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May 18, 2018 7:08 pm

Gaza Gunfire Sends David Brooks Into New Embrace of New York Times’ Israel-Bashers

avatar by Ira Stoll

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David Brooks. Photo: Wikipedia/PBS.

It’s one thing for Prime Minister Netanyahu to take a beating from the news columns of the New York Times, or from a staff editorial, or even from the usual Bibi-bashers of the op-ed lineup, such as Roger Cohen, Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, or the late and in some ways great Anthony Lewis.

But it’s another thing for David Brooks to join the Bibi-bashing. Until the arrival of Bret Stephens, Brooks was the closest thing around these days to a house Zionist at the New York Times op-ed page, someone in the tradition of the late, great William Safire or A.M. Rosenthal. Brooks had a son in the Israeli military. He regularly quotes Jewish scholars like Erica Brown and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik.

So it comes as something of a betrayal for Brooks, on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, to come out with a column turning against Israel.

Brooks writes:

I see the situation through the “extremism corrupts everybody” narrative….

When faced with an extremist, you have two choices: counter the extremist mind-set with your own or reject that mind-set and double down on pragmatism.

By and large, Israel has taken the former path. The shift from the politics of Rabin and Shimon Peres to that of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman is a move from pluralism to ethnocentrism, from relentless engagement to segregation. It’s a shift from tough realism to the magical thinking that Palestinians are somehow going to go away.

It is clearly in Israel’s interest to maneuver the Palestinians away from extremism and to weaken the extremists in its own ranks. And yet sometimes Israeli policies seem callously designed to guarantee an extremist response.

Take the events of this week. For months Israeli security forces had been warning the prime minister and the defense minister that Gaza was in crisis mode and bound to blow. Hamas had long signaled that it would do exactly what it did at the Gaza fence on Monday, inciting a massive border invasion. There was plenty of time to figure out how to handle the crowds without bloodshed.

“And so the main question,” Amos Harel asked in Haaretz, “is what did Israel do to prevent this blood bath before it happened? The answer is, almost nothing was done.”

This is a reversal, a new turn for Brooks, who as recently as three years ago was describing Netanyahu as “surpassingly brilliant… Kennedyesque…Churchillian.”

It’s also nonsense, on many levels. It’s not accurate that Israel did “almost nothing” to prevent the Gaza bloodbath. Brooks relies on Haaretz, a newspaper that the New York Times itself has acknowledged “gets the larger arc of Israel’s story wrong.” Israel has actually done many things. It has shipped truckloads of food and medical supplies into Gaza. It has warned Gazans not to approach the border with Israel. It deployed drones with tear gas. It operates an Arab-language Facebook feed to counter terrorist propaganda and provide reliable information. One may argue that those things were insufficient, but to say Israel did “almost nothing” is false.

Brooks accuses Netanyahu and Lieberman of “ethnocentrism” and “segregation.” These are grave accusations, echoing the Israel-apartheid and Zionism-is-racism libels of decades-ago anti-Semites and modern boycott-divest-sanctions advocates. Brooks offers not one shred, not a scintilla, of evidence to support them. The Israel major general in charge of Gaza and the West Bank is Kamil Abu Rokon, who is Druze and recently issued a video wishing Muslims a Ramadan Kareem. If anyone was guilty of what Brooks calls “magical thinking,” it isn’t Netanyahu and Lieberman, but Shimon Peres, who imagined a “New Middle East” like some kind of European Union utopia. And if anyone is for “segregation,” it’s the two-state-solution fanatics of the Times. What is a two-state solution if not “segregation”? Far from being a segregationist, Lieberman has said, “We were destined to live one next to the other.” If anyone is ethnocentrist, it’s not Lieberman but his critics and enemies on the Israeli left, who hate him because he was born in Kishinev, in Moldova, and therefore isn’t an Israeli WASP — “White, Ashkenazi sabra with protektzia.”

As I wrote in The Algemeiner two years ago:

As for Mr. Lieberman’s supposed extremism, the policy for which he is best known is the possibility of transferring some of the Israeli-Arab towns — not the individuals or the population, but the actual towns — to a future Palestinian state. This is the ultra-right-winger? Someone who proposes giving to the Palestinians land that is now part of Israel? Mr. Lieberman also, at least when I interviewed him in 2006, floated the terms of a peace deal with Syria that would have involved Israel leasing the Golan Heights from Syria for a 99-year term. For a more nuanced view of Mr. Lieberman than the one available from the Times, that 2006 dispatch is worth a look.

Brooks may be forgiven for believing Netanyahu and Lieberman are extremists if he relies on the news columns of the Times and Haaretz for his information. But Lieberman has announced a plan for the West Bank than includes a carrot-and-stick approach, as reported (not by the Times):

15 Palestinian villages and towns from which no terrorists have hailed were charted in green and will benefit from a series of immediate alleviations. For example, master plans for villages in Samaria and for the town of Qalqilya will be expanded, an economic corridor will be established between Jericho and Jordan, a western industrial zone will be built for the city of Nablus and a hospital will be built in the town of Beit Sahour, along with kindergartens and football pitches elsewhere in Samaria…

Lieberman also presented the 15 “red” villages and areas from which numerous terrorists hailed over the last year. They will suffer from a security crack-down, according to him. The measures expected to be taken are not essentially different from the measures taken so far, and include, among other things, demolition and sealing of terrorists’ homes, intensified IDF operations in “A” zones, confiscation of terrorism funds, reclaiming of stolen vehicles, more extensive arrests, revocation of the work permits of members of terrorists’ families, revocation of VIP permits of senior Palestinian officials who take part in incitement, intensified operations against incitement-related elements such as printing houses, Facebook pages and radio stations, intensified inspections of Palestinian vehicles along the various routes and extensive demolition of illegal Palestinian construction projects.

No government is perfect, and the Israelis are facing a complicated and difficult situation. Brooks inaccurately blames Israel’s leaders for being extremists or for “ethnocentrism.” “Ethnocentrism” is the kind of term that Brooks at his humorous best would mock his Yale students for using, rather than hurl himself at Netanyahu. Brooks would be better off congratulating Israel’s leaders for achieving something remarkable. America nixed the Iran nuclear deal and moved its embassy to Jerusalem, and Israel suffered hardly any casualties in response. That’s not to say that the Gaza clashes had no cost to Israel in human terms or in public relations terms. But to leap from there to Brooks’ accusations that Israel’s leaders are callous, corrupt, extreme, segregationist, or ethnocentrist is just not warranted. It’s disappointing to Times readers who expect better from Brooks.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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