The Washington Post granted its opinion pages to not one but two anti-Israel attacks in its Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015 print edition, the issue with the largest daily readership.
“Confessions of an Israeli traitor,” a rant—there is no better description—by novelist Assaf Gavron, ran in the weekly “Outlook” section. Outlook is a combination of commentaries and book reviews.
“A Zionist case for boycotting Israel” was an intellectually muddled when not simply dishonest column by Professors Steven Levitsky (Harvard) and Glen Weyl (Chicago). It occupied, with its accompanying picture of an Arab woman dwarfed by a concrete stretch of Israel’s security barrier, most of the “Sunday Opinion” page.
Pro-Israel commentaries by outside contributors, on the comparatively rare occasions they appear, virtually never receive such prominent placement and lavish illustrations as the Gavron and Levitsky and Weyl submissions. “Confessions of an Israeli traitor” spread across the top of two adjoining pages, surmounted by three large photos. One showed an Israeli soldier reaching out as if to choke an Arab man. The second pictured Palestinian women mourning a relative shot dead “during a confrontation with Israeli forces.” The third showed Israeli soldiers destroying the home of “a Palestinian jailed for killing a Jewish settler in a knife attack.”
What were Post editors suggesting readers think about the Jewish state by illustrating Gavron’s screed, which concurred in part with international depictions of Israelis as “executioners, liars, racists”? What did they have in mind by similarly highlighting Levitsky and Weyl’s implied comparison of Israel with apartheid South Africa’s “ethno-religious fanaticism”?
Together, in the pages of one of America’s largest, most influential newspapers—at a time when Palestinian terrorists incited by Islamic intolerance were murdering Israelis in the streets—these two broadsides were intolerable. They did not contribute to informed debate. Rather, their authors’ unconvincing protestations to the contrary, they jumped on the bandwagon of Zionist delegitimization. Could readers recall a similar one-two commentary combination spotlighting Palestinian rejectionism, supremacism and aggression, which would have been pertinent? No.
Minimizing Palestinian aggression
Gavron’s “Confessions of an Israeli traitor” said “kitchen knives, screwdrivers and other improvised weapons” had replaced guns and suicide bombs of previous terrorism eruptions. But guns, cars, meat cleavers and improvised explosive devices also were being used. Gavron’s incomplete list minimized
the nature of the Palestinian onslaught against Jews.
Scary as the attacks were, the novelist said, he was “more concerned with the actions of my own [Israeli] society, which are getting … uglier by the moment.” He decriesd a growing, at least semi-official fundamentalism in Israel that ridicules, threatens or physically attacks dissenters. Gavron confuses Israeli with Palestinian society. The worst cases of Jew-against-Jew intolerance he cites are exceptions; examples of Palestinian celebration of Jewish bloodshed are commonplace (for example, “Palestinian Authority street named
after murder who stabbed 2 Israeli civilians to death,” Palestinian Media Watch.
The novelist laments that “on [Israeli] social media, the gloves are taken off, social courtesies abandoned, hatred rears its ugly head” with frequent calls for violence against left-wingers and Arabs. Apparently Gavron, teaching this semester in Omaha, Neb., leads a sheltered life. A glance at the Washington Post, Guardian, NPR or BBC online “comment” or “talk-back” features whenever Israel was mentioned would have confirmed for him the pervasive anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish hatred that “rears its ugly head” whenever the Jewish state defends itself.
Perhaps Gavron was more comfortable attacking than defending. Three times he threw out the “racist” accusation against Israel, which he discerned “in a fast and alarming downward swirl into a savage, unrepairable society.” “Racist” and “racism,” of course, have become all-purpose thought- and speech-stoppers, their invocation the sort of knee-jerk attempt to censor debate Gavron claimed to oppose.
Blinders in place
Gavron’s “appalled” that “politicians from the right (with the perplexing support of members of the supposed opposition” and “sensationalist mainstream media” have united Israeli Jews in “demonization of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.” Some Israeli Arab Knesset members have long and loudly demonized the Jewish state, yet that state allows them to run and serve, and Arabs or Jews to vote for them. As for demonization of Palestinian Arabs, that’s what Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fatah or its affiliates in the West Bank Palestinian Authority have been doing to Israel and Jews for decades and about which Gavron’s silent. (See, “Not an uprising against occupation. An uprising against Israel
,” by David Horovitz, Times of Israel
, October 20).
The fiction writer was upset that Israeli security officials approved of police or would-be victims killing Palestinian attackers in self-defense. He pointed to several cases of vigilantism and the killing of an Eritrean asylum seeker mistaken for a terrorist during an actual attack. He did not mention that the latter case was being investigated and perpetrators sought, or that stopping a terrorist stabbing in progress calls for immediate reaction, not a discussion of appropriate use-of-force.
Gavron ridiculed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s charge that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem gave Adolf Hitler the idea for the Holocaust. He avoided discussing the Mufti’s role in contributing to the scope of the Holocaust or in making Jew-hatred
and rejection of coexistence with a Jewish state in any form basic tenets of Palestinian Arab nationalism. (See “Bibi, the Mufti and the Media,” CAMERA, October 23).
In the end, Gavron’s solution for Palestinian-Israeli violence and Israel’s “return to being human” is, no surprise, “we must stop the occupation. … Whatever the consequences are, they can’t be worse than what we are now grappling with.”
How many times has that assertion been made, how many times disproved? Israel tried “to end the occupation” by “two-state” with offers to Palestinian leadership in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Only a year ago that leadership, not Israel’s, refused to pursue U.S. Secretary of State John Ke
rry’s “framework” for a two-state deal (see, for example, Amb. Dennis Ross’ New York Times Op-Ed, “Stop Giving Palestinians a Pass,” January 4).
‘Nothing could be worse’—except it could
Gavron did not recall that 22 years ago the “Oslo peace process” began in just that belief, that after the first intifada (to which he alluded) nothing could have been worse than continued Israeli occupation and policing of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. He did not remember that unilateral Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 helped accelerate Hezbollah’s dominance there, that unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 did the same for Hamas? Had he not read Arab and Israeli analyses of Abbas’ weakness and the possibility that an absence of Israel’s forces on the West Bank alongside those of the Palestinian Authority could lead to a “Gaza coup” situation? (See, for example, “Concerns rise over plots to oust Abbas
, March 10.)
The novelist lamented Israeli’s diplomatic isolation, but imagined it was something new. Israel was virtually abandoned, certainly by Western European states, on the eve of the 1967 and 1973 wars. It was criticized almost unanimously on the international level in 1981 for bombing Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor. When Palestinian violations of the 1993 Oslo accords mounted, Israel was pressured to ignore them. Today the nations have had little patience for Israel’s continued opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran. But Gavron seemed to suggest limiting Israeli self-defense in response to Palestinian terrorism in the hope, historically unfounded, of diplomatic approbation.
This Washington Post commentary writer had no solution. But as a member of the intelligentsia, he could not admit that. So he attacked his own country, his own society—flawed as it is but arguably less so than most U.N. member states—for the “intolerant, boiling racism” it faced from without.
Professors’ ‘Zionist case for boycotting Israel’
Where Gavron’s “Confessions” is a rant, Profs. Levitsky and Weyl’s “Zionist case for boycotting Israel” was an oxymoron, like “A Jewish case for antisemitism.” It swung between superficial and disingenuous.
The academics claimed “the occupation has become permanent” and this “poses an ethical dilemma for American Jews” because it means continuing “to embrace a state that permanently denies basic rights to another people.” Like Gavron, they blamed Israel for repeated Palestinian refusals to accept a two-state compromise, a West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem “Palestine” in exchange for peace with Israel as a Jewish nation. Like the novelist, they falsely charged
Israeli with treating Palestinian Arabs as inferiors.
Palestinian Arabs are, by Arab leaders’ choices, residents of territory over which Israel, as a result of successful wars of self-defense in 1967 and ’73, remains the obligatory military occupational authority. That remains so pending a negotiated settlement. Levitsky and Weyl seemed oddly unaware, especially for professors, of the related provisions of U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the 1993 Oslo accords and 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement and the 2003 international “road map.”
In any case, under the Palestinian Authority, West Bank Arabs live as freely or more so than their brethren elsewhere. Tens of thousands work in Israel, thousands receive treatment in Israeli hospitals. Gaza Arabs under Hamas are oppressed by an Islamist movement they elected themselves and which, though its mandate—like that of the Palestinian Authority—has expired, they have not overthrown.
Regardless, Levitsky and Weyl smeared Israel with comparisons to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa under previous white minority apartheid rule and warned of similar international pariah status. Except Israel’s position and policies, the result of defending a Jewish state of any size in a larger, Islamic supremacist if not apartheid Middle East, is dissimilar.
Imagine if the Kurds, instead of fighting for autonomy in Iraq and survival in Syria, were defending an independent Kurdistan. That would be a more apposite analogy to Israel’s position in the Middle East in general and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) in particular, not that Levitsky and Weyl recognized it.
They claimed “the growth of the settler and ultra-orthodox [they incorrectly use the lower case “o,” denigrating religiously observance Jews] populations has stoked Jewish chauvinism and further alienated the growing Arab population.” A majority of Israelis has supported a “two-state solution” for decades. But it has been declining; Israelis don’t believe, based on Arab behavior including delegitimization of Israel and Jews, incitement and terrorism, that the Arabs will settle for “half-a-loaf.” Analysis of recent Palestinian polls
seems to support them. So who is stoking chauvinism and alienation where? (See “An Inconvenient Truth: Palestinian Polls,” posted at First One Through, October 26.)
The professors asserted “Israel’s security situation has change dramatically since the 1967 and 1973 wars” and point to peace with Egypt and Jordan. Yes, possession of the Golan Heights, presence in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem has dramatically improved Israel’s security situation. That was not an argument for summarily ending such presence. The regimes in Egypt and Jordan could be gone tomorrow—as the anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government following President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.
Levitsky and Weyl barely acknowledged Islamic jihadism sweeping much of the Middle East. Israeli withdrawal from the territories absent a peace with a Palestinian partner that wanted and could keep it likely would put the great jihad, in the form of Hamas, the Islamic State (affiliated groups in the Sinai and, reportedly, the West Bank) and other movements just outside Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The professorial duo did not demonstrate strategic thinking.
They argued the same point with variations in each paragraph. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank was undermining the state. “For supporters of Israel like us,” they claimed, boycotting was painful but plausibly could save Israel from itself. That the Arab League boycott of anyone doing business with Israel started even befor
e the state was established, and likely stunted its development, apparently didn’t trouble them. Nor did the echoes of the Nazi boycott of German Jews in the 1930s. Lining up with anti-Zionist, anti-Israeli, antisemitic boycott promoters like Students for Justice in Palestine, they protested “love for Israel and a desire to save it.” With friends like these … who needs The Washington Post for obsessive, factually inverted commentary?