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A Bad Taste in the Mouth

The New York Times newspaper. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgFor several years now, my media consumption habits have been guided in part by what I call my “escape routes.”

As someone who spends his days immersed in reports and analysis of news events that are extraordinarily depressing—war and conflict in Europe and the Middle East, the inexorable rise of antisemitism and other forms of prejudice, the historical precedents for the difficult political questions we confront today and much else on similar lines—I need these escape routes for the good of my mental health. They also remind me that while I’m paid for the privilege of writing and thinking about politics and international affairs, millions of people pursue careers and projects that have nothing to do with my concerns, which is precisely why I use the term “escape routes” when I read about their endeavors. They are a window onto the calmer and more leisurely world that exists out there, and my visits fortify me when I go back to the issues that matter to me both professionally and personally.

It’s why I read the sports pages, to monitor the teams I follow and read what the coaches and players are saying. It’s why I read music reviews, to check up on whether my favorite bands are in the studio or if they are touring, and hopefully, discover some new gems. It’s why I adore restaurant reviews, not just of establishments in the cities where I live or work but of eateries further afield. This—all of this—is a harmless escape, a chance to read some decent writing that isn’t about politics, allowing me to return to my own writing feeling refreshed.

But I have to tell you, this method isn’t really working anymore.

In the last six months, since the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in southern Israel unleashed a war that has dominated the media, I’ve seen my escape routes pulled into my professional concerns. The sports pages have been littered with reports of discrimination against Jewish athletes, such as the firing of South Africa’s U-19 cricket team captain because he is Jewish, or the refusal of the Irish women’s basketball team to stand respectfully for the “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, immediately prior to a contest in which, happily, they were trounced by their Israeli opponents. Music has become a cesspool of artists, including some whose songs I love, with them signing up to various boycott initiatives targeting Israel alone, leaving cutting-edge Israeli acts—like the electronic duo Red Axes, whom I interviewed recently—feeling isolated and rejected. And now, I’ve discovered that even restaurant reviews, of all things, are no longer immune from any mention, let alone criticism of, Israel’s military actions in Gaza. The disapproval and the resentment are pervasive, seeping into the corners of websites and news outlets that would normally have no business discussing Israel and the Palestinians, or any other conflict (and, of course, they don’t tend to discuss those other conflicts.)

Over the last week, I’ve encountered two items on the food pages like this. The first was the eagerly awaited New York Times list of the top 100 restaurants in the city. I clicked on that in order to see whether I’d visited any that made this year’s selection, as well as choose some of the establishments where I’d like to go. I didn’t think (because there was no reason to think) that the Gaza war would show up here, but it did.

The food critic at the Times, Pete Wells, classified one restaurant—Falafel Tanami, in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, at number 65—as “Israeli.” In the accompanying paragraph describing the food, Wells didn’t mention the word “Israel” or talk about the conflict once. Instead, he waxed lyrically about the quality of the falafel balls served there. But that wasn’t the case with the restaurant that came in at number 74—Ayat, an eatery that is also in Brooklyn that Wells classified as “Palestinian.” In this case, Wells used half of his allotted paragraph to tell us that its main location features a mural of “Palestinian children behind bars under the Aqsa Mosque, between the phrases ‘down with the occupation’ and ‘live in peace,’” adding that as “Ayat has multiplied locations, it has kept up its paired messages of peace and support for the people of Palestine.” I came away from reading that wondering whether the recommendation was for the food or for the politics. Needless to say, none of the other cuisines emanating from countries that are also global trouble spots—Nigeria, Mexico and Korea, among them—warranted similar treatment.

After the Times, it was The Guardian. That paper, which is known for its harsh coverage of Israel, published a review last weekend of a non-kosher, Ashkenazi-style deli in North London by its food critic, Jay Rayner. I knew that Rayner was Jewish, in part because I’d seen some good-natured joshing from some of his Jewish readers about his fondness for pork and seafood dishes. But that didn’t prepare me for what I read.

Rayner did spend most of the review talking about the food, which he said he enjoyed, while noting that the chicken-soup broth needed more salt. But then came the clincher: “Could I really write about a Jewish restaurant given the current political turmoil? Would I get abuse for doing so?” Rayner wrote. “Surely better to keep shtum. At which point I knew I had no choice: I had to write about it. The horrendous campaign of the government and armed forces of Israel in Gaza cannot be allowed to make being Jewish a source of shame.” He proceeded to berate Israel for allegedly making “life for Jews who live outside Israel and have no responsibility for the decisions its government takes, so very much harder,” before concluding: “And so I sit here with my terrific salt beef sandwich and my chocolate mousse, indulging that bit of my Jewish identity which makes sense to me. It’s not much, but it’s all I have.”

It’s nearly impossible to imagine Rayner, or any other food critic, mentioning the persecution of the Uyghur minority by the Beijing regime in a review of a Chinese restaurant or asserting that a reviewer of Chinese origin is obliged to invoke this crisis of conscience in a discussion of Peking duck. Not so with Jewish cuisine, especially when some Jewish writers are all too willing to join in the chorus of opprobrium. One has to ask, if a Jewish restaurant was serving Sephardic staples like kubbeh or chicken with couscous, instead of Ashkenazi ones like chopped liver or latkes, would a review of that establishment contain a barb about how these dishes have been appropriated by the Jewish colonizers from the Arabs, without mentioning the long, largely unhappy sojourn of Jewish communities in Arab countries? If so, it’s safe to say that none of the editors would bat an eyelid upon receiving such copy.

I am not, of course, asking for sympathy now that my media escape routes have been closed down; there are far more pressing matters of life and death to worry about. My point is that if we have really reached a juncture where a discussion of eating out necessitates critical mention of Israel but no other country—a trend likely to worsen following the tragic deaths of seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers in Gaza last week—it’s further proof that the Palestinian issue dominates the Western conscience more than any other. And because of its naked one-sidedness, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

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‘Israel Is Not Jewish People,’ New York Times ‘Daily’ Guest Really Wants You to Know

Anti-Israel protesters outside Columbia University in Manhattan, New York City, April 22, 2024. Photo: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

When producers from the New York Times podcast “The Daily” posted on social media looking for “Jewish students who represent a range of feelings and experiences, from being enthusiastically pro Palestinian to enthusiastically pro Israel, and everything in between,” I replied, “This is a trap! They’ll use the ‘pro-Palestinian’ (the polite term they use for the ones who want to wipe Israel off the map) ones to make it sound like the Jewish community is divided and give listeners the illusion that the anti-Israel protests aren’t antisemitic.”

Sure enough, the Times podcast episode that finally aired, headlined, “The Campus Protesters Explain Themselves,” included three students.

Mustafa Yowell, of Irving, Texas, said his mother was from “Nablus, Palestine” and described himself as a Palestinian Arab. He’s a student at the University of Texas, Austin who complained to the Times that “two IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers had infiltrated the campus.” By “IDF soldiers” he meant Israeli students at the university who had, like many Israelis, served in the army before college.

The second student interviewed, Elisha Baker, a student at Columbia University, described himself as a proud Zionist and a graduate of Jewish day school.

And the third student, Jasmine Jolly, a student at Cal Poly Humboldt, described herself as the daughter of a Catholic father and “of Ashkenazi descent on my mom’s side.” Jolly showed up at protests with a sign that said “in honor of my Jewish ancestors, I stand with Palestine.” Jolly also chanted “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.”

“There’s nothing that has come across to me as antisemitic if you are able to pause and remember that Israel is not Jewish people and Zionism is not Jewish people,” Jolly explained to the Times audience.

Jolly read an email from her Jewish grandfather claiming, “Israel is an increasingly apartheid state.”

This is just such a misleading view of reality on campus and in American Jewish life. Even polls like Pew that use an expansive definition of who is Jewish find overwhelming Jewish support for Israel and negligible support for Hamas, including among younger Jews 18 to 34.

In reality, a lot of the anti-Israel protesters aren’t even Palestinians; they are European or Asian students or white or black Americans who either have been brainwashed by their professors or who have underlying, pre-existing antisemitic attitudes. Few of them have been to the Middle East and many of them are ignorant about basic facts about it — remember the Wall Street Journal piece, “From Which River to Which Sea?

“The Daily” episode made it crisply concrete, with the Times representing Jews as being split 50-50, with one normative Jew and one Jew chanting “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.” That’s ridiculous, yet a similar approach contaminates other Times coverage of the Jewish community, misleadlingly portraying American Jewry as deeply divided rather than unified around the goals of getting the hostages back, eliminating the threat of Hamas, and making American college campuses safe for Jewish students.

The Times was at this game well before Oct. 7, 2023, proclaiming “the unraveling of American Zionism” and trotting out old chestnuts such as the Reform movement’s Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 and the New York Times‘ favorite Jew, Peter Beinart.

I find myself rolling my eyes at such depictions, but there is clearly some audience for them among the Times readership and top editorial ranks. The Times executive editor, Joe Kahn, told Semafor’s Ben Smith in a May interview, “I’m not an active Jew.” Maybe the New York Times can sell sweatshirts: “Inactive Jew.” Who, exactly, is supposed to find that distinction between “active” and “inactive” Jews reassuring? Maybe they can put it on top of the front page in place of “All the News That’s Fit to Print”: “Edited by someone who wants the public to know he’s not an active Jew.”

Of all the moments to choose to distance oneself publicly from the Jewish people, this is sure quite one to choose.

This “Daily” episode seems calculated to appeal to the inactive Jews, and to others who want justification to believe it’s not antisemitic to set up on Passover and falsely accuse Israel of genocide. It’s nice for the Times to include a Zionist voice on the program, but he wound up sandwiched in between a Palestinian and an “only one solution, intifada revolution” person. It’s fairly typical for the New York Times these days, but it isn’t pretty.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here. He also writes at

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Palestinian Islamic Jihad Releases Second Video of Israeli Hostage Sasha Troufanov

Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov as seen in an undated propaganda video released by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group on May 30, 2024. Photo: Screenshot

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group on Thursday released a second propaganda video this week featuring Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov, 28, who was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists during Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

In the video, Trufanov says he is doing well and criticizes Israel’s prime minister and government in remarks that were likely scripted by his captors.

There was no information about when the video was filmed. However, Trufanov refers to Israel’s decision on May 5 to order the local offices of Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite news network to close, indicating he may have been filmed in the last few weeks.

The latest video came just two days after Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed Palestinian terrorist group in Gaza, released its first video featuring Trufanov.

The 30-second undated video shows Trufanov, an Amazon employee, identifying himself and saying that he will soon discuss what has happened to him and other hostages in Gaza.

Similar videos have been released by terrorists groups in Gaza. Israel has lambasted them as psychological warfare meant to torture the Israeli public, especially the families of the hostages being held in Gaza.

Trufanov’s mother said after the first video was released that she was happy to see her son after all this time, but it was “heartbreaking” that he had been a hostage for so long.

“Seeing my Sasha on my TV was very cheering, but it also breaks my heart that he’s still been in captivity for so long,” she said in a video released by the family. “I ask everyone, all the decision-makers: Please do everything, absolutely everything, to bring my son and all the hostages home now.”

Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists abducted over 250 people during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Sasha was kidnapped alongside his mother, grandmother, and girlfriend. All three women were released as part of a temporary ceasefire agreement negotiated in November. His father, Vitaly Trufanov, was one of the 1,200 people killed during the Hamas massacre.

“The proof of life from Alexsander (Sasha) Trufanov is additional evidence that the Israeli government must give a significant mandate to the negotiating team,” the Hostages Families Forum, which represents the families of the hostages, said in a statement.

More than 120 hostages remain in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. Islamic Jihad is a separate but allied terrorist organization in the Palestinian enclave. Both are backed by Iran, which provides them with money, weapons, and training.

Negotiations brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the US to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza have been stalled for weeks.

Trufanov was an engineer at the Israeli microelectronics company Annapurna Labs, which Amazon owns.

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Israel’s Kafkaesque Ordeal at the ICC

Proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, February 16, 2021. Photo: ICC-CPI/Handout via Reuters.

Israel is facing unprecedented and bizarre proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC), crescendoing with a request by Prosecutor Karim Khan for arrest warrants against its sitting Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant.

These events are the result of a multi-faceted and long-developing campaign by anti-Israel activists that has largely advanced under the radar.

Firstly, Israel is not a member of the Court and does not recognize ICC jurisdiction over its actions. In the late 1990s, Israel was initially a strong backer of the ICC, but during the drafting of the Court’s governing Rome Statute, the Arab League blocked efforts to include terrorism as an international crime and helped invent a new crime that would specifically target Israeli activity across the 1949 armistice lines. For these reasons, Israel refused to ratify the Rome Statute and join the Court.

In any other situation, this would be the end of the matter. However, beginning in 2009, the Palestinian Authority (PA), acting in collaboration with UN Rapporteurs and European-funded NGOs linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, attempted to join the Court.

Rather than dismiss the PA’s effort immediately because the PA is not a state — and ICC membership is only available to states — the ICC Prosecutor at the time, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, launched a PR campaign to ostensibly “debate” the issue. Three years later, he rejected the PA’s application, but instead provided a blueprint facilitating the Palestinians’ ability to circumvent the clear standards of the Rome Statute.

In November 2012, the Palestinians succeeded in upgrading their status at the UN to “non-member observer state.” Merely on the basis of this semantic, rather than substantive change, ICC officials allowed the Palestinians to game the system and join the Court.

Despite these machinations and exploitation of the Court, the next Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, filed a request with the Court’s Pre-Trial chamber (PTC) in December 2019 seeking authorization to open an investigation into crimes allegedly committed on the territory of the “State of Palestine,” despite the fact that this state does not exist and has no defined territory. Moreover, she argued that the Court could proceed against Israelis, regardless of whether it was a member of the Court.

This action, endorsed by the PTC in February 2021 in a controversial 2-1 opinion, essentially eviscerated the Oslo Accords, the agreement mutually agreed to between Israel and the PLO in the mid-1990s, which lays out governance of the West Bank and Gaza.

A key provision of the Accords is that the PA would not have any authority to exercise or delegate any criminal jurisdiction over Israelis to the Court. The Prosecutor and the Court completely ignored this issue.

In yet another unbelievable move, the Court next also allowed the Palestinians to retroactively assign temporal jurisdiction going back to June 13, 2014, precisely the day after the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli teenagers, which triggered the war that summer. This meant that Hamas’ brutal murder and kidnapping of Jews, a preview of what Israel would experience on a larger scale on October 7, would get a free pass from the Court.

Fast-forward to Khan’s move to file for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant. Here, too, the Prosecutor’s office engaged in highly questionable conduct. Khan could have already issued indictments against Hamas leaders on October 7 itself, when their flagrant crimes were broadcast around the world. Instead, he chose to wait until after manufactured allegations of “starvation” could be crafted against Israeli officials. He also inexplicably ignored thousands of other war crimes, including each rocket attack on Israel, committed by Palestinians since 2014.

In yet another outrageous move, at the time of the announcement, Khan’s team had been scheduled to attend meetings in Israel. However, the planned trip appears to have been a bad faith ruse. Instead of the team boarding the plane, Khan went on CNN to tell Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview about the arrest warrant requests. It doesn’t take an expert in communications to know that such a step would generate a storm of PR almost solely focused on Israel, meaning attention on the Hamas atrocities and real crimes committed on October 7 would be virtually ignored.

One also wonders if any mind was paid to what this action might mean for any hope of a ceasefire to secure the release of the hostages.

Egregiously, Khan’s actions offended another cornerstone of the Rome Statute, that of complementarity. The ICC is only supposed to act as a court of last resort in situations where a judicial system is unable or unwilling to investigate international crimes. As he himself acknowledged on a visit to Israel in early December, Israel has robust investigatory mechanisms and judiciary — one that has never shied away from intervening in military matters, nor in going after the most senior officials, including prime ministers.

Instead of giving the Israeli system a reasonable time to proceed, however, the Prosecutor disregarded the complementarity requirement and decided to bulldoze forward. In contrast, although Khan has had for years the jurisdiction to act against President Maduro in Venezuela, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and military junta in Myanmar — authoritarian governments responsible for horrific atrocities — no cases have been filed.

Multiple procedural irregularities and political maneuverings of the Office of Prosecutor have been well-documented, and there are several other disturbing aspects to the “Situation in Palestine” not mentioned here. For years, the ICC has been under intense criticism for its lack of accomplishments in its more than 20 years of operation. Khan was brought in to serve as a sober and responsible actor to right the ship. The actions of his office the past few months now call this assessment into question.

In an interview published with the Times of London a few days after his inexplicable actions, Khan stated, “if we don’t hold on to the law, we have nothing to cling onto.” The Prosecutor would be wise to reflect on his Office’s history and follow his own advice.

Anne Herzberg is the Legal Advisor of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research organization.

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