What Ethan Bronner Won’t Tell You About Israeli Support for the Gaza War
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.
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Bronner also displays a common flaw in discussions of Israeli public opinion, where the consensus of the Jewish population is treated as the national consensus (although he’s not as bad as some who simply ignore Israel’s non-Jewish population).
Actually, Jews San Frontieres has a different take on this report that is equally damning. The blog writer found an earlier version of Bronner’s story on the IHT site which didn’t mention Israeli Arabs at all. The JSF writer complained in writing to the Times, which told him a later version would include this material. They did, but the material pretty much dismisses Israeli Arab sentiment as insignificant. More condescension.
This Israeli argument fails the logic test:
” even if Mr. Rayyan purposely hid among his family to protect himself, as it appears he did. ”
Why would any Palestinian leader think his family could be a human shield ‘to protect himself’? Nobody Arab imagines that Israel would refrain from bombing the family to kill the leader. Israel has been bombing civilians since at least 1974. Israel famously killed that Hamas leader in the summer of 2002 along with his family, including an infant. Everybody in Palestine knows that hiding among your family is no way to fend off Israeli missiles. So if Rayyan or any other Hamas leader is with his family, he’s not there to hide or because he imagines (laughable thought) that the Israelis might hold their fire because they know he is surrounded by children.
Israelis like to believe that their army is so humane that of course Arabs would take advantage of their humanity by doing diabolical things like hiding amongst children. Arabs don’t credit this view of Israeli military behavior and have not for at least two generations.
Perhaps the Hamas leaders are among their family because they want to be? They have no where else to go? They would rather die together than apart? I really don’t know. But the idea that they are hiding out with the women and children because they think Israel won’t wipe out a whole family – hilarious. They think Israel WANTS to exterminate their whole people. You may argue that Israel does not want to, and that is your right. But the people of Gaza don’t believe that, and are not choosing where to hide (where can they hide) based on a theory of the IDF’s greatly moral conduct of war. (Pardon me while I laugh bitterly)
I have read that Rayyan was a very proud man (not to mention harshly anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic, but that’s besides the point). He started the tactic of getting civilians to go on the rooftops of buildings they knew were targeted by Israeli missiles & standing there daring the pilots to attack. I am certain that Rayyan was a brave man who said to himself and his family: “If I’m to die let it be with my family.” Saying he hid is yet another stupidity of this report. No one who knew Rayyan would say he was the type to hide or that he was a coward.
Why would Ethan Bronner interview a business paper’s editor on that topic? And why would he omit to mention Haaretz newspaper? Simple: Bronner is a personal friend of Yoel Estheron, and both can’t forgive Amos Schocken who preferred David Landau to Estheron for the top job of Haaretz editor in chief. Thus Estheron left Haaretz for Calcalist, and Bronner left out Haaretz from his article…
Isis_Mor: Thanks so much for the inside dope & nuance of that story. I had no idea of those personal connections & of course it explains a lot. That’s something I sometimes miss not being in Israel.
Disappointed by Yeshoshua here; expected better from someone of his calibre (enjoyed his novel The Lover). Apart from the moral dubiousness of his arguement; he completely ignores the fact that Hamas adhered to the ceasefire put in place last year and fired no rockets against Israel; this ceasefire was broken by Israeli forces in November after which they resumed. A simple statistic is that the number of Israelis killed during the ceasefire was 0 and the number since then has been at least 7. By its own logic of protecting its citizens, Israel’s current actions aren’t working.
I did not read the Yehoshua comment that way. To explain as best I can, I thought he was using the device of inhabiting a mindset (not necessarily his own). In other words- how dare they lob rockets on us and our grand boulevards, how dare they disturb our lives. How dare those barbarians disturb our civilized lives!
Listening and reading others who feel just this way may have colored my reading.
So I thought that is how Bronner took it as well and that he deliberately ended his article to make that subtle point. It is very difficult to be a reporter (esp for the NYT) that is a truth teller unless you are on the editorial/opinion page.
Did you read the NYT public editor this Sunday on this subject?
For more on Yehoshua’s feelings about this Gaza war ( earlier on) which again I read differently than others more harshly critical here and elsewhere. On 12/30, he seemed to have had enough. ( I can find nothing online of what he has said since then).
Also, Bronner said 90% were for this war. That is either right or wrong. If it is 90% that is a pretty high number and it justifies the report spending all that time on it.
I tend to look for the anti-war writing in Haaretz and elsewhere. So my view is distorted/supported in that way. It is disturbing shocking shameful to me that so many in Israel have become so numb to the suffering so close by that they themselves have imposed yet seem to be able to justify or blame enough to go on living on their “grand boulevards” with clear consciences as military/ firepower takes care of the problem.
I thought Etgar Keret’s piece on proportionality in the LATimes was excellent:
Mid East ‘proportionality’
I know nothing of Rayyan besides what Silverstein just wrote above. I know not that much about Gaza because I cannot bear to read in detail the reports. However I just looked at a Gaza blog in which they spoke of the early morning/darkness before dawn prayers the mosques have added during this onslaught. It’s a special prayer hour for tough times. Everybody prays.
I have been turning to God and prayer and forgiveness myself to get through this. I don’t profess a particular faith although my own background is Christian. Right now I’m taking spiritual advice from a person whose background is Jewish but the advice is non-denominational.
I imagine the families of Gaza praying together in fear, in the dark of the night, and finding some comfort. I do. I am facing advanced cancer along with everything else, and praying with others brings me peace.
It is possible that Rayyan, as a strong believer, found comfort in being amongst his family at this crisis time. Perhaps they all prayed together. Certainly they all died together, and I believe that they are all with their Maker who is mine as well – together. I don’t believe in hell. Human beings make hell on earth.
The only solution at this point is to pray, and pray a lot. And this is the only thing that will bring any of us together.
I may be dense but for all the times we have heard that civilians have been killed in an apartment building, school or house because a so-called terrorist was hiding among them, I always think, what is he suppose to do…walk in the middle of the street with a bulls eye on his back and a sign saying “shoot me, I’m here”
They may hide sometimes, but I doubt they intentionally hide every single time!
Without saying, you don’t kill a whole bunch of people or demolish a building with innocent people in it, just because you think there might be a terrorist hiding in there. There’s got to be a better way.
It is an excuse, used way too often. It’s pathetic.
That’s ridiculous explanation of why Ethan Bronner would leave out Haaretz in that article if I may say so– c’mon now. I know I sound like a relative of Ethan Bronner’s but believe me I am not.
“MY son joined the IDF 5 weeks ago…” stated Ethan Bronner at Vassar College on Feb 3, 2010 –
His reporting will never be fair and impartial. He cannot be trusted to deliver the truth.