Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Israel's Press' Political Leukemia

Packing for summer in New Hampshire is usually a disorienting time. We are leaving a place where we work to make anything grow for a place where we work, if at all, to cut things back. But this year it feels peculiarly difficult to leave, not because New England seems so ontologically generous, but because Jerusalem seems so morally precarious.

I've had four or five conversations over the past couple of weeks in which people volunteered, without prompting, that they feel they now know what it was like to live in countries on the verge of fascism during the 1930s. You ask them why and they talk about touch-points, not great events: an education ministry that mandates a history curriculum in which the Oslo Agreements are effaced, a high school mock election in which Lieberman triumphs, the mayor of Jerusalem threatening to displace Arabs to build a Jewish tourist park, a Sami Smooha poll that shows a precipitous decline in Israeli Arab faith in Israel as a democracy "for Arab citizens as well" (from 63.1 percent in 2003 to 50.5 percent today) while the minority that supports using "all means, including violence" to achieve political ends is growing (5.4 percent to 13.9 percent).

More and more, you hear that the whole world hates us, but this immediately raises official claims that the old Antisemitism is coming back worse than ever. For ordinary liberals, there are straws in the wind that, when they land, are breaking backs. This column by Uriel Procaccia, one of Israel's most distinguished corporate law professors--who teaches at the IDC in Herzliya, and is the husband of one of the Supreme Court's judges--seems tell-tale.

FOR MY PART, I find myself cringing not because of the way Netanyahu's people answer questions so much as because of the way mainstream journalists ask them, or fail to follow up--the implicit "consensus" this seems to imply. Israel is not unique in its rightists: fundamentalists, ultra-nationalists, professional militarists, people just afraid of attack or just lacking in intellectual poise and ready to flock. For God's sake, cognitive science tells you that when you put a red shirt on a baby, he or she will respond favorably to adults with red shirts, and fear adults wearing other colors.

But what seems most dangerous to me is that, in the face of virulent forces, Israeli democracy, and especially its mainstream press, seems not to be producing anti-bodies, and for reasons that have to do with the legal and institutional improvisations the state has been making since the beginning.

How will the mainstream press, now, resist the claims of 700,000 ultraOrthodox, 500,000 settlers, a political class infused with military leaders, Russian immigrants looking for their Putin, Mizrahim looking for the big warm family, young people eager to prove bravery and fidelity, and so forth, when ordinary notions of individual liberty seem at odds with the Jewish national privileges and grievances that are taken to be the reason for the state? How do you fall back on principles of civil society which have come to be called merely "leftist" or even anti-Zionist? (Don't be mislead by what you read in Haaretz; the paper goes to at most 100,000 readers and its elite demographics, while impressive, are not politically decisive.)

CONSIDER THE PRESS' response over the past month to both the flotilla and the Haredi school in the Immanuel settlement--you know, where Ashkenazi parents refused to abide by a Supreme Court order to sit their children in classrooms next to Sephardi children. The two things may seem unrelated, but when you think about it, they are both symptoms of the political leukemia I am referring to.

For how should a free press answer parents of those Haredi children if not by insisting that the democratic state of Israel has the responsibility to ensure every child being treated as an individual, whose birth is not his or her fate, and whose mind needs to be cultivated by free exposure to what has been thought, said and done--in short, by standards for critical thinking?

Yet how to make that case when the state undermines the legal structures that backstop critical thinking in order to privilege Jews over Arabs; when its Labor leaders, too, from Golda Meir on, have taken steps to prevent the emergence (as in the 1970 Shalit case) of Israeli national identity and have denounced the idea that Israel is a state of its citizens; leaders who have, instead, preserved all kinds of privileges for people legally designated as "Jewish" according to Halacha--leaders who've depicted challenges to this narrow and pathetic version of Jewish statehood as evidence for a permanent existential threat? We kill off the marrow and wonder where the immune system has gone. And the thing we seem most immune to the capacity to distinguish between diagnosis and defamation.

In the case of the flotilla, the press defaulted to an almost automatic willingness to depict the Gaza blockade as an preemption of terror, a matter of life and death (though hardly a word was spoken in criticism when Netanyahu began lifting it under American pressure); in this context, the commandos landing on the deck of the ship were subject to a "lynch," and the deaths of nine Turkish citizens justified. One would be hard pressed to think of an event that so underlined the pathos of Israeli attitudes: the apocalyptic thinking that even justifies undermining relations with Turkey; the cheapness of enemy life; the idea that strategy boils down to never showing weakness; the interlocking historical narratives that depict any criticism, except for tactical criticism, of Israeli policy as Jew-hatred or ultra-leftism, or both.

Which brings me to, correspondingly, to the Immanuel decision. I heard the news of the court's verdict driving to Tel Aviv, and the interviewer on Reshet Bet,the anchor of the noon roundup, began soliciting reactions from various people. One of the rabbis at the school put it this way, more or less: "The Torah is 3000 years old and is above any state law; what our rabbis decide to be the workings of Halacha is above any state law." The interviewer was dumbfounded. A moment later she was speaking with a leader of a Haredi party, and she asked about this response, wondering if it was perhaps unanswerable. He responded, more or less, that things should never have become so polarized, and what we needed was "a compromise."

Imagine the South Korean government lavishly subsidizing the Moonies for three generations and the press coming to think this natural. Oh, and no reporter even thought to raise the fact that this was a settlement from which Arabs are totally excluded. Eventually we got the compromise, which all chief rabbis hailed as a victory over the court.

In all of this Israeli liberals have one comfort, which is a terrible one, and can backfire, that the fear of the world hating this country will eventually sink in and engender new, bolder leadership; that politicians promising global Israel will trump those insisting on Greater Israel--that Israel is, (as Ambassador Michael Oren put it) just "a pixel" on America's world map, and Obama will eventually force the issue. Perhaps. Anyway, the degree to which this fear is indeed sinking in was revealed last month when Channel One's prime-time newscast devoted three full minutes to a "breaking story," which turned out to be culled from the Drudge Report and the National Inquirer, that President Obama had had an affair and would now be fighting for his political life.


Y. Ben-David said...

Oh dear, the WRONG people won the last election! I have a suggestion for the "progressives" who are distressed as having a government elected by the wrong people in power. This same problem was faced in the the states of the old Confederacy after the American Civil War. There too, suddenly, "unqualified" people were given the vote. The old ruling group (an elite similar to Bernie's secular "entrepeneurial elites") finally came up with ways to prevent this new group of "unqualified" voters from exercising their franchise....they insituted poll taxes and literacy tests, and it worked up until the 1960's when it was decided these measures were undemocratic. Well, maybe these things are not allowed in the US, but I would suggest the secular "entrepeneurial elite" try to implement these ideas here in Israel....that way government can return to the hands it belongs in.

Anonymous said...


Your post has little of relevance beyond insults and false analogies (with the post Civil War American south). Mr. Avishai's point is that Israel is moving toward rightist intolerance of free expression as well as the essential humanity and civil rights of the Palestinians) which is leading it to the brink of international sanctions and isolation from its traditional supporters. The evidence suggests very strongly that "tribal loyalty"
(apologies to Shoded Yam) is trumping reasoned discourse and any serious attempt to seek a just peace. Instead, paranoia has set in and Israel is presenting its "mad dog" side to the rest of the world. It will reap seriously unfortunate consequences if this path is continued upon, and both Israelis and diaporan Jews will be judged harshly and suffer needlessly as a result.

Y. Ben-David said...

"Reasoned discourse" - Anonymous is worried about this. Bernie says "Israel is on the verge of fascism". Tell me, Anonymous, is THAT reasonsed discourse, coming from a "progressive" no less?
In a democracy EVERYONE gets a vote, even non-"progressives". Even Haredim, even Russian immigrants, even Judea/Samaria settlers. Bernie's hysterical fears that Israel is supposedly on the edge of "fascism" is preposterous. But democracy means that EVERYONE has freedom of expression. So if Bernie can call his opponents "fascists" then right-wingers can criticize the Left and "progressives" as well, something that was not particularly tolerated in Israel in the past. Since I came to Israel in the 1980's, up until recently, the whole media, i.e. all three daily newspapers plus the electronic media were OVERWHELMINGLY for the Oslo Agreements, hostile to settlers and Haredim and dismissive of those who opposed bringing Arafat and his terror gangs to Israel. The one nation-wide radio station that had a "right-wing" viewpoint was harrassed by the government and eventually shut down. Well, a lot has happened since then...thousands of Israelis were killed or wounded by the same Arafat the "progressives" lauded, and the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza led to extremist elements taking control of those territories and two bloody wars in their wake. That is why Israel has turned Right. Many "progressives" who lived in the Gaza area which suffered from rocket attacks for years vote for the same Russian-Lieberman party that Bernie despises.

The "progressives" had their chance in Israel but blew it by relying on terrorists like Arafat. Now it is time for the sane Zionists to try to repair things and the "progressives" are just going to have to get used to hearing the kind of criticism they have dumped on the "Right" for decades.

Stephen said...

In a democracy EVERYONE gets a vote, even non-"progressives". Even Haredim, even Russian immigrants, even Judea/Samaria settlers.

And including, also, the Palestinians who live right besides those settlers? If you gave them all the vote, it might go some ways towards resolving this conflict. And if not -- well, then, by your own definition, Israel isn't a democracy, right, since it's not true that EVERYONE gets to vote?

I assume you won't oppose Palestinians on the west bank voting, since you're so shocked by the disenfranchisement of African Americans after the American Civil War, your sarcasm about the notion that ""unqualified" people were given the vote", and so forth...

(And if you say the Palestinians aren't Israeli citizens... well, they live right next door to a large number of Israeli Citizens (i.e. settlers) who are distinguished by their ethnicity. This distinction goes back to BEFORE the Civil War, when one ethnic group were citizens, and another were not.)

Oh dear, the WRONG people won the last election! ... "Reasoned discourse" - Anonymous is worried about this. Bernie says "Israel is on the verge of fascism". Tell me, Anonymous, is THAT reasonsed discourse, coming from a "progressive" no less?

I assume, therefore, that you won't be upset that the "wrong" people won the last election in Gaza? And that you certainly won't call that government "fascist" or "terrorist", since that wouldn't be reasoned discourse. The will of the people must be honored, right?

Anonymous said...


You have the inside perspective on what's happening in Israel--I don't. You seem to feel that what others regard as "rightist intolerance" is the democratic will of your country and wholly justified by Palestinian aggression. (You don't mention, however, that colonization has also increased substantially since Oslo.) I would be very interested in what you would consider a fair settlement with the Palestinians, and whether any of your peace parameters involve abiding by international law (e.g., Res. 242).
I would also be interested in your take on whether a two-state solution is still possible/ desirable.

Potter said...

Yediot’s legal affairs editor, Judge (ret.) Boaz Okon, lists a series of undemocratic events in the Israeli public sphere and urges his readers to come to contemplate what they mean when seen together:

Add his name to the many many others, good people, using “fascist” and “apartheid” in relation to what goes on in Israel today. Okon proceeds to list the evidence- not a short list, and not only his list:

Yediot’s legal affairs editor on “the emergence of apartheid and fascism” in Israel

Edmund Burke: ”The true danger is when Liberty is nibbled away, for expedients and by parts.”

misattributed to Burke: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

But he did say: "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

Ben- David will call these people, “progressives”, which is supposed to be some dirty word. But they are good people.

Not all wisdom comes from the ancients:

Benjamin Franklin said: Those that would give up essential liberty in pursuit of a little temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security

Which is what is happening in Israel.

Anonymous said...

Potter, well said! May I add Rabbi Hillel's maxim?:

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?"

Listen, O Israel!

Y. Ben-David said...

The answer to your question about the "2-state solution" is that it is not achievable, whether or not it desirable or not. The "vision" we keep hearing from the Israeli Left and people like Obama, Hilary Clinton, the EU and other such players saying "we want to see a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and prosperity with Israel" is a non-starter for the Arabs (although there may be individual Palestinians who may want such a thing, they are not a political factor). Such an arrangement would be viewed as treason and a betrayal of Arab/Muslim history and an intoleration humiliation. This is because the existence of Israel, a Jewish state, in the middle of the Dar el-Islam (Realm of Islam) is a violation of the world order. Although , from 1948-1973 the best way of confronting was thought to be direct military confrontation, this has changed to a policy of a war of attrition consisting of terrorism (small-scale operations like suicide bombings combined with rocket attacks) along with "negotiations" with Israel, but negotiations which are not designed to reach an agreement, but rather to weaken Israeli resolve.
I realize people find this view of things hard to swallow. The fact is that Barak in 2000 and Olmert in 2008 basically accepted the Palestinian's territorial demands, yet no agreement was reached, nor was it ever claimed that an agreement was within reach. This is because of problems with intractable, insolvable demands like the Palestinian demand for the "right of return" of the refugees. The big problem is that the problem is not a "humanitarian one", i.e having the refugees go to a Palestinian state or be resettled elsewhere, or paid compensation. It is rather a political weapon and no Palestinian leader has ever indicated that he is willing to give up the demand for its recognition AND implementation. Believers in the "peace process" have always assumed that the Palestinians will give up demands for implementation, but they have NEVER indicated such a willingness.

Thus, since a peace agreement in unachievable, the best one can hope for is a "modus vivendi" and this indeed is what is evolving in Judea/Samaria if not Gaza.

Potter said...

Dar El Islam is the the Muslim version of Jews' Eretz Yisrael. Neither will be realized. The belief that there can be a "modus vivendi" in the real world without mutual agreement is dangerous. There is a clock ticking.

Shoded Yam said...

"...The answer to your question about the "2-state solution" is that it is not achievable,"

Of course its achievable. But first Israel will have to evict Ben Davids friends from their free villas. Understandbly, they're not ready to make that sacrafice. Fortunately the rest of Israel is, the opinions of high school students notwithstanding. They just want assurances that it will be enough to satisfy the palestinians. This is why they invented peace treaties. This is what Ben David and his settler-nazi-kahanist buddies are worried about, not whether or not it is possible. Once Israel signs a peace treaty with the Pals, it will then proceed to settle accounts with the settlers and their orthodox fellow travellers. I seem to remember the french shaving the heads of whores who collaborated with the germans and vichy. In Rwanda, the retribution was horrifying. In the Yugoslavian Civil War, the croats were made to pay dearly for the excesses of the Ustaschi during WW II. Hmm I wonder what the punishment will be for those prostitutes who took money from Adelson, Moskowitz, et al, in order to usurpe the authority of the gov't and to disenfranchise those Jews and Israelis who objected, or for those who took money from American christian preachers in order to finance an organization who sole purpose is to incite against other jews and Israelis who choose dissent over groupthink. Whatever it will be, it will be well deserved and it won't be pretty and it will likely result in new legislation (seperation of church and state perhaps?) that will prevent this sort of thing from happening again. While Ben David and the rest of these bought and paid for traitors are desperate to conflate their interests with love of Israel, for anybody with a shred of decency or brain matter, its obvious that an interest-free mortgage trumps national loyalties. They only have bedroom eyes for those who will consistently validate the greed that presents itself as patriotism.

"...I realize people find this view of things hard to swallow"

No. What people find hard to swallow, herr gruppenfuhrer is the insult to their intelligence from some disgruntled weakling who's spends his days spuriously conflating his jealousy of a published author and lecturer with love of country.

Potter said...

Well said Shoded Yam. I am coming out for a beer with you on the Pacific Coast Highway (LA)- that little fish restaurant....

Before I was side-tracked by this ever outrageous opinion which I feel I have to radiate somehow I meant to wonder out aloud whether, even with a press in Israel that was not leukemic, that was doing it's job truth-telling, vigorously opposing the current repression of dissent, encouraging reality based thinking, and not leaving it all to Haaretz, whether things have advanced too far for mere journalism... that the likes of Ben-David's cancerous mindset, arepetition of a "philosophy" you hear around, could be radiated enough for the patient to survive. Maybe the body politic is much stronger than any single human and will eventually recover... though I doubt I will be here.

A year ago we had a lively discussion with our Israeli friends while on a visit. I wrote about it here. I was amazed that old war weary leftists, five wars starting with the first, now "evolved" kibbutzniks on the coast, who had for years been neighbors with Arabs, worked with them, lived beside them, ate at their felafel restaurants, said "Hi!" etc, were now alienated, fearful, bitter and defensive. Their daughter ( in her mid thirties) silent and listening, finally spoke out. "Sometimes I think that years from now we will be looking back and wondering how we allowed this all to happen". Not too far from your vision. But that was before the latest worst of it.

Shoded Yam said...


Dude! I know that place! We go there all the time, its great. Its right where the PCH meets Topanga Canyon. You're on! :-)

Potter said...

Yeah I knew you would- lots of Israeli's there-- loud ones with kids.

I'm not kidding- next time we are there...

Shoded Yam said...


Looking forward to it.


Potter said...

Back to business. From an article I was just reading by Christopher Hitchens on Edmund Burke. This about his severe critics applies-

It is a frequent vice of radical polemic to assert, and even to believe, that once you have found the lowest motive for an antagonist, you have identified the correct one.

Shoded Yam said...

I'm a firm believer in the old adage; "You lie down with dogs, you pick up fleas". Racism, Xenophobia, and Jewish exceptionalism are the schwerpunkt of the settler movement. Its their face and now its becoming the face of Israel, whether Ben David or any other Israelis like it or not.

Potter said...

I agree totally. I suppose then this entry by BA above calls for the Israeli press to mirror that at least. I don't think it can change it much. Maybe the international community, one way or another can do this. This growing image will be a hard thing for Israel to change ( to turn around) for at least a generation, if not more. Which is very sad since there is so much potential for Israel- or there was. So much hopeful, decent energy has gone into building the country. It looks like a European country much older- so well developed it is in such a short time.

Maybe it's going to be as Bernard says: the business and technical class, the secular, the educated, will gradually leave, leaving the settler mentality in charge. A Masada. With their population's explosion they should have the warriors needed to give war another try. They will also have the nukes. Maybe it will be a Pakistan, as Bernard says. (The US then will have to invade- at least with drones- as is our inclination).

Those who wish Israel ill- don't have to do much but watch this tragic self destruction of such a small and young country, enough to be really politically fragile on the inside.

People fall into their lower natures and give in to their fears. They allow themselves to be demagogued by leaders who make use of every bold act from "enemies" of the state to cement their own hold on power. They need those enemies, they who don't have much upstairs other than their need for power.. it's such an old old story.

Maybe it's the 4th of July here that's getting to me.

Nimrod Tal said...

Bernhard, please join Shoded Yam in Topanga Canyon. Im sorry our Israel is not your utopia. Perhaps Brentwood is your Jerusalem

Shoded Yam said...

"Im sorry our Israel is not your utopia."

But Israel is his utopia, as it is for many of us who've had a hand in building and defending her. Every goddam word he writes is a testament to that exaltation.

You see douchebag, Bernie's not complaining. You are. He's easy. Whatever happens, his toes are still tappin'. He can live next door to anybody, Jew, Arab, and yes, even a Douchebag. You on the other hand are a high maintenance, whiny bitch of a drama queen stuck in a perpetual menstrual cycle. If we didn't give you some Midol in the form of free villas, make-work employment and draft deferments from time to time, you'd never shut the fuck up. Btw, if you'd like sweetie, I can recommend an excellent surgeon who will be able to remove my boot from your ass. Mention my name when you see him. I send him alot of work. :-)

Btw, Bernie, you are of course welcome to join Potter and I in a beer hoist at the fish joint in Topanga Canyon. The Mahi Mahi is exellent with a glass of Sam Addams.

Arrgh Ye Mateys

Arthur Seyss-Inquart said...

I hear the wild boar there is delectable too

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