New York Magazine’s Cognitive Dissonance on Israel Solved By Maligning Netanyahu

When innuendo and tired clichés substitute for facts in a discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you get the sort of vitriolic attack on Israel that New York Magazine published on September 26, 2011. In the opinion piece, titled “The Tsuris,” John Heilemann fixates on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “a partner unwilling” to make peace and holds him responsible for besmirching President Barack Obama’s image in the American Jewish community. Surely, one would expect the Israeli Prime Minister’s calls for negotiations without preconditions and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to bypass negotiations by going to the UN to give the author pause. But Heilemann resolves the cognitive dissonance between his preconceived notions and self-evident reality by resorting to stereotypes and falsehoods to reinforce his view of an “unwilling” Israel undermining the Obama administration’s efforts to bring along an “unable” Palestinian leadership.
The piece is conveniently synchronized with several recent New York Times columns and statements (like former President Bill Clinton’s) faulting Netanyahu for failing to engage with the Palestinians. Heilemann chides Netanyahu for making demands
maximal by any measure: recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for negotiations, a refusal to talk if Hamas is part of the Palestinian side, an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and absolutely no right of return for Palestinian refugees.
The nerve. The demands Heilemann labels as maximal have been the baseline positions of all Israeli governments and are supported by the United States Congress, the American Jewish community and the American public at large.
One wonders, does Heilemann know that it is the official policy of the United States, the EU, as well as Israel, to refuse to talk to Hamas until it recognizes the right of Israel to exist, renounces terrorism and agrees to honor existing agreements?
He falsely charges that Israel has set acceptance of these demands as preconditions for negotiations. In fact, Netanyahu has repeatedly stated on American television, including his widely publicized address to the U.S. Congress, that he has set no preconditions to talking with Abbas. It is Abbas who insists that Israel meet specific demands before he will sit down and talk. Somehow, Heilemann missed this, writing that President “Obama – along with countless Israelis, members of the Jewish diaspora, and friends of Israel around the world—seems to grasp these realities and this choice more readily than Netanyahu does.”
Character assassination is a feature of the piece. Unnamed Obama administration “officials” denigrate Netanyahu’s personal character. One “administration” source states, “The collective view here is that he is a small-minded, fairly craven politician… And one who simply isn’t serious about making peace.”

But personal attacks aside, the more fundamental flaw is Heilemann’s evident lack of familiarity with the conflict. For example, he contends that “international scorn” for the “continued occupation of (and expansion of settlements within) the Palestinian territories” is the reason that Palestinian President Abbas “could credibly claim that 126 of the 193 U.N. member states support his statehood initiative.” Is Heilemann unaware that reflexive UN votes against Israel in the General Assembly are guaranteed by an anti-Israel majority consisting of 57 Muslim states, most of whom do not accept Israel, and an equal number of anti-democratic, anti-Western regimes aligned with them?

The drop in support for Obama in the Jewish community bothers Heilemann. Groping for an explanation, he delves into old canards about Jewish money and influence. Discussion of Jewish money occupies much of the piece and leads to odd statements. Heilemann sees “Wall Street financiers” as an important component of “Jewish voters” offering the gratuitous quip that “to be sure, the overlap between those groups isn’t trivial.” Actually, it is. The percent of Jewish voters in the U.S. who are Wall Street financiers is vanishingly small and of no consequence to support for Israel within the Jewish community.

But Heilemann won’t let facts or a balanced perspective get in the way of a good story. Like Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times, Heilemann clings to a conspiratorial narrative that American Jewish support for Israel has been distorted by a narrative “peddled mainly by right-wing Likudophiles” with deep pockets. Polling of American Jews refutes this fringe view. Although 76 percent of American Jews in a recent poll defined themselves as liberal or moderate and 74 percent voted for Obama, 90 percent support the requirement that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state – one of those “maximalist” demands according to Heilemann. Less than 1 in 4 thinks Israel should negotiate with Hamas. Heilemann, like Kristof, falsely represents his own personal views as reflecting mainstream Jewish opinion, but it is he and Kristof whose views are in the minority.
Heilemann’s discussion of events in the Middle East is woefully deficient in context. He states, “Again and again, when Israel has been embroiled in international dustups—over its attack last year on a flotilla filled with activists headed from Turkey to Gaza, the United States had Israel’s back.” In fact, as the UN just confirmed in its official investigation of the Gaza flotilla incident in 2010, the Israeli blockade is legal and Israel has an obligation to stop any ship attempting to breach the blockade.
He calls former President Bush’s support for Israel “uncritical to the point of blindness” ignoring the fact that the President was the first to explicitly call for a Palestinian state.
In arguing for a “tough love” approach towards Israel, Heilemann’s argument rest upon outmoded assumptions. He states,
In attempting to apply tough love to Israel, Obama is trying to make a stalwart ally see that undertaking the painful and risky compromises necessary for peace with the Palestinians is the only way to preserve the Zionist dream which is to say a future as a state both Jewish and democratic.
It is breathtaking condescension to suggest that the Israelis do not recognize the need for compromises. Every Israeli leader in the past 20 years has acknowledged the need for painful compromises. Has Heilemann paid any attention to anything they have said?
In the same vein, Heilemann does not acknowledge the ten-month freeze in settlement activity in the West Bank implemented by Netanyahu, writing simply that Netanyahu “resisted Obama’s call for a freeze.”

Heilemann’s historical knowledge is as deficient as his awareness of current events. He claims that the settlements are deemed illegal by the United States since President Nixon. This is false, as the New York Times reported on Feb. 3, 1981 President Reagan stated, “As to the West Bank, I believe the settlements there — I disagreed when the previous administration referred to them as illegal, they’re not illegal.” President Reagan’s statement remains policy today, as evidenced on January 25, 2011 when the current administration vetoed a proposed UN Security Council Resolution that would have designated the settlements illegal.

This pervasive blindness to current events and historical facts allows him to claim that
three things have stayed constant: on the Palestinian side, a partner unable to deliver; on the Israeli side, a partner unwilling to; and in the Israeli prime minister’s office, a man with whom Obama’s relationship started off scratchy and went downhill from there.
It is Mahmoud Abbas who has stubbornly resisted entering into negotiations. After Netanyahu implemented a freeze of all construction in the West Bank, Abbas refused to negotiate for nine months. Finally in the tenth month, when the freeze was coming to an end, he spoke up, adding new demands. Along with demanding a renewal of the freeze, he insisted that Israel agree to the 1967 lines as the baseline for the borders of a Palestinian state. Abbas outright rejected any possibility of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Heilemann ignores Abbas’s obstinance.
So unbalanced are Heilemann’s views that he reserves his harshest name-calling for Israeli politicians aligned with Netanyahu. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is called “proto-fascistic.” Netanyahu is called the “nutty” Prime Minister and former New York mayor Ed Koch, he identifies as one of Israel’s “loopiest” American supporters. Of the Palestinian Authority officials who this past year alone kicked off several celebrations of terroristDalal Mugrabi, the murderer of 38 Israelis, many of them children, he simply labels as “Israel-accepting.”
Nothing is required of the Palestinians; everything is demanded of the Israelis. He writes,
It must satisfy Palestinian national aspirations, facilitate efforts to contain Iran, alleviate the international opprobrium directed at it, and reap the enormous security and economic benefits of ending the conflict by taking up the task of the creation of a viable Palestinian state—one based, yes, on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon land swaps, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
Heilemann’s piece is instructive, but not in the way he intends it to be. It is a window into a somnolent mindset that has predetermined Israeli guilt and remains unmoved by actual events and facts.

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