Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends weekly cabinet meeting (Ohad Zwigenberg) (Ohad Zwigenberg)
PM Netanyahu

The New York Times leaves little to the imagination concerning its attitude towards the Jewish state, bestowing its “NYT Pick” award on a reader comment describing the Israeli prime minister as a “parasitic thug.” 

By: Ira Stoll/The Algemeiner

The New York Times has published a reader comment claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “likes to control the US Congress,” describing American supporters of Israel as a disloyal “fifth column” and calling the Israeli leader a “parasitic thug.”

The Times didn’t just publish the comment, which traffics in classic antisemitic tropes — it awarded it a gold ribbon as a “NYT Pick,” one of just two of the 113 reader comments on the article to earn that distinction from the paper’s editors.

The reader comment, signed Richard Marcley of Albany, N.Y., came on a dispatch from Jerusalem about investigations of Mr. Netanyahu. The comment reads, in full:

“That, along with the 4 billion every year from US taxpayers! Netanyahu likes to influence our elections and he likes to control the US Congress through AIPAC. And he always, ALWAYS has his hand out for another 40 billion or so from his fifth column of followers in the US! He’s a parasitic thug!”

US foreign aid to Israel is actually closer to $3 billion than $4 billion annually, and comes with a new requirement that most of the money be spent on American-supplied equipment and technology. The idea that the American government is subject to “control” by Israel is reminiscent of the antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; in any event, it is proven false by the fact that Congress was not able to prevent former President Barack Obama from providing Iran with $700 billion in sanctions relief, despite the best efforts of Netanyahu and his American supporters.

As for the “fifth column” charge, the Times’ own William Safire memorably disposed of it in 1986, commenting on the charge’s use by Gore Vidal against Midge Decter and Norman Podhoretz:

“The novelist does not merely charge ‘pro-Israel lobbyists’ with dual loyalty, which is bad enough; he accuses the entire ilk of being fifth columnists, a locution coined by Spanish General Emilio Mola in 1936 to mean ‘subversives acting in support of an invader.’ That active disloyalty is its meaning today.

“But consider: To the Decter fair comment that he does not like his country, the U.S., Mr. Vidal says that the Podhoretzes’ country is really Israel – and not the United States. That clearly brands all of us who unabashedly like Israel, and who strongly advocate military aid to that democratic ally, as not merely unpatriotic, but as outright traitors.

“The Vidal fifth-column charge, more specific than Joe McCarthy’s ‘twenty years of treason,’ is directed against all ‘pro-Israel lobbyists’ as a class. …we have the lie that for Jewish Americans, Zionism is treason.”

“Parasitic” is another whole story. As the website of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum helpfully explains in an article headlined “Nazi Racial Ideology”: “Driven by a racist ideology that regarded Jews as ‘parasitic vermin’ worthy only of eradication, the Nazis implemented genocide on an unprecedented scale.”

If that isn’t sufficient, the Times itself published a column back in 2011 calling out neo-Nazi and white supremacist websites for making “the very old accusation that Jews are parasitic blood suckers who infest and infect a society.”

Notwithstanding all of this, or perhaps because of it, Marcley’s comment won 76 “thumbs up” upvotes from other Times readers.

The other comment chosen as a “NYT pick” was from another commenter, Mark Jeffery Koch of Mount Laurel, N.J., who wrote:

“I am an American Jew who is a supporter of Israel and who loathes Netanyahu. The way he treated former President Obama was disgraceful, and Netanyahu is very much like Trump…a pathological liar and con artist…Israel deserves criticism for its treatment of the Palestinians but this tiny country, the size of New Jersey, has given the world more inventions in medicine, science, and technology than any other country except America and Israel has 8 million people and America has 335 million people.”

That comment garnered a mere 28 upvotes from Times readers. But that is enough to give you a flavor of the range of opinion among Times commenters, or among the editors awarding the gold ribbons to “NYT Picks.” One “NYT Pick” describes Netanyahu as a “parasitic thug.” The other one, from the self-described “supporter of Israel,” describes Netanyahu as “a pathological liar and con artist.” How’s that for both sides of the story, New York Times-style?

Readers having trouble understanding how offensive Marcley’s comment is, and how troubling is the Times decision to give it a gold ribbon and “NYT Pick” label, might consider if such a comment were directed at some other American minority group, using similarly hoary stereotypes. Or if the same language labeling supporters of Israel as fifth columnists and its prime minster as parasitic had come from a member of the Trump administration or a Trump campaign official. Would the Times put a gold ribbon on that? Or condemn it for what it is, and perhaps not even choose to publish it at all?

On the other hand, though “fifth column” and “parasitic” veers into language the Times is usually too polite to use in public, the substance of the comment is basically identical with the official Times staff editorial position calling for the reduction of aid to Israel.

Policing reader comment sections can be challenging and labor intensive for any publication. But if the Times is going to allow comments on news articles and then devote staff time to moderating the comments, the least it can do is delete the line-crossing ones rather than bestowing gold ribbons on them.

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