Israel, through the Washington Post darkly

Some recent Washington Post Arab-Israeli coverage may say more about the newspaper’s views of Israel and Israelis than it does about events themselves. For example:

* According to John Ward Anderson, a former Post co-bureau chief in Jerusalem, the Jewish state suffers from a guilt complex. Reviewing the Academy Award-nominated animated film “Waltz With Bashir” (“Brilliant ‘Bashir’ Brings A Dark Memory to Light,” January 23), Anderson declares that “in contrast to the death and suffering of those at Sabra and Shatila, of course, the troubled consciences of [director Ari] Folman and his friends would be banal — if they weren’t a mirror for an entire nation’s guilt complex [emphasis added].”

Of the 1982 massacre in Beirut, Anderson recalls that “Christian Phalangists, avenging the assassination of Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel, committed the wholesale executions of Palestinian men, women and children (estimates of the death toll range from a few hundred to several thousand).” He continues that “Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s defense minister, was forced to resign; the Israeli Defense Forces, which controlled the area and allowed the Phalangists in, knew what was going on and, for two days, did nothing to stop it.”

Sharon resigned after Israel’s Kahan Commission investigated and found him indirectly responsible “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge.” Two other senior Israeli officials also were cited for failing to properly anticipate the violence. But the commission found no direct Israeli responsibility for the killings, and explicitly noted that those in the area “did not form the impression, from what they saw and heard, that a massacre of hundreds of people was taking place.”

Unlike in Arab countries, where protests were few, approximately 300,000 Israelis (nearly a tenth of the Jewish population then) demonstrated against the massacres. “An entire nation’s guilt complex” based on knowing complicity with mass murder in progress is a figment of Anderson’s imagination.

* Anderson isn’t the only Post writer to condemn Israel via pop psychology. Analyzing President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, Post columnist David Ignatius (“Hard Truths at the Ooutset,” January 21) claims that the new chief executive “challenged the boasters and the ranters of the Middle East — those who would rather destroy lives than lose face — to a new test: ‘Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.’ That goes to the heart of the political sickness in the Middle East today, afflicting Arabs and Israelis alike [emphasis added].”

This equivalence is false. The “destructive sickness” that Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and even elements of the “moderate” Palestinian Authority exhibit in their boasts and rants has no counterpart among Israeli leaders — who have withdrawn from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and offered to negotiate doing so from much of the West Bank — and virtually none among the Israeli public.

* Reviewer Steven Simon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, calls former Post and New York Times foreign correspondent Patrick Tyler’s new book, A World of Trouble; The White and the Middle East — From the Cold War to the War on Terror, “engaging but eccentric” (“Shifting Sands: Is there any consistency in U.S. policy toward the Middle East?” Post “Book World,” February 1). But the examples Simon gives suggest “eccentric” is far too kind.

“Key to Tyler’s account,” the review says, is “the idea that Israel has led the United States into successive calamities …. In his retelling of the 1967 war, he portrays the Israeli military as opportunistically plotting a war of conquest, as though Egypt’s threatening rhetoric and its closure of the Tiran Strait to Israeli shipping were merely theater.” Simon also rebuts Tyler’s depiction of “Soviet behavior in the run-up to the war as sober and constructive ….”

But the reviewer fails to stress the delusional nature of Tyler’s view. It was not just Egyptian rhetoric and the closure of the straits that led to the Six-Day War. Cairo also expelled U.N. peace keepers from the Sinai Peninsula and mobilized more than 80,000 men and nearly 1,000 tanks on Israel’s border. Jordan and Syria activated tens of thousands of more troops immediately to Israel’s north and east. Arab leaders declared that Israel was about to be eliminated. Western diplomacy proved feckless. All this, not Israeli opportunism, made war inevitable.

“Tyler’s chapter on the 1973 war also seems off-kilter,” Simon observes. “Here the villain is Henry Kissinger, whose allegedly strong sense of Jewish identity and emotional commitment to Zionism supposedly led him to press for a resupply of Israeli forces. This in turn empowered Israel to launch new wars of conquest, according to Tyler, such as the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.” Tyler “concludes that Kissinger ‘found it impossible to advocate a course in the Middle East that ran counter to the prevailing consensus of Israeli’s leaders, even to the detriment of U.S. national interest.'”

But, Simon points out, “Kissinger’s objectives … were to ensure that the Soviet-backed combatants would be clearly defeated — but not destroyed — by America’s ally and to get a modicum of leverage over Israel after the shooting stopped. Kissinger was a consummate realist and highly unlikely to let sentiment undermine strategy.” In any case, “Kissinger’s attitude toward his Jewish heritage was complicated and apparently untouched by the Zionist dream.” So Tyler’s charge that Kissinger couldn’t buck Israel “goes well beyond an accusation of dual loyalty.” Toward what, kook fantasies of “international Zionism” controlling America?

* Post Jerusalem bureau chief Griff Witte damages an otherwise informative preview of Israel’s February 10 election for parliament and prime minister (“Israel’s Key Election Issue: Did War End Too Soon? February 2) by giving the last word to an unrepresentative and incendiary source. Witte quotes Hanaa Mahamid, an Israeli Arab university student, to summarize the views of “several dozen backers of one group that did oppose the war [against Hamas in the Gaza Strip] — the small, leftist party Hadash.” (Hadash is not a “leftist party” but a Marxist-oriented one on the far left, beyond center-left Labor and leftist Meretz.) Mahamid says her associates see “no significant differences among the major candidates for leadership in Israel.” They are “two faces of the same coin …. All of them are war criminals [emphasis added].”

Anderson’s Israelis suffer a national guilt complex. Ignatius’ Israelis share a political sickness with their Arab neighbors. Tyler’s Israel leads the United States into repeated disasters. And Witte’s Israeli Arab student closes an election preview echoing the international “war crimes” campaign meant to hobble the Jewish state’s ability to defend itself.

Not a pretty picture. Not an accurate portrayal. But these are images that recur too often in Washington Post coverage of Israel.

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