Monday, August 22, 2005

Bashing NYT's coverage of the disengagement

Since Dov Bear thinks everything is okay over at The New York Times, I'll leave it it in the able hands of pro-disengagement The New Republic editor-in-chief, Martin Peretz to prove him wrong. And since it requires a subscription but I think it's important for everyone to read, I'll post the entire article. Any emphasis is mine.


Trying Times
by Martin Peretz

Only at TNR Online / Post date 08.19.05

I am back from some exacting days in Gaza and will write next week in TNR about why my experience there was so searing and what it told me about the future of the West Bank. It was a primary event of contemporary history in one of the most punishing conflicts in the world. But in today's world, the coverage of primary events is itself a primary event; and so before I collect my thoughts and impressions of what I saw in the Gazan sands, I want to take care of some less dramatic but nonetheless important business.

I suppose most habits are bad, and in bed with my laptop I have reverted to one of my worst: not being able to begin the morning, even a late morning, without reading The New York Times. In Cambridge, my home page is actually the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, a not very popular daily that is read mostly by the beautiful souls of the country, but also a bracing wake-up. (You won't find another Israeli paper so smug and so wrong--and, like the Times, so indispensable.) Elsewhere, it's the Times that's my home page. A few months ago, I read a very scholarly and immensely devastating book, Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper (Cambridge University Press), by Laurel Leff. Its conclusion: that the Times simply ignored or buried in the back pages what its correspondents, editors, and owners deeply knew and grasped, which was that European Jewry--a whole civilization, really--was being exterminated by the Germans and their allies in Europe. Well, another book could be written about the complicated and often ugly history of the Times' relationship to Zionism and Israel, a relationship that has frequently been marred by antipathy and anxiety, and sometimes even with prejudice. In any case, why do I bring this up now?

It's one thing to read the Times' news pages (it may even be necessary) or the Sunday book review (which under a new editor is becoming richer and deeper), but it's another matter, mind-numbing and masochistic, to go regularly to its editorials. Take the top "lede" today, Thursday night, as I write. Its subject was the withdrawal from Gaza. I hasten to declare that I support this withdrawal, and I believe that this may be a tragedy for the settlers, but it is emphatically not a tragedy for Israel. Quite the reverse. These settlements were never an appropriate project for Zionism. I always thought they were doomed. Sharon's action is a sign of serious strategic and historical reflection. I would have thought that the Times concurs in these opinions--indeed, that these opinions would amount to its editorial position. But not so. The Times editorial board has elected not to tell the whole story, and to draw conclusions that are perverse in their pro-Palestinian emphasis. "Some Gaza settlers pinned orange stars to their chests in a reference to the Holocaust," which, of course, if you were a reader of the Times during the years of the Jewish catastrophe you wouldn't have the slightest inkling ever happened. Now, I, too, was in Gaza, at four settlements, to be exact, including Neve Dekalim, the largest one. I'm on the alert for details. I saw exactly two such badges. (The wartime Jewish stigmata were actually in yellow. The settlers' orange derives, rather weirdly, from the Ukrainian revolution last year. Details, details.) Probably there were more and certainly in Keren Atzmona which had exactly 150 residents, probably three-fourths of them children. Anyway, the yellow star psycho-drama was, according to Ha'aretz, a production of one family. It was certainly not a phenomenon of the settler resistance. But the Times editorialist was in Times Square, not in Gaza. He or she merely picked the symbolism that suited his or her fancy. It's true that there were, here and there, other weird allusions to the Nazis; but they were so marginal that the most striking reality was the reality of those who so wanted to ridicule the expellees that any grotesquerie would do. (On another note: A Spanish language reporter on a bus into Gaza was calling a settler in one of the really tiny settlements on his cell phone. "Are you being overwhelmed by the number of outside demonstrators, maybe hundreds and hundreds?" he asked. The person at the other end had two seconds, maybe three to answer. And then the journalist answered his own question: "Oh, so you are being overwhelmed by the hundreds of outside demonstrators." This is the careful makings of a news story.)

There was far more hysteria and hatred vented at the police in Chicago in 1968 (I was there) and at the marches on the Pentagon or the bust at Columbia University than there was in Gaza, and there were many more injured. No question about it. But it did not fit the Times' editorial line to admit the fact that almost no one was really hurt, and no one was killed, in Gaza. (I was not at Kfar Darom, the most extreme settlement, where paint, eggs, oil, and some apparently not-very-dangerous chemical agent were thrown at police and army by demonstrators. A few were injured, apparently none seriously. In any event, this distress occurred long after the Times editorial appeared.) For killings, the Times had to focus on the West Bank, where a "settler grabbed a security guard's gun and opened fire, killing several [there were actually four] Palestinians." The Times went on to say that this was "an act that Prime Minister Sharon rightly denounced as 'Jewish terror.'" (What he, in fact, said was that "it was an exceptionally grave Jewish act of terror.") It is indeed Jewish terror, as the atrocity in Shfaram was "Jewish terror," and the Jews of Israel have notably identified the crime with the extremism in their own political culture. Once again, the renunciation and the denunciation cut through the entire society. But do the Times editorialists have no shame? Finally, they have shed their reluctance to call an act of terror "terror," but only when they can put the adjective "Jewish" before it. Was the Dolphinarium bombing in Tel Aviv, which merited no Times editorial, not Palestinian terror? And to how many of the dozens and dozens of other helter-skelter murders of Israelis has the Times affixed the term? The Jewish killer, standing in the Petakh Tikvah courtroom, asserted that "I hope someone also kills Sharon." When has a Palestinian terrorist been arrested and brought to a Palestinian court as an accused? Does the Times editorial page ever call the murder of 30, 40 innocent Iraqis a day--looking for work or at the market--terrorism? Hardly. It is insurgency.

The New York Times is weighty. So it backs up its argument with history, but it's potted history. The history of Gaza, for example. Gaza, the Times tells us, was part of British Mandate Palestine. It was not assigned to the Jews either under the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan or the 1949 Cease Fire Agreements. All true. But the Partition Plan had proposed an Arab state that included the West Bank and Gaza. After Israel's War of Independence, the West Bank was controlled by Jordan and Gaza by Egypt. Why did the Arab state envisioned by the United Nations not come into being? Ask the Palestinians and their Arab friends. Ask the Times. After the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Israelis wanted to disgorge Gaza. But Egypt wouldn't take it (although it took back the Sinai) and the Palestinians weren't talking to anybody. Frankly, the Arab world wanted to eternalize the Palestinian refugee problem, and it did.

"Gaza represents the worst side of Israel's settlement movement." It is actually a very diverse movement, even among the relatively small number of the 8,500 Gaza settlers, perhaps 60-70 percent of whom are children. In fact, most of the Gaza settlers are thoroughly committed to farming the land and have produced fruitfully from it: as much as 15 percent of Israel's agricultural produce. Let's admit it: The Arabs had Gaza for a thousand years. There were no Zionists to blame for its backwardness. Why did they make exactly nothing of Gaza? We will see what they will make of the hundreds of acres of greenhouses the Israelis have left behind. Anyone taking bets?

I saw no Meir Kahane photographs, as I did recently in Hebron. Some of the Gazan Jews that I saw were undeniably vicious, but most, even in this vortex of high tension and expulsion, were sweet; angry, but thoughtful and restrained. Settlers did not carry guns. Some pushed back when they were pushed; others retreated. But the most obstinate did not push anyone around; they withdrew to their synagogues and prayed, some in a trance. There are trance parties in Tel Aviv, and there are trance protests in Gaza.

I always disbelieved in the Gaza venture. Too few Jews, too many Arabs. It was arrogant. But the cute and coarse Times citation of one Israeli official who claimed that Israel always intended to use the Gaza Strip as a bargaining chip is preposterous. Who is that anonymous Israeli official? In any event, the notion that any government would invest millions and millions of dollars and entangle the lives of thousands of its citizens in a venture consigned to be shut down eventually, with high emotional and spiritual resonance, entirely as a bargaining chip--this notion defies the imagination. It shows that the Times editorialist is either gullible or very inventive. "The problem," said the Israeli, "is that Israel fell in love with its chips." If it did, why did it give them up? And for exactly nothing, not even a piece of paper? After all, a bargaining chip gets you something.

This Times lede is called "Gaza Reality Check." OK, then, let's check the Times' sense of reality. The editorial admits that "there is plenty of reason to worry about how the new Gaza will be governed"--and that single sentence is all it concedes about the future of Gaza. Does Israel need to worry about how Gaza is governed? You bet. And the transparency of what goes in and out of Gaza's port and airport is one of those details of concern? After all, through these points of entry will come heavy arms. Or does the Times think that only computers and blue jeans will enter Gaza? Do the Palestinians need to worry about how Gaza is governed? Absolutely. But, rest assured, the Times will fix on any guarantees that Israel will insist upon to keep Gaza from being infested with advanced weapons as denying "the Palestinians their chance at a better life."

One more point: The Times asserts that "most Gaza families live on less than $2 a day." I remember a wise economist, now dead, telling a class that "statistics can be made to prove anything except the truth." But if this blithe and unsupported assertion by the Times is true, then, at best, the Gaza Palestinians are so far from being a community or an expression of national solidarity that it is hard to imagine them being governed at all. If this is so, there goes their chance at a better life already. And the Jews will not be to blame.


Blogger Eli7 said...

Ok, you know I can't let you insult my paper without comment.

In all honesty, the Times makes mistakes - big mistakes - but if you've read their news coverage of disengagement, it's been fairly balanced and accurate. And the pictures of disengagement on the Times Web site were as moving and stirring as any.

So what of their editorial pages? I'm not saying it's right and I didn't read the editorial in question, but the op/ed pages are for opinions, they are not for facts, and hopefully anyone who reads the Times knows that.

9:57 PM  

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