Taking Exception to “Exceptionalism”

In his speech at the U.N. this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to bury the lede (the Palestinian issue remains by far the largest obstacle to peace in Israel-Palestine) and rant instead about the new Iranian president’s efforts at sunshine diplomacy. As if the threat from Iran didn’t hinge on the homegrown problem Bibi chose to overlook.

Politicians are often disinclined to cloud important issues with facts. But shouldn’t we expect something different from political reporting in our nation’s paper of record? Why does the New York Times cooperate in Bibi’s sleight of hand in its framing of the story when it’s abundantly apparent—in surveys on global political sensibilities and in background analysis of conflicts spawned by the Arab Spring–that Israel’s “existential threats” are all connected, one way or another, to the issue of Palestinian autonomy?

President Obama delicately made that connection in his recent U.N. address–and was roundly denounced by conservatives in Israel. In the same speech Obama also gave an untroubled nod to the deeply troublesome notion of American exceptionalism. That meme of Puritan Calvinism continues to shape American attitudes and policy toward Israel–from the display of the Israeli flag in many evangelical Protestant churches to the recent revelation that the NSA routinely shares raw surveillance data with its Israeli counterpart.

The Times opted not to report on that latest bombshell from Edward Snowden. There was “nothing surprising” in the story, according to Managing Editor Dean Baquet. Well, yes and no. It’s not surprising that the apocalyptic fervor at the root of the “exceptional’ relationship between the U.S. and Israel would lead to such an alarming place. But it is surprising that, when this relationship enables an ongoing crisis that stokes conflict in a terrifyingly volatile part of the world, the Times is disinclined to report on a story that highlights just how problematic “exceptionalism” truly is.

So in covering a speech that obscures the key issue that keeps a region’s sabers rattling, the Times should be willing to rake the muck. No exceptions. Especially when there’s so much muck to be raked.

About Nick Shindo Street

Nick Shindo Street was most recently Senior Writer at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, where he reported on Pentecostal and charismatic religious movements in the global South. Previously, he served as a contributing editor for LGBT issues at Religion Dispatches and as a contributing writer for the Jewish Journal. His reportage on science, religion, sexuality and culture has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Global Post and L.A. Weekly. He is a student at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles.
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