The New York Times, caught repeating a reportedly false claim from 1987 that Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben Gurion wanted Israel to give up land it had conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War, has refused to correct the error even though the 1987 claim was debunked three months ago.
As historian Martin Kramer pointed out on Saturday, in last Monday’s edition of the Times, the false claim occurred on page A1 in an article by Max Fisher titled, “Israel, Riding Nationalist Tide, Puts Identity First. It Isn’t Alone.”
The lead from the article read:
Amid a moment of national euphoria, Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, emerged from retirement in July 1967 to warn Israelis they had sown the seeds of self-destruction. Israel had just won a stunning military victory against its neighbors, elating Israelis with a sense that the grand experiment of a Jewish state might really work. But Ben-Gurion insisted that Israel give up the territories it had conquered. If it did not, he said, occupation would distort the young state, which had been founded to protect not just the Jewish people but their ideals of democracy and pluralism.
Kramer notes, “In the print edition, this claim about Ben-Gurion wasn’t sourced, but the online version provided a link. Where did it lead? To an article by the late Arthur Hertzberg, once a prominent American rabbi, in the New York Review of Books back in 1987. There Hertzberg claimed to have heard Ben-Gurion, right after the 1967 victory, ‘insist that all of the territories that had been captured had to be given back, very quickly, for holding on to them would distort, and might ultimately destroy, the Jewish state.’”
But Kramer comprehensively debunked the Hertzberg story in Mosaic Magazine three months ago.
Kramer visited the Ben-Gurion Archives in Sde Boker to find the transcript of the talk that Hertzberg attended. The transcript existed, and there was no record of Ben-Gurion saying what Hertzberg claimed he said.
Kramer also notes that in June 1967, Ben-Gurion proposed to annex Jerusalem and Gaza, and make the West Bank an autonomous zone dependent on Israel. Kramer continues, “He did propose to return the Golan and Sinai to Syria and Egypt, but only in return for ‘true peace’ by treaty. By summer’s end, he’d taken the Golan off the table, and a few years later, he was arguing against returning Israeli settlements in the Sinai and for including Hebron in Israel.”
Yet by Sunday night, July 29, the Times still hadn’t changed Fisher’s assertion about Ben Gurion.