Israel supporters worry: Is Rupert Murdochs pro-Israel voice on verge of fading out

While Rupert Murdoch finds himself under attack for the transgressions of newspapers he has owned, there are many in the Jewish community who support the media baron for being a friend of Israel.

Pro-Israel leaders in the United States, Britain and Australia are warily watching the unfolding of the phone-hacking scandal that is threatening to engulf the media empire of Murdoch’s News Corp.

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 might 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 impacted.”

Murdoch’s huge stable encompasses 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 and a 39 percent stake in British Sky Broadcasting, or BSkyB.

Rupert Murdoch (left) with Abraham Foxman, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, in 2010.

Jewish leaders said that Murdoch’s view of Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians and with its Arab neighbors has been 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 Israel.”

Murdoch, 80, has visited Israel multiple times and met with many of its leaders. In 2009 he was honored by the American Jewish Committee.

“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.

Murdoch also has been seen as a friend of the Jews in the diaspora, even though right-wing Fox often has irritated the Jewish establishment — for instance, when Fox host Bill O’Reilly defended Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ.”

When some Jewish organizational leaders complained that Fox talk show host Glenn Beck was relying on anti-Semitic tropes, 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, according to Isi Liebler, a longtime Australian Jewish community leader.

“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,” Liebler said.

Australian Jews noted the pro-Israel cast of Murdoch’s papers as early as the 1970s. 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.

The question now 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.

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.