Joshua Mitnick’s piece in the Wall Street Journal on May 11, 2015 on the appointment of Ayelet Shaked as Justice Minister in the newly formed Israeli government fails to live up to the journalistic standards espoused by the Journal. Mitnick clearly disapproves of Shaked’s politics and is unable to keep his political antipathies separate from his reporting. Shaked is not a familiar figure to most readers of the Wall Street Journal. In that context, the information Mitnick provides about her should be introductory and relevant to her new role. Instead, Mitnick immediately dredges up the controversy over a Facebook posting in order to discredit Shaked.
Who does Mitnick turn to? Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian official and serial fabricator of vicious lies accusing Israel of committing atrocities.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Ms. Shaked of “openly calling for genocide and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”
Erekat’s statement refers to a posting on Shaked’s Facebook page last year written by Uri Elitzur that contained statements worded in an aggressive and extreme manner. Shaked later disavowed the posting and removed it.
But what of Erekat, who Mitnick chose as the purveyor of this character assault of Shaked?
In April 2002, Saeb Erekat, serving as an official in the Palestinian Authority, accused Israel of “totally” destroying the refugee camp in Jenin and massacring 500 Palestinians. The accusation was widely disseminated by the media and prompted a UN investigation; after all Erekat held a senior position in the Palestinian government. The UN investigation determined that no massacre took place and put the number of Palestinian deaths between 52 and 57, counting most as armed miltiants. The destruction that resulted from the battle was not of the vast scale reported in exaggerated media accounts, but was limited to an area about the size of a football field.
The Israelis suffered 13 avoidable fatalities from a booby-trapped building due to their commander’s decision to send in reservist troops on foot in order to spare Palestinian civilians from casualties that would have resulted from artillery bombardment.
Erekat has displayed his penchant for exaggeration and defamation on other occasions as well.
Mitnick is a veteran reporter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he must be aware of Erekat’s habit for making inflammatory accusations. Why would he use such a notorious fabricator in a piece that introduces Shaked to the American public?
The article contains other examples of Mitnick’s objections to Shaked and her politics.
1) His discussion of Shaked’s opposition to foreign funding of hostile NGOs features the argument and a quote from her critics without counterbalance, leaving the impression that Shaked’s position is not mainstream when in fact her position is supported by much of the Israeli public.
2) Mitnick portrays Shaked’s support for the Nationality bill as a “conservative” attempt to limit the rights of minorities that is opposed by a coalition of “liberals and Arabs.” Again, Mitnick gives voice to Shaked’s critics, but omits those who support the bill, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who answered critics by pledging that the rights of non-Jews would not be abridged in any way.
3) He injects digs at Shaked. For example writing,
Ms. Shaked—who never formally studied law—has also said the justice-selection process must be overhauled because it has resulted in a court unbalanced in favor of liberal activists.
In fact, Israeli ministers are rotated frequently based on political alignments and there is no requirement that ministers have a professional background in the specific portfolio they are handed. The ministerial level is after all a political appointment. As Justice Minister, Shaked is not unique in lacking a legal background. Leftist politican Yossi Beilin also did not study law and served in the same role. There are others as well who did not possess law degrees.
Mitnick’s report is a disservice to Journal readers whose introduction to Shaked should be an informed and relevant backgrounder, not a hit piece. If Mitnick wants to inject such partisanship and pettiness into his writing, he should become a columnist or work for an advocacy group and leave the reporting to someone who will leave their biases out of their dispatches.