Friday, February 20, 2015

Haaretz vs. the New York Times, Chapter 19,243

The lead editorial in today’s Haaretz is titled: “Netanyahu Resorts to Accusations of Treason—Again.”

Here are some excerpts:

“As Election Day nears and the criticism of him mounts, Benjamin Netanyahu is returning to the troubling and threatening patterns of behavior that characterized him during his early years in politics and his first term as prime minister. Once again, he is spouting conspiracy theories and accusing his political rivals of treason.”

“His response returned him to the days when he stood on a balcony in Jerusalem’s Zion Square as the streets below seethed with murderous incitement against then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The victim of his incitement this time was Tzipi Livni, whom Netanyahu accused of being “a danger to the country” …From there, he went on to claim that Livni and her colleague at the head of the Zionist Union ticket, Isaac Herzog, seek to establish a Hamas-run state in the West Bank…Netanyahu’s lies, twisted and worrying though they be, pale beside his depiction of the leaders of a rival party as abettors of terror and dangerous to the country.”

“Netanyahu can’t offer a straight response to substantive criticism of his performance, so he responds to it instead by denying the legitimacy of the people running against him. Such behavior is characteristic of a leader who specializes in incitement, and is liable to lead to another political assassination. It provides yet another answer to the question of why Israel’s government must be replaced.”

However, the New York Times evidently is not a bit worried about the future of Israel.  Today’s lead story on Israel, by the ever-predictable Isabel Kershner, is titled: “As Vote Nears, a Not-So-Serious Battle for ‘Likes.’”  The story begins: “With a month to go before Israel’s elections on March 17, the race has turned into a context of cheeky online videos.”  The rest of the  story describes the dueling and mostly cutesy campaign slogans, videos, and social media postings of the contending candidates.

To be sure, the last paragraph of the story does quote Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s criticism of the campaign for not addressing the serious issues.  But that hardly makes up for the preceding light-hearted  tone and trivializing of the issues of the long Kershner piece.



Thursday, February 12, 2015

Silence at the New York Times, So What Else is New?

For those interested in this sort of thing, on Feb. 2nd I wrote to Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the NY Times, with my complaints about two recent stories by Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner—as I discussed in my blog of Jan. 31.

She did not respond in any manner.  Nor did Rudoren and Kershner, to whom I sent the blog and a copy of my email to Sullivan.  Is anyone surprised?

Here’s what I wrote to Sullivan:

I write to bring to your attention the following two recent objectionable  news stories in the Times.

On January 26, in a story entitled “Disillusioned by War, Israeli Soldiers Muted in 1967 Are Given Fuller Voice,” Jodi Rudoren wrote about a new Israeli documentary,“Censored Voices,” that reveals deliberate Israeli attacks on Egyptian civilians in the 1967 war, as well as other atrocities.  But then Rudoren adds, dismissively—maybe even contemptuously--that “the film raises concerns that, viewed without consideration for the existential threat Israel faced at the time, it could become catnip for contemporary critics.”

There are two things that are very wrong about that passage—not even including the issue that Rudoren is editorializing rather than simply reporting the news. First, few if any historians, scholars or Israeli generals from that period accepts that Israel was “fighting for its very survival during the 1967 war.” There is decisive evidence that a number of leading Israeli generals at the time—and none other than Menachem Begin later—believed not only that Israel faced no such “existential threat” but that it would easily defeat the Egyptian forces. This assessment was shared by the U.S. Defense Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the CIA. It would appear either that Rudoren did not know about that evidence—which is unacceptable for the lead Times correspondent in Israel—or that she wished to minimize the implications of the Israeli documentary.

Second, and perhaps even more serious: For Rudoren to dismiss a painfully honest Israeli documentary—none of whose factual claims she challenges—as “catnip for critics,” is unforgivable, because of its obvious implications. As the Wikipedia discussion of “catnip” puts it, catnip “is used as a recreational substance for pet cats' enjoyment…commonly leading them to roll on the ground, paw at it, lick it, and chew it.”

The second issue that I wish to bring to your attention is Isabel Kershner’s January 28 news story, “Israeli Group Says Military Attacks on Palestinian Homes Appeared to Violate International Law,” Kershner writes about a new B’Tselem report that described the Israeli attacks on Gaza, especially on residential buildings, as grave violations of international law

It is a serious and mostly commendable article, particularly because Kershner noted that previously released reports by Amnesty International and the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights had reached similar—actually, even more devastating—conclusions. There is one serious problem, however, with Kershner’s story. Almost all of it is drawn from the written report of B’Tselem--until Kershner writes that “B’Tselem concluded, however, that Israel was not deliberately trying to harm civilians.”

Presented as a stand-alone, one-sentence paragraph, Kershner clearly intends to draw particular attention it, as it would appear to absolve Israel of even worse war crimes than those discussed in the report. The problem is that the written report of B’Tselem makes no such statement. I emailed Kershner to point this out, and she responded that in a briefing by the B’Tselem staff, it was stated that “they did not believe that [deliberate killings of civilians] was the case.” Kershner’s response to my query clearly suggested that I was just quibbling, that it didn’t matter whether or not the cited statement came from a formal and public written report, but in fact it matters a great deal. An unverifiable account of an apparently off-the-record “briefing” is quite different: if B’Tselem wanted to go on official record as absolving Israel of deliberately targeting civilians, it would have said so in the report.

Moreover, the January 28 Haaretz story about the B’Tselem report, (Gili Cohen, “IDF broke international law in dozens of Gaza war strikes, Israeli rights group says,”) makes no claim that B’Tselem said that Israel hadn’t attacked civilians—even though it seems fair to assume that Cohen attended the same oral briefing.

In any case, an earlier report by the Israeli Physicians for Human Rights, in conjunction with a number of other human rights and physician groups-a 250 page report actually mentioned in Kershner’s story, but not described—lays all doubt to rest about the issue, for the report provides painfully detailed evidence that Israel deliberately attacked—i.e. not “collateral damage”-- civilians and key civilian institutions, including homes, residential apartment houses, hospitals and ambulances.

Since Kershner knows about that report (she mentions it), which was published a week before her Jan. 28 story, her failure to discuss that evidence—whatever B’Tselem staffers said to her—is further evidence that she is trying to minimize the devastating implications of the Israeli ways of war—and not only in the Gaza attack last summer but throughout its history, a subject I have written about..

A final point: the Times and its writers frequently say that whatever they write about Israel gets attacked, either from the left or the “pro-Israeli” right, and that the attacks from the right well out-number those from the left. I’m sure you realize that this is entirely irrelevant to the unmistakable facts of the issues—in fact, if I remember correctly, you have mentioned that yourself.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Great Gideon Levy

This morning’s Haaretz contains Gideon Levy’s brilliant—but despairing—analysis and prediction about the forthcoming elections in Israel.  I suppose that I will still hope that the Labor ticket gets elected, but I can’t find a single unconvincing thing in Levy’s analysis.  In fact, Levy is not only amazingly courageous, honest, and principled: he’s almost never wrong.  

Here’s his column:


A Labor win will only entrench the occupation

By Gideon Levy

Only one scenario is worse than the reelection on March 17 of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, and that’s the election of Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (and his political partner Tzipi Livni). Another term for Netanyahu would be a disaster, but a victory for Zionist Camp could be a worse disaster.

Yes, it’s true there’s no comparison between Herzog and Netanyahu — or between their parties. Herzog is a moderate, modest, fair person who’s much more liked than Netanyahu; the same can be said for Livni.

And Zionist Camp’s Knesset slate is of much higher quality than Likud’s. Not only does Zionist Camp not have thugs like Likud, it doesn’t have people with nationalist and racist views inciting and agitating. The CVs of most Zionist Camp candidates are much more impressive.

Now let’s assume Zionist Camp wins. Jubilation; Netanyahu will be ousted and a new day will dawn in Israel with a Herzog-Livni government. Actually, the first and most dramatic change will come from abroad — a global sigh of relief.

Not a statesman around the world will be sorry to see Netanyahu go, other than maybe Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah and Khaled Meshal of Hamas. All will be pleased with the victory of the “moderates.” The world will applaud, Herzog will be invited to Washington and Livni to London — and vice versa.

And soon, as promised, the “diplomatic process,” not to say the “peace process,” will begin. Herzog will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Livni with Palestinian leader Ahmed Qurei in a series of moving photo-ops. The cheering around the world will grow louder.

This change will be happening just as it appears the world has had its fill of Israeli policy, of Israel thumbing its nose at international law, the United States and the across-the-board opposition around the world to a continuation of the occupation.

And just when it appears that sanctions against Israel — the only nonviolent way to push the country to leave the territories — are about to be introduced — then of all times Israel will be applauded. There will be no prospect of action at The Hague or at the UN Security Council, no pressure and no punishment. Quiet, they’re talking — those sacred negotiations are in progress.

Those negotiations will, of course, go on endlessly unless this time Abbas refuses to lend a hand to the farce. Herzog has already announced that he will devote five (!) years to negotiations that could be wrapped up in five weeks. In other words, Herzog has no intention of reaching an agreement. Over those five years, the world won’t put on pressure; the two sides are talking.

The occupation will become even more entrenched. Herzog has said his government will continue to build in the “settlement blocs.” And the last chance for a two-state solution — if it still exists — will be squandered. Herzog and Livni will delude the world and perhaps the Palestinians too. Those two will never achieve a just agreement.

This scenario need not surprise anyone. Herzog is at the helm of Israel’s party of occupation. The Labor Party is the founding mother of the settlement enterprise; it never considered stopping it.

Its historical responsibility for the occupation is greater than Likud’s. The Labor troika of Golda Meir, Yisrael Galili and Moshe Dayan founded it, Shimon Peres continued it, and Herzog will go down the same path. The occupation is Labor’s cursed hereditary disease, deeply embedded in its genes. Labor might occupy softly while Likud and the religious-nationalist right use violence. So what’s worse?

To some extent, Zionist Camp would halt the anti-democratic legislation, the incitement against the Arabs and maybe also the disgraceful attitude toward African asylum seekers, all of which are matters of the highest importance. But on the most fateful issue, Zionist Camp would do more harm than good. This Israeli peace party would intoxicate the world, which in its despair would again be enticed. If Netanyahu is elected for another term, that won’t happen.