Holger Jensen, international editor of the Denver Rocky Mountain News (see update), has repeatedly leveled harsh charges at Israel in his thrice-weekly, syndicated column on foreign affairs, falsely accusing that nation of “methodically [altering] the demographics and geography of Jerusalem,” stealing “Jordanian water from the Sea of Galilee and Palestinian water from under the West Bank,” and living on Palestinian “land it took to create a Jewish nation.”
A recent column (Jan 4, 2001 – “It’s learn to live together or keep on fighting forever”) continues this pattern, hurling a series of false accusations, such as that:
... 90 percent of Israel is held under restrictive covenants barring non-Jews, even those with Israeli citizenship, from owning the land or earning a living on it. Such covenants are increasing, rather than decreasing, illustrating the profoundly different approaches to basic questions of civil and human rights as practiced in the United States and Israel.
Long a staple of Arab propaganda, Jensen’s charge is quite simply a canard. In fact, around 80 percent of the land in Israel is owned by the state through the Israel Land Authority. Neither Arab Israelis nor Jewish Israelis can buy this land, but it is leased on an equal basis to Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. Indeed, half the land used by Israeli Arab farmers is leased from the Israeli government. In addition there are affirmative action programs under which some Arab citizens pay much lower lease rates than do Jewish citizens. Claiming discrimination, a Jewish citizen sued the government to get the same rates, but the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the practice, ruling that the positive discrimination in favor of Arab citizens was justified as affirmative action (Avitan v. Israel Land Administration, HC 528/88). Private land in Israel is freely available for sale to anyone, Arab or Jew.
Notably, Jensen ignores the fact that Arab states, including Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, prohibit land sales to non-Arabs, and that the PA enforces a death penalty for the “crime” of selling land to a Jew.
Jensen also claims that:
Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel do not have equal rights with regard to military service, social benefits, Israeli tax rates or Israeli government expenditures in Arab communities within Israel. As a result, 42 percent of Israel’s 1 million Arab citizens live below the poverty line.
In fact, unlike most Jewish citizens of Israel, Muslim and Christian citizens are not subject to the compulsory draft for military service (by their own choice the Druse and Circassian communities are subject to the draft). Not being compelled to serve a three year hitch in the army, followed by decades of reserve duty, is hardly discrimination or a lack of equal rights – indeed, many would view it as a benefit. However, Muslim and Christian citizens are free to volunteer for the army, and the number serving has been increasing in recent years. (Jerusalem Report, August 12, 1993) In addition, while Bedouins are not drafted, there is a tradition of joining the IDF in the Bedouin community, and many have served with distinction.
Regarding alleged anti-Arab discrimination in tax rates and Israeli government expenditures, the opposite is true. According to a recent article in one of the major Israeli newspapers, Arab-run municipalities make virtually no effort to collect taxes and are bailed out each year by the national government. As a result, Arab town councils receive a disproportionate share of government grants, and Arab citizens pay virtually no property taxes:
Arab town councils – which include 10.4% of Israel’s total population – receive 24.3% of the total balance grants which are given to local councils throughout Israel....
Does there exist one Jewish city – like for example [the Arab communities of] Umm el-Fahum – where 72.9% of the residents ('99 statistics) do not pay property taxes, or like Tamara – where the number is 73.9%, or like Elbin – where the number is 84.9%? (Maariv, October 13, 2000)
Finally, as for poverty, the 42 percent Arab poverty rate claimed by Mr. Jensen is from a National Insurance Institute report that public policy organizations and leading Israeli newspapers have roundly criticized as overstating the poverty rate – see, for example, Ha’aretz, “National Insurance Institute admits poverty report may not give full picture” (Dec 29, 2000), Globes, “National Insurance Institute poverty report is wrong; data biased upwards” (Dec 26, 2000), and Globes, “Rise in Arab population’s poverty figures said statistical quirk,” (Dec 20, 2000). (Ha’aretz can be accessed at http://www.haaretzdaily.com and Globes can be accessed at www.globes.co.il.)
In addition, it should also be pointed out that Israel defines poverty as an income level that is a certain percentage of the median income, not, as the US does, in terms of the actual cost of a market basket of goods and services such as food, shelter, etc. Using the Israeli definition, a person could increase his income in real terms (ie, faster than the cost of living) and still descend into official “poverty,” if enough of his fellow citizens move ahead even faster, thereby sufficiently boosting the median income. The differing definitions makes reporting on Israeli poverty statistics problematic, since readers will always make an implicit comparison to US poverty rates and trends.
Despite this factor, and the poverty report’s imprecision, there is no doubt that the Arab poverty level in Israel exceeds the Jewish poverty level – but, as is well understood in the social sciences, this difference by itself does not in any way prove discrimination. To use poverty rates as a measure of discrimination one must first compare demographically similar populations. The Arab population in Israel is much younger than the Jewish population, and 20.9 percent of Arab households have six or more children, as compared to just 8.5 percent of Jewish households. Young families with large numbers of young children will never have the standard of living enjoyed by older families with few if any young children, or yuppie couples with two wage-earners and one child.
As it happens, however, there is an Israeli Jewish group that is almost demographically identical to Israeli Arabs – in family size, age, educational level, number of parents working outside of the home, military service, etc. These are the ultra-Orthodox Jews, and their poverty rates equal or exceed that of Israeli Arabs. Thus in Bene Beraq, a large ultra- Orthodox city near Tel-Aviv, 33.5 percent of families and 41.9 percent of individuals are below the official poverty level. (Tel-Aviv Statistical Yearbook, 1998, page 340) That is, in the Jewish “theocracy” alleged by Jensen, the most observant Jews have the same poverty rates as the Arabs. Some discrimination. Some theocracy.
Jensen also criticizes Israel’s Law of Return, which allows Jews emigrating to Israel to rapidly acquire citizenship, terming it “the most glaring example of Israeli discrimination.”
As Jensen puts it,
Israeli citizenship is not available to Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948, nor to their descendants. But a Jew born in Brooklyn has Israeli citizenship for the asking, along with the right to kick a Palestinian off his land and take up residence in a West Bank settlement.
Mr. Jensen is once again guilty of repeating Arab propaganda. The Law of Return is not peculiarly Israeli. Similar laws have been in effect in such democracies as Mexico, Venezuela, Greece, Poland, Germany, Italy, and Denmark. Furthermore, such laws are expressly permitted by, for example, the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965). According to Article 1(3), nations are permitted to favor certain groups for citizenship provided there is no discrimination against any particular group. Furthermore, Article 1(4) provides for “affirmative action.” That is, a state may employ a preference in granting citizenship to undo the effects of prior discrimination. In the case of Israel such prior episodes of discrimination are clear: the British decision in 1939, for example, to bar Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine, thereby consigning millions of Jews to deaths in the crematoria of Europe. To an exceedingly small degree, the Law of Return mitigates this wrong.
Mr. Jensen’s reference to a “Jew born in Brooklyn” (as opposed to, say, a Jew born in Denver) is the sort of crude and vulgar statement one might expect from a Pat Buchanan or the anti-Semitic, Holocaust-deniers of the Liberty Lobby. That Mr. Jensen would descend to this level is troubling, but perhaps not so surprising.
Not surprising because Holger Jensen’s columns, while textbook cases of anti-Israel bias, are benign compared to the polite but very revealing responses he e-mails to his critics. In one sent to those who criticized his January 4th effort, Jensen insists that his columns on the Middle East are fair and not anti-Israel – “I research my columns very well.” Specifically “regarding Israel’s treatment of the Arabs,” Jensen explained that:
... there are two streams of research ... one the Israeli version and another more balanced version conducted by such groups as Jews for Palestinian Justice, Peace Now, the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, etc. etc.
The sources that Jensen lauds as “balanced” speak volumes for his own lack of balance and judgement. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, for example, regularly describes American supporters of Israel with such words as “cancer,” “alien intrusion,” “Israel-firsters,” “subversion,” and “perversion.” It has referred to the State Department and Congress as “Israeli-occupied territory.” It has alleged that Israel’s “friends in the US government are working secretly for Israeli interests ... against the interests of the US,” and that some “governmental and congressional personalities [are] so obsessed with helping Israel that they are ready to betray their colleagues, their employers and even their country.”
The Washington Report has also carried ads for Roger Garaudy’s notorious book The Founding Myths of Israeli Policy, which denies the Holocaust. In 1998 a French court convicted Garaudy of “challenging crimes against humanity,” of “racial libel,” and of questioning “the Nazi policy of exterminating the Jews,” concluding that in the book:
Garaudy “embarked on a virulent and systematic questioning of crimes against humanity against the Jewish community.” (Agence France Presse, November 4, 1998)
But the magazine recommended by Holger Jensen doesn’t just carry ads for books questioning the Holocaust, it also publishes articles questioning the Holocaust. The May/June 1998 issue, for example, featured an article claiming that:
... new evidence, if true, would cut in half the Zionists’ original claim that six million died under the Nazi regime. It would also raise the questions (sic) of, “Why did the Zionists grossly exaggerate the original numbers of Jewish victims?”
Not surprisingly, the Washington Report’s senior staff have also associated themselves with the previously-mentioned Liberty Lobby, the nation’s leading Holocaust deniers. In 1987 both the Report’s publisher, Andrew Killgore, and its editor, Richard Curtiss, spoke at the Liberty Lobby’s Board of Policy Convention. Prior to this, Killgore visited the offices of the Liberty Lobby to be interviewed by its weekly newspaper, The Spotlight (“Expert on Mideast Tells Inside Story, Dec. 17, 1984). Killgore and Curtiss, both retired Foreign Service officials who served in the Arab world, still lead the magazine.
This is the Washington Report that Holger Jensen reads and considers “balanced.”
To further buttress his charges of Israeli mendacity, Jensen also cites the anti-Israel writings of one Israel Shamir, whom he describes as:
... one of the best known and most respected Russian Israeli writers and journalists. He wrote for Haaretz, BBC, Pravda and translated Agnon, Joyce and Homer into Russian. He lives in Tel Aviv and writes a weekly column in the Vesti, the biggest Russian-language paper in Israel.
What exactly Holger Jensen respects is a question to ponder, for the Israel Shamir that he praises as “most respected” is a fringe character who apparently once tried to enter into a business arrangement for the sale of Nazi memorabilia with the notorious British Holocaust denier David Irving. Irving’s web site includes his very curious correspondence with Shamir, and there is independent confirmation that Shamir was indeed involved in such schemes. (London Times, September 1, 1998; Evening News (Edinburgh), September 1, 1998)
If that were not enough, Shamir, who usually adopts a left wing persona for his harangues against Israel, has also written for extreme right-wing periodicals in Russia under the name Robert David, even denouncing Andre Sakharov as a “Zionist agent.” Thus, according to the late Israeli Sovietologist Mikhail Agursky, a right wing Russian journal known as Politika featured an article:
.. written by one Robert David denouncing [Andre] Sakharov. The article is full of allegations that Sakharov was a harmful Zionist agent. Robert David is presented as an Israeli. His identity is well known. As Israel Shamir (Shmerling), he came to Israel in the late 1960s from Novosibirsk and soon became an extreme leftist.
.. Shamir now lives in Moscow under the name Robert David; and, under his own name, he now loses no opportunity to claim that Zionists are the worst enemy of the Russian people, and to call Russian liberals Zionist agents. He equates Zionism with fascism and racism. He glorified Saddam Hussein and indirectly calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.
.. Shamir is not only in open friendly relations with Iraq and Arab terrorist organizations, but also actively participates in the campaign to delegitimize Israel. (Jerusalem Post, August 15, 1991)
Denouncing Andre Sakharov as a Zionist agent was just the beginning for Robert David. Later he also contributed to the extreme right-wing Russian weekly Dyen (spelled “Djim” in the article cited below), whose publisher Alexander Prokhanov states openly that Jews are the cause of Russia’s misery. Warning that “we will not sit tight with our arms folded idly if the Jews continue to pressure Russian nationalists,” Prokhanov threatened to “answer them with a fist.” Denying that he wanted to destroy the Jews, Prokhanov pointed to Jewish friends and Jewish contributors to his weekly, naming none other than Robert David. (Inter Press Service, August 14, 1992)
After Dyen, which means “today,” was closed down in October 1993 for supporting the far-right coup attempt against President Boris Yeltsin, Prokhanov reopened the paper under the name Zavtra, which means “tomorrow.” (See, for example, “The New Birth of a Fascist Newspaper,” Moscow News, December 3, 1993)
Under the leadership of Prokhanov, Zavtra has continued to push an extreme and anti-Semitic agenda. In August, for example, Prokhanov met with David Duke, who was in Russia to promote his book Ultimate Supremacism: An Examination of the Jewish Question. (Agence France Presse, Dec 17, 2000)
With good reason, Zavtra has been characterized by Russian journalists as the most anti-Semitic newspaper in Russia. Notwithstanding this, Israel Shamir continues to write for the weekly.
With such a history, it is no surprise that the Shamir article praised by Holger Jensen is full of wild and false allegations. Shamir, for example, writes “What did we not like about the German Nazis? Their racism? Our racism is not less wide-spread and poisonous.” He charges that:
Our Jewish army murders civilians, demolishes houses, starves millions and imposes the siege on the Palestinian villages. Our crimes exceeded the Russian crimes committed in Chechnya and Afghanistan, the American crimes in Vietnam and Serb crimes in Bosnia.
This Holger Jensen finds illuminating?
Shamir also charges that in Israel there are “no Gentiles [Arabs] in the Supreme Court,” which must have come as a shock to Judge Abd el-Rahman Zouabi of Nazareth, who recently finished a one year term as a Justice on Israel’s Supreme Court. Also unmentioned by Shamir and Jensen are Israel’s Arab diplomats – Reda Mansour, for example, was recently named Israel’s Ambassador to Ecuador, IDF Col. Muniv Bader was appointed Israeli Military Attache in Brazil, Walid Mansour was named Consul-General in Bombay, Ali Yehia was named Ambassador to Finland, and Mohammed Masarwa was Consul-General in Atlanta. In addition, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister is also an Arab, Nawaf Massalha, who was formerly Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. Needless to say, there is not a single Jew in a similar position in any Arab country.
But, like Jensen, Israel Shamir is obviously not one to let mere facts get in the way of a good story.
Finally, it should be noted that, contrary to Jensen’s claim, Shamir is not a columnist for the Russian-language Israeli newspaper Vesti.
As for the other sources cited by Jensen, there does not seem to be any organization named “Jews for Palestinian Justice.” And Peace Now, which sometimes tends, like Jensen, to blame Israel first, would certainly be troubled by many of his allegations, and could not be happy at being lumped together with extremists like Israel Shamir/Robert David and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Holger Jensen’s endorsement of Israel Shamir and the Washington Report, his parroting of any anti-Israel canard that comes his way, and his refusal to correct the most basic and obvious errors leads to the obvious question: Would any reader aware of all this ever again believe anything Holger Jensen has to say?
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Copyright © 2001 by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. All rights reserved. This column may be reprinted without prior permission.