Update/Correction: Akiva Eldar, Mearsheimer’s Righteous Jewish Source for Misinformation

Time and again, misinformation originating in the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz finds its way into the Western media as well as into extremist media outlets charging Israel with everything from having prior knowledge about a bombing in Amman (false) to creating apartheid Jewish-only roads (also false). The latest defamer of Israel to rely on an erroneous report furnished by Ha’aretz is John J. Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and co-author of the 2006 book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Mearsheimer more recently gained attention for his April 29, 2010 speech at the Palestine Center in which he divided Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews” (Noam Chomsky, Tony Judt, Richard Falk, and Sara Roy, among other); “Afrikaner Jews” (Abraham Foxman, David Harris, Ronald Lauder, and more); and a middle group of on-the-fence Jews.

Perhaps Mearsheimer should add veteran Ha’aretz reporter Akiva Eldar to the category of “Righteous Jews.” After all, the Chicago scholar apparently so trusts the Israeli that he relied on Eldar (a secondary source) instead of consulting the primary source, the Hebrew University poll he cites in his May 9, 2010 Chicago Tribune Op-Ed (“Israel’s fated bleak future“). Big mistake, and something that high school students are taught never to do. A 2006 CAMERA review charged that Mearsheimer’s Israel Lobby book is “riddled with errors of fact, logic and omission, has inaccurate citations, displays extremely poor judgement regarding sources. . .” Unfortunately, it seems that in the last four years the professor has learned little or nothing about the use and misuse of sources.

In his Op-Ed, in which he charges Israel with obstructing a two-state solution and “moving full-speed ahead to build an apartheid state,” the esteemed academic writes:

A Hebrew University Truman Institute poll in March of West Bank settlers found that 21 percent believe that “all means must be employed to resist the evacuation of most West Bank settlements, including the use of arms.” (Emphasis added.)

Although Prof. Mearsheimer uses quotation marks as if he is quoting directly from the poll, the March Hebrew University Truman Institute poll does not at all mention the phrase “including the use of arms” in relation to resistance on the part of settlers, or any other topic. In fact, the poll does not even mention the word “arms” at any point.

The relevant question (V22) reads “If the government decides on a comprehensive evacuation of settlements in Judea and Samaria, how in your opinion should one respond to this decision?” The surveyed settlers responded by choosing one of the following four options: “Obey” (19.8 %); “Resist it by legal means” (51.6 %); “Resist it by all means” (21.1 %); and “DK/NA” (7.5 %). To reiterate, there is no mention of “including the use of arms.” In fact, Mearsheimer’s entire statement enclosed within quotation marks does not match up to the wording of the poll.

Certainly the phrasing that does appear in the survey — “resist by all means”— could be understood to mean arms. Nevertheless, the fact is that Mearsheimer attributed specific wording to the poll that simply was not there. Additional questions in the poll yielded responses indicating that less than 20 percent of settlers would support the use of arms. Only 13.2 percent responded that it would be justified “to endanger yourself and your family” (V24), and 9.5 percent said it would be justified “to endanger other Jews” (V25).

In other words, the scholar consulted a flawed secondary source and failed to examine the actual survey, which never mentions the “use of arms.” That secondary source, it turns out, is apparently Akiva Eldar, whose March 31, 2010 article (“Poll: 21% of settlers back resisting evaucation ‘by any means'”) begins:

Twenty-one percent of settlers believe that all means must be employed in to [sic] resist the evacuation of most West Bank settlements, including the use of arms, according to a recent Hebrew University study.

Compare and contrast with the quote that Mearsheimer reproduced and falsely attributed to the Hebrew University poll:

A Hebrew University Truman Institute poll in March of West Bank settlers found that 21 percent believe that “all means must be employed to resist the evacuation of most West Bank settlements, including the use of arms.”

And there you have it — the genesis of misinformation. Written in Hebrew by an Israeli journalist for < EM>Ha’aretz, translated into flawed English for the popular (and recently revamped) English-language site, then cut-and-pasted (with the exception of a grammatical correction) by an American professor, and reproduced in a major American publication. All without checking the original source.

Eldar’s article contains additional errors about the March poll. He states, for example, “Asked whether they would accept the removal of settlements if a referendum found a majority of Israeli Jews in favor, 49 percent of settlers said they would not. . . ” In actuality, question V20 of the poll indicates that 35.8 percent of settlers would not accept the authority of a referendum “to decide to evacuate or not evacuate settlements in Judea and Samaria.” In a more significant error, Eldar claims: “The proportion of settlers willing to follow rabbinical instructions to evacuate settlements also dropped slightly, from 72 percent in 2005 to 71 percent.” In fact, only 23.9 percent of settlers would accept rabbinical authority to decide to evacuate or not settlements (V21). Settlers regard the government (42.7 percent, V17) and the Knesset (43.1 percent, V18) as possessing more authority than rabbis when it comes to the fate of settlements.
There is obviously also much else to be Fisked about Mearsheimer’s Op-Ed, including his contention that former Prime Minister Olmert was unwilling to make broad land concessions in order to establish a Palestinian state, a falsehood belied by a detailed report in … Ha’aretz. But on this point the source-challenged Mearsheimer doesn’t bother with Ha’aretz. Perhaps he doesn’t consider the reporter, Aluf Benn, a Righteous Jew, or maybe he just didn’t like what he had to say. Either way, we do know that the University of Chicago professor continues to display poor judgement regarding sources. The question remains, though, as to whether the Chicago Tribune will draw the proper conclusions, correct the misquote, and think twice before printing a Mearsheimer Op-Ed again.
In response to CAMERA’s communication with the Chicago Tribune, the following correction was published on May 13:
An essay in Sunday’s Perspective section incorrectly stated that a Hebrew University Truman Institute poll found that 21 percent of West Bank settlers believe “all means must be employed to resist the evacuation of most West Bank settlements, including the use of arms.” The quote was not a direct statement from the poll. It should have been attributed to an analysis of the poll by Akiva Eldar, the chief political columnist and an editorial writer for Haaretz.

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