Benjamin Kerstein

Jabari a peacemaker? Baskin’s tall tales and media gullibility

A story swiftly making the rounds through the media claims that, contrary to all indications on the ground, peace was at hand between Israel and Hamas in the days before the current battle between the two erupted; a peace that was brutally and cynically torpedoed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who chose to assassinate the head architect of this glorious future: Hamas war criminal and mass murderer Ahmed Jabari.

As improbable as it may sound, this tale is being taken very seriously by such outlets as The Daily Beast and the revered New York Times, both of which have donated considerable space to the man who claims to have been behind it all: An Israeli peace activist named Gershon Baskin.

Baskin, a bulbous, bearded demagogue who runs an Israeli-Palestinian NGO and regularly pops up in the media to engage in pompous apologetics on behalf of the latest Palestinian idiocy or atrocity, is not new to this game. In the past, he reportedly played a tangential role in the release of Gilad Shalit, a claim he and supportive media outlets have systematically exaggerated to the point that many now believe he was the chief negotiator in the matter. This time, he claims to have “drafted a proposal to the Government of Israel and Hamas to enter into a long term ceasefire arrangement.” On the same morning that Jabari was executed by the IAF, according to Baskin, “my counterpart in Hamas presented the draft to Jaabari and to other Hamas leaders…. I was supposed to receive the draft yesterday evening to present to Israeli officials who were waiting for me to send it to them.”

But then – tragedy of tragedies – Jabari was killed by the perfidious Netanyahu, in what Baskin, with his usual subtlety, refers to as “a pre-emptive strike against the possibility of a long term ceasefire.” Netanyahu, he claims, “has acted with extreme irresponsibility. He has endangered the people of Israel and struck a real blow against the few important more pragmatic elements within Hamas.”

This is, of course, a marvelous story, and tailor-made for a media establishment that loathes Netanyahu and views Israel with contempt. The only problem is that, thus far, there is no proof to indicate that it is true; except, of course, for Baskin’s word.

At the moment, that word, one regrets to say, does not appear to be worth very much. Put simply, Baskin’s story is not believable. It is, in fact, completely ridiculous. Baskin would have us believe that the Israeli government agreed to use a washed-up Left-wing extremist with no political standing whatsoever and – as shown by his statements on the Shalit issue – a history of indiscretion on highly secret and sensitive matters, to conduct negotiations of the most important and potentially explosive kind, and that Hamas agreed to do the same.

This does not even rise to the level of absurdity. Such a negotiation, if it were serious, would only be conducted by professional and trusted envoys of the government, probably close aides of the top ministers and/or members of the intelligence establishment. The final deal for Shalit was negotiated by precisely such envoys, with Egyptian intelligence as the go-between. A man like Baskin would never be allowed anywhere near such talks, and anyone who did allow it would be fired for gross incompetence.

Indeed, there is a far, far more probable reality behind Baskin’s claims: He is either lying or exaggerating to the point of absurdity. It is entirely possible, of course, that he drafted such an agreement. It is even possible that he got someone important to glance at it. Perhaps out of this he built the demented dream castle he managed to sell to the Daily Beast and the New York Times. Unfortunately, a lie born of exaggeration and self-promotion is still a lie.

There is, of course, an easy way for Baskin to prove otherwise: He should immediately provide documented proof of his story; or, at the very least, some kind of official confirmation. If he cannot or does not, then we ought to take his claims as seriously as we would take any other self-aggrandizing fantasy concocted by a shameless self-promoter.

Even if he did, of course, it would make little difference. Whatever Jabari may or may not have agreed to, he was unquestionably a war criminal, a terrorist, and a racist mass murderer. A less trustworthy interlocutor can hardly be imagined. Moreover, the assault on the south in recent weeks was intolerable under any circumstances, and Jabari was responsible for it. His execution and the military operation that followed were eminently justifiable on moral and strategic terms, whatever acts of cowboy diplomacy Baskin was engaged in at the time.

This entire sordid tale, however, merely illustrates a larger problem: The astonishing willful gullibility of the supposedly professional media outlets that nonetheless agreed to publish an extremely dubious story with no hard evidence to back it up, solely because it reflected badly on a country and a leader they despise. As a result, thousands of people will now believe that Israel began a conflict it did not begin, in order to avoid a peace that was never on the table in the first place. In a media-driven world such as ours, the damage Mr. Baskin and his collaborators have done is already considerable.

About the Author
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor who lives in Tel Aviv