August 9, 2006
Dear Friends at The New York Times,
I was disturbed to read the August 9 article below by Steven Erlanger commenting on support by the Israeli left for Israel’s wars (“Left or Right, Israelis are Pro War”). Steven Erlanger is indeed correct that the vast majority of Israelis, including the mainstream Israeli left and Peace Now, support the war in Lebanon.
However, Mr. Erlanger’s article captures New York Times’ news and editorial departments’ general pattern of refusing to acknowledge dissenting Israeli voices – both Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Israeli Jews to the left of Peace Now.
It is particularly troubling that Steven Erlanger’s article completely ignores the views of Palestinian citizens of Israel, 20% of Israel’s citizens. Many Palestinian ctitizens of Israel are highly critical of the Israeli government’s violence against Palestinians or Lebanese. However, in this article, Mr. Erlanger’s article does not quote or acknowledge a single Palestinian citizen of Israel. Indeed, Palestinian citizens of Israel have held numerous protests against the war (Haaretz, ynetnews.com), and the Israeli government has repressed other protests (Israelinsider.com). While some past New York Times news articles have reported on Palestinian citizens of Israel, on the balance it appears that The New York Times as an institution may prefer not to acknowledge the existance of the 20% of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian.
My research on New York Times op-eds on Israel/Palestine supports this conclusion. Since September, 2000, The New York Times has published 164 op-eds on Israel/Palestine. Not a single one of those op-eds was written by a Palestinian citizen of Israel who currently lives in Israel (between September 2000 – April 2003 The New York Times published three op-eds by Shibley Telhami, a professor who left Israel in 1970 for the US, and rarely acknowledges either that he is Palestinian or that he was born in Israel). In contrast, 71 of the op-eds published by The New York Times were written by Israeli Jews.
Additionally, similar to Steven Erlanger’s August 9 article purporting to summarize the views of the Israeli left, The New York Times news and editorial departments generally refuse to publish the views of any Israeli Jews to the left of Peace Now. Again, looking at the 71 op-eds by Israel Jews published by The New York Times since 2000, in order to find any Israeli voices left of Peace Now, I had to return to the period of September, 2000 – April, 2002 – to six op-eds by Allegra Pacheco, Amira Hass and Tom Segev. I personally am aware of numerous op-ed submissions by Israeli Jews who disagree with Israeli policy that have been rejected by The New York Times over the last three years. A number of those op-eds were then published in other major newspapers in the US and Canada.
By generally refusing to acknowledge Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israeli Jews critical of Israeli policies, The New York Times paints a false picture of Israeli society. Critical Israel voices receive far greater hearing in the Israeli media than in The New York Times. Contrary to Steven Erlanger’s claim (“There have been weekly demonstrations against the war from smaller, more pacifist groups, but they have rarely drawn more than a few hundred supporters”), Ha’aretz Daily reported on a rally in Tel Aviv of over 5000 Israelis last Saturday (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/746637.html). A July 29 protest organized by women’s peace groups attracted up to 3000 people (http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/2850/context/archive), and Ha’aretz and YNet reported on large protests organized by Palestinian citizens of Israel (see above).
I hope the New York Times news and editorial departments will take steps to redress these significant and persistant gaps in its representation of Israeli society.
249 Lenox Avenue
New York, NY 10027
Left or Right, Israelis Are Pro-War
JERUSALEM, Aug. 8 — As Israel’s war with Hezbollah finishes a fourth difficult week, domestic criticism of its prosecution is growing. Yet there is a paradoxical effect as well: the harder the war has been, the more the public wants it to proceed.
Israeli troops prayed before moving into Lebanon. While Israel has been criticized abroad, most Israelis see the conflict as a battle for survival.
The criticism is not that the war is going on, but that it is going poorly. The public wants the army to hit Hezbollah harder, so it will not threaten Israel again.
And while Israelis are upset with how Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has run the war, they seem to agree with what he told aides this week — that given the weaponry and competence of Hezbollah and the damage already done to Israel, “I thank God the confrontation came now, because with every year their arsenal would have grown.”
Abroad, Israel is criticized for having overreacted and for causing disproportionate damage to Lebanon and its civilian population and even for indiscriminate bombing. But within Israel, the sense is nearly universal that unlike its invasion of Lebanon in 1982, this war is a matter of survival, not choice, and its legitimacy is unquestioned.
Even the bulk of the Israeli left feels that way. There is no real peace camp in Israel right now, says Yariv Oppenheimer, the secretary general of Peace Now, which has pressed hard for a deal with the Palestinians and on June 22, before this Lebanon war, called for a halt to air raids over the Gaza Strip. “We’re a left-wing Zionist movement, and we believe that Israel has the legitimate right to defend itself,” Mr. Oppenheimer said. “We’re not pacifists. Unlike in Gaza or the West Bank, Israel isn’t occupying Lebanese territory or trying to control the lives of Lebanese. The only occupier there is Hezbollah, and Israel is trying to defend itself.”
In the daily newspaper Haaretz, a cartoon satirized the group, showing a Peace Now advocate, balding with a ponytail, in a coffee shop saying, “It won’t end until we wipe Beirut off the map.”
After the war, Mr. Olmert and his defense minister, Amir Peretz, will face hard questioning, particularly from the center-right, about why there was such an early and naïve dependence on air power and why the ground war began so tentatively, especially in the face of so many rocket attacks on northern cities.
But as the fighting against Hezbollah has proved difficult and hazardous, most Israelis have come to believe that it is important to press ahead with the war and try to secure a visibly successful outcome rather than risk leaving Hezbollah emboldened enough to threaten Israel again.
Ehud Yaari, an Arab affairs analyst with Israeli Channel 2, sees popular opinion reflected in his mother. He is from Metulla, in northern Israel. His mother, 85, grew up in southern Lebanon and knows it well, and knows what it is like to be shelled.
“She calls me all the time to ask me how come the army is still having a fistfight with Hezbollah in places 500 meters from the border,” Mr. Yaari said. “I think she’s very typical. There is a feeling that Olmert was right to respond with force on July 12, but he should now do it properly, and that the harder it is, the more important it is to continue it, so Hezbollah can’t regroup and rebuild themselves.”
With the diplomacy so unclear, and no end to the fighting in easy sight, the Israeli government sees the best chance of a conclusion favorable to Israel, and to the government’s political reputation, coming from aggressively moving farther northward into Lebanon to try to reduce Hezbollah’s ability to fire its extensive stockpile of short-range rockets at Israeli civilians.
Continuing blows to Hezbollah will inevitably weaken it further, the Israelis feel, and make it more likely to bow to international pressure to allow a robust multinational force to patrol Lebanon south of the Litani River and prevent Hezbollah from regrouping there.
Mr. Oppenheimer of Peace Now said the only dispute in his group was over timing and tactics. Some feel Israel hit Lebanon’s infrastructure too hard in the beginning, trying to punish Lebanon to hurt Hezbollah, and in the process hurt too many civilians, he said, but now the army has shifted its sights more directly at Hezbollah.
The real debate, he said, “is whether this is the right time to stop the fighting and get a good agreement that accomplishes our goals, or do we have to keep hitting Hezbollah harder in order to get a good agreement.”
In this debate, too, he said, Peace Now “is together with the mainstream of Israelis.” On Wednesday, he said, Peace Now will publish an advertisement — not calling on the government to stop the war, but to “take seriously” the new Lebanese offer to deploy its army to the south.
Similarly, Yossi Beilin, the leader of the dovish Meretz Party, said the left must hold to the principle that the Jewish people have the right to “a democratic and secure state.” In an opinion column in Haaretz, he wrote that the war in both Gaza and Lebanon to secure the release of captured Israeli soldiers is legitimate, “but that is not reason enough to support all aspects of the war,” including the government’s falling “into the trap set by Hezbollah of an extended war of attrition.”
Once the war is over, Mr. Beilin said, “the right will turn against the government, because they’ll say the army didn’t go far enough. But a big land operation could push us into a long battle that will be very costly.”
There have been weekly demonstrations against the war from smaller, more pacifist groups, but they have rarely drawn more than a few hundred supporters.
Yaron Ezrahi, an Israeli political scientist, sees two other reasons for strong popular support for the war. After years of seeing its army deployed to occupy the West Bank, “pride in Israel’s people’s army has been eroded because of the checkpoints, the shooting of civilians, the confrontation with women and children,” he said. “Suddenly you have a war against an unambiguous enemy and the army is defending the Israeli public.”
Second, he said, Israelis see Hezbollah as a proxy for Iran, which wants to destroy Israel. “It’s unifying,” he said. “People see it intuitively as part of the war against Iran.”
The fiercest critics of Mr. Olmert and Mr. Peretz, the head of the Labor Party, have come from the right, especially from the Likud Party that Ariel Sharon and Mr. Olmert left behind when they formed Kadima, now the ruling party. The Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been a loyal supporter of the government and the war, but most expect him to be scathing about the government’s performance after the conflict is over.
But there are even strong murmurings within Kadima that neither Mr. Olmert nor Mr. Peretz was experienced enough in security matters to ask the military leaders tough questions about war plans, especially given a chief of staff who is, for the first time in Israel’s history, from the air force, and a chief of military intelligence also from the air force.
Gerald M. Steinberg, who directs the Program on Conflict Management at Bar-Ilan University, says Mr. Olmert and Mr. Peretz have been badly damaged. “This is not the disaster of the Yom Kippur war” in 1973, when Golda Meir was pushed out of office after Israel was judged to have been taken by surprise, he said. “But there is a strong sense of hesitation, of the lack of military leadership needed in times like this.”
Once the war is over, Mr. Steinberg said, regardless now of the outcome, “there will be investigations, and serious questions in Parliament and out, and you could have some defections from the current government.”
Yuval Steinitz of Likud, head of the parliamentary subcommittee for defense preparedness, is already loaded for bear. “Doubts?” he asked. “That’s an understatement. People are talking of failure.
“The bombardment of Israeli cities was supposed to be over after 48 hours. The fact that only now the government is ready to even start the real ground campaign is overwhelming.”
Israeli defense doctrine, formulated by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, is that tiny Israel should immediately carry the fighting “deep into enemy territory to protect its civilian rear,” Mr. Steinitz said. “This didn’t happen, and against who? Hezbollah, which is the size of a Syrian division without any air defense. So what would we do against Syria?”
Dan Schueftan, deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, said that “what will determine Olmert’s future is not one good or bad day, but the outcome and how it affects the larger issues.”
“It’s not just rooting out Hezbollah,” he said. “The real issue is Iran and the nuclearization of Iran.”
The diplomacy at the end is crucial. “Olmert comes out well if at the end of this, the United States, France and Egypt will have greater sway over the Lebanese government than Hezbollah,” Mr. Schueftan said. “If Iran and Syria can no longer use Hezbollah as a proxy, Olmert comes out well.”