The Case for Democracy: A Book Review

Natan Sharansky, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny & Terror, Pubic Affairs, 2006.

Books on world politics typically have a very short half-life; their relevance quickly diminishes as events overtake their analysis. That, however, is not the case for Natan Sharansky’s 2004 book, The Case for Democracy. In fact, this small book is just as relevant today as when it first appeared in print.

In addition to allowing Sharansky to outline his theory of democracy, The Case for Democracy is a memoir and a history of major world events. Drawing on his personal experience as a political prisoner in the Soviet Union as well as having served in two Israeli cabinets, Sharansky lays out in clear prose the distinction between free and fear societies and how championing democratic reforms can be used to advance the cause of human rights in repressive nations.

In addition to political theory, Sharansky provides useful criteria for judging whether a country is democratic as well as when a criticism of Israel is actually anti-Semitism in disguise.

What Constitutes a Free Society?

His first item of business is to clarify what constitutes a free society and why holding elections is not an adequate measure of whether a society is free. Without the four freedoms––speech, religion, assembly, and press––elections are meaningless. Nor does adding “democratic republic” to the name of one’s country make a society democratic or free.

Sharansky also challenges the political theory behind much of Western foreign policy since World War Two. In case after case, Western leaders have made deals with dictators, claiming that the stability they provided was more important than promoting the rights of those countries’ citizens. Followers of the “realistic,” or Kissinger, school of international relations typically distrust the people of countries ruled by autocrats and dictators. They claim pressuring those rulers to grant freedoms to their citizens will only destabilize those countries and could lead to worse conditions.

Sharansky takes the opposite view. He promotes the notion that all people––including those who have never experienced democracy––yearn for freedom and that the main reason the citizens of countries ruled by dictators aren’t campaigning for their rights is that they can’t. To voice dissent or call for change is a death sentence in many parts of the world. Few people of repressive nations feel free to speak out unless the leaders of the Western nations––primarily the United States––show they are paying attention and support their freedom movement. Failure to do so––such as when President Obama failed to support the protests against Iran’s autocratic regime––is a missed opportunity to help foster democratic reforms.

Realist School Corollary: Appeasement by any other Name

There’s a corollary to the realists’ thesis that the failure of people to speak out for change is because they like what they have and that to pressure those nations to grant democratic rights will only create chaos and possibly open conflict. Proponents of that school of thought argue that by dealing with dictators the West gives them room to reform their societies from the top. That is the rationale behind providing voting rights to every member of the United Nations even when they openly violate the membership vow to grant human rights to their citizens. That theory of reform failed miserably in practice. After seventy years, the autocratic members of the United Nations have shown little inclination to provide human and democratic rights to their citizens.

History as Teacher: The Soviet Union and Israel

The middle chapters of The Case for Democracy recount the experiential basis for Sharansky’s view that promoting democratic rights is the best weapon the free world has against countries that oppress their citizens and engage in hostile behavior towards other countries.

He reviews how an unheralded provision of the 1975 Helsinki Agreement, which the Soviet Union signed because they needed technological and financial aide from the West to shore up their crumbling economy, required signer countries to uphold the basic human rights of their own peoples. That provision enabled proponents of freedom to rally behind Soviet dissidents. Sharansky reports when that link in the chain of oppression was removed, the volume of internal opposition increased exponentially leading in fifteen years to the downfall of the Soviet system.

The main lesson here is that dictatorships do not reform themselves willingly. Sharansky argues that societies that depend on fear for their survival need external enemies in order to justify repressive measures at home. Without external enemies the logic of internal suppression collapses. Citizens see that people in other lands have rights and ask why not us. Many realists, unfortunately, refuse to learn the lesson of the Soviet Union. As an indication of how far off course that outlook can take people, Sharansky quotes a U.S. state department official as referring to Iran as a democracy. No wonder the Obama administration thought Iran could be a reliable and honest partner to a nuclear deal.

Israel Also Failed to Learn the Lesson

Sharansky recounts how the Israeli government has failed over and over to put into practice the lesson learned from Helsinki. Israel’s biggest mistake was signing the 1993 agreement with Yasser Arafat in Oslo that not only failed to achieve peace, but also enabled Arafat to escalate his terrorist war against Israel. Sadly, prime minister after prime minister has mistakenly assumed they could trust Arafat and his successor Mahmud Abbas. Israeli prime ministers too often listened to U.S. presidents who preached the notion that dealing with the enemy you know is better than the one who might replace him. The one exception was George W. Bush’s standing up to Arafat in 2002 enunciating a statement of democratic principles that was later undermined by the realists in Washington and Tel Aviv.

History Lessons Not Known

What’s remarkable to me on a personal level is how little I knew of the history Sharansky relates despite the fact that I’ve been a moderately alert follower of world affairs since my college years. That suggests the American people are also largely uninformed about these events and about the crushing logic of Sharansky’s thesis that the ONLY way to defeat a country like the Soviet Union or its contemporary equivalents short of waging war is to require that they institute human rights reforms in order to partake in the benefits free societies offer the citizens of the world.

Thus, I believe U.S. must assert that products produced by slave or child labor cannot be part of any trade deals and must be embargoed. Further, trade deals should not be made with countries that repress religious or political dissidents. That would include China and most Muslim nations. To ignore slavery and the repression of religious and human rights strengthens dictatorships and weakens the West.

Here many readers will interject the realists’ arguments despite the fact that they not only failed to advance freedom in totalitarian countries, but also undermined the standing of the U.S. and other Western nations in the eyes of oppressed peoples. To cave to murderers like Yasser Arafat tells would-be protesters that their lives may be subjected to a trade to gain stability. The Neville Chamberlain story is not a one-time tragedy, but has been repeated over and over.

Realist theorists might also argue Moslem countries are different from the rest of the world in that there’s no indication that the average person desires freedom. Sharansky refutes that theory by listing individuals he has met and corresponded with who desire democratic change. He also could have cited cases of moderate Arabs murdered by the PLO for working with Israel, or the stories of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee who has spoken out on female genital mutilation and other issues despite efforts to shut her up and Mosab Hassan Yousef, a Palestinian whose father was one of Hamas’ founders and who became a Christian and a double-agent for Israel. Both have published easily accessible books.

The Case for Democracy appeared after Sharansky’s autobiography, Fear No Evil (1988), and preceded his long essay Defending Identity (2008). All three are essential reading. A fourth book, entitled Never Alone, is due out September 1, 2020. All can be read by teenagers and young adults who are growing up in a world where distorting the past is the means to controlling the present. People who care about world peace and democratic rights should take the time to read all four.

Appeasement: Our Western Illness

I suspect when asked if they know what the word appeasement means most educated people will say, “Yes. It has to do with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain giving part of Czechoslovakia to Adolph Hitler in 1938, claiming he had achieved “peace in our time.”

In fact, however, the lesson of appeasement was not learned. It is alive and well, causing myriad problems in our Western political universe. I’ll relate examples offered by Natan Sharansky in his extended essay “Defending Identity” and then point out how the appeasement disease still survives in the West in the 21st century.

Natan Sharansky is one of the most well-known of a group that came to be known as the “refuseniks.” He was exiled to Siberia by the Soviet Union because of his refusal to confess his crimes and name his co-conspirators. His crimes were these: He was active in publicizing human rights violations by the Soviet Union and he sought to move to Israel.

Eventually, Sharansky and the other refuseniks won. They delivered a deathblow to the Soviet Union as a result of their courageous refusal to cooperate even when faced with death. His case gained widespread support from ordinary citizens throughout the West. Ronald Reagan helped push the Soviet regime into the dust bin of history, but his voice alone without Sharansky’s moral stand, would have run up against a brick wall.

After moving to Israel, Sharansky was invited to serve as a minister in two administrations. He very publicly resigned from both because the prime ministers were engaged in appeasing Israel’s enemies in ways Sharansky believed would be devastating for the young nation.

In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak entered into negotiations at Camp David with Yasser Arafat. Sharansky objected when Barak offered Arafat more than any other Israeli leader had offered the Palestinians, including a pledge to divide Jerusalem. Why? He believed Barak was foolishly appeasing Arafat who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Israelis. In return for peace, Barak was willing to give up important locations essential to the Jewish people’s historical identity­­.

The second time Sharansky resigned from an Israeli government was in 2005 when Ariel Sharon decided to evacuate Gaza––a strip of land along the Mediterranean that was home to twenty-one Jewish communities. He argued that doing so unilaterally would not bring peace to Israel, nor would it improve life for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, his prediction came true. Gaza has turned out to be an open sore on Israel’s southern flank with no clear resolution in sight.

The common thread of the two situations was the leaders were willing to appease their enemies––giving up a lot in return for little or nothing. Despite the common narrative that Israel is responsible for the lack of peace in the Middle East, the truth, the reality of the situation is that Israel has consistently offered concessions while consistently losing opportunities to stand firm on principle.

Another example cited by Sharansky is Oslo––the 1993 Agreement that was supposed to bring about a resolution of the conflict that began with the formation of a Jewish state in 1948. Sharansky argues Oslo was flawed for two reasons. First, it failed to deal with the fact that Yasser Arafat was a dictator. Strengthening him was the worst thing that could have happened to the Palestinian people as can be seen today given that nothing close to democratic rights exists in the PLO-dominated territory. If we in the West believe our rhetoric––that all human beings are entitled to certain basic rights, why do we keep ignoring the fact that the Palestinians lack the right of free speech, free assembly, freedom of religion and the right to choose their own leaders?

The second evil perpetuated by Oslo was Israel’s failure to insist that the PLO recognize the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state in its current location. Failing to demand that concession has meant the PLO could continue to foster hatred of Jews, pay the families of deceased or imprisoned terrorists, and claim their right to the entire region. The consequence was that Israel has had to devote a major portion of its population and resources on security.

Western International Appeasement

America and Europe have consistently tried appeasement in dealing with China and Iran resulting in greater problems amplified today by the economic and military agreement between the two nations. The entire world is endangered by the aggressive policies these nations display today in large part because they do not believe the West will go beyond rhetoric to stop them.

The case of Iran is the clearer of the two. Iran’s aggression in its region has led to wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, with resulting tens of thousands killed and hundreds of thousands of refugees. How has the West responded? President Obama tried to buy off Iran with a foolish deal that asked them to postpone becoming a nuclear power in return for a huge financial payment. Fortunately, President Trump revoked America’s part of the agreement, but Europe has demurred, emboldening Iran to continue to be aggressive on several fronts.

Many advanced the theory that by playing nice with China they would reform their totalitarian practices. Instead China today is an aggressive dictatorship, repressing ethnic minorities, attempting to take over Taiwan and Hong Kong and dominate the South China Sea region, while pushing on its border with India. China’s economy has grown thanks to the West’s willingness to ignore China’s predatory policies in return for access to its market. In response, China engaged in the theft of Western technology and limited its market in multiple ways while undercutting Western economies with its state-owned enterprises.

The West’s failure to demand Iran and China conform to Western human rights practices in order to receive the benefits of our technology was and remains a huge mistake. President Trump is correct in placing demands on both countries, although I worry that U.S. pressure can only achieve limited results without Europe’s support.

Domestic Appeasement

Appeasement is a popular ploy in the U.S. to tamper down demands by domestic populations. I’m not arguing that minority communities don’t deserve a share of our nation’s riches, but instead of policies that expand equal opportunity, our political class has favored hand-outs to selected representatives, enriching a few at the expense of the many.

The failures of hand-out programs such as welfare, public housing and affirmative action is evidenced by the fact that 60 years after this policy was started as Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the same groups are legitimately pointing out that they have greater poverty, greater unemployment and greater numbers in prison that the majority population.

The Great Society created a political class that each year comes to Washington claiming to represent their people while asking for more money and more programs. Sadly, the poverty program cheerleaders refuse to recognize that enormous progress has been made outside these poverty programs simply by people taking advantage of opportunities to get an education and obtain skills that could be translated into economic advanced.

The Trump presidency demonstrated that more could be accomplished for minorities by means of an expanding economy than all the handout programs combined.

The Alternative to Appeasement

Appeasement is the tendency to believe giving in to the demands of others can put an end to the problem. Even when the demands are legitimate, there has to be a price paid before an exchange can be effective. As Natan Sharansky demonstrated giving in to Israel’s enemies without getting sufficient concessions in return was disastrous.

We have learned that in the case of demands made in foreign relations, the dominant side has to view those making the demand as enemies with regard to that specific negotiation. Mexico and Canada were America’s enemies when trying to replace NAFTA. Thinking in that mode resulted in an one hundred percent better agreement. Iran and China are our enemies, not our friends. As a result, a quid pro quo should be required of any agreement.

In domestic conflicts, financial aid should only be given when the receiving community has agreed to honest and thorough record-keeping demonstrating that the aid went to the intended audience. If that had been done in the past, the record of fraud and abuse in these programs would have been cut in half and needy people would have gotten help. But even beyond accounting, receiving communities must agree to engage in additional steps on their own behalf, such as requiring recipients to participate in programs designed to elevate them out of poverty. An example would be schooling for those who are not proficient in English; another would be schooling for adults who dropped out of school without completing high school.

Appeasement is giving in to demands without asking anything in return. It is often agreed to out of guilt. Its time to recognize appeasement didn’t end with Nevile Chamberlain. Its continuing record of failure in international and domestic relations should teach us a lesson. Leaders must display backbone. Giving in may gain short-term peace, but rarely solves the problem and typically results in worse problems down the road.

One Israeli’s views on Zionism and the path to Peace

Einat Wilf, Telling Our Story: Recent Essays on Zionism, the Middle East, and the Path to Peace (self-published, 2018)

Einat Wilf is a former Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset for Independence and Labor Parties. She served as a foreign policy advisor to Shimon Peres and has written frequently for “left-wing” media include Haaretz, but her essays have also appeared in “right-wing” media such as The Tower Magazine.

Most of the essays in Telling Our Story appeared in 2016 and 2017. One observation reading these essays three and four years after they appeared in print is how much has changed . . . and how little has changed.

The big change since these essays has been the impact of the presidency of Donald Trump on Israeli politics. By moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, by recognizing the Golan Heights as a legitimate part of Israel, and by submitting a peace proposal early in 2020, Trump has re-defined some of the issues Wilf discusses. Additional factors Wilf could not have foreseen were the three inconclusive elections held in 2019 and 2020 and the impact of the corona virus pandemic.

Yet there is been almost no movement on underlying problems that have prevented a peace agreement from being forged between the leaders of the organizations that claim to represent the Palestinian people and the Jewish state of Israel. The primary issues where little or no movement has occurred are setting permanent boundaries between the two sides and the “right of return” issue.

On the question of boundaries, Trump’s peace proposal calls for inclusion within the boundaries of Israel virtually all of the West Bank settlement communities. Wilf on the other hand only proposed 75% of the population should be included.

On the ‘right of return’ issue, Trump and Wilf both recognize the Arabs’ demand for a ‘right of return’ for any and all Arabs who claim ancestry in land now occupied by Israel is incompatible with a two-state solution.

Wilf’s essays were directed mainly at the Israeli Left, believing the Left’s positions on the Palestinian question were a roadblock to a solution. Whether she still holds that position today is an open question. However, it is clear the Left no longer holds a strong enough political position in Israel to have much of an influence on the outcome of negotiations. A large majority of the Jewish Israeli public side with Likud on the topic. Even a majority of supporters of the centrist Blue and White Party that entered into a coalition government with Likud in the spring of 2020 hold strong defense-first views on the issues.

Wilf is probably the hundred and first person to try to define in writing the details of a territorial-specific peace agreement. None though written in good faith, seeking to be fair to the Palestinians, have yielded the desired results. Such is the problem when one side wants peace and the other side wants all or nothing.

The Trump proposal struck a new direction in permitting Israel to take steps to apply sovereignty to specific communities that would be part of Israel under any agreement on the theory that this would pressure the Palestinian’s leaders to get off their behinds and agree to negotiate.

I have little hope that this tactic will succeed. The reason? Any Palestinian official who accepts the premise has just consigned himself and his entire family to the nearest cemetery. That is why the majority of Israelis have reached the only rational point of view. They favor those policies that maintain maximum security and reject any that jeopardize security. Who can blame them?

 

The Media’s War Against Israel: A Review

Stephen Karetzky and Peter E. Goldman, eds., The Media’s War Against Israel (Steimatzky, 1986)

It can be hard in the midst of an international political crisis to evaluate the media’s coverage. Events are happening haphazardly. Reporters are playing catch-up. Opinions may reflect partial information . . . which is why when time goes by it’s desirable to reflect on the media’s job, and to give it a score.

The authors of The Media’s War Against Israel published in 1986 had the benefit of four years after the events being discussed––i.e., Israel’s conflict with the PLO as it impacted neighboring countries. Stephen Karetzky and Peter Goldman took advantage of the time to assemble opinion pieces from several sources to complement Karetzky’s focused analysis of the New York Times and Peter Goodman’s “lessons learned” piece. Their conclusion is an indictment, as the title clearly states. The media didn’t just do a poor job; it engaged in a biased attack on Israel’s role in the events.

What events are we talking about? The primary issue was Israel’s foray in the summer of 1982 into Lebanon to root out the PLO, which had, with the help of the Soviet Union, amassed a huge arsenal of weapons with the intent of stepping up the guerilla war it had been waging against Israel. Complicating the events of that summer was the morass that was Lebanon at that time.

Created in 1943, Lebanon was weakened from the start by being divided almost equally between Christian Maronite and Muslim populations. Adding to that division was the conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims, but the primary disruptor of peace and tranquility was incursion in 1975 into southern Lebanon of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

That mixture erupted in a 7-year civil war, which among other consequences allowed Syria to insert its forces into Lebanon. The result was anarchy, lawlessness and thousands of casualties, a story largely unreported in the Western media. What got Israel involved?

Tired of incursions into Israel by the PLO, the Israeli government allied itself with the Phalangists––a Christian Maronite group––and invaded southern Lebanon in June 1982 with the goal of driving the PLO out of the country.

Israel’s goal was accomplished in four months. The PLO was dispersed after suffering heavy casualties. The PLO, however, won the public relations war by exploiting the Western media’s lack of understanding of the conflicts in the region. The coup de grace was the PLO’s blaming Israel for the massacre of residents of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee communities by the Phalangists. (The media called these locations “camps,” but they were not tent cities. They were large communities replete with permanent housing and other structures.)

Let’s look at how the media covered these events. In the first paragraph of the foreword to The Media’s War Against Israel, Rael Jean Isaac writes “In reporting the war in Lebanon, the media behaved like a lynch mob, with print and TV reporters, columnists and cartoonists vying with each other in misstatement and calumny.”

Each piece in the book backs up Isaac’s assertion. Stephen Karetzky­––one of the editors––focused his analysis on three months of reporting by the New York Times prior to the war, detailing an anti-Israel bias even before the events of the summer took place. The book also reprints pieces published elsewhere:

  • Norman Podhoretz analyzes the media’s response in general to Israel’s foray into Lebanon.
  • Frank Gervasi adds insights from his first-hand visit to the region.
  • Ze’ev Chaftets examines the problems the Beirut press corps faced trying to provide unbiased reportage.
  • Rael Isaacs singles out Time Magazine’s adversarial approach to Israel, and
  • Edward Alexander dissects NBC’s antagonistic coverage.

A few of the most flagrant examples of bias are worth repeating

  • After his election as prime minister Time Magazine informed its readers that Menachen Begin’s last name “rhymes with Fagin”––the name of the villain of Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist.
  • Time Magazine totally made up a story claiming Ariel Sharon urged the Phalangists to attack Sabra and Shatila, and then refused to disavow the story when the author was proven to have lied.
  • President Reagan berated Prime Minister Begin personally when the caption to a UPI photo claimed a seven-month old child had been severely burned and lost both arms as a result of an Israeli bomb dropped on civilian housing. It turned out the child had not lost either arm nor had she suffered any burns, and her slight injuries were the result of a PLO shell.
  • NBC accepted the Red Crescent’s claim of 10,000 people slaughtered by Israel and 600,000 made homeless. The Red Crescent was hardly an objective organization, however, as it was run by Yasser Arafat’s brother. By the way, the Red Crescent’s homeless number exceeded the region’s total population.
  • Before investigating the cause, CBS accused Israel of intentionally killing two of its cameramen. After investigating it turned out the men were in a combat area and the tank that fired the missile was over a mile away.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this entire affair, however, is the PLO’s success at neutering the foreign press corps that was stationed in Beirut. The PLO had asserted the authority to determine who would be allowed to report from Beirut and evidence suggests they were responsible for the deaths of eight journalists and explosions that put two independent Lebanese newspapers out of business. Worse, however, was the fact that some of the foreign press corps was decidedly pro-Palestinian and didn’t have to be persuaded to present the PLO as the victims of Israel’s aggression.

Several of the authors in this compendium touch on the subject of why the press corps was hostile to Israel. They point to the impact of the war in Vietnam on the Western media, after which the general narrative of international affairs presented the view that the U.S. and its allies were the oppressors and third world countries its victims. They also point out the practice of the TV networks showing selective footage that backed a biased interpretation of events.

Israel became the “fall guy” for the Western media’s new worldview. It had been viewed positively from 1948 until 1967 when it defeated Soviet backed Egypt and Syria as well as Jordan, which was fooled into joining the battle. After ’67, the media started labeling the PLO as protesters and demonstrators rather than terrorists despite the fact that they were engaged in acts of war against Israel.

The media also bought the PLO’s lie that they represented the oppressed residents the West Bank despite the fact the organization had been formed in 1964 when the West Bank was under Jordan’s control. As The Media’s War Against Israel conclusively documents, the media’s distorted coverage of the Lebanese war was just another sordid chapter in their failure to understand when they were being used and when the information they were being given was propaganda.

A feature of the media’s coverage during this period that deserves attention is the use of Holocaust imagery and terminology to criticize Israel’s role in these events. Both “genocide” and “holocaust” accompanied inflated casualty reports along with quotes from willing European critics such as Mitterrand, Papandreou and Kreisky. China and the Soviet Union both resorted to comparing Israel’s actions to Nazi Germany with regard to Shatila and Sabra, helping to cover up the fact that the USSR had been the primary source of weaponizing the PLO.

The use of Holocaust imagery against Israel is a particularly vile practice. It’s a low blow, akin using the word savage when describing the actions of a Native American or excusing a woman’s behavior due to her menstrual cycle.

Exposure of the media’s biased coverage of Zionism and Israel has been thoroughly documented in other studies. (See my review of Jerold Auerbach’s Print to Fit.) The excuse that coverage of the Holocaust was weak due to the media’s inability to confirm accusations or that a hesitancy to support the formation of a Jewish state by the New York Times was understandable as it threatened the assimilationist aims of some members of the American Jewish community fails to stand up when the record of The Times and other media falls short of their claims of objectivity and impartiality decade after decade. Sadly, biased reporting when contrary views are confined to small opinion journals sways public opinion.

One might ask why should we care about the media’s failures from more than thirty years ago. As one media critic points out in the book, the American people of the 1980s placed a lot of trust in the media. After the deluge of anti-Israeli stories and commentary by The Times, Time, Newsweek, the Networks, polls showed a marked decline in support for Israel. That might explain why some people in the 21st century are prone accept such lies as Israel is an apartheid state and intentionally kills civilians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fixing Israel’s Broken Electoral System

An Israeli friend asked the other day how Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden could be in the same party. It’s not surprising that this seems odd to him. It reflects the difference between America’s two-party electoral system and Israel’s parliamentary model.

In a multi-party parliamentary system parties tend to be ideological in nature. In other words, they’re strongly committed to a specific set of principles and goals. On the other hand, because there are only two parties with a chance of winning presidential elections in the U.S., both are only moderately ideological. U.S. parties are informal coalitions of interest groups that have come together for a common goal. This system enables each interest group to achieve some of their goals without being able to blackmail their party after the election, which is what happens in Israel.

Israel needs to move to a system where coalitions are built before elections not after. To accomplish this, the percentage a party needs to gain seats in the Knesset should be increased from the current 3.25 percent to as high as 7.5 percent. If that were in place this past September, six of the nine parties that won seats would have been shut out. Knowing in advance that would be the likely result would have forced each of them to negotiate with the two major Jewish parties—Blue and White and Likud––before the election. They would have had to join one or the other or lose all influence in the election’s outcome.

Ideological purity has its pluses. In Israel, it means minority viewpoints are represented, and that’s good, BUT it also means those parties have inordinate power beyond the percentage of the public that supports their positions. Yisrael Beiteinu with only seven percent of public support is blocking the formation of a government the consequences of which can be disastrous.

Ideological purity is the enemy of coalitions. Ideological purity explains why the left-leaning Labor Party would not join in a coalition with Bibi Netanyahu’s right-leaning Likud Party. Their voters would be outraged if they were to do so. To abandon the platform they campaigned on would guarantee their supporters would never vote for those individuals in the future.

The two major parties in the American system are much less ideological than those in Israel or other parliamentary systems. In the American system coalitions are formed before the election not afterward as in Israel. Franklin Delano Roosevelt put together a coalition that lasted decades. It was made up of large city political machines, labor unions, white Southerners, and ethnic minorities including Jews and blacks. Barack Obama imitated F.D.R. and won twice easily.

Because coalitions in the U.S. are built in advance of elections, interest groups are confident of gaining some, but not all, of their goals if and when their party prevails. That keeps their members happy because there’s hope they’ll gain more of their platform if they keep coming out for their party.

The weakness of the American electoral system is the process of choosing presidential candidates. Candidates know primaries attract the most committed voters and thus are motivated to take extreme positions during the primary season, forcing them to move to the center if they win their party’s nomination.

Donald Trump stood out and easily won the nomination in 2016 despite his lack of political experience. This year the field of more than twenty Democrats seeking their party’s nomination is shrinking fast as candidates with moderate views find it hard to gain media attention and support.

Neither electoral system is perfect. In Israel, reforms will need to be passed after the current crisis is over in order to avoid a repeat. I recommend increasing the minimum percentage vote to 7.0 or 7.5 percent in order to reduce the number of parties with a chance to gain seats and gum up the works. This would force parties to form coalitions BEFORE the election instead of afterwards. This would reduce the minor parties to influence groups while still enabling them to gain some, but not all of the platform outcomes they desire. Combining the best of both systems can help Israel avoid future stalemates.

How America’s Mainstream Media Operate

When Adolph Ochs purchased the nearly bankrupt New York Times in 1896, he added a motto that demonstrated his marketing genius. “All the News That’s Fit to Print” became the industry standard and before long the Times became the most trusted newspaper in the country––a status it retains one hundred twenty years later. Yet, the evidence is clear that the Times violated that standard continuously while pretending to engage in objective, unbiased journalism. I will demonstrate my thesis through a review of how newspapers work, which I’ll follow up with by reviewing two books that prove my point.

Every newspaper is the product of a set of procedures whereby an institutional bias determines what stories are covered, how they are covered and what appears on the paper’s editorial pages. In theory, that bias reflects the staff’s professional objectivity and conscientious impartiality, which is the case for a large percentage of the stories each paper generates. Where papers depart from that professional journalistic bias is in the coverage of issues that owners and their top editors view as especially important.

Ironically, the notion that ownership influences a paper’s coverage is accepted when talking about papers owned by conservatives, but not when referencing papers such as the L.A. Times, Washington Post or New York Times. Yet as I shall demonstrate, ownership influence is just as strong at those papers as in the others.

The owners of major newspapers rarely provide direct instructions on how to cover a topic. They don’t have to. Their influence is more subtle and is the result of long-standing policies that determine who is hired and who is promoted to decision-making editorial positions. As a result, their views influence how issue-critical stories are covered, editorial positions, and who is invited to contribute columns on editorial pages.

The Selection of Reporters Re-enforces a Paper’s Bias

Reporters who get jobs at large daily newspapers have proven themselves to be worthy of that responsibility. For the most part, they have graduated from highly rated colleges and held positions where they’ve demonstrated that they hold the kind of values the hiring newspaper requires. Those values include an understanding that they must stay within the boundaries of the views expressed in that paper in the past.

Reporters who get promoted to editorial positions have demonstrated an advanced degree of loyalty to a paper’s traditional practices and outlooks. If, for example, the top editors of a paper have determined that climate change is a threat to civilization, a reporter who has expressed doubts about that theory will not advance professionally––even if s/he has only expressed that viewpoint in private.

This all sounds very conspiratorial except two recent close examinations of the coverage of the New York Times of critical news stories demonstrate the validity of my thesis. In his 2019 study “Print to Fit,”[i] Jerold S. Auerbach details the Times’ coverage of Zionism and the state of Israel from Ochs’ purchase of the Times through the present day.

Auerbach documents how the Times consistently engaged in coverage decisions that conveyed opposition to the founding of a Jewish state and then, after the state of Israel came into existence in 1948, the Times has consistently blamed Israel for its problems with the region’s Arab population while minimizing the responsibility of Israel’s enemies.

Auerbach had the unenviable task of reading through more than one hundred years of the Times’ news stories and editorials. He documents story by story how the Times’ coverage reflected the view of its owners. Although the Times occasionally publishes the views of those who disagree with its coverage and has retained columnists who voiced other opinions, those exceptions have been rare.

How Owners’ Views Get Implemented

The Times’ owners’ antipathy to the notion of a “Jewish state,”[ii] was reflected in the selection of reporters and bureau chiefs sent to the Middle East. Each followed the party line, which they demonstrated in their coverage of decades of attacks on Israeli civilians by Arab nationalists. Again and again, post-killing stories featured the murderer and his family, suggesting the bombings, knifings and other methods of shedding Israeli’s blood were justified by the conditions they were living under and/or by Israel’s refusal to give the “Palestinians” a state of their own. In contrast, the stories of the Jewish victims are minimized or ignored.

On the other hand, actions by the Israeli government to counteract this violence were criticized by the Times’ columnists as a departure from adherence to democratic values while the support by the leaders of the Palestinian organizations for suicide bombings was “understandable.” Never did the Times’ admit to this double standard––asking Israelis to turn the other cheek while not expecting Arabs to be capable of restraint.

You might ask why the Times was opposed to Zionism and why it has been antagonistic to Israel for the past seven decades. Their attitude can be explained by the fact that the Times’ Jewish owners did not want to appear that their ownership resulted in undue positive coverage Jews, Judaism or Israel. But the truth is more complicated. It began with Ochs’ connection to the Reform Movement in Judaism.

Why The Times Is Hostile to Israel

The Reform Movement in the U.S. gave Jews permission to see Judaism as a religion divorced from the history of the Jewish people and from the notion of Jews as God’s chosen people. As a result, during the first half of the 20th century Reform Jews opposed the movement that sought to return to the land from which the Jewish people were exiled two thousand years ago. Even today, many Reform Jews prioritize being comfortable as Americans free from the accusation of divided loyalties, which Israel’s existence threatens.

That outlook was carried over in the personage of Ochs’ son-in-law and successor, Arthur Hays Sulzberger. Sulzberger was even more hostile than his father-in-law to the notion of Jews as a distinct people to whom other Jews owed an allegiance. Sulzberger demonstrated his rejection of that allegiance in his relations with top officials in the Roosevelt administration during World War Two giving them cover for their failure to offer sanctuary to Europe’s Jews or to engage in efforts to stop the Nazis’ slaughter. His editors reflected his view in terms of their news coverage or lack thereof of what we today know as the Holocaust.

Laurel Leff analyzed the Times’ WWII coverage in great detail in her 2005 expose “Buried by the Times.”[iii] While, like Auerbach, Leff carefully read through the pages of the Times to justify her thesis, she also had access to correspondence and other sources. Studying the Times from1933 through the end of World War Two, she documents the Times’ downplaying the dehumanizing policies of the Nazi government towards Jews and the paper’s failure to recognize evidence that those policies had metastasized after 1942 into the Final Solution and the death of six million.

Sulzberger did not instruct his editors how to cover the crisis facing Europe’s Jews. He didn’t need to do so. He made his feelings known in hiring and promotion decisions, and by his refusal to bow to pressure from Jewish groups to tell the story of the Jews’ plight. Sulzberger also conveyed his outlook by the organizations he belonged to, such as the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism, which received coverage in the Times beyond its import in terms of size and influence.

Perhaps the Times is clean except for its coverage of Zionism and Israel? Believe that and I’ve a bridge in Brooklyn . . . The Times and the rest of the mainstream press decided early on that it wanted Barack Obama to be America’s first “Black” president and it covered his campaign and presidency from that outlook. It subsequently decided Donald Trump was unworthy of being president and has done everything it could to reverse the 2016 election and make sure he doesn’t serve a second term.

Expressing editorial opinions on one’s editorial pages is not a problem because readers understand there is a difference between news stories and editorials. Yet, today a paper’s

editorial outlook leaks into the selection and placement of stories on sports and life pages as well as in the news section. Adding editorial columns to those pages is a relatively new phenomenon that I’m not certain readers have caught on to. What is clear is that you won’t have a pro-Trump lifestyle page columnist writing for the Washington Post, New York Times, et al. Rather, what those papers are saying is the more angles from which Trump can be attacked the better.

From the days when news of Jews being slaughtered in Europe were buried at the bottom of news stories on inside pages to the present, papers like the Times have not been neutral, objective or unbiased in their coverage of the major topics of the day. You may agree with their bias, but if so, know facts and opinions in opposition to their views will not be featured despite the occasional guest columnist whose presence satisfies the papers’ need to appear fair.

It is incumbent upon Americans who are concerned about being led by the nose by media giants like the New York Times to get their news from a variety of sources. The Internet, though subject to ‘fake news,’ offers contrasting opinions and researched coverage. Those sources are also biased, but readers willing to put in the time can find sufficient information to make their own decisions about the issues of the day. In sum, we must recognize no source can be trusted––particularly the New York Times.

 

[i] Jerold S. Auerbach, “Print to Fit.The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2006,” Academic Studies Press, 2019.

[ii] Deborah Lipstadt points out in her review of Auerbach’s book that as late as 1986––nearly forty years after the founding of the state of Israel, the Times would still not allow Israel to be described on its pages as a “Jewish state.” See Deborah E. Lipstadt, “The Gray Lady and the Jewish State,” Jewish Review of Books, Fall, 2019, P. 22.

[iii] Laurel Leff, “Buried by the Times. The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper,” Cambridge University Press, 2005.

 

More Thoughts on the Two-State Solution

Intro

Although I’ve touched on this subject before––See: https://pollakspolitics.com/2019/01/12/peace-should-not-be-the-goal-it-can-only-be-the-result/  I want to clarify the difference between what Israelis and Americans mean by the term “two-state solution.”

The Two-State Difference

At a recent presentation on the upcoming Israeli election (April 9, 2019), the speaker identified which Israeli political parties support a “two-state solution.” When you break it down, however, not all the parties mean the same thing by this term. Some include giving East Jerusalem to the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians; some do not. The parties’ views on how to handle the so-called settlements in the Arab areas also differ. That said, I am confident that most Americans––Jews and non-Jews alike––feel encouraged by this consensus, as the vast majority of people polled on this issue favor that path to peace.

The problem, which was not fully elucidated by the speaker, however, is that what most Americans mean by a “two-state solution” and what most Israelis mean is not identical.

Most Americans believe peace can only come to the Middle East if and when Israel gives up more territory to the Arabs. (They ignore how it turned out when Israel gave them Gaza, but that’s a story for another day.) Americans would shut down all of the “settlements,” give up East Jerusalem, and probably provide a direct road connecting Gaza and the West Bank territories. Most Israelis would reject all three of those “concessions.”

What Israelis Want

Peace to most Israelis can only arrive if the Arabs give up their desire to put an end to the state of Israel. How do Hamas and the PLO––the party that controls the Palestinian Authority––the organization that controls part of the West Bank differ in this regard?

Hamas is primarily a jihadist organization. Their motivation is religious. They would establish a califate along the lines of ISIS, which would rule out the presence of anyone who is not a Moslem.

Ilhan Omar, Rhasida Tlaib and other members of Congress who support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement claim Israel is an “apartheid” state. That is not true, but what would be true is that a state ruled by Hamas would be an apartheid state. Anyone who is not a Moslem would be required to convert or leave.

The PLO is an Arab nationalist organization primarily. There are Christian, Druze and other non-Moslem Arabs who live in the territory they control. These groups are not included in the governance or setting policy, but they are allowed to live there. The PLO might allow Jews to remain in a Palestinian state the encompassed the current land of Israel, but certainly not with any political power.

What Do Israelis Want?

Not only would most Israelis require the Arab residents of the Gaza and the West Bank to give up their goal of pushing them into the Mediterranean, they also want them to be disarmed. As long as the territory that would be included in an Arab state borders Israel, allowing the Arabs to have the ability to kill thousands with rockets and other weapons is a non-starter.

Why don’t most Americans understand the difference between their views and the views of the Israeli people? The answer is how the American media covers the Middle East. Take the recent “protests” of residents of Gaza. The protests consist of thousands approaching the barrier separating Israel and Gaza and trying to launch incendiary devises, such as burning tires and balloons containing inflammatory fluids, into Israel to cause death and destruction. The goal of the protests is to weaken the moral of the Israelis who live on the Eastern side of the barrier and eventually break down the barrier.

The West’s coverage focuses on the injuries and deaths of Palestinians who participate in these “protests.” They don’t discuss the injuries of Israelis or the damage caused by the protests, or the cost of having to deploy thousands of young Israeli soldiers on the border to prevent the barrier from being overcome. A perfect example was the article in the Washington Post that I commented on recently. Search my Facebook page to see the post.

The Trump Admin Proposal

Whoever becomes Israel’s prime minister after next week’s election is going to have to deal with a proposal from the Trump administration that attempts to solve the conflict. I am highly skeptical that it will get anywhere. The PLO will reject it saving Israel from having to do so.

As I stated in my earlier article, peace comes through strength. Israel must hold firm against concessions until the Arabs accept the fact that Israel is there to stay. It would be nice of Americans supported that solution.

Peace should not be the Goal. It can only be the Result.

We all pray for peace, but beyond our prayers, there is the practical truth that when peace is the goal, the result is often war, suffering, and death. The most obvious example is Neville Chamberlain’s giving away part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, proclaiming he had achieved “peace in our time.” Chamberlain’s trading lives for peace emboldened Hitler, and before it was all over sixty million were dead. The Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO is another example of a disastrous deal made for peace.

The Oslo Agreement is Israel’s nakba––the name the Palestinian militants give to the formation of the state of Israel. It means day of catastrophe.

In return for “peace,” Israel gave Yasser Arafat control over millions of Muslim Arabs, converting them overnight into Palestinians. Israel’s leaders naively thought Arafat would settle for the ability to rule over the so-called West Bank, but he did not. He accepted Israel’s giving him an arm and a leg, but getting those parts only motivated him continue his quest for the entire body, a goal that continues to drive his successors.

Why Peace Deals Fail

The reason seeking peace often results in the opposite is that people naively believe peace is the means to an end. As a result, they give up too much to achieve the appearance of peace, often sacrificing the substance. To claim one has achieved peace without providing for the security and well-being of your people is an invitation to nakba.

The goal of any negotiation between opposing parties must be security, not peace. Giving the PLO the ability to rule Territory A was a security disaster. It has led to the death and injury of hundreds of Arabs and Jews because it made it easy for the PLO to promote lone-wolf acts of terrorism while taking in millions of dollars of aid from the West. Giving financial aid to terrorists is just plain stupid. It has allowed the PLO to establish absolute control over its own population denying them freedom of thought in part by disseminating school books that teach hateful untruths about Jews and lies about the history of the region.

What the world needs now . . . is Identity and Freedom

No less person than the refusnik, Natan Sharansky, the only non-American to be honored with both the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, opposed the Oslo Agreement. Why? Sharansky was shocked to learn after being released from a Soviet prison that the West was abandoning “identity and freedom”––the values that brought down the Soviet Regime. “The liberal world . . . decided that the highest liberal value is peace,” Sharansky said at a recent event, “but that’s exactly what the communists were saying.”

Speaking of the downfall of the Soviet Union, Sharansky said “ . . . our victory showed the world how freedom and identity go together.” He believes people can only wage a successful fight against dictatorships when there is something more important to them than their physical survival. “It’s people’s identity, national identity, religious identity” that motivates them to rebel.

No matter what terms President Trump’s team proposes when they finally get around to presenting them, Israel must focus on long-term security, not peace. Its leaders must assume the Palestinian Authority will take any concession as permission to violate the terms of the agreement and to pursue its ultimate goal the destruction of a Jewish state.

Israel’s Unique Role

Natan Sharansky believes “Israel has an absolutely unique role [to play] in today’s world . . . to connect two basic desires of people and to keep them together. National identity and freedom.” To abandon that role would be a disaster not just for Israel and the Jewish people, but for the world.

 

When Jews Betray Jews

Imagine a contingent of German Jews sometime in the late 1930s visiting Adolph Hitler to tell him they understand why he hates Jews so much. It must be those Eastern European Jews that bother you so much––the ones who speak that pseudo-German language called Yiddish, who wear those odd black hats and black coats and who conspire against German greatness. It’s not us good Jews you hate, Adolph, they tell him. It’s those other Jews.

Now consider the recent visit of Jeremy Ben-Ami, the leader of J-Street, to Ramallah to meet Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and “president” of the State of Palestine. I wasn’t there, but I didn’t need to be present to know the message Ben-Ami and his organization conveyed just by arranging the meeting.

We understand why you hate those Israeli Jews, Ben-Ami conveyed. They resist your claim for the entire land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. They prevent your people from killing more Jews in knife, motor vehicle, and bomb attacks. They conspire with America to cut off your financial pipeline and your desire to claim Jerusalem as the capital of your city. It’s not us American Jews you should hate, Abu Mazen. It’s those Israeli Jews.

Of course, Adolph Hitler would not have taken a meeting with a contingent of German Jews, but if he had, he would have gotten a good laugh out of their plea. He would have said fine. I’ll kill the Eastern European Jews if you promise not to complain, and then later he’d come for those fine, upstanding “good” Jews.

The message J-Street conveys is equally pernicious. They divide the Jewish people into “good Jews”––the ones who hate Benjamin Netanyahu––and the bad Jews––the Israeli people who elected him prime minister and who refuse to accept his vacuous claims for the entire land. Wait until 2020 when the Democrats take back the White House Ben-Ami must have told Abbas. Then, your money will be restored. Then the U.S. will reverse the decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Then the U.S. will interfere in the next Israeli election to make sure Netanyahu is defeated. Then you can have your country back and the bad Jews will go back to Europe where they belong.

Socialism’s Biggest Failure: Israel

Unless you’re an Israel scholar, you may not know that most of the founders of the modern state of Israel were socialists. The system they put in place in 1948 was based on socialist principles, reflecting both the experience many had growing up on kibbutzim or activism in socialist organizations in Europe.

The founders created an economic system dominated by the public sector, which to a certain extent fit the needs of the nascent country at the time. By taxing private enterprise heavily, they sought to build a social infrastructure, including government buildings as well as roads and housing, hoping to handle the massive flow of immigrants into the country.

Labor unions were especially strong which meant Israel’s factories were inefficient in relation to competitors elsewhere. Food and public transportation were heavily subsidized. By the 1980s, Israel was crippled with run-away inflation, mounting national debt and a lack of foreign reserves. Socialism was a failure.

How did that society evolve into the economic miracle of today? In 1985, Prime Minister Shimon Peres, one of the heroes of the War of Independence, convinced the Labor Party to accept drastic measures including deep cuts in public spending, freezing public sector salaries, and cancelling automatic salary adjustments for unionized workers. Further, responsibility for setting interest rates was transferred from the Treasury, which used the printing press to win political support for the government to an apolitical Bank of Israel. Import duties designed to protect local businesses were slashed and Peres began to lower taxes.

In 2003, the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, added crucial components to the transition from the failed socialist system to free market capitalism, when he reduced social spending, cut taxes, raised the pension age, and sold state assets to the private sector, even the El Al airline.

The result? Today Israel is one of, if not the fastest growing economies in the developed world. Inflation is 0.4%, unemployment is 4%, and the shekel is one of the world’s strongest currencies. Although poverty has not been eliminated, it is less than it was in 1985 and per capita income is about to pass both Britain and Japan. Israel imports more than $100 billion annually and has a trade surplus––something the U.S. has been unable to achieve for decades.

Socialist policies nearly brought about the country’s ruin. They undermined incentive and ingenuity. Today, Israel is known for its technical ingenuity. That could not have taken place under the socialist model where all property belonged to the state and personal initiative was neither encouraged nor rewarded.

Those who argue socialism can’t be judged by its implementation in places like Russia, Cuba or Venezuela, have a hard case to make that it can work anywhere given its failure in Israel where the entire leadership of the country was fully committed to it and gave it nearly forty years to work before throwing in the towel.