Farewell to Fiction

Many falsehoods quickly vanish into the oblivion they deserve. But some – especially when Israel is the target – are repeatedly recycled as “truth.”

For several years now the preposterous claim has circulated through the media that Israel has been building “thousands” of new settlements. According to a Mondoweiss headline (10/31/13), Prime Minister Netanyahu was prepared to exchange “104 prisoners for thousands of settlements.” The International Business Times (12/6/16) referred to initial Knesset approval for legalizing “thousands of Israeli settlement outposts.” A New York Times online headline (12/26/16) declared: “Israel Prepares to Build More Settlements.” Prompted by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East reporting in America (CAMERA), the Times changed “Build More” to “Expand” existing settlements.

Such seemingly random misstatements reached new depths of fabrication during a PBS “News Hour” interview (12/23/16) with Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser. Questioned by Judy Woodruff, Rhodes – defending the recent American abstention from the United Nations Security Council anti-settlement resolution – declared: “thousands of new settlements are being constructed and, frankly, if these trends continue, it will be impossible to realize a two-state solution.” Later in the interview Rhodes compounded his falsehood to “tens of thousands of settlements being constructed.”

Frankly, Rhodes was egregiously wrong. Responding to CAMERA criticism, PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler acknowledged that his “settlement misinformation” merited a public News Hour correction. Rhodes danced around his deception, claiming “I assume I was referring to settlers/individual settlement units, rather than settlement blocs.” That, however, is not what he said.

In fact, the most recent “new” settlement (Modi’in Illit) was founded in 1994. A decade later, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the evacuation of all 21 settlements in Gaza and 4 in the northern West Bank. Peace did not follow, then or since. According to Peace Now, there are 131 settlements (and 97 illegal outposts).

None of this, to be sure, mattered to Ben Rhodes, identified in a fawning New York Times Magazine article last May as “The Boy Wonder of the Obama White House.” As “the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy” in the Obama administration, Rhodes – an aspiring novelist before the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center towers – was aptly described as “a storyteller.” His “mind meld” with the President enabled him to become “the master shaper and retailer of Obama’s foreign policy narratives.”

Rhodes (born to a Jewish mother) was dedicated to “radically reorienting American policy in the Middle East.” Hence the Iran nuclear deal, so energetically pursued behind the scenes by President Obama (with Rhodes’ enthusiastic support) and resolutely opposed by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In three more days Rhodes – aptly described by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer as an “expert at fiction” – will be free to pursue his true calling. And Israel will welcome new American Ambassador David Friedman who, among his other virtues, surely knows how to count.

About the Author
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel (2009). His new book, Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, will be published in February by Academic Studies Press.