Israel’s left will be disappointed by last night’s election results. That is to be expected and no one could hold it against them. They have an alternative vision for advancing the welfare of their country and, for the moment at least, the opportunity to implement that vision has slipped from their grasp. What is less acceptable is the way in which some on Israel’s left seem to have reacted with uncontrolled outbursts of animosity and hatred. We might be able to understand their hatred for Netanyahu and the Likud. But their unashamed hatred for their own country is a different matter. Nothing encapsulates this attitude more than Gideon Levy’s piece in today’s Haaretz: Netanyahu deserves the Israeli People, and they deserve him. With an attitude like that you wonder if these people ever really had Israel’s best interests at heart.
Longtime readers of COMMENTARY might remember Shabtai Teveth, prolific author and the authorized biographer of David Ben-Gurion. Teveth passed away on November 2 at the age of eighty-nine. He had gone silent twelve years earlier, following a debilitating stroke. It was on the pages of COMMENTARY, in 1989, that he launched one of the most thorough broadsides on Israel’s “new historians.” It repays reading now (as does Hillel Halkin’s COMMENTARY review of Teveth’s Ben-Gurion and the Holocaust). It’s also a reminder of how desperately Israel still needs truth-tellers like Teveth, who knew the flaws of Israel’s founders perfectly well, but never let that overshadow the nobility of their cause.
Few savvy observers took Secretary of State John Kerry at his word earlier this week when he piously proclaimed that the United States had no thought of attempting to intervene in Israel’s elections. The animus bordering on hatred felt by President Obama’s inner circle toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not exactly a secret. But it didn’t take long for a leak to an Israeli newspaper that is among the PM’s most rabid foes to dispel any doubts about the administration’s hopes that it could somehow derail his bid for a fourth term. The report from Barak Ravid, Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent that the White House held a meeting whose purpose was to plan possible future sanctions against Israel to punish it for continuing to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and West Bank settlement blocs, is a shot fired over Netanyahu’s bow. But the real question here is not so much Obama’s desire to see the prime minister defeated, as it is why anyone in the administration thinks this gambit will succeed now after the same tactics have failed repeatedly before.
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.
One of the more peculiar twists in “gee, let me try to find something interesting to say about the war with Hamas” punditry is the argument that suggests Israel’s use of anti-missile technology is bad for Israel, bad for Gaza, and bad for the world. This argument has two facets, both examples of the downside of the Internet: How it allows people with half-baked, half-considered ideas access to the court of world opinion to make a case any rational editor would have thrown out in the old days.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened today as Hamas launched more missiles into Israel, including one long-range rocket aimed at Tel Aviv. Israel responded by calling up more reserves and striking back at the terrorist launching points. But while the world reproaches both sides today President Obama reminded us why he deserves a good deal of the blame for the mess.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper will tomorrow host the grandly-named “Israel Conference on Peace” in Tel Aviv. In a crammed schedule across twelve hours, an intriguing array of speakers–Israelis, Arabs, Europeans, and Americans, left-wingers and right-wingers–will address economic development, human rights, access to water, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough, and other critical aspects of this particular Middle Eastern conflict.
For decades, even many friends of Israel have tamely accepted the idea that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is, in and of itself, a crime against the Palestinians. Thus, it is hardly remarkable that the mainstream media’s discussion of the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank is being conducted from a frame of reference that views Palestinian terrorism as an understandable, if regrettable result of Israeli provocations. As Seth noted earlier, that was the clear upshot of a New York Times article about Israeli efforts to find the kidnapping victims. It is also a constant refrain on social media where the teens have been blasted not only for their poor judgment in hitchhiking in an area where attacks on Jews have been frequent but in the very idea that in some way Palestinian violence is justified.
That was the conceit of a particularly outrageous article published yesterday in Haaretz by columnist Gideon Levy in which this leftist extremist said the crime was the natural result of Israeli policy on settlements as well the country’s reluctance to release imprisoned terrorists. It has become commonplace to find anti-Zionist rants in Haaretz’s pages but the notion of treating the captivity of Palestinians who have Israeli blood on their hands as morally equivalent to the kidnapping of children breaks new ground even for that intellectually bankrupt exercise in journalism. While it would be easy to dismiss Levy as an outlier, his callous dismissal of Palestinian terror as merely Israel’s due is very much representative of much of the commentary that is published internationally about the peace process. But in a strange way, Levy got it right when he wrote the following:
Jeffrey Goldberg, a self-reverential and prolific pundit who often writes on Israel-Palestinian issues, set off a mini-firestorm yesterday when he criticized the left-wing Israel daily Haaretz for a commentary headlined, “Why all Israelis are Cowards.” But lost in that controversy was an equally significant Haaretz book review entitled, “Was the Iranian threat fabricated by Israel and the U.S.?” The recent review and interview—written and conducted by Haaretz staff blogger and academic Shemuel Meir—treats with great credulity Gareth Porter’s recent book Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Nuclear Scare. Porter weaves together his narrative with questionable sources, fuzzy interpretation of sources, and cherry-picked data. The result is a forgettable tale easily refuted by legitimate sources and data Porter chose to ignore.
More curious is what Meir and Haaretz omitted. While Porter’s scholarship should be judged on its own terms, it is also fair to consider the context of Porter’s work. Previous work—and the reason why Porter remains an ‘independent’ scholar—shows a disturbing willingness to subvert scholarly integrity to politics and to give the benefit of the doubt to radical causes. In 1976, he published Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution which treated Khmer Rouge sources uncritically. He proceeded to testify in Congress denying the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge and took to the pages of the New York Review of Books to defend murderous dictator Pol Pot. Now, the reality of the Khmer Rouge was well-known at the time and evidence of its atrocities were public and accessible to anyone who wished to put evidence and truth above radical politics.
Last week, veteran Israeli-Palestinian peace process negotiator and author Aaron David Miller penned a column for the New York Times in which he wrote the following about Israel: “The country’s demographics look bad — too many ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and not enough secular Jews.” Normally, when someone looks at a country’s ethnic makeup and identifies the “problem” as the proliferation of everyone except his own kind, the very reasonable obvious objections will be made across the board.
Miller’s line did not engender this outrage, because it was aimed at Haredim, to which the normal rules of civility do not apply in the American media. But he came in for a walloping from what may seem an unlikely source: David Landau. Landau, the former editor of Haaretz, has made shockingly offensive comments about Israel, and is currently Israel correspondent for The Economist, a magazine whose Israel coverage includes just this type of casual bigotry toward the Haredim. (Three weeks ago, the magazine wrote that “the hallmark of haredism is intolerance.”) But Landau was so upset by Miller’s apparent ignorance that he rose to a quite effusive defense of the Haredim in an interview with his former newspaper:
Reading the New York Times account of an interview with Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, that was first published in Haaretz is like a children’s game of “telephone.” What Gantz actually said wasn’t reflected in the misleading headline of the Israeli newspaper. That headline, rather than the actual content of the piece, was repeated in the Times article, so what comes out in America’s so-called newspaper of record had more to do with the editorial agenda of the press than the reality of Israel’s security dilemma.
The Haaretz headline was an attention-grabber: “IDF Chief to Haaretz: I do not believe Iran will decide to develop nuclear weapons.” Yet nowhere in the piece was there a quote that matched this startling assertion that was repeated in the Times headline that read: “Israeli Army Chief Says He Believes Iran Won’t Build a Bomb.” What Gantz tells Haaretz is that while the Iranians are actively working on a nuclear program, they have yet to activate the final stage of the project that would convert the material to a nuclear bomb. This is no revelation, as not even the most alarmist account of Iran’s efforts has stated that this final stage has been reached. Nor did Gantz express a belief that Iran wouldn’t build a bomb. Rather, he said the Iranians would do it only if they felt themselves “invulnerable.” He said he thought the ayatollahs were “rational,” but added that a weapon in their hands would be “dangerous.”