The New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Goldberg is not known for dishonesty; he’s recently won awards for daring stories on Hezbollah and Iraq. But a May 31 piece entitled “Among the Settlers: Will They Destroy Israel?” is so distorted, included being sloppy with facts, as to raise questions about his other writing.
The title signals the thrust of the piece and rightly indicates there will be little interest in balanced or thorough consideration of the genesis, purpose and legality of the settlement enterprise. Instead readers find a 24-page spread, rich in stereotypes and heavily devoted to lurid portraiture of Jewish residents of the West Bank and Gaza. A number appear emotionally unstable and many are physically repellent–one has “fingernails [that] were chewed and dirty,” others are “sallow” and “sour-faced.” The opening “Zealots” section has one after another spewing vile language and fierce anti-Arab sentiment.
Moshe Levinger, with “bulbous eyes” and “outsized teeth,” is said to be the unfortunate “face” of the settler movement, a man who calls for expelling any Arab “who hurts Jews.” Yet Goldberg contradicts himself, writing, for example, that “three-quarters of the Jews in the West Bank and Gaza could be considered economic settlers”–that is, not motivated by religious fervor–and the remaining 25 percent of the “national religious camp can be divided into two main groups.” One part will “respect the authority of the elected government in Jerusalem” as compared to what he terms the “more unremitting settlers” of Hebron. So, then, Levinger the Hebron firebrand is a fraction of a small minority.
Another indicator of his tangential role can be seen in a Nexis search of major world publications for the last three years. Goldberg’s “face” of the settler movement was mentioned in fewer than a score of media stories and these mainly in passing references to his activity in the late sixties in Hebron. In contrast, Ron Nachman, mayor of Ariel, turns up in four times as many news citations. But perhaps the writer preferred readers not to see this “face” or to know that in Ariel at the College of Judea and Samaria hundreds of Arab men and women earn degrees along with Jews.
Goldberg sticks to his dominant message that religious fanatics disconnected from Israel’s daunting, real-life political challenges embody and define the entire settlement question.
Thus too he skates over or ignores completely essential information about the history of settlements. In the entire piece, there is not a mention of the Labor party’s embrace of the Allon Plan, first enunciated in July 1967. That peace proposal defined Israel’s defensive territorial needs in the wake of the Six Day War, consistent with UN Security Council resolution 242, whose framers believed that it would not be in the interests of peace for Israel to return to its pre-1967 armistice lines. The Allon Plan projected ambitious settlement construction to secure strategically critical areas, including in the Jordan Valley, areas in general sparsely populated by Palestinians. In the next decade, under Labor prime ministers seventy-six settlements were built.
Goldberg alludes to Labor’s founding role only in a brief, misleading observation that “such men as Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin”…”discerned a strategic value to settlement; these kipa-wearing pioneers would keep watch over the newly-conquered Arabs…” In fact, Israelis who established the 21 Jordan Valley settlements, for example, were primarily not “kipa-wearing” religious settlers, but secular men and women who founded kibbutzim and moshavim for security motives. There were no residents of Jordan Valley or Gush Etzion or other, similar, Allon Plan communities interviewed for the piece.
Goldberg is equally deceptive in his single, dismissive reference to the legal status of settlements. He declares simply: “Most international legal authorities believe that all settlements, including those built with the permission of the Israeli government, are illegal.” That’s it. Case closed. None of the “international legal authorities” are named and none of the contentious issues involved are described.
The writer fails to mention that the United States does not characterize the settlements as “illegal.” And many experts on international law have disputed their illegality on multiple grounds. Professor Julius Stone, a leading scholar on the subject, has maintained that the effort to designate Israeli settlements as illegal is a “subversion. . . of basic international law principles.”
Likewise, suggestive of both the casual incendiary tone of the piece and Goldberg’s shoddy approach to accuracy is his repeated charge that Israel is practicing “apartheid” in areas “across the Green Line.” He explains the system is “apartheid, because two different ethnic groups living in the same territory are judged by two separate sets of laws.”
One wonders whatever happened to the touted fact-checkers at the New Yorker. In the West Bank, there are different laws not on the basis of ethnicity but of nationality. The Palestinian Autonomous areas have their own legal system, mainly inherited Jordanian law and new law introduced by the Palestinians themselves. Moreover, if Israel moved to extend its own legal system to the territories, that would constitute annexation, which both Palestinians and Israelis oppose, and would be universally condemned. The areas under emergency Israeli military control are, as Goldberg notes, “temporary.” To bring the charge of “apartheid” in circumstances involving the Israeli military’s recent counter-attack against a terrorist onslaught unprecedented in the nation’s history is, yet again, highly distorted.
“Among the Settlers” is one of those accounts that says much more about its author than its subject. It is a gaudy display of twisted Jewish assault on caricatured “other” Jews and intellectually dishonest generalizations about the representative significance of those “others.” In occasional moments of professional integrity, Goldberg introduces facts–such as the very small percentage of settlers represented by his featured “representatives”–and those facts demonstrate less the strength of a zealot threat to Israel than the weakness of Goldberg’s zealot journalism.