About two weeks ago, Debra Nussbaum-Cohen sent me an urgent e-mail saying she was on deadline for a Haaretz story and wanted to interview me. Since her message requested immediate attention I dropped what I was doing, contacted her and set up the interview. She was reporting on a new “democracy” initiative launched by the New Israel Fund whose PR spin claimed it was modeled on the successful confrontation tactics used by the Israeli extreme right against NIF itself. Nussbaum Cohen asked my views on the subject and we had a spirited discussion. Clearly, she disagreed with some of my views, but indicated she wanted such opinions reflected in her article.
I noted to her that I was pleasantly surprised since I knew that Aluf Benn, Amos Schocken and others have been critical of my work regarding Haaretz. I complimented her that she was willing to be fair and courageous, to allow my perspective to be included within the pages of Haaretz. I also told her that the fact that my voice was almost never heard in Haaretz (two articles published in the past eleven years and none in the past 18 months) was a credit to her for trying to rectify that omission.
I reminded her that I don’t like giving interviews unless I’m reasonably assured they’ll show up in the finished article. She assured me there was no reason to think that my comments wouldn’t get published. She volunteered to send me a link to the finished piece and I replied that I’d be happy to promote it on social media.
That was the last I heard from her. I saw a few articles on the NIF initiative appear over the ensuring days in other publications. But yesterday night, I decided to Google Nussbaum Cohen to see if she published her piece. Indeed she did. I read it and was “shocked” to find that precisely what I’d feared, happened. I’d been left on the cutting room floor. The only question was whether the reporter had cut me or her editors had. So I tweeted to her and wrote her an e mail making clear I was not happy with the outcome. This was her reply:
Listen – don’t be a jerk to me. Very nice – especially erev Yom Kippur.
I forgot that I had promised to send you a link.
I included quotes from you in the piece that I filed. The editors took them out.
And I won’t call you again, since I know you’re not considered quotable by Haaretz in any case.
I replied to her that if anyone was being a jerk it was her since she’d assured me I hadn’t wasted my time doing the interview and that my views would be included. I added that when a reporter makes a commitment if they can’t or don’t honor it they should either apologize or explain what happened. She did neither. I noted that since she’d brought up Yom Kippur, she might want to meditate during Kol Nidre on who owed whom an apology. I also e-mailed Aluf Benn asking him why my interview had been removed. He hasn’t replied.
This wasn’t the first time Haaretz buried an interview with me. A few years ago, a reporter for The Marker conducted an interview with me for a profile which never ran. The reporter similarly never explained what had happened to the piece. I’m guessing that an editor axed it for a similar reason to this one. Even when the NY Times published a front page profile of me related to the Shamai Leibowitz case, Yossi Melman wouldn’t wait long enough to publish his Haaretz article on the story to interview me.
Anyone reading this blog knows my views, both good and bad, on Haaretz. It is a decent paper as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far; or certainly not far enough. Haaretz is the media stalking horse for liberal Zionism. But the latter fills a niche market within Zionism today and grows increasingly irrelevant, as does Haaretz. The only reason Haaretz remains relevant is because the entire rest of the Israeli media scene has turned into a rubber stamp (with a very few exceptions) for the Likudist political elite.
There will be those who claim Haaretz remains a progressive paper. That it still has real left-wing voices. That may’ve been true in the past, but no longer. Amira Hass and Gideon Levy are the only reporters left who represent that tradition. While Haaretz publishes op-ed pieces by writers with such points of view, these are not permanent staffers. They are guests.
For example, you will find very little about BDS that is sympathetic (except Gideon Levy, natch). You will find very little about Jewish Voice for Peace that even covers it, let alone that is sympathetic. You’ll find very little coverage of the real Israeli left (not Labor or Meretz). You’ll find very little that poses profound skepticism about the underpinnings of Israeli society. You will find a great deal that nibbles around the edges, that raises questions, that shouts a polite slogan or two.
Now here’s my criticism of the NIF initiative which Haaretz editors censored. NIF plans to spend a measly $2-million to initiate programs among NGOs with which they already work (they’re adding two new grantees). This will supposedly strengthen their commitment to Israeli democracy and the fight against the extremist anti-democratic right. The plan is long on rhetoric and short on specifics. It doesn’t mention specifically what the money will be spent on, except in general terms. It’s not clear whether this is new money that will be added to NIF’s existing funding or whether it has reallocated existing funds.
NIF suffers from precisely the same problem as Haaretz itself. Israel burns while they both fiddle a liberal Zionist tune. They exist only so that Bibi Netanyahu can boast to the rest of the world that despite how much he hates liberals, he tolerates them for the sake of his vaunted democracy. Though Haaretz can legitimately claim to have more of an influence on Israeli society, NIF is whistling in the dark. The settler right has taken over the asylum. NIF merely chronicles the takeover and nostalgically mourns the loss of some idyllic liberal Zionist past.
NIF consults with, and funds the same limited sets of voices that Haaretz publishes and covers. If you are a Palestinian NGO and do not endorse Israel as a Jewish state, you will either be defunded or threatened with defunding. No matter what it say and funds, NIF is an expression of liberal guilt. It exists to assuage the consciences of Diaspora Jewish donors who don’t want to entire abandon the concept of Israel as a liberal democracy, though that ship sailed quite some time ago.
In Nusbaum-Cohen’s published article none of these criticisms were reflected. There was one mildly skeptical comment. The rest was liberal Zionist pablum.