In a telling off-the-cuff interview in Israel’s December 24, 2010 Yediot Aharonot, New Yorker editor David Remnick let loose with a startlingly personal blast at Israel, railing at the Jewish state as if it were a recalcitrant, embarrassing teenager. The harsh view of Israel will be unsurprising to readers of The New Yorker, which has not for some time been particularly concerned about getting facts straight where Israel is concerned, and where errors and distortions trend in one direction — denigrating Israel. Remnick’s own writing includes the same hectoring and biases.
A March 29, 2010 piece by Remnick (“Special Relationships”) conveys an almost frantic agitation that Israel’s current government and what he terms “right-leaning Israelis” evince “distrust” of the Obama administration. He derides Israeli concerns, piling up insults. Israel and/or its leaders are scored for being “bigoted,” “arrogant” and “stubborn” and for displaying “ineptitude,” and a penchant for “fantasy.” The Palestinians’ Abbas and Fayyad are, on the other hand, simply and solely, “moderate and constructive.” They have no other attributes, obligations or shortcomings.
An earlier piece, a May 5, 2008 profile of Benny Morris (“Blood and Sand; A revisionist Israeli historian revisits his country’s origins”) was also tinged by distortion and disparagement. An opening reference to ancient history offered the pointed reminder: “The Jews’ dominion was long but not eternal.” (emphasis added) Lest, he seems to say, anyone think Jews have open-ended title via history to Israel.
Sentences later, he interjects more correctives for the potentially misled. With mention of Mark Twain’s famed description of the “hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land” he encountered in the 19th century when visiting Palestine, Remnick quickly explains that Twain’s words “have, over the decades, been expoited by propagandists” who failed to acknowledge the presence of Arabs in the area. Presumably, the exploiting “propagandists” are also those noting the contrast between neglect of the land under Arab dominance amd the Zionist pioneers actually making the desert bloom. Said development was, as well, a magnet to Arabs throughout the region, who arrived by the tens of thousands during the Mandate period to share in the prosperity. Remnick’s concern is not, though, the achievement of pioneering Jews and the Arabs who benefited, but rather getting to and pointing out at each turn the alleged wrong done by Jews to Arabs, faithfully demonstrating he gives no quarter to the Jews.
Throughout, the editor insistently instructs readers not to believe the old history, the alleged propaganda and exaggeration, but to cast a jaundiced eye on Israel and its people. The meme echoes in references to Israel’s founders. Theodore Herzl, “the mediocre playwright” is “an almost comically quixotic figure” who is “more oblivious than cruel” regarding the Arabs. Herzl leads the First Zionist Congress which is “a motley collection of Jewish intellectuals and political activists.” (Luminaries in attendance such as Herzl, Max Nordau and Ahad Haam notwithstanding.)
Notable is Remnick’s citing an incendiary statement purportedly made by David Ben Gurion in conversation with Nahum Goldmann and recounted in the latter’s second autobiography, The Jewish Paradox, published in 1978, five years after Ben Gurion’s death. The unsubstantiated quote is one favored on extreme anti-Zionist Web sites specializing in attributing bogus anti-Arab statements to Israeli leaders. Supposedly, Ben Gurion said: “Why should the Arabs make peace? …We have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel. Its true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them?”
Goldmann, a jealous rival and critic of Ben Gurion’s, had often blamed him for Arab hostility toward Israel. The ostensibly verbatim statement taken from a conversation in the 1950’s was, interestingly, not published by Goldmann during Ben Gurion’s lifetime — when the Israeli leader could have disputed it — but only after he died. Nor does any record or recording substantiate its veracity. But details such as these were not a concern to Remnick, the harsh tone of the quote dovetailing, it seems, with his own view of Israel’s general failure of mind and policy. And verifiable statements by Ben Gurion underscoring his expectation of just, peaceful and productive coexistence with the Arabs didn’t fit the bill.
Unmentioned by Remnick, for example, were Ben Gurion’s own words in his Ba-Ma’Araha Vol IV, Part 2, pp. 260, 265 (in Fabricating Israeli History, Efraim Karsh, p.67)
In our state there will be non-Jews as well — and all of them will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is: the state will be their state as well. …The attitude of the Jewish State to its Arab citizens will be an important factor—though not the only one—in building good neighbourly relations with the Arab States. If the Arab citizen will feel at home in our state, and if his status will not be the least different from that of the Jew, and perhaps better than the status of the Arab in an Arab state, and if the state will help him in a truthful and dedicated way to reach the economic, social, and cultural level of the Jewish community, then Arab distrust will accordingly subside and a bridge to a Semitic, Jewish-Arab alliance, will be built…
Thus the outburst against Israel expressed by Remnick in Yediot is more of the same in neglecting the facts and the full story and stigmatizing Israel, but with the added dimension of being revealingly self-referential. The Yediot questioner asks:
Do you detect a specific change in the U.S. Jewish community?Remnick: A new generation of Jews has grown up in the US. Their re lationship with Israel has become less tolerant and more problematic. They see what is happening with the Rabbis’ Letter, for example. How long can you expect them to harbor an unconditional love toward this place called Israel?You have a problem. You have been in the position of occupier since 1967.It has been happening for so long that even people like me, who understand that not only one side is responsible for the conflict and that the Palestinians blew a historic opportunity for peace in 2000, can’t take it anymore.The US administration is trying out of good will to reach a peace process and in exchange Israel lays out conditions like the release of Jonathan Pollard.Sorry, but it cannot continue like this. The Jewish community is not just a pleasant breakfast at the Regency.You think it’s bad that a US President is trying to make an effort to promote peace?Is this what is hurting your feelings?Give me a break, you’ve got bigger problems than these.A shopping list in exchange for a two month moratorium on settlement construction? Jesus.
David Remnick “can’t take it anymore.” The Ivy League-bred denizen of New York’s Upper West side — can’t take that Israel hasn’t followed his wishes in exiting the West Bank, hasn’t prevented embarrassing statements by rabbis and hasn’t snapped to attention to accept US proposals. (Remnick recently wrote a highly laudatory biography of Barack Obama.)
Yes, yes, he admits passingly, the Palestinians got a good offer from Israel in 2000 and “blew” it, but Israel should, he suggests, end the “occupation,” regardless of the threats and missiles, the potential peril of shrunken borders. Of course, the Palestinians not only “blew” an extraordinary offer of statehood and peace, but blew up innocent Jews in an unprecedented and savage terror campaign in response to Israel’s concessions — a fact that appears to hold no sway whatever for the exasperated editor.
Remnick’s fury at Israel also reflects the tenor and backdrop of his social life. He and his wife chaired a May 2010 Seeds of Peace Dinner in which he delivered remarks that included lamenting Israel had just prevented “scholar” Noam Chomsky from crossing into the West Bank. He expounded as emcee on the unoriginal theme of contending “narratives” in various conflicts, noting that if you talk to Palestinians in Gaza about 1947-1948 they have a “diametrically” opposing view of history compared to what you’d hear in West Jerusalem from Jews. The notion that one side could be essentially wrong and the other essentially right in a dispute is, seemingly, retrograde.
Needless to say, Remnick didn’t tell the Seeds of Peace gathering about a Palestinian television show being aired that very month whose “narrative” entailed the claim that Jews murder non-Jews to use their blood for Passover matzoh. Presumably, in Remnick’s universe of competing narratives such hate-indoctrination is morally equivalent to Israelis’ claim of having made the desert bloom.
The other inescapable aspect of the Yediot outburst is the personification of Israel — or in Remnick’s peculiar wording “this place called Israel” — as a recalcitrant child seeking “unconditional love” or supposedly evincing “hurt feelings” at US actions. The editor seems not to know Israel is a sovereign nation acting on its interests, making life and death choices for millions of people — and is all too acquainted with feckless journalists, including Jewish ones.
Nor is Israel in need of “unconditional love.” What it needs and deserves is fairness and honesty in those who report on and characterize its actions. Unfortunately, it’s not likely to receive either from the morally preening editor of The New Yorker.