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Twisting the Facts on Israel By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 01, 2008

“An evil wind of extremism, of hate, of maliciousness, of violence, of losing control, of lawbreaking, of contempt for the institutions of state, is passing though certain sections of the Israeli public,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Israeli cabinet Sunday in a statement that was reported in a widely circulated Associated Press article by Karin Laub. The article is a good example of how news about Israel gets distorted and how some boorish Israeli leaders, like Olmert, contribute to the phenomenon.

What touched off Olmert’s comments was Thursday’s pipe bomb attack on 73-year-old political science professor Zeev Sternhell at his Jerusalem home. Sternhell was fortunately only lightly injured by an explosion that could have caused a much worse result.

Laub cites Olmert as saying the attackers appeared to be part of “another underground”—by which Olmert indeed meant “right-wing underground” since the Hebrew word for underground, machteret, is commonly used for an extremist right-wing settler cell of the 1980s that was eventually apprehended by the Israeli authorities.

What is not mentioned, though, is that this is just a supposition with, so far, no proof. A higher standard of caution and precision is generally used, for instance, regarding the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, with the Syrian regime mentioned as being suspected of responsibility without—as is indeed the case—this having been conclusively established.

More seriously, Laub’s report describes Sternhell as a “vocal critic of West Bank settlements,” implying that this alone motivated the purported extreme-Right attackers to plant their bomb. But if that were the case—given that “vocal critic of West Bank settlements” encompasses a substantial category of left-wing Israeli academics, politicians, journalists, and writers numbering in the thousands of people—there would indeed be cause for widespread alarm.

As it happens, Sternhell is particularly disliked both by the large, legitimate Israeli Right and the tiny extremist Right for statements calling for murderous violence against West Bank settlers. In the most egregious case, in an article in the left-wing Israeli daily Haaretz published on May 11, 2001, during the Palestinian terror war, Sternhell wrote: “Many in Israel, perhaps even the majority of the voters, do not doubt the legitimacy of the armed resistance in the territories themselves. The Palestinians would be wise to concentrate their struggle against the settlements...; it would also be smart to stop planting bombs to the west of the Green Line.”

It should be stated clearly what this is: a call for the mass murder of a category of Israeli citizens—men, women, and children, then numbering a couple of hundred thousand—living “east” of the Green Line, that is, in settlements. To add a personal note, I and members of my family lived for a period ending in 1998 in the settlement (actually a good-sized town a few miles east of Jerusalem) of Maale Adumim, and had we still been there in 2001 we would have been among those Israelis whom Sternhell was calling on Palestinians to kill.

That Sternhell is notorious for such statements has no moral connection to the criminal act of planting a pipe bomb in his yard. Omitting the fact that he makes such statements, however, and calling him a mere “critic” of the settlements, distorts the story especially when it is wrongly treated as a foregone conclusion that his attackers came from that community.

Laub’s article goes on to mention “the shooting death of a 19-year-old Palestinian shepherd” whose body was found Saturday night in the Jordan Valley, stating that “The shepherd’s relatives blamed Jewish settlers, but police said they were still investigating.” In an article whose subject is settler extremism, this is a clear case of guilt by innuendo and leaves out the fact that the Jordan Valley settlers—one of the most moderate among the settler communities—not only reject the charge but have been “cooperating with the police and army investigations into the incident.”   

The article’s two unproved, unjustified allegations of crime by settlers—in Sternhell’s case, at least a reasonable hypothesis, in the shepherd’s case, not even that—are accompanied by only one actual case of far-from-lethal vigilante violence by settlers. In that incident, also Saturday night, some of them rampaged through a West Bank village, “smashing the windows of several cars and homes,” in reaction to a shooting attack on an Israeli car earlier in the day that was part of a spike in such incidents during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.  

Laub also states more generally that “Jewish extremists often clash with Palestinians and Israeli peace activists in the West Bank”—leaving out that in some cases the Israeli police view such “peace activists” as themselves disruptive extremists and that the “clashes” with Palestinians generally occur after murderous terror attacks. That is not to say “the settlers”—now a diverse community of almost 300,000 that includes an extremist fringe—are always in the right, but that articles like Laub’s are typically colored by blatant bias. 

It is, no doubt, harder to clarify these points when an Israeli leader like Olmert—himself resigning on corruption charges—claims that (as further quoted in Laub’s report) the violence “is threatening Israeli democracy and the ability of those in charge in Israel to make decisions, and the ability of people to freely express opinions without fearing that they will be hurt by wild and violent people, people who break the law and break the framework of normal democratic life.”

That picture of Israel as a democracy falling apart is the crowning distortion.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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