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Media Analyses





Accusing Others of Dishonest Language, Beinart Distorts an Ambassador's Words


To help push along his goal of turning readers against Israel, Peter Beinart erased the murder of Dafna Meir. He didn't gloss over it. He didn't fail to mention it. He actively erased it.

Beinart's Jan. 27 column in Haaretz is similar to most of his columns. It uses a hook from the news to make the case that Israel and its supporters should be blamed for the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In this particular piece, he seized on criticism of Israel by the US ambassador to Israel, and a follow-up statement by the ambassador about the poor timing of his comments, to rebuke not only Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, but also the US ambassador, Dan Shapiro.

Shapiro said during a Jan. 18 speech that "at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians."
 
Netanyahu responded harshly: "The ambassador's statements, on the day when a mother of six who was murdered is buried, and on a day when a pregnant woman is stabbed – are unacceptable and wrong." This and similar criticism prompted Shapiro's follow-up comments that in which he said that "the timing" of his criticism wasn't ideal, and that "if it has, god forbid, hurt the Meir family or other mourners then I sincerely regret it."

But however innocuous and appropriate the follow-up may have been, to Beinart it was an outrage. On Twitter, Beinart took Shapiro to task, insisting he had "apologized" for making a "mild" and "true" statement.

In his Haaretz article, Beinart insisted that the ambassador "wilted under Israeli attack," and that his comments justify Palestinian loss of faith in "America's ability to help end the occupation." Shapiro "all but apologized to the families of the Israelis hurt in terrorist attacks," Beinart lamented.
 

But Shapiro's follow-up statement — his "apology" (if you believe Beinart's tweet, which misleadingly suggested the ambassador backtracked on the content rather than the timing of the statement); or his "all but apology" (if you believe Beinart's article); or his conditional statement of regret (if you pay attention to Shapiro's actual words) — was not directed at the families of the Israelis "hurt" in terror attacks. It was directed at family and friends of Dafna Meir who were grieving over her murder at the hands of a Palestinian terrorist. It was a comment about the six children whose mother was taken away from them. It was a comment about Meir's husband who, on the day of Shapiro's speech and of his wife's funeral, turned his teary eyes to the sky and begged God to "give us strength…and let us feel your warm embrace."

Beinart clearly manipulated Shapiro's statement, turning an expression of concern for mourners of a young Israeli woman into a statement about Israelis who were merely "hurt." He apparently misled his readers so that he could cast the ambassador as spineless in the face of Israel's prime minister. Readers could be forgiven for concluding instead that Beinart is heartless.

Who could be so angered by an ambassador's minor, diplomatic expression of concern for parents burying a child and for motherless children? What professor of journalism — that is Beinart's job at City University of New York — could believe it is appropriate to substantively alter Shapiro's statement in this way?

Turning Disagreement into Distortion

This isn't the only time Beinart led readers astray. Elsewhere in the column, he claimed that Netanyahu's response to Shapiro was "dishonest."
 
But was it? After the ambassador said Israel at times seems to have "two standards of adherence to rule of law in the West Bank," Netanyahu made clear he disagreed: "Israel enforces the law on Israelis and Palestinians," he said.
 
Beinart's column took aim at the Israeli prime minister for this, insisting that Netanyahu didn't merely disagree with Shapiro, but that he was also choosing words meant to deceive:  

Notice the dishonest language. Yes, Israel enforces "the law" in the West Bank. That law just differs depending on whether you're a Palestinian or a Jew.

How is this dishonest language? Beinart essentially concurred with Netanyahu that Israel enforces its laws. 
 
Indeed, it is Beinart, not Netanyahu, who manipulatively shifts the focus of the conversation. The ambassador and the prime minister were arguing over Israel's "standards of adherence to the rule of law," though they both of course understand that Israeli law applies to Israel and its citizens while military law applies to non-citizens in the military-administered West Bank.
 
Beinart is welcome to agree with Shapiro, and to disagree with Netanyahu's contention that Israel actually does enforce the law equally. But he doesn't. Instead, he wrongly accuses Netanyahu of intentionally replying to Shapiro with a non-sequitur — of "dishonest language." Unless he simply failed to comprehend the meaning of Shapiro's words, it is Beinart's accusation that is dishonest.
 
Likewise, it is dishonest for Beinart to claim that Israeli law depends "on whether you're a Palestinian or a Jew." In truth, Muslim Israelis who find themselves in the West Bank are subject to the same legal system as Jewish Israelis in the same place. Of course Israeli citizens have different rights and responsibilities than non-citizens. Of course non-citizens in the West Bank cannot, for example, vote in Israeli elections.
 
And it is simply convoluted for Beinart to state elsewhere in the piece that "in the West Bank, Israel is only a democracy for Jews." "In the West Bank" is, by definition, not "Israel," a country that is indeed a democracy for all its citizens; Does Beinart think Israel annexed the West Bank? Does he want it to? (One could similarly say that in Prague, America is a democracy only for US expatriates. That would tell us nothing about the state of American democracy.)
 
All this is straightforward and natural, even if it is complicated by unresolved disputes over borders and the rejection of statehood and independence by the past two Palestinian leaders. But Beinart opted for language that makes it all nefarious, perhaps so that he can slur Israel as practicing "apartheid" based on "Jewish supremacy," tropes often leveled by extremists rejecting Israel's right to exist.
 
Netanyahu and Settlements
 
Beinart's smoke and mirrors continues with his discussion of settlement growth under Netanyahu. Responding to Shaprio's statement that he is "perplexed by Israel’s strategy on settlements," Beinart says:

There’s nothing perplexing about them; Benjamin Netanyahu is foreclosing the possibility of a Palestinian state. Between 2009, when he returned to the prime minister’s office, and 2014, population growth in the settlements grew at almost double the rate inside Israel proper, and almost as fast in settlements beyond the separation barrier as in settlements within it.

The clear insinuation is that settlement growth under Netanyahu stands out. It does, but not for the reason Beinart wants readers to believe. Under Netanyahu, settlement growth actually slowed to 23 percent. It was 31 percent during the previous five years, under Netanyahu's immediate predecessors. Yes, Jews in the West Bank have more babies than Jews in Israel. But surely Beinart doesn't believe Netanyahu is responsible for these reproductive differences, does he?
 
Does Accuracy Matter?
 
On Twitter, Beinart was sent a message noting his dishonest rendering of Shapiro's words. His misstatement remained uncorrected eight hours later.

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