The New York Times has a liberal slant, but "liberal" means one thing in dealing when dealing with the US and most of the world, and quite another thing dealing with Israel, especially if the liberal is Jewish. The Jewish liberal writing in the Times feels free to criticize Israel, and its American supporters in the Amen corner, and does so frequently – especially with regard to settlements and the Territories. The Jewish liberal is particularly impatient with Jewish defenders of Israel, such as Abe Foxman, Alan Dershowitz, and those to his right. But the Jewish liberal, like his Zionist left counterpart in Israel, never goes too deep in his analysis of Israel and problems, stopping at 67 and not going back to 48 or 1897. On the contrary, the Jewish liberal positions himself between Chomsky, Judt, Pinter (with whom they never engage but always ridicule) on the left and the usual suspects on the right. He thus presents himself as "fair and balanced," when, in fact, he is still very much within the Zionist consensus.
Liberal-slanted newspapers and magazines always call on Jewish liberals to review books on Israel/Palestine. Leslie Gelb on Walt and Mearsheimer, Jeffrey Goldberg on the same, now James Traub on Khalidi's new book, Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance on the Middle East. I wonder how that happens. I wonder, for example, if contributing writers like Traub, who write on Jewish subjects and for whom Israel is very important, volunteer to review a book whose subject matter lies entirely out of his expertise. I wonder when is the last time the New York Times asked a Palestinian, or for that matter, a non-Jew who is non-partisan, to review books on Israel-Palestine?
These reviews are predictable. They always begin by saying nice things about the author and summarizing the thesis of the book. Then they launch into a defense of Israel, or more accurately, an attack on the Arabs, which can be summed in the following: Don't bash Israel or the US; the Arabs are responsible for their own troubles. The review always insinuates that the book is a polemic and not scholarship, but the arguments of the book are never seriously engaged.
For example, the one detail in Khalidi's book that Traub considers in the review is Khalidi's claim that Truman favored Israel because of domestic political considerations. That annoys Traub, who points out that the claim is based on hearsay evidence. But would it annoy anybody besides an American Zionist, who is deeply committed to the proposition that the founding of the State of Israel was right and just, and who is proud of US support? My point is not to dispute Traub on Truman; certainly, Truman, as a religious Christian, was moved not only by political motives but also by his religious faith to overrule his State Department. But this is the sort of knee-jerk response that makes these reviews dull, predictable, and polemical.
How polemical? After Traub admits that Khalidi "recognizes the complicity of Arab regimes in their own predicament," he spends several paragraphs blaming the Arab world for their troubles, as if he is waging a polemic with a Islamist, and not a Palestinian-American secularist with whom Traub would tend to agree, or at least would read more charitably, were his views not prejudiced by his American and Jewish tribal loyalties.
The review ends with the obligatory and paternalistic put-down: the book, we are told, is important, not because its thesis may be correct, but it reminds us "how very hard it is to make progress in a region where memories are long, and practically everything is blamed on the United States (or Israel.)" In other words, if only the Palestinians were to forget about 1948 and take responsibility for their problems, then things would be a lot easier for everybody concerned, including themselves. That's the credo of the liberal Zionist.
Perhaps Traub should read Khalidi's previous book, The Iron Cage, which both shows the importance of not forgetting about 1948, and argues for major Palestinian and Arab responsibility for the Palestinians not having their own state.