On Yom Ha’Atzmaut, The New Yorker posted a piece by Bernard Avishai entitled, “Israel’s Independence Day, and Its Future.” It appeared in a blog called “News Desk” which claims it is “Reporting the latest on Washington and the world.”
Avishai’s piece actually contains no news. Instead, it is replete with wild allegations and disinformation. But mostly, it is full of malice. It drips with loathing of Israel. The overall tone is so hate-filled that is hard to imagine why The New Yorker would find it suitable to publish.
Falsehoods and Misrepresentations
The article claims that “Israelis who seek a stable democracy […] are feeling betrayed” by the suspension of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the wake of the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement. To support this allegation, Avishai cites a column written by Gideon Levy in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. By no means does this fringe columnist represent the majority or even a significant segment of Israelis. In fact, a recent poll shows nearly 70 per cent of Israelis supported the decision to halt peace negotiations. Avishai’s implication, then, must be that only 30 per cent of Israelis seek a stable democracy.
The author further states that those who support a pause in the talks – who apparently don’t wish to continue to beat their heads against the wall of Palestinian intransigence – “take occupation for granted.” This is a false choice. Avishai does not consider that they might simply think the time is not right or that Palestinian leadership is not sincerely interested in peace. The truth is that Mahmoud Abbas has had numerous opportunities to make peace with successive Israeli leaders and has declined to do so.
While admitting that “Israel proper remains democratic in essential respects,” Avishai argues that the “forces of settlement” are chipping away at Israel’s democracy. He cites as an example that “the Minister of Education subverted the authority of the Council on Higher Education to elevate a college in the West Bank settlement of Ariel to university status,” and links to an article (again in Ha’aretz) about a petition to the High Court. He neglects to mention that the High Court rejected the petition ruling “no flaws were found in the process.”
As further evidence of Avishai’s presumptive demise of Israel’s democracy, the author proffers the fact that “children will be taught the Holocaust in school as early as kindergarten.” One wonders why this so offends him.
A later paragraph oozes scorn:
The young people of Jerusalem and “Judea and Samaria,” as the settlers call the West Bank, live in a very different reality. Most are educated in ultra-Orthodox schools of various kinds, and many in self-segregating yeshivot. Each year on Jerusalem Day, as many as fifty thousand youth now descend on the Old City to bully Arab merchants. They see themselves as having returned to a sacred center—one that would be threatened by the existence of a Palestinian state, however feeble. They want to preempt this with the magical Zionist word hityashvut, or “settlement.”
Aside from the loathing exhibited in the above, there is much wrong with this excerpt. Briefly:
• Jerusalem is not a settlement.
• “Judea and Samaria” need no quotation marks. They are the ancient and modern Hebrew terms, in common use in English before the end of the British Mandate for Palestine in 1948. This territory was only named “the West Bank” by Jordan when it illegally annexed it in 1949.
• What is Jerusalem if not “a sacred center” for the Jewish people?
• Jerusalem Day is the holiday commemorating the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. When tens of thousands of Jews “descend” on the Old City, where many live, it is not to “bully Arab merchants” but to celebrate the modern miracle of bringing Judaism’s ancient sacred center back under Jewish sovereignty.
• What Avishai disparages as the use of a “magical” spell on this day is, in actuality, joy.
• Here Avishai would have benefited from citing Ha’aretz, where an article from only two weeks ago declared “In reversal of trend, fewer Haredi pupils in Jerusalem, more secular ones.”
Avishai feels compelled to compare Israel with apartheid South Africa, but seems to admit that the comparison is not apt. Unable to make that smear stick he settles for some revisionist history:
The political economy of Israel, by contrast, grew out of intentional separation. The pioneering Zionism of the nineteen-twenties and thirties was meant to cultivate autonomous “Hebrew labor” and economic self-sufficiency.
The truth is that the founders of the State of Israel both sought to develop a base of “Hebrew labor” as part of the Zionist effort to “normalize” Jewish life and implored their Arab citizens to stay, including in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel this plea:
WE APPEAL – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.
Inversion of the Truth
The author describes today’s Hebron as “a ghost town” arguing:
Some buildings were closed by the Army, notionally to protect eighty or so settler families from “terror” during the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Other buildings have simply been abandoned, their former residents exhausted from having to enter via back alleys and rooftops after their front doors were welded shut, or from caging their sills to keep their widows from being broken by settlers armed with rocks.
Note that Avishai places the word “terror” in scare quotes, to sneer at the severity of the violence of the second Intifada in which over 1,000 Israelis were killed. To put that into perspe
ctive, on a per capita basis, that would be the equivalent of 49,261 American deaths due to terrorist attacks. That is terror – without scare quotes. When the author describes Arab residents threatened by “settlers armed with rocks,” he inverts the truth. In fact, it is Israelis who are attacked and even killed by rock-throwing Arabs to this day.
Avishai completely overlooks the history of Hebron, one of the four cities holy to Jews, which even in the early twentieth century had a thriving Jewish community. In 1929, many of the city’s Jews were brutally massacred by Arab mobs. Dutch-Canadian journalist Pierre Van Passen described what he saw in a rabbi’s house:
What occurred in the upper chambers of Slonim’s house could be seen when we found the twelve-foot-high ceiling splashed with blood. The rooms looked like a slaughterhouse… The blood stood in a huge pool on the slightly sagging stone floor of the house. Clocks, crockery, tables and windows had been smashed to smithereens. Of the unlooted articles, not a single item had been left intact except a large black-and-white photograph of Dr. Theodore Herzl, the founder of political Zionism. Around the picture’s frame the murderers had draped the blood-drenched underwear of a woman.
The author has no lament for Jewish victims of terror in this century or the last.
He inverts the truth again when he notes that Israeli “weather maps show Ariel, not Ramallah.” It’s hard to know exactly to which maps he refers. However, it is certainly hard to overlook the fact that Palestinian maps frequently erase all of Israel in schoolbooks, on official Palestinian Authority signs and emblems, on logos and social media posts. To cite Israeli weather maps but not Palestinian maps used in official school curricula, in PA publications and both Fatah and Hamas movement propaganda in this context requires a willful effort to mislead readers.
At one point, Avishai seems to advocate an Israeli civil war, “But one cannot simply have a ‘commitment to Israel’; one must be committed to one or the other vision of Israel’s future—to one group of Israelis over another.” This ill will is very disturbing to read under the banner of The New Yorker.
Of Israeli Knesset members, cabinet ministers, military leaders and judges who do not adhere to his view of things, Avishai writes:
It would be insensitive, given the horrors of Jewish history, to call these people fascists. So let us say that they include ultra-nationalists who traffic in xenophobic grievances, religious messianists who are unashamed of racist claims, militarists who regard liberal Tel Aviv as decadent, proponents of civil solidarity who scoff at legal constraints, wards of the state who depend on a command economy, and acolytes of authoritarian “spiritual leaders.”
This piece and its vicious tone should surprise no one, coming from Bernard Avishai whose most well known book is “The Tragedy of Zionism: How Its Revolutionary Past Haunts Israeli Democracy.” If you look it up on Amazon, you will see that “people who bought this book also bought” books by known Israel detractors Ilan Pappé, Max Blumenthal, and Rashid Khalidi.
Throughout the piece, Avishai laments what he sees as an internal threat to Israel from the rise of the political right. He has been making basically the same argument for the past forty years. This fact, taken with the blog’s falsehoods, lack of context, blatant omissions and stunningly hate-filled tone, makes clear beyond any doubt that it is time for The New Yorker to find someone else to write about Israel.