“Democracy,” the Washington Post’s masthead proclaims, “Dies in Darkness.” The newspaper adopted the saying in early 2017. It was the Post’s first official slogan and was widely viewed as a criticism of President Donald Trump. Indeed, in recent years the paper has spent considerable column space worrying about the fate of American democracy.
By contrast, democracy in Israel, the Post tells readers, is “divisive.”
The Post’s Oct. 24, 2022 dispatch, entitled “Netanyahu poised for possible return to power, dividing Israel again,” is replete with misleading omissions. Jerusalem bureau chief Steve Hendrix warns that former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “back on the campaign trail, along with the political deadlock that paralyzed the country for most of the past four years.”
Netanyahu, the Post reminds readers, was ousted after elections that were held eighteen months ago. Prior to that he “had been clinging to power after four inconclusive elections, fighting multiple corruption indictments and, critics say, wreaking havoc on Israel’s democratic institutions.” The newspaper doesn’t note that multiple elections are, if anything, evidence of an abundance of democracy.
The Post’s attempt, if implicitly, to link Netanyahu taking to the campaign trail to political paralysis is both flawed and backward. Indeed, Netanyahu and the Likud Party that he leads are on the campaign trail because of the deadlock and tenuous political coalition that currently rules.
The Post also quotes a professor from Hebrew University named Gayil Talshir who claims that should “should Netanyahu win this election, Israel will be like Hungary.” She adds: “This is a very dangerous moment, from the point of view of democracy and the rule of law.” One doesn’t need to be a supporter of either Netanyahu or his political party to recognize that such assertions are worse than hyperbole; they’re asinine.
Netanyahu has been the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history. He first became premier more than a quarter century ago and has presided over several transfers of political power. Indeed, Israel today is more democratic and more diverse than at any point in its history. For the first three decades after its recreation, from 1948 until 1977, Israeli politics were dominated by the Labor Party. This was three decades of rule by a single political party, whose leaders were almost exclusively part of the Ashkenazi elite. Israel’s first five prime ministers all belonged to Labor.
When Menachem Begin, a founder of the Likud, won in 1977 he did so with a coalition comprised, in part, of Jews from Arab lands, many of whom felt disaffected and ignored under Labor’s rule.
The Post fails to provide this essential political history. It fails to point out that, by any measure, Israel today is more democratic and more diverse. Instead, it uncritically quotes Talshir’s absurd claim that Netanyahu “wants to disable the judicial system.” The newspaper adds to the mix with some editorializing, asserting that Netanyahu and his supporters “have waged a scorched earth campaign against the judges and prosecutors” investigating corruption allegations against Netanyahu. No further details are provided for readers.
To the Post’s credit, the paper does note that “conservative Israelis” see such investigations as “politically motivated prosecution by a court system dominated by a liberal elite.” Unfortunately, the Post fails yet again to offer additional details.
The Post’s concept of democracy only goes so far. And it only seems to include the people, or political parties, that the newspaper favors. Should an opponent or opposition party threaten their preferred power, democracy is suddenly “under threat.”
The report fails in another key respect. The newspaper refers to Israeli Arabs as “Palestinian citizens of Israel.” Yet, a 2020 survey by Tel Aviv University found that “about a quarter (23%) of Israeli minorities define themselves as ‘Israeli’ and half (51%) self-identify as ‘Israeli Arab.’” Only 7% of Israel’s Arab citizens preferred to be called “Palestinian.”
Of course this didn’t stop correspondents from a U.S.-based newspaper, many of whom spend less than five years in Israel, from choosing to use terminology that most Israeli Arabs reject. Other recent Post reports have used similar language. One wonders if these reports have ever appeared next to Washington Post editorials decrying “colonialism.”
But facts, like language, can be twisted to fit the Post’s preferred narrative.