Racism in Israeli Society: Winning Elections, Spewing Hate

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played the race card in a final attempt to get out the vote last month, it displayed to all the world how such bigoted rhetoric has deep appeal in Israeli society: The effort was successful and swept him to yet another term as head of state.

As voters were going to the polls, he said on Israeli television that Palestinian citizens of the state (“Arabs” in Israeli terms) were “streaming in droves to the polling stations” and “right-wing rule [was] in danger.” At the time, surveys showed his rival Isaac Herzog leading, but the final tally gave Netanyahu a decisive victory.

Here we have a topic worthy of inquiry: How is it possible that the leader of a democracy can make such an openly racist appeal to voters? And what is it in Israeli society that responds to this kind of incitement?

The New York Times has reported Netanyahu’s words, adding that “opponents accused him of baldfaced racism,” but it has failed to go beyond these brief remarks. Times articles tell us, for instance, that Netanyahu’s remarks “appear racist” or were criticized as being racist, but they stop short of acknowledging that Israeli society has a problem with ethnic bigotry.

Times readers never learn, for instance, that Israeli buses are segregated by ethnicity, that nearly 50 percent of Israelis want Arab citizens of the state transferred to the Palestinian Authority, that Israeli youth recently marched through the Old City of Jerusalem chanting “death to Arabs” (just the latest example of such displays) and that more than 50 Israeli laws discriminate against non-Jews.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, reporting on a recent Hebrew language book on Israeli school life, notes that “ethnic hatred has become a basic element in the everyday life of Israeli youth.” The book quotes students who boast about their eagerness to kill Palestinians. “I’m ready to kill someone with my hands,” a 10th grade girl says. “I wish them death.”

After more of this kind of example, the article states: “One conclusion that arises from the text is how little the education system is able—or wants—to deal with the racism problem.”

In the Times, however, we find no talk of a “racism problem” in Israel, even though this bigotry goes beyond hatred of Palestinians to encompass other non-Jews. The state has been imprisoning and deporting asylum seekers from Africa, for instance, and Africans in Tel Aviv have faced throngs of violent protesters demanding their expulsion.

But even as the newspaper has been silent in the face of all this, it has promoted discussion of anti-Semitism. In recent weeks, the Times has run two overblown stories about complaints of anti-Semitism on American college campuses (see TimesWarp here and here), a David Brooks column on how to combat the phenomenon internationally and an editorial about soccer fans in Europe. It also made much of the anti-Semitism issue after gunmen took over a Jewish market in Paris and left four dead earlier this year.

The Brooks column ran just as the conversation about the election was at its peak, as Netanyahu was backtracking from his remarks about Arab voters and fudging on a claim that he would never allow a Palestinian state. This was a perfect time to dig more deeply into the troubling signs of racism in Israel.

Instead, readers were offered the Brooks piece, which appears to rely heavily on sources such as hyper-alarmist press releases from the Anti-Defamation League to support evidence of growing anti-Semitism.

When the Times ran an editorial about racist soccer chants in Europe last week, it had nothing to say about a notable example out of Israel—the openly racist Beitar Jerusalem team, which refuses to sign Palestinian players and is noted for its fans’ racist chants and banners. Its supporters also made news when hundreds staged a walkout after a non-Jewish team member (a Chechen Muslim) scored a goal.

Segregated bus lines, the racist chants of Israeli youth and public opinion that favors the transfer of minorities from the state are eminently newsworthy topics, but the newspaper shows little interest in informing readers of such things. The Times would have us believe that Israelis are the victims—but not the perpetrators—of ethnic violence, and it gives short shrift to news that fails to support this script.

Barbara Erickson

[For a full and close-up look at Israeli racism, see Goliath by Max Blumenthal.]

Yet Another NY Times Writer with a Son in the Israeli Military

The Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, writes in her blog today that the paper should disclose the fact that columnist David Brooks has a son in the Israeli army. She did so after receiving complaints from a number of readers.

Although columnists are held to different standards than news reporters, she writes, “Mr. Brooks’s son is serving as a member of a foreign military force that has been involved in a serious international conflict – one that the columnist sometimes writes about and which has been very much in the news.”

She concludes that a “one-time acknowledgement of this situation in print (not in an interview with another publication) is completely reasonable.”

Sullivan received complaints after Brooks revealed his son’s status in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The story was published in Hebrew but picked up by U.S. journalists (see here and here).

The news echoed previous revelations that the son of former Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner was serving in the Israeli forces even as his father was reporting from Israel. This also prompted complaints from readers and a suggestion from then public editor Clark Hoyt that Bronner be reassigned. Bronner, however, remained at his post.

TimesWarp readers might be interested in visiting this blog’s “Times Staff” page, where they can find more information about the Bronner affair and the close ties between other Times writers, Israel and the Israeli military.

Readers may also want to see Alison Weir’s blog today on the Brooks revelations and her comments on Sullivan’s post.

Barbara Erickson

As More Children Die in Gaza, the NY Times Frets over “Israeli Fear”

Eight children died on a Gaza beach yesterday, but The New York Times has buried this news inside its pages. It has preferred to give bigger play elsewhere, in yet another story about tunnels and how these have shaken the Israeli psyche.

Tunnels Lead Right to Heart of Israeli Fear” by Jodi Rudoren appears on page 1. This is the third article about tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel in as many weeks. Like both of the others, there is no mention of a single terrorist attack via these tunnels even though they have been in place for months and years.

Nevertheless, the Times continues to dwell on the possibility of such attacks, and Rudoren tells us that Israelis are talking of “nightmare scenarios that are the stuff of action movies.” The tunnels “have lurked in the dark spaces of Israeli imagination,” she writes, since Hamas used one to abduct an Israeli soldier in 2006.

Meanwhile, the residents of Gaza face concrete threats, not chimeras of the imagination. In one terrible moment yesterday 10 people died on a beach as they celebrated the end of Ramadan. The dead included eight children, dressed in new holiday clothes, who had been playing on the sand when a missile fell from above.

Times readers learn of this tragedy three paragraphs into a story on page 6 under the headline “New Strikes Shatter Lull in Israel and Gaza.” (Online the headline is even more off the point: “Israeli Leader Sees no Quick End to Gaza War.”) The story states that Hamas blamed Israel for the attack, but it gives more space to the army’s denial of responsibility and its claim that the missile was an errant rocket launched by Hamas.

The article by Isabel Kershner and Ben Hubbard fails to include the news that eyewitnesses said the missile came from an airstrike. We find this information in other media accounts (here and here) but not in the Times.

About the time of the beach massacre, another missile damaged the outpatient clinic of Shifa hospital, the largest in Gaza. The Times duly notes the Israeli denial of responsibility for this strike also and takes pains to say that the clinic was obviously unused.

As if the play of stories in the Times today were not enough to reveal an Israeli-centric bias at work, we also have a column by David Brooks, which tells us that this is really not a war between Hamas and Israel, but a “proxy war” driven by forces beyond the borders of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

“No War Is an Island” is the title of this piece, which ignores the fact that Israel is the occupier while Hamas and all Palestinians are the occupied. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become just a stage on which the regional clashes in the Arab world are being expressed,” Brooks writes. To make such an assertion about this particular conflict is absurd to the point of no return.

But even worse is Brooks’s charge that Hamas is deliberately sacrificing the people of Gaza in order to gain points. He states, “If Arab TV screens were filled with dead Palestinian civilians, then public outrage would force Egypt to lift the blockade. Civilian casualties were part of the point.”

He ignores the Times‘s own reports revealing that even Hamas opponents in Gaza reject a ceasefire unless it eases the misery of the Israeli blockade. Brooks disregards the facts of Israeli provocation, the blockade itself, the occupation and dispossession of Palestinian land and Israel’s responsibility for the deaths of innocent civilians.

His is an unsubtle, in-your-face argument, but the Times is holding out a similar view even as it strives to give the appearance of a “balance” in its pages. In its omissions, its choice of headlines and placement of stories, the newspaper attempts to deflect our gaze from Israeli responsibility for the carnage in Gaza.

Barbara Erickson