One Sentence From a New York Times Letter About Birthright Israel Packs In Three Inaccuracies

The New York Times logo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A front-page New York Times article earlier this month about Birthright Israel problematically echoed the “Zionism is racism” myth. Now the Times has comhammered the error by publishing a letter to the editor that includes a false claim about the program.

The Times-published letter to the editor claims, inaccurately, “Birthright is funded mainly by Donald Trump’s biggest donor, Sheldon Adelson.”

Leave it to The New York Times to manage the extraordinary feat of packing three inaccuracies into a single 11-word sentence, but there it is.

First, the reference to “Sheldon Adelson” omits Dr. Miriam Adelson, Sheldon’s spouse and his partner in philanthropy. Ignoring a woman is often correctly defined as sexism. When The Algemeiner reported last year that Sheldon and Miriam Adelson had announced a $70 million gift to Birthright in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday, bringing their total contributions to Birthright to $410 million, we correctly identified both of them as the donors.

Second, Adelson is not “Donald Trump’s biggest donor.” The Adelsons are big political donors, and according to OpenSecrets.org they were the largest federal contributors in the 2018 campaign cycle. But Trump wasn’t on the ballot in 2018. In any case, giving money to Republicans or conservatives or to independent expenditure operations is not the exact same thing as giving to Donald Trump or to Trump’s campaign. For the 2016 cycle, in which Trump ran, OpenSecrets refers to “Trump’s top campaign donor, Robert Mercer, the billionaire co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies.” The Adelsons gave more political money overall, but the Mercers gave more specifically to Trump, at least by the Open Secrets count.

Third, Birthright is not “funded mainly” by Adelson. The Adelsons have been generous and major supporters, but many other philanthropists and the government of Israel are also significant funders of the program. At one point Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced $100 million in Israeli government funding for Birthright over three years.

The Times letter to the editor came from Rose Asaf, identified by the newspaper as “co-founder and former president of New York University’s Jewish Voice for Peace chapter.”

A Times defender might take the position that it is Asaf, rather than the Times itself, that is to blame for the inaccuracy. But surely the Times has at least some responsibility for the letters it chooses to publish. It receives many more letters than it prints, and it easily could have chosen not to publish this particular letter, or at least to edit it so that it is accurate. If the Times isn’t going to police the letters column at all, there’ll be no end to people sneaking false claims into the newspaper by that method — as seems to have happened here.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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Author: Ira Stoll


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