In an otherwise fairly balanced article about the growing movement of progressive Israelis against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, Isabel Kershner writes this astonishingly ill-informed passage:
The case of Sheikh Jarrah also presents a predicament for some mainstream Israelis.
Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a research institution in West Jerusalem, said he opposed a Jewish “right of return” to properties lost in the 1948 war. But he noted that more and more Arabs were buying apartments in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood where he lives.
“It cannot go one way in Jerusalem,” Mr. Klein Halevi said. “I am deeply torn.”
OK, let’s parse this. First, you’ll note that Yossi Klein Halevi has become a “mainstream Israeli.” This despite the fact that earlier in his life he was a leader of the Jewish Defense League, wrote Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, and currently is a fellow of the Shalem Center, a Likudist think-tank funded by Sheldon Adelson and affiliated with such right-wing ideologues as Natan Sharansky. Once again, this just shows how hopelessly biased and politically out of touch Times reporters in Israel are. They are attuned to the group think fed to them by the government and its journalistic acolytes like Halevi. But they cannot provide a nuanced account of many political issues. Usually Kershner does better than Ethan Bronner. But in this passage, she falls prey to his sloppiness.
Note also that the Shalem Center is given the honorific “research institution” without noting its Likudist orientation.
Kershner accepts at face value the preposterous claim advanced by hard-right supporters of the Palestinian evictions that Arabs can live in West Jerusalem and are buying apartments there (which is patently false). In order to test Halevy’s claim you would have to know where he lives in Jerusalem. If he lives within the Green Line his claim would be bogus. If he lives beyond it there is some faint possibility that an Arab might be able to buy an apartment in a predominantly Arab Jerusalem neighborhood. Overall, I find Halevy’s claim preposterous.
But even more than that, we’re talking about the Israeli government ‘legally’ stealing the property of Sheikh Jarrah Palestinians and replacing them with settlers who have even less claim to the property than the Palestinians. Even if Halevy’s claim of Arabs buying apartments in Jerusalem were true, they would be BUYING them, not stealing them. So if Halevy does believe in Israel being a democracy, any Arab should have the right to buy property anywhere in Israel including his neighborhood (in fact, they don’t). The fact that he uses this supposed phenomenon to justify naked theft of Palestinian homes indicates how weak his attachment is to democracy when it comes to his Arab fellow citizens.
I also find it interesting that unlike most N.Y. Times reporters, Isabel Kershner’s name has no e-mail link so you cannot communicate with her directly through her published report. It seems to me that this is a deliberate attempt to isolate this particular reporter from any readers who may wish to comment on her work. Behavior I would expect from the Times’ Israel correspondents who prefer to maintain distance between themselves and readers.
In a separate comment on the Sheikh Jarrah protests, it’s interesting that they have re-energized the long dormant Israeli left. Israelis liberals like David Grossman and Moshe Halbertal, who haven’t demonstrated on behalf of a Palestinian in years I imagine, are mentioned as supporters of this movement. I know that some of my fellow progressive bloggers like Jerry Haber, Brant Rosen and Phil Weiss have been documenting the wonderful work done there. I applaud this too.
The only reason that I’ve held back is that there is a tendency among progressives to read too much into a single political phenomenon. We all would like to see a viable Israeli left. But there simply isn’t one and no matter how wonderful the work supporting the Palestinian evictees is, this alone will not revive the left. There are deep structural problems with the Israeli political system that cannot be fixed without radical change. And Sheikh Jarrah, while it may lay the groundwork, cannot do it alone. The left died for a reason and it will not come back to life unless it fixes or vanquishes what killed it in the first place.
Liberals like Halbertal and Grossman have a record of fleeing from solidarity movements with Palestinians at the first opportunity. So I wonder whether, when they inevitably do, Sheikh Jarrah can maintain its momentum.