In a period of deep national trauma that included assassination of its prime
minister, unprecedented terrorism on the streets of its cities, and wrenching
internal debate over issues of national survival, the Israeli public went to
the polls in orderly form and voted for a new government. Without incident,
power was transferred to a new leadership in accordance with the popular will.
But the media didn't like it.
From veteran Israel-bashers like CNN's Crossfire host
Robert Novak to cartoonists nationwide to the New York Times'
Serge Schmemann and Tom Friedman, the
protest was the same the citizens of Israel had given in to fear,
let the world down and opted for the "anti-peace party."
Novak's display of naked hostility surpassed in ugliness even the norms of
that unruly talk show. Interrogating former Israeli ambassador Zalman Shoval,
Novak said, "...is it fair, Ambassador Shoval, that people all around the
world watching CNN and hearing this news are going to be terribly depressed?
...Do you think they're wrong in being depressed to see the anti-peace party
win in Israel?"
Warming to his subject, Novak singled out Israel's Jewish voters: "I'll
tell you who did the nose thumbing. It was the majority of Jews in Israel who
said, `The hell with you, United States. We don't care for your billions of
dollars. We'll pick our own prime minister.' Maybe they want to see how they get
along without our billions, huh?"
Those uppity Jews, daring to choose their own government!
CNN's news coverage was the most comprehensive in
the United States,
providing viewers the benefit of nearly continuous reporting on the voting
process. Visiting anchorwoman Christiane Amanpour began the election story in
good humor but grew noticeably grimmer as the results became clear, describing
Benjamin Netanyahu again and again as having "played on people's fears"
and having made "hardline pledges." Guests - including a
preponderance of Americans, Israelis and Arabs critical of the incoming
government, affirmed the gloomy view that peace had been subverted. CNN's Brent
Sadler called the new prime minister a swaggerer.
Crude cartoons blossomed in newspapers, with a proliferation of mutilated
doves and images of Hamas and Yigal Amir rejoicing. None, however, equaled the
monstrous Herblock drawing in the
Washington Post. A skull-faced suicide bomber raised a blood-drenched
fist in joint celebration with an equally hideous figure dripping blood and
holding a newspaper headlined: "Hard-line resurgence in Israel." The
caption to this gore read, "It looks like we won!" If a cartoon is
meant to crystallize a truth, this one is a permanent memorial to journalistic
The New York Times' Serge Schmemann appeared no less irritated by
the election. He repeatedly called Prime Minister elect Benjamin Netanyahu "vicious"
and "ruthless." He leveled blame at the Peres camp, the Israeli media
and the voting public for their part in the governmental change of which he
disapproved. A June 2nd news report blamed the Israeli media that had "focused
largely, and at times obsessively, on Jewish security - on charges that Mr.
Arafat was not extraditing terrorists, on disputes over whether he had actually
dropped calls for Israel's destruction from the PLO covenant."
Trivial matters in the view of Schmemann who has in his own writing for
America's newspaper of record virtually ignored PLO violations of Oslo. Even
here his reference to "charges" about Arafat's failure to extradite
terrorists is a deception. It is a
fact - not a charge - that no extraditions have taken place, despite
eighteen separate requests submitted to the PA. This is not arcane information
- it bears vitally on Arafat's dereliction in meeting central commitments to
prevent violence by his own side against Israelis.
Likewise, Schmemann knows there are legitimate questions about Palestinian
failure to revoke the PLO charter. The issue is crucial to Israelis who have
seen Arafat continue since the Oslo signings to incite his own people precisely
along the lines spelled out in that charter. And Jews have died in unprecedented
numbers because of Arafat's exhortations and policies. Without revocation of
the charter's call to destroy Israel, all the other Palestinian violations of
Oslo loom even more menacing for Israelis.
Schmemann waves away such violations: "Israel was at least as culpable
by ignoring its contractual obligations to release female prisoners, to make a
transit road from Gaza to the West Bank, or to withdraw the military from
Thus does he equate Palestinian failure to honor its foremost commitment
under Oslo, to foreswear and prevent terrorism against Jews, to Jewish failure
to build a road, release female prisoners (after releasing thousands of
prisoners, Israeli president Ezer Weizman balked at the release of inmates
convicted of terrorist killings), and withdraw from Hebron. (In the wake of
five terror attacks in nine days, Israel froze all implementation of the
agreements until the terrorist perpetrators were rounded up. Key leaders remain
at large, primarily due to Arafat's refusal to arrest them.) Schmemann's
reports evince in particularly insidious form the media penchant to forgive the
Arabs everything and to forgive Israel nothing.
A companion soul of Schmemann's on the
Times op-ed page, Tom Friedman campaigned ardently for the Peres
government and he took the voters' decision with his familiar blend of clichéd
analysis and impudent moralizing. Rabin assassin Yigal Amir and suicide bombers
had won, he wrote, in the now-hackneyed formulation of media critics of the
election. In other words: evil had won.
This is nonsense. Just prior to the assassination, Netanyahu led Rabin in
opinion polls. The revulsion at Amir's murderous act and sympathy for the Labor
government sent polls soaring in Labor's favor. That is why the Labor
government scheduled early elections. Amir's action came close to defeating the
opposition. Suicide bombers only won if it can be argued their murderous forays
of recent years have in these election results brought them closer to
realization of their aim of annihilating Israel. Would Friedman argue that?
What makes Friedman's analysis and that of so many other media commentators
sterile and ultimately useless to the public is its contempt for the facts and,
in this instance, its contempt for the people of Israel.