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Haaretz, Israel’s left-wing daily, used to be Israel’s newspaper of record and comparable to the New York Times, read also by those who differed from its line. Today Haaretz is read by less than 6 percent of Israelis, overwhelmingly composed of the country’s left-wing “elite.” Haaretz comes in far behind successful newcomer, right-of-center Israel Hayom at 38% and left-of-center Yediot Aharonot at 36%.
Haaretz’s English website, however, gets a very high Alexa ranking—around the 3900th most popular website in the world and currently neck-and-neck with the centrist Jerusalem Post’s site. Indeed, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu allegedly called (his office later denied it) Haaretz and the New York Times Israel’s “two main enemies” and said:
They set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world. Journalists read them every morning and base their news stories…on what they read in the New York Times and Haaretz.
Whether or not Netanyahu said it, he could have added that foreign diplomats as well base their views of Israel, and their perceptions—however skewed—of Israeli opinion, on what they read in Haaretz.
For his part, Israeli justice minister Yaakov Neeman has allegedly gone even further and likened Haaretz to Der Stürmer.
Are such charges justified? To get an idea on whether they are, I followed Haaretz’s English website’s op-eds and editorials through the Israeli workweek of Sunday, January 29 to Friday, February 3. Having done the same experiment eight years ago, I can say right away that Haaretz has, if anything, gotten worse since then. (While its reporting is also biased, the bias is easier to demonstrate in opinion articles.) This despite the fact that last August, Aluf Benn became Haaretz’s new editor in chief.
For years Benn was a thoughtful left-of-center columnist for the paper who made valid, if arguable, points. Under his tenure, though, Haaretz has kept publishing the same bevy of radical leftists. It appears inevitable considering that the Schocken family, which has owned the paper since 1937, still holds a dominant 60% stake of Haaretz. In an op-ed last November, current Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken portrayed Israel as a country verging on apartheid.
During the week in question, January 29-February 3, Haaretz published 30 op-eds. Fifteen of these could be called neutral on political, left-right issues. Exactly one—by Haaretz’s sole regular right-wing columnist, Israel Harel—was a discussion from a right-wing perspective. Of the other 14, 11 were virulently left-wing and 3 more moderately so. As for the editorials, all six were harsh attacks on Israeli policy, leadership, and institutions. The following is only a sampling from the week.
On Sunday, Gideon Levy published a piece on a recent poll finding high levels of religious beliefs in the Israeli Jewish population. For instance, 84% believe in God, 70% believe Jews are the chosen people, 76% eat kosher at home—figures far beyond the approximately 25% of the Jewish population that is formally observant. This poll, to put it mildly, did not sit well with Levy and other Haaretz pundits.
Levy, for his part, wrote:
Expressions of racism toward Arabs and foreigners, Israel’s arrogant attitude toward international opinion—these too can be explained by the benighted, primeval belief of the majority of Israelis (70 percent ) that we enjoy complete license because You chose us.… we are in the West Bank above all because the majority of Israelis believe that it is not only the land of the patriarchs, but that this fact gives us a patrimonial right to sovereignty, to cruelty, to abuse and to occupation—and to hell with the position of the international community and the principles of international law, because, after all, we were chosen from among all other peoples.
That is not a valid polemic but, rather, an anti-Semitic rant. As Shmuel Rosner notes regarding the traditional Jewish belief in chosenness,
There’s nothing wrong with such belief. When Americans were asked by Gallup if their nation “has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world,” 80 percent said yes. According to a Pew survey, “About half of Americans (49 percent) and Germans (47 percent) agree with the statement, ‘Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others.’”
Israelis, of course, do not regard chosenness as a license to commit crimes, and Levy cannot cite any evidence that they do. He just asserts it, or “spits it” would be more accurate.
Also riding the antireligious tide on Sunday, Amir Oren complained that the Israeli army “was another kind of army [once], before the chief rabbi of the air force took office, before the religious takeover of aircraft hangars, and their takeover of the rest of the Israel Defense Forces.” Oren approvingly quotes an anonymous letter to the chief of staff by a secular air force pilot:
…maybe I should let you know that the members of the air force, at least from [a certain] base, will not be meeting with authors, or guides who would teach them about nature and about various places around the country, or scientists or philosophers, or journalists or historians, or people looking at future trends. Only with religious people, who my son describes as crazy. I find no reason to assume that this disease only exists on this one particular base…. Don’t be surprised if normal soldiers don’t find their place in your army of God.
If this sounds like hatred of religious Jews, it is; and it is no less clear that hatred of a category of Jews is anti-Semitism. It should be added that, whatever legitimate controversies may exist about religion’s role in the Israeli army, one reason it has become more prominent there is that religious Israelis now disproportionately volunteer to be officers and combat soldiers—a fact I didn’t come across anywhere in Haaretz’s rants.
And Sunday’s editorial weighed in on the “failed” (except that all serious commentators knew they didn’t stand a chance) Israeli-Palestinians talks in Jordan, saying these were intentionally scuttled by Israel and adding:
Netanyahu, with [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak’s help, has turned the Iranian nuclear threat into an impressive ploy to distract attention from settlement policy and the perpetuation of the occupation…. The death certificate of negotiations based on the two-state solution is a badge of shame for Israeli society. It’s hard to understand how a society that has so impressively brought social injustice to the top of the agenda has fallen victim to our nationalist-religious leaders’ criminal ploy.
Here it should be noted that neither Netanyahu nor—even less so—Barak is considered religious in Israeli terms. But these bad characters, we see—with “Israeli society” in tow—are leading the world by the nose on the Iranian-nuke issue so they can tighten their grip on the West Bank. If this reminds you of Walt, Mearsheimer, Patrick Buchanan, & Co., it should—and it’s coming from a made-in-Israel website.
That Israel is an “apartheid state” is, of course, another shibboleth of contemporary anti-Semitism. It was well represented in Haaretz on Monday by Druze writer and contributor Salman Masalha who, in another crude rant, drew direct parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa. Then there was Akiva Eldar, whose tirade also featured the crafty, peace-destroying Netanyahu:
If Netanyahu had not existed, the settlers would have been forced to invent him. It has cost him peanuts to remove some of the roadblocks in the West Bank, to lift part of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, and to pay a bit of lip service to “the peace process.” And, he has managed to preserve all the settlers’ interests.
…Fact: It is possible to gobble up additional territories and also be depicted as a moderate leader while managing to keep relations with the United States and Europe intact.
The settlers can relax. The general positions outlined last week in Jordan to the Palestinians [were] nothing more than another exercise aimed at presenting Netanyahu as a partner to peace and the Palestinians as the ones who turn it down….
Tricky Jews at it again; all is subterfuge, don’t believe a word they say.
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