Dangerous Territory

Why Is the Conservative Press Defending Murdoch?

The conservative press has rushed to defend the media mogul after his anti-Semitic tweet. By Peter Beinart.

Josh Reynolds / AP Photo

I don’t think Rupert Murdoch is an anti-Semite. But in a tweet last Saturday night, he strayed into dangerous territory by asking: “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?” The problem, as I noted, was Murdoch’s implication that Jewish media owners let their Jewishness, rather than professional standards, determine how their newspapers or television stations cover Israel. The twist is that instead of suggesting that Jewish media owners were biasing the news in Israel’s favor—the more standard anti-Semitic charge—Murdoch implied that their Jewishness was actually biasing media owners against Israel. So instead of combining anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, Murdoch combined anti-Semitism with super-Zionism.

And this has made all the difference. Prominent conservatives have now rallied behind Murdoch, insisting that he has identified a real problem. After noting that perhaps Murdoch did overgeneralize a bit, Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin argued that “it wasn’t unreasonable for the non-Jewish Murdoch to wonder why these [Jewish-owned] papers as well as much of the liberal media are often so reflexively hostile to Israel’s cause.” The New York Sun declared that Murdoch’s “apology was unnecessary.” Michael Goldfarb, chairman of the hawkish Center for American Freedom, tweeted “New York Times proves @RupertMurdoch correct.”

This is nuts. Claiming that The New York Times and The Washington Post are “reflexively hostile to Israel’s cause,” as Tobin alleges, is silly enough. If you define Israel’s “cause” as remaining a Jewish state, the legitimacy of that cause—which many Palestinians oppose—is taken for granted at the Times and Post. In the hundreds or thousands of signed and unsigned editorials on Israel published in the two papers in recent decades, you’d be hard-pressed to find any significant number that challenge the legitimacy of Zionism. But Murdoch’s defenders must do more than merely claim that Jewish-owned papers are hostile to Israel. They must claim that the Jewishness of the owners is what’s making them hostile. After all, Murdoch didn’t ask why the “liberal press” was hostile to Israel; he singled out the “Jewish owned press,” thus implying that Jewish ownership has something do with it. I can’t claim any knowledge of how Jewish identity informs the worldviews of the current generation of Sulzbergers and Grahams, if it does at all. But the suggestion that, driven by self-hatred, they are directing their reporters, editors, and columnists in a campaign against Zionism verges on insanity.

Which raises the question: why are conservatives trying so hard to defend something so idiotic? I suspect it’s because, having worked to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, they are loathe to acknowledge that a high-profile Zionist can be guilty of anti-Semitism too. But it’s possible to passionately support Jewish statehood while espousing dangerous stereotypes about Jews. In the past decade, Bill O’Reilly has told a Jewish caller to his radio show that “if you are really offended [by public celebrations of Christmas], you gotta go to Israel.” Glenn Beck has called George Soros America’s “puppet master” while showing an image of a Star of David. Some of the British officials who supported the Balfour Declaration were influenced by their fantasies about global Jewish power.

I don’t think anti-Semitism is widespread on the American right any more than it is widespread on the American left. But when expressed, it should be publicly condemned. Whether it masks itself as hostility to Israel or support for Israel should make no difference at all.