On the heels of the revelation that his fellow New York Times columnist David Brooks had a paid side gig at a project funded in part by Facebook that he neglected to mention he was being paid for when writing positively about the project in the pages of the Times, it now turns out that Bret Stephens also has a side gig that represents what sure seems like a little a conflict of interest. Can you be a terrible opinion columnist at the New York Times without committing an ethical breach? Doesn’t seem like it!
Last week, Stephens wrote a column titled “For the Sake of Peace, Israel Must Rout Hamas” which focused almost exclusively on the actions of Hamas, only mentioning towards the end of his column the forced displacement of Palestinians from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, what he described offhandedly as an “ugly eviction effort,” as if it were a mere landlord-tenant dispute. The violence of Israeli police towards worshippers and protesters is similarly, to Stephens, merely “heavy-handed policing.” “Contrary to conventional wisdom, the U.S. does not have a vital national interest in creating a Palestinian state,” Stephens wrote.
None of what Stephens wrote is surprising, especially for those who read his writing at the Wall Street Journal and remember how he once called anti-semitism “the disease of the Arab mind.” But what should raise some eyebrows is that at no point did he or the Times note that earlier this year, Stephens became the editor-in-chief of Sapir, a new journal published by the Maimonides Fund whose work, as Responsible Statecraft noted, is “committed to the future of a U.S.-Israel relationship that safeguards the security of the Jewish State and connects future generations of Jews with our shared values.”
More details via Responsible Statecraft, a publication of the foreign policy think tank the Quincy Institute:
Stephens has a glaring conflict of interest between his Israel-related commentary for the Times and his side gig, working for an organization “committed to the future of a U.S.-Israel relationship that safeguards the security of the Jewish State and connects future generations of Jews with our shared values.” That’s just one of the goals of the Maimonides Fund, a pro-Israel advocacy group where Stephens recently took up the role of editor-in-chief of Sapir, Maimonides’s “journal exploring the future of the American Jewish community and its intersection with cultural, social, and political issues.”
Stephens’ opining on U.S. support for Israel seems to pose an undisclosed conflict of interest with his outside role at a group dedicated to promoting the “U.S.-Israel relationship.”
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Stephens’s bio does note, however, his previous affiliations with the Wall Street Journal as well as the Jerusalem Post, so why not include his role as editor-in-chief of Sapir? According to an interview from earlier this year, he apparently told his editors of his role in Sapir and that “he anticipated no conflicts.” “I do not think there is any overlap with subjects I might plausibly cover for the Times,” he wrote in an email.
Aside from the pesky problem of neglecting to mention his role with the Maimonides Fund in the column, what really makes me go whaaaaaaaat is the president of the Maimonides Fund’s rationale for hiring Stephens. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency put it, Mark Charendoff brought Stephens on “because he trusts Stephens’ ability to produce a high-quality product that’s not beholden to a single point of view.” Charendoff added, “He’ll ensure good quality writing and a diversity of opinion.” Hahahahahaha!