Neil Young once wrote that rust never sleeps and neither does Phil Weiss. For nearly two days I’ve been intending to write a post about the pro-settler plot to encircle Arab East Jerusalem with parks in order to reinforce a Jewish territorial claim to the land. The $120-million project which Akiva Eldar, Peace Now and Ir Amin have “outed” would serve a dual purpose of surrounding Arab neighborhoods with parkland, which would also inhibit any potential expansion or development in these communities and prevent them from linking to each other.
Wouldn’t you know that Phil got to the post before me and reported essentially the “take” that I had on Ethan Bronner’s execrable coverage of the same story in which the latter seemed oblivious to the fact that the plan is not only secret, but that it wasn’t vetted by the usual governmental planning authorities. Pro-Israel liberals like to talk about Israeli democracy, but conveniently forget that when certain political figures operate the levers of power and decide that conventional democratic oversight is “inconvenient” it somehow slips through the cracks; and no one on the Israeli Jewish side seems to notice or care much. Except, that is for Akiva Eldar. And what is he but the typical crybaby Israeli leftist, right? Democracy? We’ve got more important things to worry about like combating the Arab population menace.
Returning to Bronner’s problematic approach, it is typically aimless reportage, which refuses to take a stand or analyze what is clearly right in front of his nose. Instead of Eldar’s forthright term “secret” describing the nature of the plan and its execution, which confronts you in the Haaretz headline, Bronner buries the lede using the term “quiet” instead. He also seems to adopt the turn of the century Zionist narrative that any territory not directly controlled by Jews is barren wasteland:
As part of the plan, garbage dumps and wastelands are being cleared and turned into lush gardens and parks, now already accessible to visitors who can walk along new footpaths and take in the majestic views, along with new signs and displays that point out significant points of Jewish history.
I guess one Arab’s piece of territory is another Jew’s “wasteland.” And note the approving terms “lush gardens,” “new footpaths,” and “majestic views.” Doesn’t it sound like those old Zionist brochures boasting how the halutzim have made the desert bloom?? This is inadequate journalism and what’s especially sad about it is that Bronner, if he bothered to respond to e mail sent to him by critics like me (which he doesn’t) would be entirely credulous and not have a clue why this is terribly slanted.
Further, the right-wing pro-settler private group which is both surreptitiously buying up Arab land or forcibly expelling Arab inhabitants from it is twice labelled by Bronner simply as a “private group.” The fact that it refused to be interviewed for his article reflects merely how “delicate” the subject is, rather than a desire to continue to veil its actions in a cloak of secrecy (which is the real reason). Only toward the end of his story does Bronner provide any context about the extremist leanings of Ir David (get a load of the money and sophistication behind this group’s website).
Bronner allocates three entire paragraphs to Israel’s bogus hasbara touting the merits of its plan:
As an official in the prime minister’s office put it in his answer: “Jerusalem has been the eternal capital of the Jewish people for some 3,000 years and will remain the united capital of the State of Israel. Under Israeli sovereignty, for the first time in the history of Jerusalem, the different religious communities have enjoyed freedom of worship and the holy sites of all faiths have been protected.
He continued: “The government will continue to develop Jerusalem, development that will benefit all of Jerusalem’s diverse population and respect the different faiths and communities that together make Jerusalem such a special city.”
Israeli officials point out that when East Jerusalem was in Jordanian hands from 1949 to 1967, dozens of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were destroyed, Jewish graves were desecrated and Jewish authorities were largely denied access to the Western Wall or other shrines. By contrast, in Jerusalem today Muslim and Christian authorities administer their holy sites in a complex power arrangement under Israeli control.
No word from the prime minister or Bronner on precisely how this land grab will “benefit all of Jerusalem’s diverse population and respect the different faiths…” Of course, a proper reading between the lines which you should never expect Bronner to provide would lead one to understand that Ir David’s activities will benefit one part of Jerusalem’s population and will respect one faith, and only one: Jews.
Bronner typically relegates the views of progressive Israelis on the topic to the end of the article where fewer readers will have an opportunity to read them. Such an journalistic decision also consciously or unconsciously reveals Bronner’s editorial emphasis (or “bias” as some would have it).
Anyway, Phil got there first, darn that guy. He’s good, and I’ve got to stay one step (well, maybe a half step) ahead of him or he’ll eat my lunch. Seriously though, last weekend I was in DC and had a chance to meet Phil, Adam Horowitz and my other peace blogging buddies including Jerry Haber, Dan Sisken, Jim Lobe, Dan Luban and Ali Gharib. We had a blast over dinner at Busboys and Poets. In further conversations, we decided to try to maintain an organized presence at the J Street October conference. So if you’re on the east coast (or even Midwest) stay tuned for developments. I’m hoping J Street might be interested in dedicating part of its agenda to some panel discussions about pro-peace blogging/media and furthering the I-P peace message.
Donald Johnson says
“Israeli officials point out that when East Jerusalem was in Jordanian hands from 1949 to 1967, dozens of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were destroyed, Jewish graves were desecrated and Jewish authorities were largely denied access to the Western Wall or other shrines. By contrast, in Jerusalem today Muslim and Christian authorities administer their holy sites in a complex power arrangement under Israeli control.”
That part really bugged me. It’s my impression Israel destroyed and desecrated a number of Muslim holy sites and graveyards after the 48 war, along with 400 villages. That they didn’t do anything that flagrant in Jerusalem after 67 probably has to do with the fact that the entire Christian and Muslim world would have gotten quite upset if they had. This doesn’t justify whatever the Jordanians did to Jewish sites when they were in control, but the contrast that Bronner draws is misleading, because of what he leaves out. I think the Jordanians and the Israelis are morally equivalent here–they both do what they can get away with.
As for the NYT and its critics, I can’t tell if writing the public editor does any good or not. I received a reply (a real one, not the automated variety) a few years ago when I complained about some I/P related matter, but more recently I haven’t seen any indication that they pay much attention to critics. Though perhaps the stories are slightly less biased than they used to be, hard as that might be to believe. But as bad as they are now, it’s my unscientific impression they used to be worse.
Richard Silverstein says
The Times has had some wonderful Israel correspondents including James Bennet, Deborah Solomon, David Shipler and Tom Friedman (he actually was quite good THEN). That can’t be said of Steven Erlanger or Ethan Bronner, their most recent & current ones. Bronner has a child in the IDF and is married to an Israeli btw.
Donald Johnson says
Solomon was good. Friedman was good in the 1982 Lebanon War, but I think you can see seeds of the modern arrogant Friedman in “From Beirut to Jerusalem”. Shipler–I read his book back in the 80’s, on the I/P conflict and it was good by the standards of the American MSM, but even though he humanized (to some extent) the Palestinians, but I still had the sense that he gave the Israelis the moral high ground whenever he could.
Shipler also downplayed the death toll in the 1982 Lebanon War. I know this, because I wrote the NYT Book Review when he did it, citing a State Department publication which gave the figure (around 17,000, iirc) that Shipler rejected.
The sense I’ve always had with the NYT, going back nearly 20 years, (which doesn’t necessarily apply to every individual reporter) is that they will condemn Israeli crimes, but the subject makes them very uncomfortable, the way liberals do who think that harsh criticism of Israel is uncomfortably close to antisemitism. They have no problem condemning Arab crimes and antisemitic Arab attitudes.
Donald – The book from David Shipler you said you reviewed for the NYT, was it ARAB and JEW, Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land? Just curious. I read it at about the same time, I read “From Beirut to Jerusalem” and “The Yellow Path” by David Grossman. They were books I really enjoyed then and they peeked my interest in the I-P conflict. They changed my perspective of the whole issue. They may now be outdated, but they were very good in their time and I believe, may even have value today.
Richard Silverstein says
The Yellow Wind by Grossman.
Donald Johnson says
This is appearing a bit late, because I had posting difficulties.
To clarify, I didn’t review any books for the NYT–I wrote a letter to them which was published about a review that Shipler wrote.
And yes, “Arab and Jew” was the book I read. I have it. It was good by the mainstream standards of the time, but it pulled its punches when discussing Israeli crimes. I remember feeling that at the time, because I read it at the same time I had started reading Finkelstein, Simha Flapan, Chomsky and Hirst. The NYT has almost always done this when they write about Western atrocities. They are eager not to appear overly critical, to provide balance, to make it clear that fundamentally, these crimes don’t really reflect what the West is all about. And if you have that attitude then you tend to soften things. It’s wise Israelis who are given the last word in that book, the ones who explain how things ought to be (and none of them criticize the foundations of mainstream Zionism, iirc).
To make a comparison with something rather distant, “To Kill a Mockingbird” sentimentalizes the pre-civil rights south in a way I find similar (though I still like the book). There are plenty of white racists, but also plenty of white liberals and in fact some of the leading figures in town seem to be liberals and some of the racists aren’t really that racist. You’d almost wonder how the racists could dominate , when so many of the “good” people seemed to understand the basic unfairness of the situation.
The larger picture is: What sensible person would read the NYT for “news” about the Near East? The NYT is by choice an extension of Israel’s hasbara agency.
For facts, nothing beats Ha’aretz (even yet). Al-Jazeera Magazine gives a balancing perspective as is necessary reading next to NYT.
If you don’t read all three, you’re in the woods.
Ethan Bronner has become the NY Times’ modern day Walter Duranty. Duranty won the Pulitizer Prize in 1932 for his reporting in the Soviet Union. He was based in Moscow. Except he missed writing about one very big story: the starvation of anywhere between 5 and 8 million Ukrainians by Stalin because Ukrainian farmers fought collectivization. Not a word of this in any of Duranty’s reportage. The NYT continues to argue that Duranty and the Times deserved the prize. Worse yet, Duranty knew what was going on; he reportedly told a British official that “Ukraine had been bled white.”
NY Times editors are also culpable for Bronner’s blind reporting. Have these individuals no sense of shame for what they publish?
Richard Silverstein says
I think this may be a slight exagerration. Bronner is reporting everything he sees. He just reports in an unbalanced way & misses whole chunks of the story because of this. Maybe he doesn’t “miss” them entirely. His reports are just out of whack.
Orly Halpern says
The part that was most blatantly one-sided in my mind was this:
…archaeologists are finding indisputable evidence of ancient Jewish life here. Yet Palestinian officials and institutions tend to dismiss the finds as part of an effort to build a Zionist history here.
In other words, while the Israeli narrative that guides the government plan focuses largely — although not exclusively — on Jewish history and links to the land, the Palestinian narrative heightens tensions, pushing the Israelis into a greater confrontational stance.
BRONNER CLAIMS HERE THAT ISRAEL IS SIMPLY FOCUSED ON ITS HISTORY. He implies that the Palestinians reject that history and that “pushes” the Israelis into confronfrontation.
He thinks – wrongly – that the Jews’ historical connection to the places gives Israel the right to do with that West Bank East Jerusalem land as it wants – and ignore that it is beyond the Green Line.
If Bronner were right – and it were legitimate for Israel to do as it pleases with any land that has a Jewish history – then there would be no future Palestinian state.
Arie Brand says
Israel was warned, directly after the Six Day War, by the then American government not to taske any precipitate steps with regard to Jerusalem. In a conversation that then Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, and American UN Ambassador Goldberg had on June 21 1967 with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, the topic was according to the relevant Dept. of State document dealt with in the following way:
“Jerusalem. Secretary hoped that Israel would be very careful with regard to Jerusalem as it involved actual or latent passions of an enormous number of people. The matter was very delicate and could be a source of strong anti-Israel feeling in the United States. Eban replied that Israel was trying to put the Christian holy places under Christian control and the Moslem holy places under Moslem control. Eban admitted that Israel had a job to do in projecting publicly its intentions regarding access to holy places.”
Further documents have the same message:
329. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Katzenbach to President Johnson/1/
Washington, June 27, 1967.
The Israelis tell us they have not yet finally made up their minds on the position they will take with regard to the West Bank generally, and Jerusalem in particular. So far, we have advised them not to take unilateral actions, nor to present the world with a fait accompli.
Nicholas deB Katzenbach
. 331. Memorandum of Conversation/1/
Washington, June 28, 1967, 1:30-3:10 p.m.
Prospects for solution of the Middle East Crisis
President Johnson Secretary McNamara
King Hussein Mr. Walt Rostow
Mr. Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Mr. George Christian
Mr. McGeorge Bundy Ambassador Macomber
Foreign Minister Tuqan Ambassador Shubeilat
The King noted that the Arabs were at a major turning point. They could opt for what amounted to a settlement with Israel, to be followed by concentration on economic development; or the Arabs could opt to make no settlement and to re-arm for another round. Hussein favored the first course.
338. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State/1/
Tel Aviv, July 2, 1967, 1130Z.
/2/Telegram 218573 to Tel Aviv, June 29, instructed Barbour to register U.S. opposition to any unilateral action by Israel to assert de jure control over occupied territories. (Ibid.)
/4/Telegram 3 from Tel Aviv, July 1, reported that before receiving telegrams 218573 and 219964, Barbour had discussed the subject of Jerusalem with the Israeli Minister of Justice and several other officials and had strongly deplored the “precipitate issuance unification ordinance re Jerusalem.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR)
3. However, as to Jerusalem, GOI adamant.
Barbour (Barbour was the American Ambassador in Israel – A.B.)
360. Telegram From the Department of State to the Mission to the United Nations/1/
Washington, July 13, 1967, 11:06 p.m.
6581. Please deliver at once following message from Secretary of State to Foreign Minister Eban reported at Plaza Hotel.
Dear Mr. Minister:
We have today received a most urgent and private message from King Hussein./2/ This message informs us that the King has determined that he is prepared to conclude some sort of arrangement with the Government of Israel. In the meeting in Cairo he apparently informed Nasser of the possibility that he may undertake such an action. The exact steps and the circumstances under which negotiation might be possible are yet to be determined and the timing is, of course, a matter of major importance.
/2/Telegram 4941 from Amman, July 13, reported a conversation between King Hussein and Ambassador Burns in which the King stated he was prepared to make a unilateral settlement with Israel, and that he had discussed this with Nasser, who had said he would raise no objections if Hussein raised this with the Americans. The King said he would like to know what the Israelis would be likely to do vis-à-vis Jordan if he were prepared for a settlement. He said Jordan would have to get back substantially all it lost in the war, including the Jordanian sector of Jerusalem. He also said it was essential that Jordan obtain some arms immediately. (National Archives and Records Administration, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 ARAB-ISR/SANDSTORM)
In our opinion this is a major act of courage on the part of King Hussein and offers the first important breakthrough toward peace in the current period following active hostilities. It is an opportunity in our judgment that must not be lost, offering as it does a chance to embark on a course in the Arab world which could lead to an acceptance of Israel by its neighbors and to steps which could well change the whole course of history in the Middle East.
We wish that time were available for us to consider abstractly and unrelated to immediate problems all of the issues that are involved in this offer. But we believe we have tomorrow in the vote in the United Nations on the Pakistan resolution an opportunity to pave the way for positive steps in the days ahead–an opportunity that must not be lost. With the knowledge of King Hussein’s willingness to risk a very great deal, certainly including his own security, it is imperative, we think, that your government take a step in connection with the consideration of the future of Jerusalem that would be in harmony with the courage shown by the King and which will facilitate negotiations in the days ahead of us. We urge that you attempt to make the broadest kind of gesture possible with respect to the future of Jerusalem. We urge especially that you make a generous offer with respect to the future of Jerusalem that would in effect explicitly interpret as interim the administrative arrangements recently placed in effect with respect to that city. We would also hope that your country could offer more explicitly to enter into international arrangements for a city which would assure that all religions and all faiths have access to the holy places. The offer might include a willingness to discuss with Jordan directly or otherwise the future of the old city based on the concept of universality, possibly pointing to Jordan as the spokesman for the Arab world in view of its location in relation both to Israel and to Jerusalem itself.
Let me add that as you know our own position on Jerusalem has for some years supported its international character, a position to which we still adhere.
The matter is urgent. The events of tomorrow in the General Assembly may have an important bearing on the greatest opportunity we have yet seen to achieve what you and your country have wanted and have suffered through two wars to achieve. I urge your most careful and urgent consideration of this matter. The more moderate and generous the position of Israel tomorrow, the greater the chance that there can be a good result from Hussein’s new readiness.
For Tel Aviv:
To save time and emphasize importance we attached to this message Ambassador should deliver it at once to highest available official with urgent informal suggestion it go at once to Eskhol if Eban has not yet had time to report it.
We know the outcome. Israel ignored these Jordanian peace overtures and American urgings and went ahead with the annexation of East Jerusalem and drew up plans for the settlement of the West Bank.
The Israeli novelist Amos Oz has called Jerusalem a “city of lunacy” , “a city surrounded by forces desiring my death”.
All Israeli actions on Jerusalem have tended to perpetuate and intensify this lunacy.
Arie Brand says
What must be particularly galling to the Palestinians is that Israeli archaeological excursions in East Jerusalem mainly tend to emphasize the historically Jewish character of the city and ignore its long periods of Christian and Moslem dominance.
Also, Palestinians can in my view rightly argue that historically they might have older claims to the place. When David conquered the city it was in possession of the Jebusites, a clan that was probably related to the Canaanites. The Palestinian claim that they are the descendants of the Canaanites is well known.