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 virulence.
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 Hebron."
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.