In the past, I’ve noted that Ethan Bronner’s reporting from Israel gets most of it right. But he only gets 85% of the way there. He misses out on the remaining 15% of the nuance of Israeli society and its political interplay. You read him and you say: “yes, but…” He’s got most of the story. But something vital, and it’s hard to put your finger on what it is, is left out.
Today’s story on the supposed unanimity of Israeli support for the war in Gaza is a case in point. Let me start by acknowledging there is no doubt that Israeli support for the war is high. And this is to be expected. There is always a high level of cohesiveness and patriotic fervor at first when Israel goes to war. But after that initial euphoria, the spell usually begins to wear off and one begins to see chinks in the armor.
Bronner argues that this hasn’t happened. That Israel has remained surprisingly unified in the face of almost universal international opprobrium with the suffering inflicted on Gazans. There are a few things to say abut this. First, the war is only two weeks old and at this point in the Lebanon war support was still high. Yet such support largely evaporated after another two weeks of war.
The major difference between Lebanon and Gaza is that Hezbollah had the fire power to inflict serious casualties on Israeli civilians and soldiers. Hamas does not. And the hard cynical fact is that Israelis will not crack unless they pay a price. Only the loss of 3,000 soldiers in the 1973 War made Golda Meir realize she’d made a mistake when she’d turned down Sadat’s offer to talk peace before the War. The loss of hundreds of young boys in southern Lebanon after the 1982 war forced Ehud Barak to conclude in 2000 that Israel’s occupation no longer made any sense. That is one reason I fear Israelis have not been willing to take stock of the real costs of this war to Palestinians and their own moral standing in the world.
I take strong issue with Bronner’s choice of Israeli news outlets which he uses to prove his point. We only hear about the pages of the Jerusalem Post and its editor. Thus, all seems well in the land of milk and honey:
As the editorial page of The Jerusalem Post put it on Monday, the world must be wondering, do Israelis really believe that everybody is wrong and they alone are right?
The answer is yes.
…“It is very frustrating for us not to be understood,” remarked Yoel Esteron, editor of a daily business newspaper called Calcalist. “Almost 100 percent of Israelis feel that the world is hypocritical. Where was the world when our cities were rocketed for eight years and our soldier was kidnapped? Why should we care about the world’s view now?”
…“This is a just war and we don’t feel guilty when civilians we don’t intend to hurt get hurt, because we feel Hamas uses these civilians as human shields,” said Elliot Jager, editorial page editor of The Jerusalem Post, who happened to answer his phone for an interview while standing in front of a house in Ashkelon, an Israeli city about 10 miles from Gaza, that had been hit two hours earlier by a Hamas rocket.
“We do feel bad about it, but we don’t feel guilty,” Mr. Jager added. “The most ethical moral imperative is for Israel to prevail in this conflict over an immoral Islamist philosophy. It is a zero sum conflict. That is what is not understood outside this country.”
While I view this argument as completely barren morally and politically, it IS a representative point of view within Israel. The problem is that there are other views in the Israeli media as anyone reading this blog already knows. But you won’t hear that in Bronner’s piece. No mention of Haaretz’s editorial positions critical of the war. No mention of commentators and analysts in both Yediot Achronot and Haaretz harshly attacking the premises of the invasion and the government’s ongoing apologetics defending it.
To Bronner’s credit, he DOES quote a few sources within Israel who disagree with the social consensus. But he does so well into the article where their point of view becomes somewhat diminished. But even the doubters are framed as the pitiful minority almost of one. Bronner also neglects an important irony involving one of those critics:
Moshe Halbertal, a left-leaning professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University, helped write the army’s ethics code. He said he knew from personal experience how much laborious discussion went into deciding when it was acceptable to shoot at a legitimate target if civilians were nearby, adding that there had been several events in this war in which he suspected that the wrong decision had been made.
For example, Israel killed a top Hamas ideologue, Nizar Rayyan, during the first week of the war and at the same time killed his four wives and at least nine of his children. Looking back at it, Mr. Halbertal disapproves, assuming that the decision was made consciously, even if Mr. Rayyan purposely hid among his family to protect himself, as it appears he did. Yet almost no one here publicly questioned the decision to drop a bomb on his house and kill noncombatants; all the sentiment in Israel was how satisfying and just it was to kill a man whose ideology and activity had been so virulent and destructive.
In other words, the very ethicist who wrote the army’s vaunted moral code, has been ignored in the current conflict. Halbertal knows that both Jewish and general ethics demand a far more stringent approaching to murdering innocent civilians in pursuit of even a dangerous enemy. Yet, the army has betrayed the moral code in pursuit of its enemy. Bronner of course would never put it that way nor even note this dark irony. But it is an important part of the story and he missed it.
Bronner would’ve also done well to include this amazing first-person narrative by a Sderot resident who harshly questions the government’s rationale for the fighting. He also seriously mischaracterizes the size of anti-war demonstrations. Here’s what an Israeli reader reports to me:
…The opposition – marginalized as it is – is also quite determined. And Bronner grossly downplays demonstration sizes. The same day we rallied here [in Seattle], in Tel Aviv 10,000 Jews and Arabs marched. And the mostly-Arab demo he mentions took place that same day in Sikhnin…According to reports it was anywhere from 60,000 to 150,000 – certainly not 6,000.
The reporter also has a bad habit of doing what a number of pro-Israel journalists do in their reporting. You quote a supposedly liberal Israeli figure defending the war as if this completely undercuts the entire rationale for a critical approach to Israeli policy. In this case, Bronner quotes A. B. Yehoshua making this inane analogy to justify the war:
The writer A.B. Yehoshua, who opposes Israel’s occupation and promotes a Palestinian state, has spent the past two weeks trying to explain the war to foreigners.
“ ‘Imagine,’ I tell a French reporter, ‘that every two days a missile falls in the Champs-Élysées and only the glass windows of the shops break and five people suffer from shock,’ ” Mr. Yehoshua told a reporter from Yediot Aharonot, a Tel Aviv newspaper. “What would you say? Wouldn’t you be angry? Wouldn’t you send missiles at Belgium if it were responsible for missiles on your grand boulevard?’ ”
Yehoshua here recycles an argument used repetitively by apologists for the war. It may even have been first devised by the hasbaraniks in the foreign ministry. The only problem? Belgium would never lob missiles into the Champs Elysee because Belgium has a secure, agreed upon border with France. France has not occupied half of Belgium and starved its inhabitants into submission. France has not engaged in raids into Belgian territory at will and carried out targeted assassinations of that country’s leaders. If France had done even half these things you can be damn sure that Belgians would be lobbing lots of things over THEIR Separation Wall with France.
Unfortunately, Bronner doesn’t have the interest or will to point out the inadequacy of Yehoshua’s logic. Perhaps Bronner even agrees with him. And that’s the severe deficiency of his reporting. He goes just so far in conveying the story to you. But he doesn’t go far enough. The analysis is bare-bones, but doesn’t really scratch the surface.