The Horror of The Washington Post’s Superficial Coverage of Israel and American Jews

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank has long preferred snark over facts. As CAMERA has detailed, Milbank’s commentaries on Israel often omit essential context in favor of propagating conventional—and easily refutable—narratives. And his Sept. 21, 2018 column, “America’s Jews are watching Israel in horror,” offers ample proof.

In it, Milbank argued that Israel has “transformed” under its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Milbank claimed that under Netanyahu, the Jewish state has experienced: “the rise of ultranationalism tied to religious extremism, the upsurge in settler violence, the overriding of Supreme Court rulings upholding democracy and human rights, a crackdown on dissent, harassment of critics and nonprofits, confiscation of Arab villages and alliances with regimes — in Poland, Hungary and the Philippines — that foment anti-Semitism.”

Milbank even charged the Israeli government with “absolving Poland of Holocaust culpability” in exchange for “good relations.” Israel has, he claimed, given a “green light to extremism,” resulting in a deterioration in American Jewish support for Israel. America’s bipartisan pro-Israel consensus, Milbank says, has been eroded by Netanyahu, who is creating an “ultranationalist apartheid state.”

The absurdity of Milbank’s claim that a “crackdown on dissent” is occurring in Israel is belied by his own sources; he cites an Israeli far-left newspaper, Ha’aretz, as a source repeatedly in his column. Ha’aretz is frequently critical of the Netanyahu government. Indeed, Israel has a free press and dissent and disagreements are expressed both openly and often.

Nor has Israel “confiscated Arab villages.” Illegally constructed villages are, in some cases, taken down—a practice that goes back to the Ottoman Empire and occurs throughout the rest of the world, including in the United States.

Nor is there a massive “upsurge” in “settler violence,” as Milbank asserted without proof. In fact, those living in Jewish communities in the West Bank are much more likely to be victims of Palestinian violence than vice versa (see, for example “Dramatic Statistics Refute Media Stereotype of Violent Jewish Settlers,” CAMERA, Oct. 14, 2011). As CAMERA’s Steve Stotsky has detailed, “even by the account of a pro-Palestinian group, nine times more Jewish civilians have been murdered by Palestinians in the West Bank than Palestinians murdered by Jewish settlers.”

Milbank’s argument that an “apartheid state” is being created is as old —it predates the political rise of Benjamin Netanyahu, for example—as it is unoriginal. But it has no basis in fact.

Indeed, Israel today is more diverse than at any point in its history. For the first several decades of its history—the era that individuals like Milbank often idealize—Israel was less diverse than it is today. In Israel, the last several decades have witnessed increased immigration, and political influence, of Jews from Middle Eastern lands, Africa and the former Soviet Union.

Unlike its neighbors, including the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas, Israel has an active democracy, which includes Arab political parties. Some members of these parties, such as Hanan Zoabi, are not only hypercritical of the Israeli government—they’re even on record as saying that Israel shouldn’t exist (“Arab MK Zoabi: Jews not entitled to self-determination,” The Jerusalem Post, Oct. 13, 2017). In other words, Israel has an active political party that sits in its legislature and is not only critical of the government, but is allowed to espouse that the country shouldn’t even exist. One would be hard pressed to think of any parallels elsewhere, much less in the region. The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the PA’s version of the Knesset, hasn’t even met in more than a decade. This however, elicits neither concern from Milbank, nor reporting from his Post colleagues.

In Israel, Arabs sit on the Supreme Court, hold elected offices, and enjoy both a higher standard of living and greater political freedoms than anywhere else in the Middle East. The Knesset itself refutes Milbank in other ways. As Ha’aretz noted in 2015—when Netanyahu was prime minister—the Knesset has “more women and Arabs” and “fewer Orthodox,” than previous years (“The 29 women of the 20th Knesset,” March 23, 2015). That year 29 out of 120 members of the Knesset—more than 24 percent—were women, a record for the nation. By contrast, as of this writing, in the United States, women number 84 women out of 435 in the U.S. House of Representatives (19 percent) and 21 out of 100 in the U.S. Senate (21 percent).

The columnist—and the editorial page of the newspaper that he writes for—openly advocated for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, also known as the Iran Deal), in which the U.S., the European Union, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom reached an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. The agreement, reached in 2015 under the Obama administration, specifically did not address Iran’s behaviors, including its support for antisemitic and anti-Western terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, which call for Israel’s destruction. And when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, expressing the views of the majority of Israelis, objected to this, among other aspects of the JCPOA, The Post and Milbank criticized him for speaking out. Additionally, most mainstream American Jewish organizations were similarly against the JCPOA; Netanyahu’s criticisms of the deal were certainly not out of step with their opposition.

Indeed, The PA, which rules the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), routinely broadcasts hateful antisemitism in their official media. And PA President Mahmoud Abbas has frequently made antisemitic statements and encouraged anti-Jewish violence. Just as frequently, as CAMERA has detailed (see, for example, “The Washington Post Provides Cover for Palestinian Antisemitism,” The Algemeiner, Jan. 18, 2018), The Post fails to report it.

Abbas has refused to quit paying salaries to terrorists and their families—violating the terms of the Oslo Accords which created the Authority in the first place and which remains the basis for U.S. support. By offering financial and rhetorical support for terror, Abbas is providing a “green light” for extremism. Milbank, however, is apparently nonplussed.

In part for this reason, the U.S. has cut funding to the PA and, following the refusal of Palestinian leaders to resolve outstanding disputes in bilateral negotiations—another Oslo stipulation—the U.S. closed the Washington D.C. offices of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), another Abbas-controlled entity.

Yet, Milbank bemoaned the U.S. decision to close the PLO’s D.C. offices; belittling the decision by saying that “Trump observed Rosh Hashanah last week by ordering the Palestinian office in Washington closed.” He failed to inform readers that the PLO offices were closed due to the group’s refusal to negotiate peace and insistence on supporting terror. Indeed, on Sept. 16, 2018—just six days after the PLO’s offices were shunted—a terrorist murdered an American-Israeli, Ari Fuld. Palestinian officials have admitted that the terrorist will receive a salary for his actions.

Despite writing a column that professed concern over discrimination and antisemitism, Milbank omits Fuld’s murder and the Palestinian praise—which included handing out candy in celebration—that followed it. 

Milbank also failed to inform readers that the Polish government—after diplomatic efforts by the Netanyahu government—amended its controversial Holocaust law, which initially carried criminal penalties for those who blame “Poland for Nazi crimes” (“Netanyahu takes credit after Poland amends Holocaust law,” The Times of Israel, June 27, 2018). The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial called the change to the law a “positive development in the right direction.”

These facts, however, are inconvenient to the narrative that Milbank espouses, a narrative in which Israel is to blame for a deterioration in American Jewish support for the Jewish state.

But as Elliot Abrams, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted in an April 4, 2016 Mosaic Magazine essay, the argument that Israel itself is responsible for the “drop in support” is as conventional as it is wrong. Abrams agreed that the Jewish-American community is less supportive of Israel than in earlier years. But he disagreed that Israel’s policies are to blame.

Instead, Abrams pointed out that in contrast to older Jewish-Americans, younger Jewish-Americans are more likely to be less supportive of Israel and, not incidentally, less involved in both the Jewish faith and the Jewish community. Abrams contrasted this with attitudes of the Jewish Diaspora elsewhere, concluding that an “erosion of solidarity among American Jews” is responsible for the difference. American Jews, he argued, are more secure and more assimilated than their brethren in the Diaspora. Not coincidentally, they tend to be less understanding of the need for a Jewish state—and the challenges that Israel faces.

Perhaps another explanation for the decreased support is a media that often offers distorted coverage of the Jewish state, as well as commentators like Milbank who substitute superficiality and snark in place of thoughtful analysis, a growing problem which informed observers should rightly view with concern—even horror.