She wrote that, “A potent, simplistic narrative has taken hold in Israel and to some extent in the United States. It says: Mr. Barak offered Mr. Arafat the moon at Camp David last summer. Mr. Arafat turned it down.” While that was a caricature of the general view, and thus a bit of a straw man, she went on to argue that the Israelis and the Americans bore far more of the blame than had generally been believed.
In an editorial on July 28, the Times noted Sontag’s report but failed to express any support for her approach, pointedly saying that the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, had brought “a daring offer” to Camp David. Arafat, the editorial noted, did not offer any proposals of his own.
Since then, there has been further discussion and debate over the issue with new assessments of some miscalculations made by Israeli and American officials. But for the most part, correspondents and experts—even senior editors at the Times in private assessments—do not accept the view suggested in Sontag’s piece.
Ethan Bronner, the current Times bureau chief in Jerusalem, was well prepared: He had worked there previously for Reuters and The Boston Globe. After joining the Times he was a member of the paper’s editorial board, where he was largely responsible for the paper’s Middle East editorials, before becoming deputy foreign editor.
Bronner knew that in writing about the politics of the region, a reporter might find himself simultaneously attacked as a Zionist lackey and an anti-Semite or self-hating Jew—sometimes for the same article. Bronner, in fact, has been assailed furiously by camera, a pro-Israel group based in Boston that monitors the media for what it perceives as flawed and biased media coverage; and he has been treated just as harshly by Mondoweiss, a website that advertises itself as a voice of progressive Jews and sympathetically tracks Palestinian interest groups and causes.
For Bronner, the argument about his coverage, always at a slow boil, erupted in early 2010 over his 20-year-old son. Like many young men, he was at ends about what to do with his life and decided to enlist in the Israeli Defense Forces for a stint of 14 months.
The younger Bronner’s enlistment in the IDF was first reported by a Palestinian website called The Electronic Intifada and picked up by others like Mondoweiss and the BBC. On February 6, 2010 the Times’ public editor, Clark Hoyt, weighed whether the situation posed an unacceptable conflict of interest. He said that Bronner’s coverage was, in the most difficult of situations, “solid and fair.”
Nonetheless, Hoyt thought it best that the Times reassign Bronner, a conclusion hotly rejected by Bill Keller, then the executive editor, and other editors on the foreign desk.
The ensuing debate was a turbulent discussion of ethics and loyalties. Some people at the Times were troubled that the criticism of Bronner was reminiscent of the days when it was thought unwise for the paper to have a Jewish reporter cover Israel.
For Bronner, the incident was painful, because it linked the private sphere of his family with what is decidedly public but sensitive in itself—the need for a journalist to be fair and, just as important, be perceived as fair. “I knew that if word of this got out it could cause a problem,” he said in an interview. “But I felt that I had no right to tell my adult son what to do. He had to make his own life decisions and I knew it wouldn’t affect how I would cover the Israeli army.”
He was also dismayed to find that some people on all sides of the issue began with a wholly false premise—that his son’s enlistment was somehow a considered decision on Bronner’s part to invest his family in the Zionist cause.
After completing his enlistment, his son decided that Israeli military life was not for him. He is back in the United States, enrolled in college.
At the time of the controversy, it was generally not known that despite the strong support for Bronner at the Times, one dissenting voice was Taghreed el-Khodary, who had been the paper’s Palestinian stringer in Gaza. Already on leave from the region, she told the foreign desk she thought Bronner’s son’s enlistment would create insurmountable problems, for both her safety and for her credibility with sources.
Times editors believed that, stressed by the years of the assignment, she was already contemplating leaving the paper and the issue of Bronner’s son reinforced her decision. She said in an interview, however, that without the enlistment, she would have resumed her assignment. She left the Times and has stayed away from Gaza until recently.