The fact that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz is a major source of incitement and often misinformation about the Jewish state and the Middle East is not news. Some of its columnists are fervent anti-Zionists and, as COMMENTARY noted in a magazine feature by Joshua Muravchik last year, provide a steady source of material for Israel-bashers. Israel is a free country and if a formerly Zionist newspaper wants to play this role that is its right. But sometimes, even Haaretz goes too far and not only feeds the anti-Israel propaganda machine but steps over the line into material that aids and abets anti-Semitism. That is the only way to characterize the bizarre decision to publish an editorial cartoon depicting Prime Minister Netanyahu flying a plane with Israeli markings into the World Trade Center Towers.
Cartoonist Amos Biderman defends his creation as just another barb thrown at Israel’s leader from a newspaper that despises him. He meant it, he said, as a comment on what he believes is Netanyahu’s bad judgment in needlessly destroying good relations between Israel and the United States. We’ll leave aside the obvious injustice of a cartoon that promoted that point of view. At a time when it is the Obama administration that is lobbing vulgar insults at the prime minister to cover up for their own cluelessness about the realities of the region and the disastrous moves that have made the Middle East more dangerous and even driven moderate Arab states into Israel’s corner on issues like Iran and Hamas, Biderman’s views are as obtuse as they are misinformed. But that is mere politics. By straying into the realm of 9/11 truthers, Biderman has sent a gift to Jew haters around the world.
This is not a question of, as Biderman says, his not understanding the delicate sensibilities of Americans about 9/11. While we know that Haaretz often reads as if its staff lives in a different Middle East than other more sensible Israelis, Biderman’s cartoon seems to come from a different planet from the rest of us. On Planet Earth, it is well known that one of the cornerstones of contemporary anti-Semitism is the canard that Israel blew up the Twin Towers on 9/11, not al-Qaeda and that Jews didn’t show up to work in their offices in buildings that day. This is an obvious, astonishing lie that seemingly would be believed only by the insane, but the willingness of large numbers of Muslims to buy into it is proof of the strength of Jew-hatred in the Arab world.
Haaretz’s decision to give this vicious myth tangible support is more than an astonishing lapse of judgment. It is a sign that the newspaper is so obsessed with its futile crusade against Netanyahu (who looks to be a lock for a third term the next time Israel goes to the polls) that they have lost sight of the fact that even Haaretz-style left-wing Israelis are hated just as much by 9/11 truthers as supporters of the Likud.
In free countries, newspapers must have the right to publish all sorts of opinions, including those that are offensive. But that freedom must be tempered by an understanding that over-the-top political commentary can trespass into the realm of hate speech or abetting anti-Semitism. That is what happened with this vile cartoon. Haaretz should stop playing the victim in this controversy, apologize, and take it down from its website.