Anti-Israel Outbreak in New York Times: 'Jewish?' Chart, a 'Stinging Defeat' for AIPAC, and...a Boycott of Israeli Hummus?

A recent outbreak of anti-Israel bias hit the New York Times. There was backlash over the paper's offensive "Jewish?" chart. The paper's public editor Margaret Sullivan responded to the chart under the heading, "Times Was Right to Change Insensitive Graphic." Meanwhile, editors placed the "stinging defeat" of a pro-Israel organization on the front page. There was also...Steven Colbert and a boycott of Israeli hummus? 

Under the heading, "Times Was Right to Change Insensitive Graphic," public editor Margaret Sullivan responded online Friday to the chart that appeared in Thursday's newspaper, which rounded up "Jewish?" Democrats opposed to the Iran deal. The "Jewish?" column was removed from the version of the chart after public outcry, a move Sullivan approved of. Strangely, Sullivan did not mention Times reporter Jonathan Weisman, who took credit for the graphic on his Twitter feed: "As I said, I take responsibility for graphic & don't apologize. We kept data, just put it into intro. I'm Jewish....The Iran deal has divided the Jewish community like few issues I've ever covered. It is relevant and you know it."

Sullivan wrote:

Many Times readers wrote to me Thursday about a graphic that appeared online and in print accompanying a story about the Iran nuclear deal. They protested a column in the graphic that identified whether lawmakers were Jewish, with a one-word heading: “Jewish?”

Typical of the objections was this one, from Jean Stevens of Los Angeles, who wrote to me: “Singling out Jews is reminiscent of horrific times in history.” And Jeffrey A. Carmel of Portola Valley, Calif., called the graphic “odious,” writing: “It certainly implies that these senators are somehow different from other lawmakers because of their religion. And, of course, the statistics on the percentage of Jews in their constituency further embellishes the suggestion that Jews are somehow different from other Americans.”


By early evening, The Times had altered the graphic online to remove that column, but did so without any explanation to readers. This, too, drew its share of negative attention.

Sullivan printed an editor's note from the Times’ standards editor, Philip B. Corbett:

A chart published on Thursday about Democrats in Congress who opposed the nuclear agreement with Iran oversimplified a complex aspect of the debate -- the views of Jewish members of Congress and the divisions among American Jews over the deal.


Under Times standards, the religion or ethnicity of someone in the news can be noted if that fact is relevant and the relevance is clear to readers. The positions of Jewish members of Congress, and efforts to influence them one way or another, were a legitimate subject for reporting, since many Jewish Americans on both sides of the debate were particularly concerned about the deal’s impact on Israel’s security. Some members of Congress alluded to their perspective as Jews when they announced their positions on the deal.


Many readers and commenters on social media found that aspect of the chart insensitive. Times editors agreed and decided to revise it to remove the column specifying which opponents were Jewish.

Sullivan softly disapproved of the graphic and her paper's response.

Here’s my take: The graphic, as almost everyone now seems to agree, was insensitive and inappropriate. I would add that it was regrettably tone-deaf. It shouldn’t have appeared in that form to begin with. Given that it did, Times editors took the right action in listening to the objections and changing it. But that change should have been accompanied sooner by an explanatory editor’s note....

Pro-Israel media watchdog CAMERA wasn't mollified by the editor's note.

The note fails to address one of the more problematic elements of the graphic. The passage stating Jewish opponents of the deal are more concerned with Israel's security than they are with averting a US conflict with Iran -- "The debate divided Jewish constituents between those who saw the deal as a threat to Israel and those who backed it as a way to avert conflict between Iran and the United States" -- remains unaltered online.

Meanwhile, Robert Mackey, a reliably anti-Israel "social news columnist" for the Times, focused on an odd obsession of the anti-Israel left wing -- pressure to boycott an Israeli brand of hummus -- in a Thursday post, "Advocates of Israel Boycott Dismayed by Colbert’s Hummus Ad."

A comedic product placement for Sabra hummus near the start of Stephen Colbert’s first episode as host of “The Late Show” on Tuesday night earned him praise from marketing experts, but catcalls from supporters of a movement to boycott Israeli-owned companies.

What, exactly, is the news value here?

In a segment that simultaneously mocked paid endorsements and was one, Mr. Colbert explained to viewers that he had made a deal with a demonic amulet, which gave him the chance to host the show but required “certain regrettable compromises,” like endorsing Sabra-brand hummus.

While most of Mr. Colbert’s viewers were quite likely unaware of any political implications of the tongue-in-cheek endorsement, fans who support a Palestinian-led campaign to pressure Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions, or B.D.S., were dismayed by the gag. The hummus, which is produced in the United States, has been subject to calls for a boycott because it is made in a joint venture between PepsiCo and the Strauss Group, an Israeli food company that has provided financial support to the Israel Defense Forces’ elite Golani Brigade.

Mackey bizarrely suggested that Colbert's failure to join in the kooky left-wing hummus boycott somehow reduces him to a bland mainstream entertainer.

For some of Mr. Colbert’s fans on the left, his uncritical joking about Sabra-brand hummus seemed like evidence of his shift from an edgy, politically engaged comedian -- who once mocked President George W. Bush to his face -- into a figure of the mainstream entertainment industry. That transformation was perhaps underscored by the fact that his first show featured a friendly interview with Jeb Bush, the former president’s brother. Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker’s television critic, described the interview as “aggressively collegial, a kick in the shins to anyone who worried that Colbert would be some liberal muckraker.”

And on Friday's front page, Times editors trumpeted Julie Hirschfeld Davis's story on the "defeat" of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in the public relations wars over Obama's controversial Iran deal: "Pro-Israel Group Went 'All In," But Suffered a Stinging Defeat."

Officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee knew the odds were against them in the fight to block President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran from surviving a congressional vote. But the influential pro-Israel group threw itself into a nearly $30 million advertising and lobbying effort to kill the accord anyway.

On Thursday, the committee, known as Aipac, was handed a stinging defeat. After Mr. Obama mustered enough Democratic backing in the Senate to halt a vote on a resolution of disapproval against the deal, a group known for its political clout saw its power and reputation in Washington diminished.


The loss has raised difficult questions about the future of Aipac, a group formed in 1951 just a few years after the birth of Israel. Aipac has long drawn its political potency from its reservoirs of loyalty among members of both parties, but that bipartisan veneer all but vanished in recent weeks as the debate over the Iran deal became increasingly bitter.


Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, a pro-Israel group that lobbied intensively in support of the Iran nuclear deal and spent $3.2 million on pro-deal advertising, said the defeat for Aipac had shown that the group no longer had a lock on American Jews, and that lawmakers who might once have feared the political consequences of breaking with the group were no longer intimidated.

Foreign Policy Iran Israel/Palestine Islam Judaism New York Times Robert Mackey Margaret Sullivan Stephen Colbert Julie Hirschfeld Davis
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