrained. Immoral equivalence between Israel and Hamas recently became his favorite trope.
Two weeks ago he began by citing (unnamed) “experts” who agreed that “both Israel and Hamas are engaging in crimes of war.” Unable — or unwilling — to distinguish between launching rocket attacks and responding to them, he asserted that if Hamas is to be criticized so, too, must Israel. Predictably, Kristof’s presidential model is Barack Obama, the least friendly president toward Israel since its birth in 1948.
Hamas fired 4,300 rockets in the general direction of civilians in towns and cities, ranging from Ashdod and Ashkelon in southern Israel to Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem in central Israel. The Jewish state, by contrast, conducted 1,000 airstrikes in Gaza, aimed only at military targets: rocket production facilities, weapons warehouses, intelligence offices, command-and-control centers, a vast network of terror tunnels, and senior commanders. Because Hamas placed these weapons and offices in the midst of civilian areas, right next to, or even inside, apartment offices, schools, hospitals, and mosques, it was not possible to avoid all civilian casualties. But the IDF did everything it could to minimize them. It warned civilians to leave targeted buildings, by making telephone calls to them, leafletting neighborhoods, and practicing the “knock-on-the-roof” technique, giving residents anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours to leave. Israel tried, as it always does, to minimize Palestinian casualties; Hamas, on the other hand, as always, does everything it can to maximize them. That’s why it deliberately places weapons and fighters in their midst. It’s also why, when civilians try to flee a building or a targeted area, they are forced back inside by Hamas goons.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is Kristof’s prime target for daring to expand settlements — in the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people. Why, he wonders, should American tax dollars fund a government that is responsible for the absence of a two-state solution? He is evidently unaware that Palestinians have repeatedly rejected that idea. His blinding obsession with Israeli malfeasance as “an oppressive military power,” guilty of “crimes of apartheid,” prompts his absurd conclusion that “it’s not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel for possible war crimes.”
The lack of a “two-state solution” is the fault not of Israel, but of the Palestinians. In 2000, Ehud Barak offered Yassir Arafat 92% of the West Bank, as well as Israeli land equivalent in area to the 8% of the West Bank Israel would retain for security reasons, 100% of Gaza, and both the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City. Arafat did not negotiate; he simply walked out.
In 2008, Ehud Olmert made an even more generous offer to Mahmoud Abbas: 94.2% of the West Bank, plus two parcels of Israeli land equivalent in size to the 5.8% of the West Bank Israel would retain, and Israel would agree to the internationalization of the Old City. Like Arafat in 2000, Abbas simply walked out. And he has refused to negotiate with Israel ever since. When Kristof claims that Israel has repeatedly rejected a “two-state solution,” he is turning this history on its head.
Kristof claims that Israel is an “oppressive military power.” What is he talking about? There is not a single Israeli soldier, or Israeli civilian for that matter, anywhere in Gaza. In the West Bank, the Palestinians in Areas A are completely under control of the PA; security in Area B is shared between Israel and the PA; only in Area C does Israel retain full control, including security. How does Israel “oppress” the Palestinians? By furnishing the Palestinians in Gaza with three billion gallons of water every year? By supplying them with electricity? By offering jobs to tens of thousands of Gazans? By persuading Qatar to donate millions of dollars monthly to the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank? By treating Palestinians in Israeli hospitals, including many relatives of leaders of Hamas, before, during, and after the conflict? The head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, made sure his niece could be treated in an Israeli hospital in the very middle of the war that he, her uncle, had launched against the Jewish state on May 10.
Kristof repeats in his latest article the claim that Israel is guilty of the “crime of apartheid.” Yet he does not provide examples of this. Defenders of the truth have pointed out that in Israel, Arabs sit in the Knesset, serve on the Supreme Court, go abroad as Israeli diplomats. The chairman of Israel’s largest bank, Bank Leumi, is an Arab. Jews and Arabs study in universities together, work in offices and factories together, play on the same sports teams and in the same orchestras. An Arab political party just played a key role in building the coalition that has defeated Prime Minister Netanyahu. Where is the “apartheid” in any of this?
Evidently confronting (deserved) criticism for his article he responded two weeks later (June 3) with another column by asking “Were My Criticisms of Israel Fair?” The obvious answer is no. His primary, indeed solitary, source for affirming his fairness is Sari Bashi, a self-described Israeli “human rights lawyer.” In translation, that means Palestinian advocacy and laceration of Israel. Her focus has been “the right to freedom of movement for Palestinians,” especially Gaza residents, who she says embrace Hamas because they have no other choice for confronting their “oppressor.” Meaning Hamas? No; Israel.
The far-left Israeli lawyer, Sari Bashi, claims that Palestinians embrace the terror group Hamas because they have no other way to confront their “oppressor.” But Hamas is the real oppressor: its fighters keeps the people in Gaza in thrall through force; they haven’t been allowed to hold elections for fifteen years; those who dare to question Hamas are beaten, imprisoned, even murdered. Hamas leaders rob their people blind; just two of them, Khaled Meshaal and Mousa Abu Marzouk, have amassed fortunes of at least $2.5 billion apiece. As for the notion that Hamas is the only choice available to Palestinians to “confront” the oppressive Israelis, what about the PA, that has its own methods of confronting the Israelis, and that has ruled over Palestinian areas of the West Bank since the Oslo Accords of 1995? It’s less violent, and slightly more acceptable, than Hamas. But like Hamas, the PA oppresses its own people. The famously corrupt President-For-Life Mahmoud Abbas (net worth: $400 million) is now serving the sixteenth year of his four-year-term in the PA-run West Bank. When Palestinians in the West Bank dare to protest the mismanagement and corruption of his rule, their protests are violently suppressed; dissidents are treated just as they are in Gaza – beaten, imprisoned, and in some cases, murdered. The PA and Hamas are Tweedledee and Tweedledum, duplicate despotisms, whose leaders retain iron grips on their subservient populations. But what’s preventing the Palestinians from “confronting their oppressor” – Kristof’s phrase – through peaceful protests, rather than by throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks at Israeli soldiers guarding the security fence? Why can’t Gazans bring themselves to publicly renounce the Hamas Charter’s clause declaring that Israel must disappear? Wouldn’t that win them points in popular opinion around the world, and swell the ranks of the far-left peaceniks in Israel?
It is entirely understandable that Ms. Bashi should be Kristof’s primary source. The recent Hamas war, she insists, must be blamed on Israel, “led by a prime minister desperate to stay in power to avoid jail on corruption charges.” Netanyahu “created a provocation by using violence and the threat of violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem.”
Kristof uncritically accepts the views of the far-left Ms. Bashi, an anti-Israel Israeli – there are so many — who insists on blaming Israel for a war that was clearly started by Hamas. She sees the war as a creation of Netanyahu, designed to deflect attention from his upcoming trial on corruption charges. But it was not Netanyahu who egged on the Palestinians who flung rocks and Molotov cocktails from the Temple Mount onto Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall 70 feet below, and then did the same to the Israeli police who were only attempting to restore order on the Temple Mount. Netanyahu did not cause the attacks on helpless Jews by Arabs in Jerusalem, that began on April 13; those Arabs shared their exploits in humiliating and hitting elderly Orthodox Jews, on TikTok. They were proud of what they did. Nothing Netanyahu did provoked this indecent behavior.
Nor did Netanyahu have anything to do with the Arab mobs that attacked Jews in such mixed cities as Lod, Ramle, and Haifa, and were then confronted by groups of Jewish young men who were determined to protect their own. And it was not Netanyahu, but the leaders of Hamas, Yahya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh, who decided to launch a surprise attack on Israel on May 10, letting loose hundreds of rockets into civilian areas of the Jewish state that first day (ultimately Hamas fired a total of 4,300 rockets over the next ten days). Only after that first barrage did Israel respond, devastatingly, with 1,000 airstrikes over eleven days, destroying a great part of Hamas’ stored rockets, its rocket production facilities, its command-and-control centers, its intelligence offices, a large part of its navy and, above all, its “Metro” – the network of underground tunnels that allowed its fighters and weapons to move around Gaza undetected (so Hamas assumed) by Israel.
Ms. Bashi embraces the falsehood that “Israeli security forces … threatened to forcibly transfer Palestinian families from their homes as part of an official policy to ‘Judaize’ occupied East Jerusalem, which is a war crime.” That Kristof gives primacy to these false allegations is a striking display of ignorance — or bias. In fact, a handful of Sheikh Jarrah Palestinian residents inhabit several houses that are not theirs, as an Israeli court decision recognized some years ago. Owned by Yemenite Jews since the late 19th century, the property was seized in 1948 by invading Arabs during Israel’s war of independence.
The Sheikh Jarrah property dispute has been deliberately blown out of all proportion by Palestinians hoping to whip up support around the world: a simple landlord-and-tenant dispute has been turned into a symbol of an Israeli attempt to “Judaize” east Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah is about only this: four Arab families are living on properties owned by Jews since 1875; the Jews have the title deeds to prove it. The Arabs have in past court proceedings admitted that they do not, in fact, own the properties they are living in. Nonetheless, they have refused to pay rent. Like any landlord anywhere, the owners years ago started eviction proceedings. All the courts below have found for the Jewish owners. The case has now been appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, where it is almost certain that the Arab appellants will lose. But most of the world, not bothering to spend even a few minutes on the details of the case, will continue to wail about cruel Jews stealing property from desperate Arabs, and demand an end – how many U.N. resolutions do you think there will be about Sheikh Jarrah? – to this sinister “Judaizing” of east Jerusalem. No one, apparently, is able to explain why, if Israel has been so dead set on this “Judaizing” of east Jerusalem, the Jewish population is 214,600 and the Arab population is 327,700. If Israel has been trying to “judaize” east Jerusalem ever since it took control of the area in 1967, that is more than 50 years ago, it is doing a remarkably poor job of it.
Without a shred of supporting evidence Kristof cites “most experts” (unnamed) who “consider Israel to be occupying Gaza.” In fact, it forced its own citizens to abandon their homes and withdrew in 2005. He is convinced that “other countries have responded to attacks with more restraint and wisdom” than Israel, preposterously citing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for not bombing Dublin or Boston for attacks by the Irish Republican Army. To his credit, however, he concedes that “these analogies are inexact and imperfect.” In fact, they are absurd.
How can Israel be “occupying” Gaza when there is not a single Israeli in the Strip? The usual unconvincing answer is that the “Israeli blockade” constitutes “occupation.” No, it doesn’t. Gazans have free access to medicine, food, household goods of all kinds. The only items that they are not permitted to import are weapons and dual-use items that can be used to make weapons or to build the terror tunnels. Thus the amount of cement allowed into Gaza is carefully regulated, because it can be used to build those underground tunnels. Nonetheless, it’s obvious from the sheer size of the tunnel network that a great deal of concrete has, over time, been allowed into Gaza and been diverted to military uses. Steel pipes are also regulated, for they have been used to build rockets. Judging by the thousands of rockets Hamas has managed to build, Israel will now have to tighten the blockade of all dual-use materials. One more point: Egypt is also blockading Gaza; why does Nicholas Kristof fail to mention this, and that Egypt, just like Israel, is “occupying Gaza”?
Kristof blames “extremists on each side” (Palestinians and Israelis alike) who “empower those on the other” — as if Israel is to blame for the hundreds of Hamas rockets recently fired from Gaza. Conceding that “Hamas committed war crimes,” he offers the false equivalence trope, unsupported by a shred of evidence, that “most scholars believe … that Israel also committed war crimes with its attacks on Gaza that were far more lethal to civilians than attacks by Hamas.” In translation, Israel must follow the Hamas model and bomb gently.
One more time: Israel did not commit “war crimes” in Gaza. The IDF made greater efforts to avoid or minimize civilian casualties than any army in modern history. Even some of the Palestinians who have been interviewed in the Western media have admitted to having received warnings from the IDF. Colonel Richard Kemp, who headed the British forces in Afghanistan, took part in a half-dozen campaigns, and was present in Israel at the time of the 2014 war, summed up his observations about Israeli attempts to minimize civilian casualties thus: “The IDF is the most moral military force in the world.”
Kristof’s column is titled “Were My Criticisms of Israel Fair?” The obvious answer is no. They fit comfortably within decades of Times hostility toward the idea, no less reality [sic], of a thriving Jewish state in the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people.
Will Nicholas Kristof ever do the decent thing, study how very differently Hamas and the IDF treat the Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and dare to admit to his adoring audience that on the subject of Israel and its enemies he had been, and repeatedly, wrong?
Don’t be silly.