Amid Murdoch scandal, Israel backers worry about muting of pro-Israel media voice

By Ron Kampeas, JTA, Washington

and Australia are warily watching the unfolding of the

phone-hacking scandal that is threatening to engulf the media

empire of Rupert Murdoch, founder of News Corp (see related

editorial on page 8).

Murdoch’s sudden massive reversal of fortune – with 10 top former

staffers and executives under arrest in Britain for hacking into

the phones of public figures and a murdered schoolgirl, and paying

off the police and journalists – has supporters of Israel worried

that a diminished Murdoch presence may mute the strongly pro-Israel

voice of many of the publications he owns.

“His publications and media have proven to be fairer on the issue

of Israel than the rest of the media,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the

executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major

American Jewish Organizations. “I hope that won’t be


Murdoch’s huge stable encompasses broadsheets such as The Wall

Street Journal, the Times of London and The Australian, as well as

tabloids, most notably The Sun in Britain and the New York Post. It

also includes the influential Fox News Channel in the United States

and a 39 percent stake in British Sky Broadcasting, or BSkyB, a

satellite broadcaster. Murdoch founded the neoconservative flagship

The Weekly Standard in 1995, and sold it last year. 

Jewish leaders said that Murdoch’s view of Israel’s dealings with

the Palestinians and with its Arab neighbors seemed both

knowledgeable and sensitive to the Jewish state’s self-perception

as beleaguered and isolated.

“My own perspective is simple: We live in a world where there is an

ongoing war against the Jews,” Murdoch said last October at an

Anti-Defamation League dinner in his honor. “When Americans think

of anti-Semitism, we tend to think of the vulgar caricatures and

attacks of the first part of the 20th century. Now it seems that

the most virulent strains come from the left. Often this new

anti-Semitism dresses itself up as legitimate disagreement with


Murdoch, 80, has visited Israel multiple times and met with many of

its leaders. In 2009 he was honored by the American Jewish


“In the West, we are used to thinking that Israel cannot survive

without the help of Europe and the United States,” he said at the

AJC event. “Tonight I say to you, maybe we should start wondering

whether we in Europe and the United States can survive if we allow

the terrorists to succeed in Israel.”

Leaders of a number of pro-Israel groups declined to comment for

this story because of Murdoch’s current difficulties. On Tuesday he

and his son, James, testified before a parliamentary committee in


Murdoch also has been seen as a friend of the Jews in the Diaspora.

When some Jewish organizational leaders complained that Fox talk

show host Glenn Beck was relying on anti-Semitic tropes in peddling

discredited theories about liberal billionaire financier George

Soros, Murdoch nudged Fox chief Roger Ailes into meetings with

Jewish leaders. Beck left Fox last month.

Murdoch’s affection for Israel arose less out of his conservative

sensibility than from his native Australian sympathy for the

underdog fending off elites seized by conventional wisdoms,

according to Isi Liebler, a longtime Australian Jewish community

leader who now lives in Israel.

“From my personal communications with him, it’s something that

built up,” Liebler told JTA. “He’s met Israelis, he’s been to

Israel, he’s seen Israel as the plucky underdog when the rest of

the world saw Israel as an occupier.”

Australian Jews noted the pro-Israel cast of Murdoch’s papers as

early as the 1970s, before he had established ties with the Jewish

community. The word from inside his company was that Israel was an

issue that he cared about, which helped shape its coverage in his

media properties.

Robert Fisk, a veteran Middle East correspondent and a fierce

critic of Israel who worked for the Murdoch-owned Times of London

from 1981 until 1988, eventually quit and moved to The Independent

because of what he said was undue editorial interference in his

writing. Recalling those days, Fisk said Murdoch’s influence

trickled down through editors who understood that he wanted his

media to reflect his outlook.

“I don’t believe Murdoch personally interfered in any of the above

events,” Fisk wrote recently in The Independent, describing the

decisions that drove him away from the Times. “He didn’t need to.

He had turned the Times into a tame, pro-Tory, pro-Israeli paper

shorn of all editorial independence.”

In recent days, Murdoch has appeared wan and battered by the crisis

that already has shut down a flagship paper, The News of the World,

and scuttled his takeover plans for BSkyB.

The question now circulating in pro-Israel circles is whether the

empire’s pro-Israel stance will survive Murdoch.

“Is this curtains for pro-Israel Murdoch?” the London Jewish

Chronicle asked in a column last week.

An account of a clash over Israel between Murdoch and his son and

heir apparent was first published in the diaries of Labour Party

publicist Alastair Campbell and has splashed through pro- and

anti-Israel blogs in recent days.

Campbell, in an account republished last week in The Guardian,

which has led the coverage of the phone-hacking charges, described

a dinner at 10 Downing St., the British prime minister’s residence,

in 2002, when Tony Blair – also seen as pro-Israel – was its


“Murdoch said he didn’t see what the Palestinians’ problem was and

James said it was that they were kicked out of their f—ing homes

and had nowhere to f—ing live,” the account in The Guardian said.

Murdoch chided his son for using foul language in the prime

minister’s home.

Liebler said that from what he understood, the incident was an

anomaly and one that emerged during one of the most intense periods

of Israeli-Palestinian clashes.

“He’s had differences with his son on many issues, and this

happened once and it went off the map,” Liebler said. “I don’t

think it was anything fundamental.”