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David Remnick’s Article Telling Us to Support Haaretz Reveals Why We Don’t Need Haaretz

Posted on March 4 2011 11:32 am
Seth Mandel is the former managing editor of four New Jersey-based newspapers, where he won awards for his coverage of the Middle East and Russia. He has appeared on Shalom TV's current affairs roundtable. He is currently based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @SethAMandel
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New Yorker editor David Remnick has a 10,000-word piece on Haaretz in the magazine’s current issue, echoing the fantasy that the leftist Israeli newspaper is integral to the country’s intellectual and political health.

The first hefty chunk of Remnick’s story gushes over Haaretz’s coverage of the uprising in Egypt. But read beyond that and you get to Remnick’s descriptions of the people who make Haaretz what it is. For example, he starts with publisher/owner Amos Schocken. He quotes Schocken complaining about the Israeli national anthem: “How can an Arab citizen identify with such an anthem?” It’s time to change the anthem, Schocken believes, and Remnick quotes Schocken’s editorial on the subject:

“Hasn’t the time come to recognize that the establishment of Israel is not just the story of the Jewish people, of Zionism, of the heroism of the Israel Defense Forces and of bereavement? That it is also the story of the reflection of Zionism and the heroism of IDF soldiers in the lives of the Arabs: the Nakba—the Palestinian ‘Catastrophe,’ as the Arabs call the events of 1948—the loss, the families that were split up, the disruption of lives, the property that was taken away, the life under military government and other elements of the history shared by Jews and Arabs, which are presented on Independence Day, and now only on that day, in an entirely one-sided way.”

This is, of course, an argument for changing more than the anthem. There is no reason to object to a Jewish anthem for a Jewish state—unless you object to both. Thus, we get a peek inside the mind that publishes Haaretz. It is a mind that is indifferent to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state.

Next Remnick moves on to columnist Gideon Levy, who castigates the Israeli government’s settlement policy and its counteroffensive in Gaza as criminal—just about everything the Israeli government does, to Levy, is criminal (one can imagine Remnick smiling and nodding throughout Levy’s diatribe). Haaretz’s most authoritative voice on the op-ed pages has this to say about Israel, a country whose right to exist is constantly called into question and which is subject to a continuing war of annihilation waged by the enemies on its borders: “We are more spoiled than any state in the world.”

How’s that for perspective!

Remnick’s next subject is the one and only Amira Hass. Hass goes back and forth between Gaza and Ramallah, posing as an intrepid reporter. But in reality she is a mouthpiece for the Palestinians. Her parents were communists, she tells Remnick, and she never quite felt at home in Israel (was it the absence of bread lines?). Remnick would like to categorize Hass as a Zionist anyway, but she will have none of it. “My tribe is leftists, not liberal Zionists,” she says.

But you begin to better understand Hass’s status as integral to Haaretz’s reporting when you read this exchange between Remnick and Schocken:

“Apart from the settlers, Israelis rarely go to the territories, unless they have the obligations of a soldier or a journalist. When I asked Amos Schocken, Amira Hass’s greatest supporter on the paper, when he had last visited Ramallah, which is a fifteen-minute drive from Jerusalem, he said, ‘I’ve never been there.’

‘Why not?’ I asked. Ramallah is, in a sense, the capital of his outrage.

Schocken smiled. ‘I read about it in Haaretz,’ he said.

How did Schocken come to those deeply held convictions about how the Palestinians are treated? Amira Hass told him.

But wait, that’s problematic. As Remnick then mentions, Hass was almost fired a few years ago:

“Editors at the paper had told me that she had started to file less frequently and that her reports were getting less fact-rich and more commentary-heavy, which was not her strength.”

That’s a kind way of saying her stories were opinion pieces dressed up as news reports—which is both unethical and was ruining whatever credibility the paper had left. Hass then took a leave of absence to illegally enter Gaza on a flotilla organized by British parliamentarians. She’s a reporter—just the facts.

But life isn’t so easy for someone like Hass. She isn’t accepted fully by the Palestinians, and she completely rejects the Israelis. She’s embarrassed, she says, to tell her Palestinian friends she’s going to the doctor in Tel Aviv (why doesn’t she get a doctor in Ramallah?). And on Yom Hashoah, she is especially lonely:

“On that day, a memorial siren goes off in the Jewish settlement of Beit El, nearby. But I cannot be with them. I cannot join them to commemorate the day, I just cannot. And here in Ramallah the siren doesn’t mean much.”

Later on in the article, Remnick mentions the hiring of David Landau as editor. He notes that Landau felt out of place in the Haaretz newsroom because, though he was a committed left-winger, he also wore a yarmulke—something foreign to the newsroom at Haaretz.

But the section on Landau is written from an alternate universe. How could Remnick exclude what was by far the most famous and telling moment of Landau’s career at Haaretz? In 2007, Landau told Condoleezza Rice that Israel wanted “to be raped” by the U.S. into submission. The Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt tried to defend Landau by suggesting the quote was taken out of context. Nope, said Landau:

“I did say that in general, Israel wants to be raped — I did use that word — by the U.S., and I myself have long felt Israel needed more vigorous U.S. intervention in the affairs of the Middle East.”

Landau also used far more crass—if you can believe it—language to describe what he believed Israel “wanted”—language I do not feel comfortable even repeating here. Landau later admitted to sitting on damning information about then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert because he thought the two sides were closer to a peace agreement and he wanted the corrupt Olmert to stay in office long enough to see the process through.

Neither of these incidents is even mentioned in Remnick’s piece, which agonizes over Haaretz’s prospects for survival.

What will be the future of Haaretz? It’s unclear. Ironically, what Remnick loves about the paper is actually depleting Haaretz’s bottom line. The democratization of the news through blogs and social networking makes opinion and advocacy journalism ubiquitous. What’s missing is agenda-free journalism.

The Israeli public is growing less enamored of “reporters” filing news stories just before boarding a flotilla to Gaza designed to strengthen Hamas and weaken Israel’s security. They simply aren’t as interested as they used to be in a newspaper that continues to push thinly sourced stories that are then debunked for all the world to read. Haaretz is continually referred to as Israel’s New York Times. But Israelis can read the New York Times online, so why would they need their own version?

Israelis are getting more serious about their news. That’s bad news for Remnick and Haaretz.

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