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.
Joe 高麗川 says
Richard, I have your site pinned to my desktop to check in occasionally on what is/ is not happening in my “beloved Israel”. this essay of yours only serves to remind me of my past during the Vietnam War protest! I worked for a college paper in those days in Memphis Tenn. As far as your point goes, I guess people with less fear of ideas being heard or read, had just better hunker down in their bunkers, pull their colars up high enough to keep out a cold unjust wind. And remember, what “goese around, eventually, comes around”. Regards from Japan
Daniel F. says
As somebody who simply gave up trying to post reasonable comments on your site, I find your treatment by Haaretz to be ironic. You, of all people, fail to understand the ever increasing need to be politically correct in the Israel of today.
Rabbi Yakov Lazaros says
I stumbled upon your blog by accident a few weeks ago. I have never read such hateful anti-Israel propaganda anywhere not even on Al- Jazeera. You might have given some thought on Yom Kippur to repenting for all the damage you are doing.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Rabbi Yakov Lazaros: Rabbi, you might give some thought to repenting for all the damage you’re kind have done to the State of Israel by turning it into a settler theocracy.
Arie Brand says
And I wonder whether the Rabbi knows that hundreds of thousands of people have reason to fear the Jewish sabbath and if he does what he thinks about it?
Amira Hass on rampant settler violence:
The day our grandparents feared was Sunday, the Christian Sabbath; the Semites, who are not of interest to the researchers monitoring anti-Semitism, fear Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Our grandparents knew that the order-enforcement authorities wouldn’t intervene to help a Jewish family under attack; we know that the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Police, the Civil Administration, the Border Police and the courts all stand on the sidelines, closing their eyes, softballing investigations, ignoring evidence, downplaying the severity of the acts, protecting the attackers, and giving a boost to those progromtchiks.The hands behind these attacks belong to Israeli Jews who violate international law by living in the West Bank. But the aims and goals behind the attacks are the flesh and blood of the Israeli non-occupation. This systemic violence is part of the existing order. It complements and facilitates the violence of the regime, and what the representatives – the brigade commanders, the battalion commanders, the generals and the Civil Administration officers – are doing while “bearing the burden” of military service.
They are grabbing as much land as possible, using pretexts and tricks made kosher by the High Court of Justice; they are confining the natives to densely populated reservations. That is the essence of the tremendous success known as Area C: a deliberate thinning of the Palestinian population in about 62 percent of the West Bank, as preparation for formal annexation.
Day after day, tens of thousands of people live in the shadow of terror. Will there be an attack today on the homes at the edge of the village? Will we be able to get to the well, to the orchard, to the wheat field? Will our children get to school okay, or make it to their cousins’ house unharmed? How many olive trees were damaged overnight?
Richard, you are in good company of President Barack Obama.
Actually during Gaza3 there were more Israeli govt. spokes people on AL-Jazeera than on the BBC. There were also demonstrations outside the BBC against what a lot of people saw as pro Israeli govt. bias and a constant lack of context whenever reporting on Israel/Palestine
I don’t know why you waste your time with these people, Mr. Silverstein….. you were nice enough to spend time in an interview with Debra Nussbaum-Cohen, the contents of which she probably knew would never run. Her peevish comments revealed her mindset.
As far as I am concerned, the Israelis cannot be helped by positive inputs. What must be done is that the US drop them like a hot rock*, under the hope that they will snap out of their idiocy and start acting sensibly. If they don’t, well, it isn’t our problem anymore.
* I’m talking a total cutoff of military aid and support.
“Her peevish comments revealed her mindset.”
Joseph Escamillo says
I am sorry to say that I think she was right…
To quote a great goyish thinker, one Oliver Cromwell, especially relevant on Yon Kippur:
Have you considered the possibility that you are wrong?
Richard Silverstein says
@ Joseph Escamillo: No one asked you. And I’m about as sorry as you were…to say you’re now moderated. Comments must be substantive rather than thumbing your nose at people.
david farkas says
[comment deleted: stalkers are not allowed here. you are banned]
Arie Brand says
Richard can’t you publish the interview here? One would like to know where the limits are of Haaretz’s “liberalism”.
Amazing. Mr. Silverstein comments on NIF do not have anything offensive or outrageous. They are well argued, well meant, supported by experience. What a democratic Haaretz!
Can you please write about what really happened with Yitzhak Rabin?
The official story is that it was just a few lone crazies.
But there must be a lot of information on this in Hebrew that goes far beyond what we have in English.
If you could write an article about what the Hebrew stories say, it could help a lot showing the real forces running the show there.