July 18, 2019

Israeli Media Outlets Scrutinize U.S. Media Coverage of the Jewish State

L-R: Tom Sawicki (AIPAC), Andrea Levin (CAMERA), Dovid Efune (The Algemeiner), Amir Tibon (Ha'aretz)

WASHINGTON D.C.: United States media coverage of Israel causes plenty of division among Jews within America. But what do journalists based in Israel think of the American media’s coverage of the Jewish state?

In an AIPAC breakout session moderated by AIPAC’s Director of Programming in Jerusalem Tom Sawicki, Andrea Levin, director of the Committee for Accurate Reporting in the Middle East (CAMERA); Dovid Efune, editor-in-chief of the Algemeiner; and Ha’aretz journalist Amir Tibon shared their perspectives.

“The coverage fluctuates to some extent with events that are happening in Middle East,” Levin said. “I don’t think there’s a sufficiently wide range [of coverage].” She cited — in several instances — the New York Times as one of the most influential media outlets and said there is far too much coverage of Israel’s actions and not enough about Israel’s adversaries.

“[The media] tends to focus on the Israeli’s, their behavior, their alleged misconduct, and there is far too little coverage of the forces that operate within the Palestinian Authority, the corruption in the Palestinian Authority and the fact that journalists are being imprisoned and tortured in the Palestinian Authority,” she said.

Efune added that everything — not just the media — is politicized these days. “I think it’s fair to say along more partisan lines we see differing coverage,” he said. “It’s true the bulk of US mainstream media veers more to the left or progressive side of the narrative.” However, he added, the biggest issue with most media outlets is the lack of historical context. “You can win any argument if you can decide when to start the clock,” he said.

Tibon said that in general there is a lack of discussion of internal Palestinian politics and more coverage of Israeli politics. “Whether that coverage is good or not – I have my own thoughts,” he said to laughter.

On a more serious note, Tibon said in general there isn’t any real discussion in the media about “what is happening between Hamas and Fatah. Where is the political standing of Mahmoud Abbas? Who could be his successor? What is driving protests in Gaza and the West bank right now? How do different Palestinian political factions view the Trump administration or political events in Israel? That’s something I believe is missing,” he said.

Discussing flaws in the coverage of Israel by US media outlets, Levin said, “Everything is identity politics [with the media. For them], it matters who is speaking rather than what’s happening. It’s a true corruption of neutrality and objectivity.”

Efune said the media is moving into a new era and “we need to narrow the gap between the editor and the publisher and the reader and understand what’s really important to people and let go of this parochial imposition.”

Asked if there is a herd mentality in Israel coverage by US media, Tibon said, “When we as journalists cover other people’s wars and conflicts it’s very challenging. You need to be prepared for the idea that people who care deeply about an issue are going to complain.”

Levin spoke about the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and how she met with an Israeli official a few months beforehand. She said that official told her once Israel pulled out of Gaza, “the world will change, there will be sympathy for us and people will finally understand.”

However, Levin said, it’s clear that didn’t work. “Israel needs to act in its own self-interest – not to curry favor because you cannot curry that favor. The most important thing is to fight for the truth and state the truth – but not to think that taking certain actions or policies with the belief this will somehow change the perception.”

Sawicki asked if Benny Gantz wins the upcoming Israeli election and offers up a big peace plan, will the media’s perception of Israel change? Tibon said, “First let’s see if he can win, but even if he can I don’t think it he will do anything different on this issue than Netanyahu because this issue is not a prime ministerial issue, it’s a coalition issue and Gantz will still have a right-wing coalition.”

More importantly, he said, to enthusiastic applause, “Israel should not make its policies based on what will be written about it in the New York Times or what will be said about us on Fox News.”

He said the most important thing is Israel making policies based on its national security interests and long-term interests of prosperity and survival, “not because of an editorial article here or there.”

Overall, Tibon said, when it comes to the question of how Israel’s actions impact public opinion “many people will hate us no matter what. The question is are we helping them or are we making their argument less persuasive?”

He said that there will always be 25 percent of people that you will never convince that “we are good and righteous and have the right to our own country.” But, he said, “can we do things that will keep that to 25 percent and not grow to 40 or 50 percent?”

At the end of the day, Tibon said, decisions need to be made about setting Israel’s borders “and living in peace with our neighbors and not being in control of another people because its in our interests, not because of the editorial line of some newspaper.”



Two Nice Jewish Boys Episode 113 – The Dark Side of Innovation

Hi-tech and innovation have brought many good things to the world. Social media connected us to one another and in doing so gave power to the citizens of the world. Search engines gave us access to knowledge and the day may come when autonomous cars will rid us of accidents on the road and save millions of lives.

But start-ups may also have dark sides. Facebook helped, unwittingly, spread fake news and foreign governments used it to intervene in the democratic process in America. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are used for drug and weapon trafficking, far from the eyes of law enforcement. And then there’s privacy. It’s that thing we used to have, and maybe never will again.

So innovation goes both ways. That we know. But what happens when companies innovate to provide tools for governments to intercept their citizens’ activities, extract information about them and maybe ultimately – prosecute them and violate their basic human rights?

In recent years more and more Israeli companies are blamed for doing exactly that. In a huge investigative report on Haaretz – one of Israel’s leading newspapers, reporters Hagar Shezaf and Yonathan Yakobzon, delved into the dark pasts of a few of these companies. What they found was alarming. Hagar Shezaf of Haaretz, joins us today to talk about the investigation and the piece she co-wrote.

The report on Haaretz
Hagar’s pieces on Haaretz
Hagar Shezaf on Twitter

Note to the General Assembly: We Need to Listen

“We Need to Talk,” the theme of this year’s Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly in Tel Aviv, sounds like what people usually say before they terminate a relationship. Of course, for Israeli and American Jewry, termination is the last thing on anyone’s mind. The relationship may be strained but a break-up is inconceivable. The very purpose of this annual gathering is to strengthen communal bonds.

As Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in his welcoming address at the three-day conference on Oct. 21, “We are not strategic allies. We are a family. We are one big family. We don’t have only shared interests — we have a shared faith, history and future.”

This family, though, has become dysfunctional. The relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry seems to be getting worse every year.

Chemi Shalev, the Israeli commentator for Haaretz, wrote that the General Assembly’s bold theme was a “desperate plea” to save Israel-U.S. Jewish ties.

In other words, things have gotten so bad and have been allowed to fester for so long that this is no time to mince words. So, we might as well go for an intervention: “Hey, Israel, it’s gone too far.  We need to talk.”

Shalev may be right that the theme betrayed a sense of desperation, but that is precisely why it wasn’t the best choice of words. If we are desperate to save a relationship, we shouldn’t use a phrase that reinforces that desperation. 

I can appreciate how the organizers needed to show that it’s no longer business as usual in the relationship. As Shalev wrote, “Even if one interprets ‘We need to talk’ in the most positive way possible, it still denotes serious disagreements that can no longer be ignored.”

“Listening is more difficult to do than talking. Jews talk all the time. The problem is that, too often, we talk past each other.

We can agree, then, that it was time to make a provocative statement that would capture the urgency of the moment. But is “talk” the right word? I don’t think so.

Imagine if the theme would have been, “We need to listen.” That would have been even more provocative, because listening is more difficult to do than talking. Jews talk all the time. The problem is that, too often, we talk past each other. 

What we need is not more talking but more listening, from both sides.

Am I making too big a deal of an event slogan? Not if you consider that the theme for such a major gathering is not just for the attendees; it’s also for the whole Jewish world. It sets the tone for the rest of the year. “We need to listen” should become the driving mantra to repair communal bonds throughout all Jewish communities.

I wasn’t at the GA this year, but I hear it had some terrific events and panels. I saw a few online. I’m sure there was a lot of listening. My point is that, in terms of communal aspiration, the word “listening” is more powerful than the word “talking.”   

I’m sure the GA’s organizers would agree. In fact, JFNA President Jerry Silverman, in an interview on JPost.com, said that “increased understanding was required both from Israelis and Diaspora Jews of each other’s concerns.”

How do we get to “increased understanding”? Through better and deeper listening.

As we move forward, American Jews could listen better to Israelis’ new security concerns. For example, according to a report this week on Ynet, instead of basing precision missile factories in Syria, Iran is now transferring the missiles directly to Hezbollah. Why is this a potential disaster? Because precision missiles can wreak havoc not just on civilian centers but on military centers, air force bases, power stations and even Israel’s nuclear reactors.

“We should also recognize another imbalance: There is no Israeli GA that shows up in New York or Los Angeles to critique the failures of American Jewry.”

This kind of existential danger ought to put our relationship problems in perspective. It’s not just a talking point on one side of the ledger. It’s fundamental to appreciating the completely different context in which Israelis live.

We in America have every right to express our concerns about Israel’s failures, and we will continue to do so over the coming year. And yes, Israelis should listen. But American Jews can also be better at internalizing the Israeli reality of living in a state of virtual siege, under constant threat of annihilation. If that doesn’t buy a little understanding, I don’t know what does.

We should also recognize another imbalance: There is no Israeli GA that shows up in New York or Los Angeles to critique the failures of American Jewry — like, for example, the failure to address the new generation’s vanishing Jewish identity.

When that day comes, I hope we in America will listen as well as we expect Israelis to listen. After all, we are one big family.

Israel Is a Country, Not a Cause

If you’re like a lot of American Jews, you’ve gotten pretty worked up lately about the Nation- State Law, the questioning of Peter Beinart at Ben Gurion Airport or the LGBT protests about surrogacy. Before that, there was the Kotel controversy, and the Jerusalem embassy, and before that the Iran deal—and so on.

There is no country on earth whose domestic and foreign policy grips American Jewish attention like Israel. Because it’s the “Jewish state,” and American Jews care.

But there’s something wrong with all this caring.

In America, where many Jews don’t know Hebrew, arguments about Israel tend to be shallow and shrill mirrors of debates in Israel—after all, what do people use to interpret the news other than what Israeli right-wingers and left-wingers are telling them?

This kind of second-level arguing, however, is usually a waste of breath.

Why? In part, because it’s stripped of context. Israelis shout when they argue, even when they write. A writer from Haaretz can declare the rise of Israeli fascism, and another one from Israel Hayom can scream about treason against the nation, yet it’s a small Middle-Eastern country—when they’re done shouting, they still go to the same bars, the same family meals, listen to the same radio news, or run into each other at the gym or the boardroom.

A columnist for Haaretz once told me: “Of course I overstate the threats to Israeli democracy. If I don’t scream, nobody will hear me.”

Another reason American Jews are so breathless is that they feel powerless to affect the country they care about. They don’t vote in Israel, they don’t participate in the Hebrew-language policy debates, and no matter how much they feel Israeli decisions might affect them, they really don’t, at least not in the way they affect Israeli voters and taxpayers.

In fact, the disconnect between American-Jewish adrenaline about Israel and the actual, objective success and stability of the country is so enormous that it forces us to ask: What are you really worried about, American Jews?

The short answer, the only one that makes any sense, is this: It’s about you.

American Jews want desperately to care about something Jewish, but don’t really want to face the fact that their kids aren’t continuing the identity, that they have lost a sense of belonging, that their synagogue-based communities are dissolving into infinite WhatsApp groups and Facebook groups and political action committees, that their kids are, in some cases, getting blamed on campus for things that Israel is accused of doing.

Meanwhile, over here in Israel, something totally different is happening. Under the radar, Israel has turned itself from a cultural backwater into something vibrant, edgy, and increasingly influential. Remember Start-Up Nation? Now it’s happening with culture: Israelis are changing the face not just of hi-tech but of music, architecture, film and TV, of design and art and dance.

When will American Jews notice? When will they tell their kids: Go to Israel because something amazing is happening there. Forget Left and Right—it’s not important. Forget BDS—it doesn’t matter. A nation’s creative spirit, its deep Jewish soul, its language and culture—all these are much bigger and more important for you than anything you read in the news.

This is not about Whataboutism or going “Beyond the Conflict.” Israelis don’t live in the conflict and don’t need to go beyond it. Israeli reality is mainly about what everybody else’s reality is about: Work, family, vacation, entertainment. In short, life.

But it’s also a different reality—an incredible life, full of creative energy, new thoughts, big gambles and brass tacks. This can be a lot more interesting to young American Jews looking for something to anchor their identity in than all the endless political sword-fighting.

The point is: A government is not its people. For Americans to get worked up about Israel based on who is in power makes no more sense than for Israelis to decide whether to visit or do business with the United States based on the latest tweets coming out of the White House.

Instead of showing your caring by reacting to headlines, there’s a different way to care—a much healthier way, one that will take you farther and bring your kids closer: Find the Israel that adds value to your life.

Visit. Learn the language. Meet the people. Listen to the music. Drink the wine. Enjoy the country. Treat it like an exotic foreign land, not a rotting shack in your backyard that used to be pretty but now is full of dung. Israel is not rotting, it has only gotten more beautiful, and it’s frankly not your backyard.

In an important essay last year, David Hazony made this point about “Israeliness” as a key to the Jewish future in America. He ended by saying that the path to Israel means “rediscovering Israel as a country, not just a cause, and yourself as someone searching rather than acting out of certainty…  to see the Israeli other not as a threat but as a resource for your own journey.”

Bring to Israel your sense of exploration and wonder rather than anxiety and anger, and you’ll be shocked how much more it has to offer. Your kids will be grateful, too.

Adam Bellos is the founder of The Israel Innovation Fund, whose goal is to create culturally relevant initiatives that showcase Israel’s diverse culture. Its flagship program, Wine on the Vine, enables people to support Israel’s wine industry by planting grapevines and supporting charities. 

Episode 69 – Haaretz Chief Editor Talks Journalism

Freedom of speech or freedom of the press has been a key ingredient of healthy democracies since, well, since healthy democracies have been around. But what does it mean to be a good Journalist? Where do we draw the lines between freedom of press and national security? How do you keep a newspaper’s ethics in check without compromising on its values?

As Israel’s leading liberal national daily newspaper, Haaretz and its journalists must struggle with these questions on a daily basis, particularly the person who runs the paper.

So, here to help us answer those questions is Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of Haaretz. Aluf Benn has been published in a number of international newspapers including The NYT, The Guardian and Newsweek.

He joins us today to discuss journalism.

Haaretz’s English website and Facebook page

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Episode 56 – Haaretz columnist throws right hooks at left-wingers

Anyone who’s visited Tel Aviv has walked down the famous, sometimes infamous, Allenby Street. It’s hard to miss this road that crosses Rothschild Blvd, runs by the entrance to the Carmel Market and leads to the Beach Promenade. Today, it’s a must see tourist attraction. But not so long ago, Allenby was still on the social fringes of Tel Aviv.

Gadi Taub’s best-selling novel “Allenby”, named after the street itself, sheds light on the gritty underground scene of Tel Aviv – from its shadier dance bars to its strip clubs and brothels. Taub’s book was later turned into a TV series for Channel 10.

But Gadi Taub’s resume does not end there. He received his PhD in American Studies from Rutgers University and is a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has written extensively for various new publications including Haaretz, Yedioth Aharonoth, Maariv and more. Taub also wrote the novel “The Witch from Number 3 Meltchet Street” which too was adapted for the screen.

Gadi Taub joins us today to talk about his life, his career and maybe a bit about his ideas.

Gadi’s books on Amazon

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Abbas declines meeting with Rivlin while both in Brussels

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin expressed regret that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declined to meet with him while the two leaders were in Brussels.

Martin Schultz, the parliament’s president, had offered to arrange and mediate the meeting while both Abbas and Rivlin were at the European Union to speak to the Parliament and meet with EU officials.

On Thursday morning, Schultz told Rivlin that Abbas had refused the meeting, the Israeli media reported, citing an unnamed senior Israeli official. Rivlin said he had welcomed the initiative.

He also said: “On a personal level I find it strange that President Mahmoud Abbas, my friend Abu Mazen, refuses again and again to meet with Israeli leaders,” Rivlin said.  Instead Abbas “turns again and again to the support of the international community.”

“We can talk. We can talk directly and find a way to build confidence,” the Israeli leader said.

Abbas’ office told Haaretz that no meeting had been planned with Rivlin.

In a speech to the European Parliament on Thursday, Abbas blamed global terror on Israel’s control of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

“Once the occupation ends, terrorism will disappear, there will be no more terrorism in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world,” Abbas asserted.

He also reiterated Palestinian Authority support for a two-state solution based on the recent French peace initiative and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.

Also in his speech, in off-the-cuff remarks that do not appear in the PA’s official transcript, Abbas accused Israeli rabbis of calling for the poisoning of Palestinian water, a medieval anti-Semitic libel, Reuters reported. Reuters and other news sources could not verify that such a call took place, and the group that Abbas’ office cited as having provided the information denied providing such information.

In his speech to the parliament on Wednesday, Rivlin rejected the French peace initiative, saying it “suffers from fundamental faults.”

“The attempt to return to negotiations for negotiations’ sake not only does not bring us near the long-awaited solution, but rather drags us further away from it,” he said.

Outrage over removal of Israeli flag at Haaretz Conference

The removal of the Israeli flag ahead of a Palestinian representative at the Haaretz conference in New York on Sunday is continuing to make waves and has sparked harsh criticism from Israeli politicians.

As first reported by Jewish Insider, an Israeli flag that was placed on the stage for the opening session of the newspaper’s inaugural conference at the Roosevelt in NY was removed from the ballroom moments before chief Palestinian negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat took the stage.

Many participants criticized the move.

In an official statement released hours after the incident, Haaretz said, “Mr. Erekat’s team requested he not be made to speak next to the Israeli flag, and we honored his wishes.” In an interview with Army Radio Monday morning, Haaretz Publisher Amos Schocken said, “Haaretz doesn’t hold conferences against the backdrop of the Israeli flag. Would the Office of the President agree to have a Palestinian flag next to an Israeli flag? I don’t think so. We did not place a Palestinian flag on the stage during Erekat’s speech. We had no intention of placing any flag on the stage. We placed it on stage at President [Reuven] Rivlin’s request, and removed it at Erekat’s request.”

During his address at the conference, Erekat stated that “Israel has a partner on the basis of a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital.” He also said that the Palestinians have “recognized Israel’s existence and her right to live in peace and security in borders based on the 1967 lines.”

Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud) called the incident “a disgrace to everyone involved.”

“Erekat is a senior Palestinian Authority official who for years has been involved in the negotiations with Israel. His refusal to address the conference against the backdrop of the Israeli flag is yet another indicator how willing the Palestinians are to achieve peace,” Elkin said, according to Israel Hayom. “This incident proves, yet again, that the problem we have with the Palestinian leadership is not a territorial dispute, but it lies with their inability to recognize a Jewish state within any lines.”

Added Israel’s Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, “This is the vision of peace at the Haaretz conference in the US: to remove Israeli flags from the stage because of the demands of Saeb Erekat? It’s another record in contempt and self-effacement. And with whom specifically does Erekat intend to make ‘peace?’ With Ahmed Tibi?”

Yair Lapid, one of Israel’s leading opposition leaders, said the move “shows a loss of national pride by the far left in Israel.”

At the opening of the Yesh Atid Knesset Faction meeting Monday, Lapid said, “Imagine the outcry if an Israeli speaker at an international conference in New York had asked to remove the Palestinian flag. This kind of behavior leads us to a bi-national state. It is where the far left and far right come together, both are leading us down that path. It is time for a clear distinction in this country between the moderates and the extremes.”

“The Zionist left of Ben Gurion, of Rabin, would never have allowed something like this,” said Lapid. “This kind of behavior eats us up from the inside and we can’t go on like this.”

The Haaretz conference also featured speeches by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the Joint Arab List party leader MK Ayman Odeh, as well as a video message by President Barack Obama.

Odeh was treated like a rock star at the conference. His speech was constantly interrupted by raucous applause and standing ovations, almost equivalent to Netanyahu’s reception at AIPAC’s annual conference. “The conflict cannot be managed. It can only be solved,” Odeh declared. “the occupation is the Palestinian people’s tragedy, but it is also Israel’s prison. We must liberate both peoples from the prison of occupation.”

Last week, Odeh sparked controversy when he ditched a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations after learning that the group shared office space with the Jewish Agency and other pro-Israel organizations.

Rivlin’s appearance at the conference raised criticism back home for agreeing to participate in a conference that included “Breaking the Silence,” a group that accuses the IDF of war crimes. Rivlin addressed the issue at the start of his remarks by saying, “From time to time the obvious should be said. Especially during these days, when we are facing a difficult and dangerous fight against terrorism. The IDF does everything in its power to maintain the highest possible moral standard, even under impossible conditions, and more than any other army in the world. This is true of its commanders, and of its soldiers. For that, we are very proud of them, and owe them all our support and appreciation.”

Haaretz Twitter feed hacked by pro-Palestinian activists

Pro-Palestinian hackers commandeered the Twitter feed of the Hebrew-language Haaretz news website, leaving anti-Israel tweets for more than an hour.

Among the tweets posted on Tuesday afternoon were: “The Holocaust of the Balfour Declaration will continue the knife intifada”;  “The mothers of our martyrs will drink the blood of your soldiers and settlers,” and “The memory of the Balfour Declaration has changed the situation, wait for the massacre that will be arriving soon.”

The posts, including photos of Israeli leaders covered in blood, came a day after the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which has been credited with helping pave the way for the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Haaretz, whose editorial position supports Palestinian aspirations for a state, thanked Twitter in a tweet for helping to resolve the situation so quickly.

David Landau, Haaretz editor and JTA’s longtime Israel bureau chief, dies at 67

David Landau, a British-born Israeli journalist who held top positions at several English-language publications, including JTA, has died.

Landau died of brain cancer in Jerusalem on Tuesday. He was 67.

Landau, who made aliyah in 1970, served part time as JTA’s Israel bureau chief for many years while also working as a diplomatic correspondent at The Jerusalem Post. He later was promoted to managing editor of the Post. In 1997 he founded Haaretz’s English-language edition and served as the newspaper’s editor in chief from 2004 to 2008. He wrote columns for Haaretz until last year.

In choosing to work for JTA, Landau “demonstrated his strong commitment to educating Diaspora Jewry about the intricacies of Israeli politics and Israeli life,” said Lisa Hostein, JTA’s editor from 1994 to 2008.

“Top Israeli journalists in Israel would respond with disbelief when they discovered I had the audacity to edit and even challenge David, who was known as a tough journalist and editor in his own right,” said Hostein, who now serves as executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.

“He was an Orthodox Jew whose commitment to an open and moral democracy in Israel drove his work as a journalist,” she said. “May his memory be a blessing.”

Landau wrote and ghost-wrote several books, including “Piety and Power: The World of Jewish Fundamentalism” (1992), about Israel’s haredi Orthodox community, and a biography of Ariel Sharon published last year.

“David Landau’s untimely death is a very great loss, not just for his family and his many friends, but also for Haaretz and for journalism in general,” said Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken in an obituary  published in that newspaper. “As a Haaretz staffer for many years, and especially during his tenure as editor-in-chief, David made an enormous contribution to the paper as an enlightened Zionist intellectual, a liberal in the full sense of the word and a believing Jew, and he demonstrated that there is no inherent contradiction in these things.”

Former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who collaborated with Landau on two memoirs, told Haaretz that Landau was “a rare combination of an individual – religious in depth and liberal in breadth.”

Landau will be buried at Har Hamenuhot Cemetery in Jerusalem on Wednesday afternoon.

He is survived by his wife, Jackie, their three children and eight grandchildren.

White House derides report of no Rice-Dermer meetings

The White House denied an Israeli newspaper report suggesting that U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, have never met.

“Ambassador Rice and Ambassador Dermer have met multiple times before last week,” Rice’s spokesman, Alistair Baskey, told JTA on Monday, responding to an article in Haaretz the same day that quoted Rice as telling an American Jewish leader that she had never met with Dermer.

“We will decline to provide details on those meetings, but would note that in her role as National Security Advisor, Ambassador Rice’s principal Israeli interlocutor is her counterpart National Security Advisor Yossi Cohen, with whom she engages very frequently,” Baskey said. “This is not unique to Israel; it’s the norm. Ambassador Dermer engages frequently with other White House officials.”

The Haaretz report said a U.S. Jewish leader had asked Rice several months ago why she had not met with Dermer, and she replied, “He never asked to meet me. Besides, I understood that he’s too busy traveling to Sheldon Adelson’s events in Las Vegas.”

Dermer had attended a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Las Vegas. Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate and a major RJC funder, is close to Dermer as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Baskey described the report of the conversation as “based on unattributed hearsay, and no one sought to check with us before running the piece.”

The report comes against the background of increased tensions between the Obama and Netanyahu governments over Iran policy and Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects.

“This is yet another distraction from the reality,” said Baskey, “which is that the U.S.-Israel relationship today is actually fundamentally stronger in many respects than it’s ever been.”

The Israeli Embassy did not return a request by JTA for comment.


Ariel Sharon, a bio of a life beyond all expectations

Perhaps the most irrational act esteemed journalist David Landau has ever attempted in his literary career is trying to write a clear-eyed evenhanded biography of Ariel Sharon in “Arik: The Life of Ariel Sharon” (Knopf: $37.50).  Sharon’s larger-than-life almost mythic persona seems to cut into the souls of Jews everywhere, forcing them to grapple with their own commitment to Israel and their ancient heritage no matter how far they may have drifted spiritually, intellectually, or geographically.  Sharon compels Jews to look at themselves and figure out what they really feel; he refuses to be ignored.  Even during the years he lay unconscious from the massive stroke he suffered in early 2006, his presence was still felt.  Some prayed for his recovery, thinking perhaps only he could bring some sort of sustained security to Israel – a path he seemed to be embarking on before falling ill.  Others were still stung by the shame they believe he brought forth – the excessive force in Lebanon, the building of more and more settlements, the seemingly eternal mistrust of the Arabs.  There is still little consensus about Sharon, other than this: He was passionately devoted to Israel’s survival; to the survival of the Jews.  Sharon’s death on Jan. 11, at 85, makes Landau’s intuitive biography all the more compelling.

Author Landau is a left-leaning Orthodox Jew who spent years writing for the Jerusalem Post and then serving as editor of Ha’aretz.  He has done a superb job here in attempting to chisel away the myths that surround Sharon and to isolate his essence without theatrics or ideological fanfare.  He allows the research to lead him, and his steadiness and fairness prove a good match for Sharon’s impetuousness; ironically it feels as if they each possess strengths the other lacks.  The result is a complex and compelling portrait of Sharon that forces the reader to reevaluate his or her preconceived notions.

Sharon’s rough-edged intensity seems to have been part of his genetic inheritance.  His paternal grandfather, Mordechai Scheinerman, came to Palestine in 1910 from Brest Litovsk, in White Russia, and was an early convert to Zionism.  Scheinerman found the heat and mosquitoes intolerable and returned home, only to be forced to flee again to Tbilisi, Georgia, where he made certain his son Samuil, Ariel Sharon’s father, was indoctrinated with a sense of mission regarding the Jewish dream of attaining their own homeland.  Samuil fled to Palestine in 1921 after convincing his girlfriend Vera Schneeroff, a fourth year medical student from Belarus, to marry him and go with him.  The couple settled in the cooperative village of Kfar Malal, near Tel Aviv, where, Landau writes, they had immediate difficulties with their neighbors.  Sharon concedes that they were both tough and loners by nature, and possessed an iron-clad individualist ethos that clashed with the collective ethos of that era.  Sharon’s father was a trained and innovative agronomist who experimented with introducing new crops to the area, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes and avocados.  Sharon’s mother was an incessant reader and frustrated by the lack of intellectual opportunity available to her at that time.  She insisted Ariel attend high school in Tel Aviv, even though most of the local boys did not.  She also insisted her children take violin lessons, attend recitals and read the Russian classics.

But this was Palestine, a world different from the one they had left behind, and Sharon’s childhood memories are infiltrated with an almost visceral love of the land.  He remembers feeling energized working in the fields after school.  One senses that he drew strength from the stark sensual beauty that surrounded him.  Or, at the very least, the land served as a tranquilizer of sorts for the racing thoughts that were most likely already spinning about in his head.  Thoughts that told him this paradise was temporary, and that like all paradises it would have to be fought for.  Sharon was probably already gearing up for the fight.  His parents, particularly his mother, had always warned him never to trust the Arabs, and she slept anxiously even in her nineties with a revolver tucked under her pillow.  She would call him in later years and warn him to always keep his guard up when dealing with them and rely on his own resilience.  There seems to have been a certain sort of sadness that shrouded his family; the sadness that comes from being ousted.  A sadness that turned into anger and a raging sense of purpose in young Ariel.  By 14, he had taken an oath of allegiance to the Haganah, the underground army of the Jewish state in the making.  He was quickly recognized for his leadership abilities and fearlessness.

Sharon’s military prowess is legendary.  But there were rumors about his overzealousness, which Landau explores.  Rumors that he stretched the truth or ignored it entirely.  Rumors that he was capable of stepping too far out of bounds.  David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan both were taken with Sharon’s brashness but afraid that he could do something so rash that the results could be catastrophic. 

Sharon reminisced about some of his military experiences in 2005, recalling in particular the war that broke out after Israel declared its independence.  Syria, Iraq and Egypt attacked immediately, and Britain fled, leaving the Jews on their own.  Sharon was irrevocably moved by the sight of newly arrived Holocaust survivors coming to assist his own troops in the upcoming battle.  He remembers that this event took place near, “an olive grove near ancient Hulda.  My platoon and I lie sprawled in the afternoon heat under the shade of the trees.  Thoughts before the battle.  We blend into the scrubby soil, as though we were an integral part of it.  Feelings of rootedness, of homeland, of belonging, of ownership.  Suddenly, a line of trucks pulls up nearby.  New recruits, foreign looking, pale, in sleeveless pullovers, gray trousers, striped shirts.  A mélange of languages.  Names like Herschel and Jazek are bandied about, Yanem, Jonzi, Peter.  They so don’t blend with the olive tree, the rocks, the yellow earth.  They came to us from the death camps of Europe….The stripped off, white-skinned bodies, tried to find uniforms that fit, struggled with buckles and belts helped by young commanders they have only just met.  All are quiet.  Acquiescent.  Not one of them shouts, give us a chance to breathe a little air after the terrible years we have been through.  As they know this is another battle, the last battle, for Jewish survival…” 

Landau chronicles Sharon’s transition from military leader to Prime Minister and confesses to his own skepticism regarding his transformation into a mature statesman.  He wonders “But was it all political strategy, or was it substance, too?…Was the change in his image all slick campaigning or did it reflect changes taking place ‘inside him’ in his understanding of what was required of Israel’s leader?  Was his sole concern achieving popularity-first in the election, then in the job of Prime Minister, and finally in the history books?  Or did his newfound moderation express a genuine embrace of pragmatic positions not only because they were popular but because he was coming to believe in them?” 

Landau seems to come to believe in the sincerity of his transformation.  He watched Sharon, to the delight of the peacenik movement, withdraw from Gaza, which he did shortly after speaking these prophetic words to a Likud caucus in the Knesset.  Prime Minister Sharon declared, “I am going to make every effort to reach a political settlement of the conflict…I also happen to think that the idea that we can continue to hold three and a half million Palestinians under occupation — you can bridle at the words, but that what it is, occupation — that it is bad for Israel, bad for the Palestinians, bad for our economy.  We need to free ourselves from control of over three and a half million Palestinians whose numbers are rising all the time.  We have to reach a political settlement.” 

Landau explains how unimaginable this speech would have been just years before, but still seems to harbor serious reservations about Sharon.   The reader senses Landau feels that Sharon’s intrinsic stubbornness, his late-life wisdom, and his perennial mistrust of the Palestinians ultimately allowed him to miss valuable opportunities for negotiation and peace when they were present.

But others with a similar political bent to Landau’s have drawn different conclusions.  Ari Shavit wrote in The New Yorker in 2006 about spending time with Sharon on his ranch in the western Negev in 1999.  He recalled feeling hostile towards Sharon before they met because of Lebanon; a war he feels brought shame and disrespect to Israel.  But after spending time with Sharon, he came away impressed.  He liked the way Sharon called himself a Jew and not an Israeli, as he would have expected.  He was impressed by his humbleness, his lack of self-consciousness, his intuition about all matters.  He was surprised by his sense of humor, his graciousness, his stories about his parents’ Russian background. By the time Shavit met with Sharon, his beloved wife Lily had passed and Sharon was enveloped by the love and companionship of his two sons, to whom he seemed incredibly close.  Sharon took great joy in speaking about the olive trees on his farm and the history of the olive tree’s longevity in that area.  Although Shavit doesn’t say so, it seems as if the olive trees represented for Sharon the strength and resilience of the Jews in their quest to secure their homeland forever.  Shavit came away from the meeting awed by Sharon and all he had accomplished. 

But other Jews can’t speak of him without seeing the Jewish bogeyman.   Tony Judt wrote in 2002 that Sharon was directly responsible for not finding credible Palestinian partners with whom to broker a peace deal.  He blamed Sharon for the ongoing carnage.  Judt claimed, “This is the distinctive achievement of Ariel Sharon, Israel’s dark Id.  Notorious among soldiers for his strategic incompetence – his tactical success with bold tank advances was never matched by any grasp of the bigger picture – Sharon has proven as bad as many of us feared.  He has repeated (or in the case of the expulsion of Arafat, tried to repeat) all the mistakes of the 1982 occupation of Lebanon, down to the very rhetoric.  Sharon’s obsession with Arafat brings to mind Victor Hugo’s Inspector Javer, his life and career insanely given over to the destruction of Jean Valjean, at the price of all measure and reason, including his own (the literary comparison flatters Sharon and Arafat alike.)”

Ariel Sharon’s contribution to the Israeli state, as a leader and a military hero, are enormous.  But Landau has found a way to make his life comprehensible and thought-provoking, as Israel still struggles to find a path towards peace and stability and internal solidity.

Elaine Margolin is a book reviewer for the Jewish Journal and other publications.

Anat Kamm sues Haaretz newspaper for exposing her as source

Anat Kamm, the Israeli soldier who was jailed for turning classified Israeli military documents over to a reporter, is suing the Israeli daily Haaretz and journalist Uri Blau for revealing her identity.

Kamm filed a lawsuit Thursday with the Tel Aviv District Court, asking for $716,000 and lawyer's fees. She reportedly claims that Haaretz exposed her to Shin Bet scrutiny and criminal proceedings, and thus owes her the compensation.

She was convicted in February 2011 of collecting, holding and passing on classified information without authorization. An espionage charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain.

Arrested in late 2009 or early 2010, Kamm admitted to stealing about 2,000 documents, hundreds identified as classified or top secret, which she downloaded to two discs, while serving her mandatory military service in the Israeli army in the Central Command. She gave the information to  Blau, a Haaretz reporter who wrote stories based on the information that was approved by the military censor. The stories led to a search for Blau's source.

Blau served a four-month suspended prison sentence, which he served through community service, for accepting the information,

Following her military service, Kamm was a media reporter for Walla, an online news site that at the time was partly owned by Haaretz. She has been in the Neve Tirzah women's prison since November 2011.

Israel rattled by mysterious Australian prisoner, reports ABC

An Australian man committed suicide in a high-security Israeli jail in 2010 after being held for months in great secrecy, Australia's ABC channel said on Tuesday, throwing new light on a case that has rattled Israel.

The unforced ABC story named the man, known previously only as “prisoner x”, as Ben Zygier. It added that it “understood” the 34-year-old from Melbourne had been previously recruited by the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

There was no official comment on the story in Israel.

However, within hours of the report surfacing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office summoned Israeli editors to ask them not to publish a story “that is very embarrassing to a certain government agency”, Israel's Haaretz newspaper said.

“The emergency meeting was called following a broadcast outside Israel regarding the incident in question,” Haaretz said, giving no further information.

Shortly afterwards, all reference to the Australian report vanished from Israeli news sites — including Haaretz itself.

Such a gag order is highly unusual in Israel, where state military censors normally allow local media to quote foreign sources on controversial incidents — such as an alleged attack on Syria last month by the Israeli airforce.

ABC said that Zygier's imprisonment was so secret that not even his guards knew his name. However, word got out at the time of a mysterious prisoner and human rights groups wrote to the state to demand more information.

“It is insupportable that, in a democratic country, authorities can arrest people in complete secrecy and disappear them from public view without the public even knowing such an arrest took place,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote in June 2010.

When Israel's Ynet website wrote about the case that same month the story was quickly removed because of a gag order.

ABC said Zygier had moved to Israel 10 years before his death and changed his name to Ben Alon. It gave no reason for his imprisonment, speculating only that it would have had to concern espionage and sensitive state secrets.

Funeral notices from Australia show that Zygier's body was flown back to Melbourne at the end of December 2010 for burial.

Hebrew media is imploding, but Israeli English press booming

On Oct. 17, seven Israeli English news websites led with seven different stories.

The Jerusalem Post had a piece on Egypt’s commitment to its treaty with Israel. Haaretz's English site ran with a recently released Israeli document on Gaza. Ynet News, Yediot Achronot’s English site, led with threats to a retired Israeli security chief. Then there were the stories on the websites of the Times of Israel, Israel Hayom’s English edition, Israel National News, and +972, a popular news and commentary blog.

Twenty years ago, of these seven publications, only The Jerusalem Post existed. Two of the news outlets, Israel Hayom English and the Times of Israel, are less than three years old.

While Hebrew newspapers and TV channels are struggling, the Israeli English-language news market appears to be booming. But with the business of journalism under threat worldwide due to declining revenues, Israel's English-language media face an uncertain future.

“We see an explosion of new media because online platforms are cheap and easy to use,” said Noam Sheizaf, CEO of +972. “We couldn’t have done +972 four years ago. Times of Israel would have been a much more expensive operation five years ago.”

The past few months have seen an implosion of the Hebrew press. Maariv, a tabloid founded in 1948 and for its first 20 years Israel’s largest circulation daily, recently was placed in the hands of a court-appointed trustee and could shut down within weeks, leaving 2,000 people jobless. Haaretz, Israel’s leading broadsheet, did not print on Oct. 4 due to a staff protest of 100 proposed layoffs. Israel’s Channel 10 TV is in deep debt to the government and faces possible closure.

Many in Israel blame Israel Hayom, a staunchly conservative, freely distributed paper funded by American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, for aggravating the crisis in Hebrew media.

The tough environment “is exacerbated by the fact that in Israel we have the most generously funded free newspaper in the world,” said Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz, who before starting the site in February was editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. “That’s made life hard for all the publications in Israel.”

The boom in English-language media in Israel is due in part to the limited audience for Hebrew-language news: Israel has fewer than 8 million citizens, many of whom prefer the Arabic or Russian press to the Hebrew dailies. Editors of English publications here say Israeli media are looking for audiences overseas to sustain their operations, and there appears to be a limitless appetite around the world for news and opinion on Israel.

“There’s an audience for news coming out of the Jewish world,” said David Brinn, managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. And because most news content is free online, people interested in Israel news will visit any number of news sites — so new publications do not necessarily threaten older ones, Brinn said.

Much of the growth of Israel’s English media has been online. Haaretz, Ynet News, Israel National News and Israel Hayom all translate their Hebrew reportage while weaving in some original English reports.

In May, Haaretz, the only one of the Hebrew papers to have an English print edition, put up a paywall on its popular English website, charging digital subscribers $100 annually for unlimited access. It’s still uncertain whether the strategy will pay off, though the paywall experiment will be expanding soon to the Haaretz Hebrew site, too.

“It’s unrealistic to rely solely on a print model to fund our journalistic operation,” said Charlotte Halle, editor of Haaretz’s English edition. “We wouldn’t be taking care of our journalistic future if we didn’t seek additional sources of income.”

Halle said the paper’s “authority, breadth of coverage, and dozens reporters and editors we have in the field” have helped attract thousands of digital subscribers.

The Jerusalem Post has pursued additional revenue opportunities by printing a range of publications beyond its daily newspaper. The Post has international, Christian and French editions — all produced, along with the daily, by just 60 employees. Most of the paper's readers are online — the Post says it garners some 2 million hits per week.

The Times of Israel, which combines original reporting with articles that repackage information reported on Israeli TV, radio and news sites, would not disclose readership statistics. But Horovitz says the site is exceeding expectations and has garnered 40,000 “likes” on Facebook since its launch eight months ago.

Horovitz says the publication’s “nonpartisan agenda” stands in contrast to the right-leaning Jerusalem Post and left-leaning Haaretz. The news coverage seeks to strike an unbiased tone, he says, while hundreds of bloggers, all unpaid, opine on a range of topics — from Iran’s nuclear program to the morality of circumcision.

“We strive to tell it like it is,” Horovitz said. “People want to know what’s going on, and they don’t want to feel like it’s filtered through some political agenda.”

With such a crowded market in such challenging times for the news industry, Israel’s English-language journalists are not without trepidation about the future. “There will be some sort of reevaluation” of the Post print newspaper’s viability in a few years, Brinn said.

Beyond competing for the same readership, the publications must vie with an ever-expanding cyber universe that occasionally breaks stories before they do.

“Social media has served to democratize the media market in Israel,” said Avi Mayer, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s director of new media and a prolific tweeter of Israel news. “When people share information through Twitter, it is a personal experience.”

While many Israeli journalists have become active tweeters, +972's Sheizaf is concerned that publications that are thriving now are resistant to change, which could hurt them in the future.

“People are not experimenting,” he said. “The readers are evolving and changing but the journalists, the stories they write, look like the stories written in the 19th century. We need to be a lot more creative.”

Haaretz’s Uri Blau accepts plea bargain over classified documents

Uri Blau, the Haaretz journalist who accepted classified documents from an Israeli soldier, has agreed to a plea bargain.

Under the deal announced Thursday, Blau reportedly will admit to holding secret intelligence without intent to harm national security and his four-month prison sentence will be commuted to community service. He had faced up to seven years in prison on charges of “severe espionage,” which means that he allegedly obtained or kept secret information without authorization, but without intent to harm state security.

Last month, Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced that he would indict Blau, an investigative reporter for Haaretz, for being in possession of thousands of military documents, many of them top secret.

Blau allegedly accepted more than 1,500 classified military documents from Anat Kamm, 22, who is serving a 4 1/2-year prison term after accepting a plea bargain. Kamm had stolen the documents during her military service.

Iron Dome intercepts rocket fired by Gaza militants at Israeli city

The Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted a Grad-type Katyusha rocket fired by Gaza militants toward the southern city of Ashdod on Thursday, following hours of relative calm along Israel’s border with the coastal enclave.

Two more projectiles hit an open field in the Eshkol and Ashkelon regional Councils; no wounded reported.

The attack came after Palestinian militants fired three Grad rockets toward the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva on Thursday morning, following strikes by Israel Air Force craft against multiple targets in the Strip overnight.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

VIDEO: YouTube video purports to show Israeli border police tossing gas grenade at Palestinians

Israeli troops were captured on film throwing a tear gas grenade at Palestinians in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

In the clip, shot last Friday by freelance photographer Mati Milstein in Nabi Saleh, a tear gas grenade is tossed out the window of a passing Border Police jeep, causing a group of Palestinians who were standing by the side of the road to flee.

Regular demonstrations are held in the village every week against Israel’s confiscation of villagers’ land, in which Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers regularly clash.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Opinion: Running off the rails

On the 4th day of Adar, on the front page of Haaretz, there appeared a most curious story. Its headline read: “Israel Railways planning to build 475-kilometer rail network in West Bank.” The artwork consisted of a photo of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz of the Likud party, sporting a red hard hat in a railway tunnel, and a map of the proposed new lines: north from Jerusalem to Jenin via Ariel and Nablus, a southern route from Jerusalem to Hebron and Kiryat Arba, and several east-west lines as well.  The intention, according to the Transportation Ministry, is to serve “local residents and other passengers,” which presumably means Jews and Arabs alike. 

“In a visit to the northern part of the West Bank in 2010,” reported Haaretz, Katz “promised to revive the pre-state Ottoman and British Mandate-era rail line there with establishment of service between the city of Jenin and Afula in the Jezreel Valley,” in other words, linking the West Bank with Israel proper. In addition, plans are afoot for a line between Rosh Ha’ayin, also inside the Green Line, and the West Bank cities of Nablus (Arab) and Ariel (Jewish.)  No timetables or construction budgets have been set by the ministry, according to Haaretz.

Appearing as it did ten days before Purim, the article prompts an obvious question: Is this for real? Could such a vision conceivably be implemented, given the obvious need for Palestinian cooperation in the project? Might this possibly be a satire, a premature Purim spiel, a seasonal journalistic hoax? May it be interpreted as a wishful, impossible dream, a utopian fantasy of a new Middle East, where bygones are bygones and a thousand flowers bloom? Perhaps so, as it is written in Haaretz: “The plan also includes infrastructure that would connect the rail lines at a later stage to lines in the Gaza Strip and in Arab countries.” The Israeli reader, over her morning latte, may start to dream of hopping aboard the 8:55 in Tel Aviv and lunching on hummus in Damascus. 

Or is the plan, plain and simple, a blueprint for annexation — one more nail, however theoretical, in the coffin of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Whether the Netanyahu government is serious in its avowed pursuit of territorial compromise remains an open question for some, a closed book for others. The Ministry of Education is promoting class trips to Hebron, to instill in Israeli youth the centrality of the West Bank city — home to more than 150,000 Arabs and 500 Jews — to Jewish identity. Teachers were lately instructed to devote a designated “Gush Katif Day” to the idea that Israeli settlement in Gaza constituted Zionist idealism par excellence. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, visiting the Gush Katif Museum in Jerusalem on that same day, drove home the point that the uprooting of the Gaza settlements in 2005 was a dangerous folly that must never be repeated. If Hamas turned Gaza into a terrorist camp, imagine what might happen if they gained sovereignty over the West Bank. So goes the melancholy megillah, the widely persuasive scenario that explains how such a dream as the railway plan — envisioning one big state, Jewish if not exactly democratic — could be seriously entertained.   

We are accustomed, of course, to viewing the notion of a “one-state solution” as an anti-Zionist agenda aimed at undoing Israel as a Jewish state. The topic is bandied about on the campuses, most recently at a student-run conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School. The logic of such efforts is quite plain. As Israel holds fast to the West Bank, it becomes easier for critics to puncture its claim to upholding democratic values. At the end of the day, it matters not whether Israel’s adversaries play the “apartheid” card, or apply a pernicious double standard, or are impelled by sinister motives, or even whether Palestinian terrorism and cynical rejectionism are the real roadblocks to a two-state compromise. What matters is that the indefinite deprivation of full political and civil rights for West Bank Palestinians is insupportable and undermines Israeli democracy. The Gordian-knot solution, say the one-staters, is one person, one vote, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. To many reasonable people, this seems fair enough. But as a practical matter, it spells the end of Israel as we know it. 

Back in the pre-state era romanticized by Yisrael Katz, when Beirut was a scenic train ride away from Haifa, some of the keenest Jewish minds in Palestine supported a movement called Brit Shalom, whose aim was to create, slowly and carefully, a shared, democratic Jewish-Arab political entity in the land: a one-state or binational solution. These idealists included Gershom Scholem, the towering scholar of Jewish mysticism; Rabbi Judah Magnes, the California-born founding president of the Hebrew University; and Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah. These were not Jews on the margin. They were giants of Zionist history in the 20th century. Their agenda, need one add, was steamrolled into oblivion by tragic historical realities: the rise of Hitler, the need to bring as many Jews as possible to eretz Israel, the hostility of the Arabs who saw their homeland settled by another people. 

The Zionist mainstream rejected Brit Shalom from the start. On the other end of the spectrum, Mahatma Gandhi, in November 1938, published an essay contending that Palestine belonged to the Arabs, and arguing, absurdly, that German Jews should practice satyagraha, or nonviolent resistance, to challenge the Nazi regime. The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, another supporter of Brit Shalom, penned an eloquent letter of rebuttal. “I belong to a group of people,” he wrote to Gandhi, “who, from the time when Britain conquered Palestine, have not ceased to strive for the achievement of genuine peace between Jew and Arab.” Such a peace, said Buber, means that “both peoples should together develop the Land without one imposing his will on the other.”

“We cannot renounce the Jewish claim,” continued Buber; “something even higher than the life of our people is bound up with the Land, namely, the work that is their divine mission. But we have been and still are convinced that it must be possible to find some form of agreement between this claim and the other; for we love this land and we believe in its future, and, seeing that such love and such faith are surely present on the other side as well, a union in the common service of the Land must be within the range of the possible. Where there is faith and love, a solution may be found even to what appears to be a tragic contradiction.”

Today, neither de facto one-staters on the Israeli right or de jure one-staters on the international left come close to embodying Buber’s poetic vision. Given current circumstances, his fine words can be dismissed as no less fanciful — or grandiose — than the plan to weld the West Bank to Israel with rails of steel. And yet, an abandonment of Buber’s values would seem to consign Israel to a fate anticipated by Judah Magnes, in a letter of 1929 to Chaim Weizmann, then president of the World Zionist Organization: “A Jewish Home in Palestine built up on bayonets and oppression is not worth having, even though it succeed, whereas the very attempt to build it up peacefully, cooperatively, with understanding, education, and good will, is worth a great deal, even though the attempt should fail.” But this is not 1929, and failure is no longer an option. Our “divine mission,” in Buber’s phrase, is to persist in a Jewish quest for justice and equality for all who dwell in this land.

Stuart Schoffman is a fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a member of its Engaging Israel project.

Can ultra-Orthodox culture go overboard in its quest for modesty?

The other day, during a meeting at a coffee shop, I showed the producer I was meeting with a newspaper article about my latest Haredi film. The movie, intended for viewing by women only, had recently premiered at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival. Suddenly a man at the next table barged into the conversation, launching into a scathing diatribe: “These Haredim don’t serve in the army and they live off government money! And this insanity about not hearing women sing is primitive. They’re crazy!”

My colleague, who is Jewish but not Orthodox, looked bemused. I could barely get a word in edgewise. Did I mention we weren’t on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street but in Beverly Hills?

For those of us steeped in modernity, it is often impossible to see beyond the seductive bubble of popular culture. I wanted to tell this man that the headlines from Israel that had so enraged him, sensationalizing events perpetrated by extremists, were eliciting vicious and unwarranted attacks against all religious Jews, resulting in the proverbial baby thrown out with the dirty bathwater.

Although I didn’t grow up Orthodox, I came to embrace religious values as an adult. Some 20 years ago, while a rising theater and film director, I experienced a profound sense of cognitive dissonance in my world. On the one hand, I yearned for spiritual meaning, inner wholeness and a lasting relationship, yet I was bombarded with advertising images depicting female beauty as utterly flawless and female pop stars performing sexually explicit acts peddled as women’s liberation. The feminist in me wondered: What’s wrong with this picture?

Read more on Haaretz.com.

Journalist: Netanyahu told me Israel’s biggest enemies are N.Y. Times, Haaretz

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s two greatest enemies are The New York Times and Haaretz, the editor of The Jerusalem Post said in a speech.

Steve Linde, addressing a conference in Tel Aviv of the Women’s International Zionist Organization, said Wednesday that Netanyahu made the remark to him about the newspapers at a private meeting “a couple of weeks ago” at the prime minister’s office in Tel Aviv.

“He said, ‘You know, Steve, we have two main enemies,’ ” Linde said, according to a recording of the WIZO speech provided to JTA. “And I thought he was going to talk about, you know, Iran, maybe Hamas. He said, ‘It’s The New York Times and Haaretz.’ He said, ‘They set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world. Journalists read them every morning and base their news stories … on what they read in The New York Times and Haaretz.’ ”

Linde said he and other participants at the meeting asked Netanyahu whether he really thought that the media had that strong a role in shaping world opinion on Israel, and the prime minister replied, “Absolutely.”

The Prime Minister’s Office could not be reached immediately for comment.

Netanyahu denies saying Israel’s biggest enemies are N.Y. Times, Haaretz

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office denied that Benjamin Netanyahu told the editor of The Jerusalem Post that Israel’s two greatest enemies are The New York Times and Haaretz.

On Wednesday, the editor, Steve Linde, addressing a conference in Tel Aviv of the Women’s International Zionist Organization, said that Netanyahu made the remark to him about the newspapers at a private meeting “a couple of weeks ago” at the prime minister’s office in Tel Aviv.

But on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office told JTA that Netanyahu “did not make the remarks attributed to him,” and Linde backtracked, saying the remarks he had attributed to the prime minister had been Linde’s own interpretation.

“He said, ‘You know, Steve, we have two main enemies,’ ” Linde had said on Wednesday of Netanyahu, according to a recording of the WIZO speech provided to JTA. “And I thought he was going to talk about, you know, Iran, maybe Hamas. He said, ‘It’s The New York Times and Haaretz.’ He said, ‘They set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world. Journalists read them every morning and base their news stories … on what they read in The New York Times and Haaretz.’ ”

Linde said he and other participants at the meeting asked Netanyahu whether he really thought that the media had that strong a role in shaping world opinion on Israel, and the prime minister replied, “Absolutely.”

On Thursday, Linde was quoted in Haaretz as saying, “That was my interpretation; the prime minister never used that language.”

Aluf Benn takes helm at Haaretz

Veteran reporter and columnist Aluf Benn has been named editor-in-chief of the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.

Benn’s appointment by the newspaper’s board of directors was announced Monday, the same day he started in the job.

Benn, 46, has been at the left-leaning newspaper for the past 22 years. He has served as diplomatic correspondent, head of the news division and, for the past two years, political commentator and editor of the opinion pages. His articles and columns have been published in newspapers around the world.

In an Op-Ed published July 29 in The New York Times, Benn chided Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not using the spring and summer to work with President Obama to reignite the peace process, thus strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship. 

“I am thrilled to head the best team of editors, writers and designers in Israel, and lead it in fulfilling Haaretz’s public mission as a watchdog of Israeli democracy,” Benn was quoted as saying.

Hamas: Obama will fail in forcing us to recognize Israel

Hamas condemned U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech to AIPAC on Sunday, saying it will not recognize Israel despite U.S. demands.

In his second Mideast speech, Obama reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel and called on the Gaza-rulers to recognize Israel’s right to exist, as well as free abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit. He also condemned the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was quoted by Ma’an news agency as saying that Obama’s speech showed the U.S. government will continue “to support the occupation at the expense of the freedom of the Palestinian people.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

U.S. Congress members to Turkey’s Erdogan: Stop Gaza flotilla

Members of the U.S. Congress issued a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in which they urge Turkey’s premier to stop the departure of another flotilla to the Gaza Strip.

“We write today to express our serious concern over reports that the so-called Free Gaza Movement and the IHH are planning to send another flotilla to Gaza in the coming weeks to provoke a confrontation with Israel,” read a signed letter by 36 members of Congress initiated by Rep. Steve Israel.

“As members of the United States House of Representatives we ask you to help discourage these efforts and work with the Israeli government in a productive way as it continues to allow legitimate aid, but not weapons, to enter Gaza.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israel’s attorney general set to indict Lieberman

Israel’s attorney general reportedly is set to announce that he will file an indictment against the country’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on graft charges.

The draft indictment on charges of fraud, money laundering and breach of trust will be announced Monday or Tuesday, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Lieberman can request a hearing to try to prevent the actual indictment. If he rejects the hearing in order to avoid exposing his defense strategy, the indictment will be served.

Lieberman has said in the past that if he is indicted, he will resign as foreign minister.

Award winners named for Diaspora reporting

Haaretz reporter Anshel Pfeffer and Israeli television producer Shaul Mayzlish won a journalism prize for Diaspora reportage.

The B’nai B’rith World Center on Wednesday announced the winners of its 2010 Award for Journalism Recognizing Excellence in Diaspora Reportage In Memory of Wolf and Hilda Matsdorf.

Pfeffer’s award in the print media category is for a series of 11 articles he published in a column titled “Jerusalem and Babylon” that appeared in the paper’s English edition.

Mayzlish won for producing and directing two films that aired on Israel Channel 1 presented in cooperation with Beit Hatfusot-The Museum of the Jewish People.

In addition, a lifetime achievement award will be presented to Avraham Tirosh, who worked at the daily M’ariv from 1967 to 2002 and remains a contributor; a certificate of merit to Israel Channel 10’s Ilan Goren for his film “Lost in India” that presents the return of the Tribe of Menashe to Judaism and their immigration to Israel; and a certificate of excellence to Shlomi Goldberg, the director of the Jewish Heritage and Culture Department at Israel’s Channel 1.

Liat Cohen of Bar Ilan University and Renen Yezersky of Sapir College will receive the first Gutman and Tova Rabinovich Award for Students of Journalism.

Since its establishment in 1992, the B’nai B’rith World Center Award for Journalism has recognized excellence in reporting on contemporary Diaspora Jewish communities and on the state of Israel-Diaspora relations in the Israeli print and electronic media.

The awards are named for the late Wolf Matsdorf, former editor of the B’nai B’rith World Center journal Leadership Briefing and a journalist in Israel and Australia; his wife, the late Hilda Matsdorf, a pioneer in social work in Australia and Israel; the late Gutman Rabinovich, longtime general manager of Maariv and president of B’nai B’rith Israel; and his wife, Tova.

Has Anyone in Israel Asked Why the Swedes Hate Us?

Was it a coincidence? The day after Israel’s Davis Cup tennis match in Sweden, played in a practically empty arena this week, a brief item appeared on the Haaretz Web site: Historians have discovered that Sweden, former tennis superpower, aided the Nazi war machine by extending credit to German industrial plants.

Coincidence or not, neutral in 1941 or not, 68 years later, public opinion in Sweden is definitely not neutral: Thousands demonstrated there against Israel, which was forced to wield its racket like a leper, with no audience in attendance. Did anyone in Israel even ask why it was considered a pariah in Sweden? No one dared question whether the war in the Gaza Strip was worth the price we’re paying now, from Ankara to Malmo. It’s enough to recall that the Swedes were always against us. The fact that there were times when they were awash in love for Israel was erased from our consciousness. Click here to read the rest of the article at haaretz.com.

Fast and Loose With Facts at Ha’aretz


The Israeli daily Ha’aretz, a favorite of the intelligentsia in Israel and the West, and widely cited by the North American press, is frequently referred to as “Israel’s New York Times.” But a New York Times it is not.

Since the Jayson Blair scandal, the state-side Gray Lady has stepped-up its commitment to accountability, hiring public editor Daniel Okrent, who rigorously investigates complaints about the paper’s reports, dialogues with readers about their concerns and diligently ensures that the necessary corrections run.

Don’t expect comparable accountability at Ha’aretz, which describes itself as “an independent newspaper with a broadly liberal outlook,” but which allows its writers to espouse extremist views unfettered by the facts.

Why, exactly, should this Tel Aviv media outlet be of concern to Boston-based CAMERA, whose mission is to promote an accurate and balanced press in North America?

As Eric Weiner, former Jerusalem bureau chief for National Public Radio, once told a Palestinian media symposium, he began every working day by scanning local papers for stories. He leaned especially on what he termed the “very respectable newspaper” Ha’aretz. He is not alone. This September, Ha’aretz was cited by the Western press corps more than five dozen times.

And, for a close-to-home example as to why Ha’aretz’s prominence in Western media outlets is our problem, readers may recall the July 30 column in this newspaper by Ha’aretz writer Gideon Levy (“If the Situation Were Reversed”). The column, which originally appeared in the July 18 issue of Ha’aretz, was filled with factual errors, both substantive and incidental.

Levy claimed that Golda Meir “said that after what the Nazis did to us, we can do whatever we want.”

Challenged for a source for the virulent quote, Levy acknowledged in an Aug. 12 e-mail he had none.

“Therefore we dropped the quotation in the original version in Hebrew and by mistake it was printed in the English version,” he stated.

Neither CAMERA nor the editor of The Jewish Journal were able to obtain a correction from Levy or Ha’aretz.

That’s not all. Arguing that Israelis are utterly indifferent to Palestinian suffering, Levy cited the killing of Ibrahim Halfalla, an elderly Palestinian in Gaza, and claimed that Yediot Achronot “didn’t bother to run the story at all.” In fact, Yediot deplored the killing in a hard-hitting editorial July 14. Again no correction.

Levy also misinforms when he alleged “our Education Ministry announces that it will not permit Arabs to attend Jewish schools in Haifa….” However, the decision regarding where particular students attend particular schools is the responsibility of the Municipality, not the Education Ministry. Last academic year, parents of students at the Arabic public schools had lobbied the Municipality for improvements. After negotiations, the improvements were agreed to. At no point did the Ministry or Municipality prohibit Arab attendance in Haifa’s Jewish schools.

Levy’s journalism is likewise substandard when he stated as fact: “Last week settlers poisoned a well at Atawana, in the southern Mount Hebron region, and the police are investigating.”

Indeed, the police were investigating the poisoning of a well with dead chickens but they had not determined that settlers were the culprit. Palestinians accused settlers, and the police suspected settlers, but it was not a foregone conclusion as Levy asserted.

For instance, The Jerusalem Post quoted a police officer: “We are also investigating the possibility that the chickens were thrown inside the well as part of an inner Palestinian dispute.”

Unfortunately, nobody at Ha’aretz is investigating how Levy’s numerous errors, many of them egregious, made it into print, despite the fact that CAMERA and The Journal both provided editors with the substantive counterpoint.

The newspaper’s silence regarding Levy’s defamatory distortions is no surprise in light of the observation of Nahum Barnea of Yediot Achronot, who wrote about Israeli reporters who flunk the “lynching test.”

These are writers who refused to criticize Palestinians even when two Israeli reservists were brutally lynched in Ramallah by a Palestinian crowd. They are: Amira Hass, Akiva Eldar and Levy, all from Ha’aretz.

In November 2000, Barnea wrote: “And then the lynching test came, and before it the test of the shooting and fire bombs of the Tanzim fighters, and before it the test of the violations of the Oslo agreement by Arafat, and it turns out that the support of some of the prominent reporters [for Palestinian positions] is absolute. … They have a mission.”

We at CAMERA also have a mission. And as long as Ha’aretz continues to shape — and distort — Western news reports, that Israeli media outlet is fair game for this American outfit.

Tamar Sternthal is senior research analyst for CAMERA.