Ari Shavit’s Other Sin
The evident suffering of Israeli journalist Ari Shavit, who has resigned from Haaretz and his television news slot following allegations of sexual harassment for which he admitted responsibility, can only evoke sadness. So the list of public men disgraced by their irrepressible sexual misbehavior – Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner, Donald Trump – continues to grow.
Three years ago, Shavit reached the pinnacle of literary success. His My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, received rave reviews from liberal Jewish journalists who delighted in his withering critique of Israeli settlements as “a futile, anachronistic colonialist project” that was “illegal and immoral and irrational.” Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic wrote a dust-jacket blurb praising My Promised Land as “a beautiful, mesmerizing, morally serious” book.
By then, his chapter on the Palestinian town of Lydda had been guided into The New Yorker by editor David Remnick. It depicted Israel’s “unhealed wound” of moral failure at its moment of birth in May 1948, when – Shavit claimed: “In 30 minutes, at high noon, more than 200 civilians are killed. Zionism carries out a massacre in the city of Lydda.”
Shavit became an instant media hero, especially in The New York Times. Thomas Friedman labeled it a “must read,” especially recommended for President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. In a front-page review in the Times Book Review, Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, praised it as “a sickening tour de force” that was “important and powerful.” Accompanied to promotional events by Remnick and Goldberg, Shavit was lauded in liberal Jewish circles as the desperately needed voice of Israeli morality. Two months later, he received a National Jewish Book Award.
For Shavit, Lydda (located 15 km. southeast of Tel Aviv) was where “Zionism instigated a human catastrophe” in 1948 that imprinted a permanent moral scar on the Jewish state. For Israelis, he wrote, “Lydda is our black box. In it lies the dark secret of Zionism” that left Shavit “horrified” by “the dirty, filthy work” that Israelis did there to enable his family, his people and his nation to survive. His anguish was palpable. But his tendentious claim of Israeli atrocities became his own black box, enclosing the dark secret of liberal bias.
In a lengthy Mosaic Magazine review essay (July 2014), Middle East scholar Martin Kramer exposed the egregious historical distortion wrought by Shavit’s “conspicuously agonized conscience.” Shavit’s assertion that “more than 200 [Palestinian] civilians” were killed in an Israeli “massacre” was, in a word, false. Indeed, it was a toxic libel. Sifting through archival testimony from Shavit’s primary sources, Kramer reconstructed what actually happened in Lydda on July 11-12, 1948. Located on the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, its Arab population had doubled to 20,000 with fleeing refugees. Some 125 Arab Legion soldiers barricaded themselves inside the police station; armed local irregulars were scattered throughout the city.
Commanded by Moshe Dayan, 300 Israeli soldiers suddenly confronted an attack by two armored vehicles of the Arab Legion that entered the city firing their weapons, supplemented by grenade-throwing and gunfire from a small mosque. Ordered to suppress the attack, Israeli forces struck the mosque with an antitank missile, killing 70 Palestinians inside. Even Shavit concedes: “The small-mosque massacre could have been a misunderstanding brought about by a tragic chain of accidental events.”
For Shavit, the Lydda “massacre” was rivaled only by the sin of settlements following the Six-Day War. “Zealots” returned to Hebron to restore the community decimated in the 1929 Arab riots; rebuilt Gush Etzion, the settlement bloc destroyed in 1948; and launched their “illegal and immoral and irrational” return to Judea and Samaria. For Shavit, it was “the last colonial project of the twentieth century.”
Ari Shavit’s self-inflicted personal wounds are saddening. But “the triumph and tragedy of Israel” recounted in My Promised Land should remain his legacy: the cri de coeur of a passionate left-wing Zionist whose beloved Israel vanished once Jews, already morally stained by Lydda, had the temerity to return to their biblical homeland.
Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner.