Haaretz has just announced a new Arabic language supplement that launched today. The statement did not name the specific contributors would be. But it did reveal some typically condescending attitudes toward the Israel Palestinian minority. Curiously, the statement originally published has been edited and precisely those portions I wanted to discuss, were removed. Here is the translation of excerpts from the uncensored version (and the censored one):
From today, Haaretz will publish artticles in the Arabic language. The desire to publish articles in Arabic was born out of the low voting percentage of Arab citizens in the last elections (April 2019). We thought that the sense of alienation and apathy existed, among other reasons, due to the lack of discussion between the Jewish and Arab populations, and that the way to strengthen and deepen the discussion should be via the platform offered by the articles and op-eds of Haaretz.
In the next month and a half, up to the coming elections (September 17th)–and hopefully after that–articles will be published in large part by Arab writers…Whoever takes advantage, will be exposed to a wide variety of issues which engage the Arab citizens of Israel.
We hope that the Arabic language and Arab voices will be made more prominent in the Israeli social debate.
The first paragraph above was the one censored. Gone in the current version is any reference to the low Palestinian turnout at the polls as the issue that motivated the new project. I’m not certain why the statement was altered.
Though as soon as an Israeli sent me the link I began to publish my preliminary critique on social media. Though Haaretz refuses to publish my work and refuses to publish virtually anything about me (with very limited exceptions), perhaps they read my Twitter or Facebook account? Who knows.
That first paragraph offers a rich display of problematic Israeli Jewish attitudes toward their fellow Palestinian citizens. First among them, of course, is that you will not once see the world “Palestinian” there. Which is a bit of an issue if you wish to address this “population,” considering it is the preferred name by which they want to be called according to opinion surveys of this community.
Next, the statement notes that the election was the specific reason the supplement was created. Why the election? Why not any number of tremendous social ills or societal conflicts rupturing the Jewish and Palestinian communities inside Israel? The reason is a very Zionist one. Haaretz is a liberal Zionist publication. It gives precedence to issues affecting the Israeli Jewish community; and the specific part of it that is (mainly) Ashkenazi, professional, liberal and secular.
Haaretz is desperate as it watches Israeli political power slip ever farther from the grasp of the former liberal Zionist rulers of Mapai, Mapam, Avodah, etc. It does understand, at least, that the country is slipping into a fascist authoritarian coma that will permanently erase everything its editors, and the Schocken family which have run it for nearly a century, hold dear.
They understand that there are only a limited number of Jewish liberal secularists left. But they also see a huge untapped reservoir of Palestinian voters. If they could be motivated to participate in much larger numbers than currently, they would be precisely the influx that could stop the onset of Israeli fascism.
While the thinking behind this concept is generally sound, Haaretz’s blinkered liberal Zionism prevents it from comprehending the real nature of the problem. That is, the issue discouraging Palestinians from voting has little to do with the lack of cross-discussion among Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Rather, it is a basic structural issue revolving around the nature of Israeli society. Put simply, Israeli Palestinians are so oppressed, and face so much discrimination and hate, that they’ve lost all hope in the political system.
There is really only one way to solve this problem: society needs to be fundamentally transformed from a Jewish supremacist state, to a fully democratic one. Israel needs Bishara’s “state of all its citizens.” Ironically, of course, Israel’s Shin Bet forced Bishara in exile, where he now lives in Qatar. This is only one of thousands of ironic examples of the nature of the problem.
If Israeli Palestinians are offered full equality, including political power, then they will vote in record numbers. If they and their leaders are not hounded into exile on trumped-up charges, or sent death threats, or physically assaulted on the floor of the Knesset, or sent to prison, then they will gladly participate in the electoral process. They will vote for progressive candidates and stand as a bulwark against Jewish settler fascism. But only real power will suffice. Not lip service.
So Haaretz’s new supplement will put a gloss on the problem. It will perhaps offer a few contributors from the Palestinian community who’ve never been read in the pages of Haaretz. It will, if the editors offer a truly diverse set of opinions, perhaps delve into issues not discussed by the largely Israeli Jewish reporters and columnists. But all this is superficial compared to the real problem lying at the heart of things.
Finally, in 2012 I wrote a post about a Haaretz article which criticized Israeli state-funded cultural institutions and museums, all of which were required by law to feature display captions in Hebrew and Arabic. Half of the museums hadn’t any captions in Arabic, thus flouting the law. Here’s how I responded:
I was struck that Haaretz itself refuses to make itself accessible to fully one-quarter of the Israeli population for whom Arabic is its native language. Beyond that, if the newspaper wishes to impact public opinion in the region, you’d think it would scramble to either produce an Arabic edition or at least translate individual articles and make them available to the Arabic language press.
The fact that Haaretz has no Arabic edition is an indication of the failure of the special brand of liberal Zionism it represents. Haaretz can take on the cultural impresarios for their alleged racism, while escaping the charge itself.
…I would think that as a matter of principle, a truly liberal Israeli newspaper embracing the rights of all citizens would make itself accessible to every citizen. Should Haaretz be a truly national newspaper or only one for the Jewish majority?
I decided I would take the issue to Amos Schocken himself. I asked if he would consider such a project. Naturally, he was enraged by my effrontery. He derided me for my supposed naivete, asking who would fund such a project, and whether I knew of any funders to suggest. And that was the end of my contacts with Schocken.
It only took him seven years to offer a scaled-down version of my proposal! Better late (and less) than never!
I thought it odd that the publisher of one of Israel’s leading newspapers would be asking me, who can barely scrape a few kopeks together from his readers (a slight exaggeration!), to help him find financing for a project like this. Of course, his challenge was a hollow one. He didn’t want or intend to create such an Arabic edition of Haaretz. He didn’t believe Haaretz could find an audience in the Palestinian community and so he wasn’t interested in trying.
Even now, I don’t believe Haaretz has its heart in this project. In the statement above it only says it would “like” to publish after the September election. That isn’t much of a commitment. And if Schocken and his managing editor, Aluf Benn, think that they can fool Palestinians into believing that they really want to create a partnership with them by publishing a supplement in their language for six weeks, they’re deluded.
Palestinians have been exploited for so long they know a hollow promise when they see one. So instead of projects like this, Haaretz should gather together a broad group of Israeli Palestinians and ask them whether and how they could create a true media partnership. It should ask them what should change in the newspaper, what should be added and what removed, for it to appeal to Palestinians. They should recruit more Palestinian columnists and reporters. It should publish their work in Arabic and translate it to Hebrew.
This is something totally alien to the current Haaretz. It considers Palestinians ‘other;’ not part-of or a partner-with. But to become a truly normal country like other democracies in the world, Israel must find a way to fully integrate all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity, into the grand scheme. It must reach out equally to all. It must include all. It must consider all.
There is only one way to do that: make Palestinians full partners in every aspect of society. Remove all roadblocks that prevent their full participation. Empower them, enfranchise them. Force all governing coalitions to include not just individual Palestinians, but their parties as well. And why not consider a rotation like Lebanon’s tripartite system in which each major ethnic group either appoints the president, assembly speaker or prime minister? Why not a Palestinian president if there’s a Jewish prime minister? Why not a Palestinian managing editor of Haaretz?
Hey, now that’s going too far! I wouldn’t want to give Amos Schocken apoplexy…
I submitted a number of questions to managing editor, Aluf Benn. about the project. He did not reply.
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.