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August 11, 2016 3:13 pm

The New ‘Nuts’ — Jeffrey Goldberg, the Jerusalem Post and the Question of Sanity

avatar by Martin Sherman

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Jewish journalist Jeffrey Goldberg being interviewed by Charlie Rose on Bloomberg View, on March 5, 2014. Photo: Screenshot.

Jewish journalist Jeffrey Goldberg being interviewed by Charlie Rose on Bloomberg View, on March 5, 2014. Photo: Screenshot.

I think I’m getting ready to leave Ha’aretz … [its] cartoonish anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism can be grating. I find the @TimesofIsrael to be very reliable. Ha’aretz has some good reporters. Jpost is nuts. — Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic, on Twitter, August 1 and 2.

We have supported a territorial compromise in the framework of a peace deal with the Palestinians…The Jerusalem Post editorial board backed the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 … — Yaakov Katz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, in a rebuttal to Goldberg’s slur, Jerusalem Post, August 2.

[H]ow can you claim to be objective if the Jerusalem Post editorial board backed the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005?…Perhaps Goldberg has a point — David Sidman in a Facebook response to Katz’s rebuttal, August 2.

Last week, cyberspace was all atwitter, following several rather disparaging tweets from The Atlantic’s scribe, Jeffrey Goldberg, casting grave aspersions on much of the English-language press in Israel.

Two major papers bore the brunt of Goldberg’s barbs — Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post. To the surprise of many, the normally decidedly left-leaning Goldberg took Haaretz to task for its “cartoonish anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism,” which he somewhat charitably designated as “grating.”

Not nearly as unhinged as Haaretz

Apparently the dollops of vitriol that the radical rag has been serving up lately to its readers against the Jewish state were too much even for him — and he announced that he was considering giving up reading it. Of course, it remains to be seen how resolute Goldberg will be in adhering to his intended abstinence, but at least he deserves some interim credit for taking and articulating umbrage at the blatant and baseless bile spewed out in pieces like Gideon Levy’s recent “Stop Living in Denial, Israel is an Evil State.” (July 31)

The attack on the JPost — and his denigration of it as “nuts” — was a little more puzzling. To be sure, it is nowhere nearly as “unhinged” as Haaretz, and is certainly a lot less monolithic and doctrinaire in the range of views it presents.

Unsurprisingly, the newly appointed editor, Yaakov Katz, leapt to his paper’s defense, hotly contesting Goldberg’s diagnosis of its journalistic sanity. Katz pointed out — not without justification — that the JPost’s reporting is generally objective and that a wide range of views are represented in its op-ed section. This is largely true, and although I have my disagreements with the JPost — which are likely to become dramatically more acrimonious, and public, in the not-too-distant future — the paper does have a solid line-up of competent opinion writers, with  the few veritable “nutters” being the exception, rather than the rule.

Distinctly discordant defense

However, one element of Katz’s defense hit a distinctly discordant note — and as it is symptomatic of a far wider malaise that extends beyond the Goldberg-JPostHaaretz brouhaha, I should like to dwell on it for a while.

As alleged proof of the JPost’s collective soundness of mind, Katz proudly announced that the paper had endorsed both the “land-for-peace” formula vis-à-vis the Palestinians, and the unilateral evacuation of Gaza.

To be fair to Katz, the allusion to this matter in the introductory excerpts has been somewhat truncated. His full reference to these matters, which included some reservations, omitted in the foregoing excerpts, was as follows: “We have supported a territorial compromise in the framework of a peace deal with the Palestinians, but only if it is a genuine and lasting peace with a real and complete end to violence and incitement…The Jerusalem Post editorial board backed the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself with force against attacks from Gaza or the West Bank.[a.k.a. Judea & Samaria-MS].”

This, of course, immediately raises a perverse — but unavoidable — question: In the political discourse in Israel, just how misguided do you have to admit you are to prove, somehow, that…well, you are not??

Flaunting failure?

After all, both the belief in territorial compromise and the unilateral evacuation of Gaza have proven colossal failures — wreaking tragedy and trauma on Jew and Arab alike.

Both have precipitated all the dangers their opponents warned of, and none of the benefits their proponents promised. Sadly, the tragic loss of life and limb was neither unpredictable nor unpredicted.

But all those who warned of the dire consequences of both these ill-conceived measures, were shunned, marginalized, spurned, belittled, disparaged — and deemed “nuts.”

Yet today, with all the foreseen, and foreseeable, death and devastation that these ideas have brought, past support for them is still — inconceivably — considered a proof of…sanity??  How insane is that??

Indeed, one might well ask: Isn’t it nuts to flaunt failure?

The reservations stipulated in Katz’s quote constitute no mitigating factor. After all, support for territorial compromise as a framework for peace with the Palestinians “only if it is a genuine and lasting peace with a real and complete end to violence and incitement” presupposes that such an amiable outcome was in some way plausible.

But of course it never was. There was no need for advance degrees in rocket science to comprehend this. All that was required was to set aside one’s feverish dovish prejudices and listen to what the Palestinians — even the allegedly “moderate” ones — were saying and doing to grasp that “genuine and lasting peace with a real and complete end to violence and incitement” was nothing but a perilous pipe dream. Just like the illusionary visions of a “New Middle East” and the empty promise of a new mirage-like El Dorado arising in the desert sands.

Depraved indifference?

With chances of success so manifestly slim and the cost of failure so predictably grim, surely there is good cause to deem the pursuit of such a policy tantamount to “depraved indifference” — i.e. conduct so wanton, so lacking in regard for the life or lives of others as to warrant the same criminal liability as that which the law imposes upon a person who intentionally causes a crime.

Surely, anyone wishing to debunk efforts to label him “nuts” should assiduously avoid parading his past support for a clearly disastrously defective (indeed, the less charitable might suggest, “depraved”) policy.

Yet for some reason, it would seem that the JPost’s endorsement of precisely such a policy — albeit under manifestly implausible reservations — is somehow considered by Katz as proof of… good judgement?!

Of course much the same — perhaps more so — could be said of “the Jerusalem Post editorial board’s back[ing] the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005.”

It is totally beyond my comprehension why anyone would wish to recall his backing of such a manifestly myopic, moronic and malevolent measure as the “disengagement” — and as credentials of his sober-mindedness, mind you!

Why would anyone want to remind the public that he supported the egregious eviction of thousands of hardworking, devoted citizens, from thriving productive communities, providing gainful employment to the neighboring Arab residents — turning them into traumatized and homeless refugees? Why would he want to dredge up from depths of the past his endorsement of a policy that converted Gaza into an Islamist terror enclave; a fearsome arsenal bristling with long-range weapons capable of hitting nearly every urban center in the country; with its borders honeycombed with deadly attack tunnels, potentially menacing every kindergarten in the adjacent Jewish communities; with ongoing interaction with the radical jihadi gangs roaming the Sinai, pressing up against Israel’s long southern border stretching to the approaches of Eilat?

That’s a badge of journalistic honor? Really?

“…supports Israel’s right to defend itself”

True, Katz conditions the JPost’s backing of the disengagement with a proviso stating that it “fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself with force against attacks from Gaza or the ‘West Bank.’”

But it is difficult to know what that even means — or whether it makes such support more or less troubling and perverse.

After all, since territorial “compromise” (read “concessions”) became the unfortunate cornerstone of Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinian Arabs, Israel has been compelled to undertake four major military campaigns — apart from the 2006 Second Lebanon War: one in Judea-Samaria (Katz’s “West Bank”) — Operation Defensive Shield (2002); and three in Gaza (Operations Cast Lead — 2008-9, Pillar of Defense — 2012; and Protective Edge — 2014).  After each encounter, at least on the Gaza front, the enemy emerged undefeated and defiant, with its will to engage unbroken, and its capabilities significantly enhanced. Israel is now bracing for a fourth round — spending billions to prepare for it.

So, was the JPost’s declared support for “Israel’s right to defend itself with force against attacks from Gaza or the West Bank” the product of ex-ante foresight or ex-post hindsight?

Clearly, if it was the former, such support could well be deemed irresponsible recklessness; if the latter, lamentable myopia.

Jerusalem Post, December 9, 1992

Interestingly, if, prior to conferring its backing to the 2005 Gaza evacuation and eviction, the JPost editorial board had browsed through back copies of the paper, it may have come across an opinion piece, written over a decade prior to the disengagement, predicting precisely what would happen pursuant to a unilateral abandonment of the area.

The article, entitled “Why we can’t dump Gaza,” published almost a quarter-century ago, on December 9, 1992, and penned by one Martin Sherman, then considerably younger and trimmer than today. It warned that:

— The unilateral withdrawal will bring “great peril to Israelis and [Gazan] Arabs alike;”

— “In the ensuing political vacuum, the most radical and violent elements would…seize power [and] all the more moderate elements would be speedily eliminated either politically or physically;”

— Gaza would face the grave water crisis that now threatens it, cautioning that “its water resources are being increasingly salinated through overuse;”

It predicted that, for security reasons, Israel would have to impose a quarantine on Gaza creating increasingly onerous conditions for the population there, and “a deepening sense of hopelessness, misery…which will inevitably be directed against Israel.” It warned of the dangers emanating from smuggling arms across fronts that Israel could not fully supervise “from the west (the sea) and south (Sinai).”

It forecast that “the frustration and despair will manifest itself in violent action against Israel…; our southern settlements and towns will be the targets of frequent attacks…compel[ling] Israel to retaliate;” and cautioned of the international censure that would result from such action: “Air strikes or artillery shelling on civilian population centers would cause heavy casualties among the dense, destitute masses in [which] the attackers conceal themselves,” asking  rhetorically, “How would the world react?”

The new “nuts” — time for redefinition?

Back then, a quarter of a century ago, the article foretold what should have been clear to anyone with a rudimentary grasp of the basic fundamentals of political science, international relations and the theory of nations and nation-states: “A unilateral withdrawal from Gaza will do nothing to ease the socio-economic plight of the local inhabitants, nor will it reduce the politico-security problems of Israel; rather it will be likely to exacerbate them.” How many will dispute that this forecast has been borne out by later realities?

So what should be the criterion for being “nuts”? Getting it right — or getting it wrong?

Moreover, given past precedents and future probabilities – and in the absence of any compelling counter-arguments  — there is no persuasive or plausible reason to believe that any prospective self-governing Palestinian entity will emerge as anything but yet another homophobic, misogynistic, Muslim-majority tyranny, whose socio-cultural and political hallmarks would be gender discrimination against women and girls, persecution of homosexuals and pursuit of political dissidents.

Now if you happen to subscribe to progressive liberal values of pluralism and tolerance, who is nuts — those who support the establishment of such an entity — or those who oppose it?

One wonders whether either Goldberg or the JPost editorial board will address this challenge.

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