Haaretz’s Apartheid Campaign Against Israel

Amidst its financial hardships and declining Israeli readership, the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, has upped its anti-Israel advocacy, engaging in a campaign to promote the apartheid canard about Israel. First, Akiva Eldar falsely alleged that the Israeli government had acknowledged Jews as the minority population residing between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, a claim he was forced to correct. Then Gideon Levy wrote an article bearing the sinister headline, “Survey: Most Israeli Jews support apartheid regime in Israel.” The online versions in English and Hebrew were subsequently changed slightly. And the print edition’s English headline was “Survey: Most Israeli Jews advocate discrimination against Arabs.”  This story was followed the next day by an article that attempted to solidify as fact supposed Jewish support for an apartheid regime, with the headline, “Arab MKs: Israeli Jews’ support of apartheid is not surprising.”

Levy’s article claimed that according to a recent survey the majority of Israelis not only support apartheid, but also hold racist views towards Israeli Arabs and believe that apartheid already exists today in Israel. Predictably, the story spread like wildfire and was quoted in major media outlets such as London’s The Guardian and The Independent, Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Agence-France Presse, and dozens of other sites, blogs and forums.

Pro- and anti-Israel activists have spent the past two days debating the reliability of the survey, its wording and meaning, as well as the accuracy of Gideon Levy’s article publicizing the poll. But most of those involved in the debate did not see the complete, original survey because it was not published anywhere, including in Levy’s article. One notable exception was this in-depth analysis by Avi Mayer which relied upon the original poll. CAMERA/Presspectiva obtained a copy of the original survey, and compared it to Levy’s article and Ha’aretz’s headline to see whether or not they accurately reflected the survey.

Unsurprisingly, Levy’s article was full of omissions and distortions. He apparently ignored the data that did not suit him and emphasized those that were in accord with his own well-known anti-Israel world view. At times, he completely reversed the survey’s findings. The sensational headline represents, at best, Levy’s interpretation of the survey and does not represent objective, factual reporting.

It also appears that the survey itself has its own share of problems – including the lack of clarity and hypothetical nature of the questions, no definition of terms that were used, limited answer choices, no correction for confounding factors, and general lack of explanation about what exactly was meant by the questions.

Yet even on the assumption that the survey was a valid one that was appropriately conducted, the results neither justify Ha’aretz’s bombastic headlines, which seem to be part of a campaign to damage and delegitimize the Jewish state, nor the article itself that cherry-picks or otherwise misrepresents the results in order to reach the predetermined conclusion of the headline.

Levy Distorts

Levy’s striking misrepresentations included the following:

A sweeping 74 percent majority is in favor of separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. A quarter – 24 percent – believe separate roads are “a good situation” and 50 percent believe they are “a necessary situation.”

Levy conveniently omitted the original question and answers from the survey. They were:

17. In the territories, there are some roads where travel is permitted only to Israelis and others where travel is permitted only to Palestinians. Which of the following opinions are closest to your own: A. It is a good situation. B. It is not a good situation, but what can you do? C. It is not a good situation and it needs to be stopped.

24% – it is a good situation.

50% – it is not a good situation, but there is nothing that can be done.

17% – it is not a good situation and it needs to be stopped

If the answers are divided according to those who see it as “good” and those who see it as “not good,” then 67% see it as a bad situation. But Levy did not bother to inform reader that the 50% of those who saw separate roads as “necessary” saw it as an undesirable situation.

When a “minority” becomes a “majority”

Levy devoted much of his fiery wrath to the alleged racism of Israeli Jews toward Israeli Arabs, but here too he distorted the results in order to make his case. Already in the third sentence of the article, he wrote:

A majority of Israeli Jews also explicitly favors discrimination against the state’s Arab citizens…

Levy misled his readers. There are five questions in the survey relating to discrimination against Arabs. Below are the questions and results:

4. In your opinion, is it desirable or undesirable for Jews to receive priority over Arabs in government hiring? a

59% – desirable; 34% undesirable

5. In your opinion, is it desirable to enact a law that prevents Israeli Arabs from voting in the Knesset?
33% – desirable; 59% undesirable

7. Do you agree or disagree with the argument that the state needs to care more for its Jewish citizens than its Arab citizens?
49% – agree; 49% – disagree

8. Would it bother you if in your place of abode, for example in your apartment building, an Arab family also lived there?
42% – it would bother me; 53% – it would not bother me

9. Would it bother you if in one of your children’s classrooms at school, there were also Arab children?
42% – it would bother me; 49% – it would not bother me

Does the overall picture obtained from these results support Levy’s characterization of most Israeli Jews favoring discrimination against Israeli-Arabs? On the contrary. Most people reading these results would perceive just the opposite, that a majority of Israelis do not support discrimination against Arabs.

Moreover, there are confounding factors here that skew the numbers, making the majority a smaller one than might be expected.  For example, the highest percentages of negative answers to the questions about Arab children sharing a class room with their children and Arab families living in the same apartment building came from the group that self-identified as ultra-Orthodox Jews. This community tends to insulate their families from the outside world and would be expected to just as readily answer that they would not want their children sharing a classroom with secular Jews, or that they would want all their neighbors to share their same values and strictures. This artificially confounds the data. Israeli society is certainly not perfect, but it is a far cry from Levy’s misrepresentation that most Israeli Jews openly and explicitly favor discrimination against Arabs.

Levy’s misrepresentation was even worse in the commentary accompanying the main article, where he wrote:

Most Israelis do not want Arab voters for the Knesset, nor Arab neighbors at home, nor Arab students near the bookcases of Jewish texts in Jewish schools that teach Jewish heritage. And our camp will be pure, as pure of Arabs as possible and perhaps even more.

What is amazing about the above paragraph is that Levy chose precisely the three exanples that demonstrate the opposite of the scenario he describes. Unfortunately, readers horrified at the “findings” described by Levy do not possess the tools to see that the author was deceiving them, because the results of the survey were not included.

The issue of Levy’s selective reporting is evident throughout the article, in which he introduced the “negative” data without mentioning the “positive” data.

For example, when he wrote that “a third of the respondents support a law that would prevent Israeli Arabs from voting for the Knesset, ” he did not bother to mention that 59% oppose such a law.

Similarly, when Levy wrote that “36 percent support transferring some of the Arab towns from Israel to the PA, in exchange for keeping some of the West Bank settlements,” he did not bother to note that even more– 48% – oppose it. And when he wrote that “42 percent don’t want to live in the same building with Arabs and 42 percent don’t want their children in the same class with Arab children,” he did not bother to note that even more – 53% and 49% respectively – would not mind.

The headline in Ha’aretz’s print edition trumpeted that “Most Israeli Jews advocate discrimination against Arabs” – a conclusion clearly not borne out by the results of the survey. But this was evidently of no concern to editors who opted for a sensational headline that presented Israel in the worst possible light, no matter how false it was.

Support for Apartheid?

The subject of apartheid – the focus of Ha’aretz’s headline and on which Levy places his primary emphasis, as well as the charge that was disseminated around the world – takes up just 3 out of the 17 questions in the survey and is divided into two separate allegations by Levy:

a) the majority of Israelis support an apartheid regime; and

b) most Israelis think that Israel is already an apartheid state

Levy shares an honest point acknowledged by the pollsters that provides a key to understanding the problematic nature of the above allegations:

The survey conductors say perhaps the term “apartheid” was not clear enough to some interviewees.

Indeed, in the three questions dealing with the concept of apartheid, there is no definition or explanation of what is meant by the term “apartheid.” This raises the question of how the pollsters concluded, on the one hand, that the respondents “support apartheid” even while admitting that the term may not have been clear to the respondents. This logical failure would have raised a red flag to responsible journalists. That it did not give Levy reason to pause is testament to his lack of journalistic ethics.

Levy began the article by stating:

Most of the Jewish public in Israel supports the establishment of an apartheid regime in Israel if it formally annexes the West Bank.

It is an emphatic conclusion, but not what was asked in the survey. The only question addressing annexation of the territories was Question 16:

16. If Israel annexes the territories of Judea and Samaria, in your opinion, is it necessary to give 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote in the Knesset?

While 69% of respondents answered no, the survey’s question addressed a hypothetical scenario that had no bearing on the current situation. Moreover, there were more interviewees who responded that they oppose annexation than those who responded that they support it (48% oppose, 38% support). In other words, almost half the respondents were forced to choose an answer about a hypothetical scenario that they explicitly oppose. Yet Ha’aretz’s online edition turned this finding into a headline without noting that it only described a hypothetical scenario that was already widely rejected by respondents. The online headline was subsequently changed to include the word “would” presumably to account for the hypothetical nature of the result: “Survey: Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel” but the damage wrought by the original headline had already been done, demonstrating the success of Ha’aretz’s apparent campaign to portray Israeli Jews as racists who support apartheid.

What about the claim that the majority of Israelis believe that an apartheid regime already exists in the country? Levy wrote:

Although the territories have not been annexed, most of the Jewish public (58 percent ) already believes Israel practices apartheid against Arabs.

This is what the survey says:

11. Which of the following opinions is closest to yours? A. There is no apartheid at all in Israel. B. There is apartheid in some areas. C. There is apartheid in many areas.

31% – There is no apartheid at all in Israel.

39% – There is apartheid in some areas.

19% – There is apartheid in many areas.

Beyond Levy’s ignoring of the survey’s nuance, with his blanket assertion that Israel “practices apartheid against Arabs,” are the problems inherent in the survey question itself – which Levy similarly ignores. What is “apartheid in some areas” or “apartheid in many areas”? The term “apartheid,” contrary to its superficial use in the survey, and contrary to the concept of “discrimination” has a very clear and precise meaning: According to the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it refers to “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” (See more at “Israeli Apartheid Week“)

There is no such thing as “some” apartheid. There is either apartheid or no apartheid. Apartheid is not simply discrimination – the sort that exists in almost every country around the world including Israel – which is precisely why the term was created specifically to describe South Africa’s regime.

Anyone who understands the meaning of the word “apartheid” cannot reliably answer such an illogical question that seeks to reveal whether Israel practices apartheid “in some areas” or “in many areas.” Of even greater concern is the impact of Levy’s assertion “that 58% of Israeli citizens support apartheid” on those readers in London, New York, or Berlin who actually know what real apartheid is.

Despite the fact, that by any parameter, there is no connection between any Israeli policy and the South African apartheid regime, international activists are currently attempting to brand Israel with this smear in order to convince good and caring people that Israel is a second South Africa and should be treated as such – with boycott, divestment and sanctions. The Ha’aretz articles of the last few days indicate that the Israeli paper, too, seeks to demonize Israel as apartheid.

The fact that the survey question did not define “apartheid” or explain to respondents the difference between “apartheid” and “discrimination,” and the fact that the pollsters admitted that the term was not clear to all respondents suggests that respondents took the term “apartheid” to mean “discrimination” and understood it as simply a synonym for the latter. Moreover, the absurd response options of apartheid in “some” areas or in “many” areas also would suggest that the poll writers, intentionally or not, misled respondents into thinking that “apartheid” is interchangeable with “discrimination.” This is a plausible interpretation of the data that Levy chose to ignore.

It is difficult to overestimate the damage done to Israel by Ha’aretz’s sensational headlines and reporting. Instead of engaging in serious and balanced social criticism based on the findings of the survey, Ha’aretz chose instead to export Gideon Levy’s hysteria and obsession in the form of distorted headlines and an inaccurate story.

Ha’aretz’s campaign is transparent. Last week the paper falsely reported that the Israeli government admits to apartheid, this week it wrongly reported that the Israelis themselves admit to apartheid. Foreign journalists, ambassadors, diplomats, and policymakers around the world should take note. While Ha’aretz might have been perceived as a serious and reliable inside source of news about Israel, it is becoming increasingly clear that it nothing more than a tool for anti-Israel activists.

For the Hebrew version of this article, please visit Presspectiva.

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