By Ira Stoll
How freaked out is the New York Times over Donald Trump’s decision to nominate David Friedman as the American ambassador to Israel?
Extremely, to judge by the newspaper’s completely over-the-top coverage of the nomination.
The Times first covered the news of the nomination with a hostile article in Friday’s paper that the Algemeiner responded to that day.
Then the New York Times did something it reserves for the rarest of situations. It ran the same news again, this time on page one. Saturday’s paper piled on with a front page story headlined: “David Friedman, Choice for Envoy To Israel, Is Hostile to Two State Efforts.” That article was the product of a team of no less than eight — eight! — Times personnel, working from four different cities: “Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Russ Buettner and Maggie Haberman from New York, Sewell Chan from London, and Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Jerusalem. Jack Begg and Alain Delaquérière contributed research.”
And as if that weren’t enough, the paper piled on with a lead editorial in Saturday’s paper — “A Dangerous Choice for Ambassador to Israel” — and an op-ed article by Daniel C. Kurtzer, “Donald Trump’s Israel Ambassador Pick Is Hazardous to Peace.” The paper also ran an interactive online feature with highlights of Friedman’s past writing. (As is so often the case, the Times timed its worst anti-Jewish coverage for the Sabbath or Jewish holidays, making it harder for observant Jews to respond.)
There have been Supreme Court nominations — well, certainly cabinet secretary posts — that have attracted less extensive scrutiny from the New York Times than this mere ambassadorship to Israel.
So what is to account for all the Times frothing over Friedman?
The Times editorial complains that Friedman “has no diplomatic experience.” But President Obama has packed American embassies with campaign fundraisers, donors and political allies who have no diplomatic experience. A television soap opera producer was named by Obama as the American ambassador to Hungary. Caroline Kennedy was named by Obama to be ambassador to Japan. Other news organizations did report on this topic during the Obama years. “When Big Money Leads To Diplomatic Posts” was the headline of a National Public Radio piece. “US diplomats cry foul as Obama donors take over top embassy jobs,” was the headline of a Guardian article reporting that Obama had named a campaign fundraiser as ambassador to Great Britain. “Obama hands out plum ambassador posts to big campaign donors” was the headline of an article in The Hill.
If you can’t quite remember the New York Times editorials denouncing those dozens of ambassadorial nominations by President Obama, that’s because there were no such editorials, at least none that I could find in scouring the archives. It’s only in Israel — not Japan, Hungary or Great Britain — that the Times insists on previous diplomatic experience as a requirement for national service. Only Israel, and only the Trump administration. It’s almost enough to make one suspect that the newspaper’s objection to Friedman isn’t about his lack of prior diplomatic experience at all, but about something else.
Perhaps the newspaper is upset about Friedman’s supposed suggestion that Israel’s critics aren’t actually Jewish. Yet the newspaper has yet to produce a transcript or a tape of Friedman making that claim. At the Washington Free Beacon, Noah Pollak aptly called the Times news article “a caricature of political frustration and resentment masquerading as news.” On Twitter, the author of the day-one Times story, Matthew Rosenberg, eventually dialed back his claim, writing, “alright, to clarify: earlier tweet should have said that Friedman has said SOME Jews who support 2-state solution are not Jewish.”
Another person who grasps what the Times is up to is Elliott Abrams, a foreign policy hand with extensive experience at the National Security Council and the State Department. Abrams writes on his blog at the Council on Foreign Relations that the Times “poison-pen” editorial writers “would prefer a fellow at a white-shoe Wall Street firm whose father or grandfather had been a diplomat, who belonged to the right clubs.” Precisely.
The Times, even with eight reporters devoted to the task, still can’t manage to grasp basic facts about Judaism. It writes of Friedman, “He and his wife are renowned for gathering people for dinners in their sukkah, a hut observant Jews build on their balconies during a fall harvest festival.” Yet a sukkah needn’t be on a balcony; it can be on a patio, or a backyard, or a rooftop, or a deck. The Times definition is inaccurate.
The second-day Times news article includes this passage:
Mr. Netanyahu did not respond to Mr. Friedman’s selection, nor did Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
But the deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, who hails from the right flank of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party, rushed to praise it, saying, “His positions reflect the desire to strengthen the standing of Israel’s capital Jerusalem at this time and to underscore that the settlements have never been the true problem in the area.”
It’s not accurate that Israel’s Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to Friedman’s section. Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, tweeted, “I can assure Americans that any Ambassador you designate will be most welcome in Israel. Amb-des Friedman is no exception.” Dayan also congratulated Friedman, saying, “I am sure he will be an exceptional envoy of his country to mine.”
The Times is in a panic over Friedman’s views of the Middle East. But for all the paper’s fuss, ambassadors rarely if ever make policy. Friedman isn’t being chosen for the job of secretary of state or national security adviser — or even special Middle East coordinator. His job as ambassador would be to represent and counsel the president and the secretary of state, not to set the policy.
Yet the Times doesn’t seem willing to provide its readers with grounded, realistic perspective on this. It prefers, instead, to fuel the anti-Trump panic prevalent among its urban, liberal readers. That’s not independent journalism. It’s just a left-wing echo chamber.