The Baltimore Sun’s May 31, 2016 editorial “Netanyahu’s loose cannon” — ostensibly about the appointment of Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister — in fact amounts to a one-sided, anti-Israel missive.
The Sun calls Lieberman, a long-time Israeli politician and Russian immigrant, an “ultra-nationalist extremist.” What’s the difference between a “nationalist” and an “ultra-nationalist extremist?” The editorial doesn’t say.
The newspaper claims that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Lieberman “erased virtually any chance of peace with the Palestinians.”
However, The Sun itself rebutted this charge: On the same day the editorial appeared, the paper published a news brief entitled “New Israel defense chief backs 2-state solution” that noted that “Lieberman said he supports a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians” and believes in “two states for two peoples.”
Ignoring its self-contradiction, The Sun editorial doubled down, claiming that Lieberman is “anathema to Palestinians who dream of having their own state.” The paper failed to mention that so must be Palestinian leaders who have rejected U.S. and Israeli offers for a “two-state solution” in exchange for peace with Israel. They did so, among other instances, in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis conference. The latter offer, of a West Bank and Gaza Strip “Palestine” with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, was, to quote Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, “rejected out of hand.”
Similarly, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2014 “framework” to restart negotiations and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s March 2016 peace initiative were rebuffed by Palestinian leaders who failed to make so much as a counteroffer. Perhaps Sun editorialists were unaware of Biden’s effort: the newspaper didn’t report on it when the offer was made.
All these proposals were made under a variety of Israeli governments; those that could be characterized as left, center and right. The Sun—ignoring this reality—chose instead to put the onus for a lack of peace and Palestinian statehood on Netanyahu and Lieberman. The editorial then strained to link Lieberman to presumed Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Yet, writing in the Jewish Forward, Middle East analyst Gregg Roman pointed out that while “not everything Lieberman believes is nestled firmly within Israeli public consensus, even his more extreme ideas are rooted in hard-nosed realism, not ideology or ethnic particularism. His long-standing advocacy of the death penalty for convicted terrorists, for example, is premised on the simple recognition that Palestinian terrorists are today free to murder based on the correct expectation that they will later be released in prisoner exchanges. (“Actually, Avigdor Lieberman Is Just What Israel Needs Right Now,” May 25, 2016).”
But The Sun couldn’t be bothered with nuance and subtlety, choosing instead to call Lieberman “divisive.” Yet, the editorial failed to apply that term—or any other negative description—to Palestinian leaders who have incited anti-Jewish violence. For example, in an Sept. 16, 2015 speech on official PA TV that preceded months of attacks by Palestinian Arabs against Israelis, Abbas said, “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah.”
The Sun claimed that Lieberman has threatened to force Arab Israelis to take loyalty oaths. In fact, Lieberman stated that Arab Israeli lawmakers who serve in the Knesset (the Israeli equivalent of the U.S. Congress), and have expressed sympathy and support for the terrorist group Hamas, such as Hanin Zoabi, should swear loyalty oaths. If a member of Congress expressed support for a group committed to the destruction of the United States and its inhabitants, would The Sun wonder about that legislator’s loyalty?
Similarly, The Sun applied another double standard in its reporting of the events preceding Lieberman’s appointment. Lieberman’s predecessor in the defense ministry, Moshe Ya’alon, refused to reprimand Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan for comparing what he said were some trends in present Israeli society to Nazi Germany—on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Golan’s remarks departed sharply from the tradition, in both the United States and Israel, of active military leaders’ refraining from social and political commentary. Indeed, although The Sun editorial lauded Ya’alon as a “soldier’s soldier,” in a March 24, 2004 report it disapprovingly noted that Ya’alon, then serving as IDF Chief of Staff, had “twice been reprimanded for speaking out and criticizing political leaders (“Israeli officials threaten to kill other Arab leaders”).”
Would The Sun view it as reasonable for a U.S. Secretary of Defense to refuse to discipline a high-ranking American military officer who, on December 7, the anniversary of Tokyo’s Pearl Harbor attack, linked some American attitudes to those of Imperial Japan?
The Sun’s editorial claims to express concern over “dangerously loose cannon” Lieberman sinking “Israel’s ship of state.” But it is the paper’s commentary, lacking facts and context, which is adrift.
Durns is media assistant for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Views expressed here are his own.