One of my betes noire is the pablum pawned off on Jews and non-Jews by liberal Zionists, which passes for serious analysis of the Israeli society and its conflict with the Arab world. Such an example is a promotional message Amos Schocken penned and distributed to all of Haaretz’s English-edition subscribers.
When I receive such a promotion from the NY Times, it pitches the extraordinary depth and breadth of the paper’s coverage, the new multimedia features and sections. In other words, it sells the product. It doesn’t try to sell the country nor does it sell its own particular political orientation. That’s why I found Schocken’s pitch so odd. Here’s a sample:
By doing so [subscribing], you will become a partner in the ongoing effort to shape Israel as a liberal and constitutional democracy that cherishes the values of pluralism and civil and human rights. You will become a partner in actively supporting the two-state solution and the right to Palestinian self-determination, which will enable Israel to rid itself of the burdens of territorial occupation and the control of another people.
The crowning insult of Schocken’s effort is this tweet he sent replying to my original one which pointed out his error:
@richards1052 Unfortunately typical of leftists: more busy showing their own who is more leftist, than aiming at the right.
— Amos Schocken (@AmosSchocken1) May 13, 2014
Returning to the Haaretz publisher’s message: the first thing that stands out in this passage is Schocken’s shocking error in calling Israel a “constitutional democracy.” Israel, of course, has no constitution and it’s downright strange a scion of one of Israel’s leading liberal publishing families wouldn’t know that. In fact, he must know it. Unless, he didn’t write this copy or proofread it before going to press, how to explain such an error?
Next, the passage betrays the delusion that Haaretz can “shape” Israel in any serious way. Haaretz, while it is a valuable tool in documenting the various failures of Israeli politics and society, has no impact on the overall trends in that society. It is a last bastion of liberalism, not a harbinger of better things to come. While Bibi Netanyahu may hate Haaretz and the N.Y. Times, he doesn’t fear that they can reshape society in their liberal image. He merely sees them as an obstacle in his way to creating a permanent Judean state for generations to come.
The final pernicious fact of Schocken’s statement is the delusional character of believing Israel is or can ever be a liberal, pluralist democracy. That battle was in fact lost long ago. Probably when the first settlement was built by Shimon Peres in 1968 or, my Palestinian colleagues would tell me, back in 1948 during the Nakba.
But let no one claim that my position is nihilist since it allows for no transformation of Israeli society into the type of liberal democratic nation I could embrace. There are two ways this might happen. One is through the sort of one-state solution advocated by no less an Israeli leader than the potential next president, Reuven Rivlin. The other is if the world community intervenes in the conflict and imposes a two state solution on the parties as it did in Kosovo. There is no hope that any current Israeli political party or ruling coalition will ever do this itself. So that leaves the international community to do so. If it doesn’t, then a one-state solution is the only and final option.
Another element of Schocken’s message that reveals Haaretz’s insularity is this:
This year Peter Beinart, one of America’s eminent journalists, joined our ranks, along with opinion makers like Seth Lipsky and Rabbi Eliyahu Fink. They have strengthened our veteran team of writers, which includes Ari Shavit, Gideon Levy, Chemi Shalev, Bradley Burston, Judy Maltz, Barak Ravid, Allison Kaplan Sommer and Anshel Pfeffer, to name a few.
Take a look at those names. Their ideological position, aside from Amira Hass (whom he doesn’t mention) and Gideon Levy, ranges from far-right to centrist. There are a few liberals (decidedly not on the left) among them like Brad Burston and Anshel Pfeffer. But none, aside from the two I mentioned, espouses a true progressive perspective. Further, among the Diaspora Jewish voices he quotes you won’t find a single one who’s anything other than a liberal Zionist. You won’t find Max Blumenthal, you certainly won’t find me (the paper has published two pieces by me in the past eleven years, neither of which it offered any payment), nor Phil Weiss. You won’t find the views of any Diaspora Jewish activist groups like BDS, CodePink or Jewish Voice for Peace.
Indeed, Schocken has already telegraphed his disdain and rejection of them by using the dreaded “L”-word to describe my views. Since when did “left” become a dirty word in Haaretz? This is the newspaper that used to proudly feature the writing of Amos Elon, Shulamit Aloni, Yeshaya Leibowitz and Yaakov Talmon. Leftists all. Once in a very blue moon it will publish Uri Avnery, but more as a quaint throwback to a former era than as a legitimate voice of an ongoing vibrant left. Where have those voices gone? Where are the Diaspora voices of the left like Tony Kushner, Max Blumenthal, Medea Benjamin?
Not to mention the lack of Palestinian voices as well. Haaretz features Peter Beinart regularly, but not Rashid Khalidi. Where is Haneen Zoabi or Ahmed Tibi or Ali Abunimah or Palestinian cultural voices? It features two or three Palestinian columnists on a regular (Sayed Kashua) or semi-regular (Oudeh Bisharat) basis. But if you compared the number of Israeli Jewish to Palestinian voices it wouldn’t come close to the 20% of Palestinians constituting Israel’s population.
I once suggested to Amos Schocken that he publish an Arabic language edition or section. He responded with disdain and challenged me (!) to find him the funding for it. This is an indication of the disingenuousness of Schocken’s position. If he truly wanted to reshape Israel’s politics or society he would be reaching out in meaningful ways to the Palestinian world and seeking an Arab audience and constituency. He doesn’t do this either because he doesn’t know how or because he doesn’t think it’s important or realistic. Either way, he’s betrayed what he claims are his values.
Haaretz is a dying breed. It represents a last gasp of liberal Zionism. While I wish this wasn’t so and wish Israel was a place that honored and treasured Haaretz as a leading voice of Israeli journalism, that simply isn’t so. For Shocken to pretend otherwise means he’s fooling himself and his readers and offering a far rosier picture of his country than is warranted.
That being said, Haaretz isn’t the major problem with Israeli society. In that, I agree with Schocken’s tweet. Haaretz is a valuable institution. Without it, the country would have no free mainstream press at all. With it, there is a remnant of what was once possible and hoped for. But to confuse this with seeing Israel as a thriving democracy on the road to pluralism, tolerance and diversity is pure pablum.
There is also a misleading claim in his letter:
They [subscribers] enjoy full access to all Haaretz content.
That’s actually false as written. Subscribers to the English-language edition (of which I am one) enjoy full access to the English-language edition alone. Subscribers to the Hebrew edition enjoy access to that edition. You do not get access to “all” Haaretz content. In fact, I wrote to Aluf Benn and suggested that a subscriber to one edition should have access to both. He replied that I should understand that subscribing to both separately was a means to provide financial support to both editions. Which is nice for Haaretz, but isn’t the point. There should be an option to obtain access to both editions without having to subscribe to each one separately. And someone who wants to subscribe to both shouldn’t have to pay double to do so.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.