You shall not curse the deaf, and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your G-d. – Lev. 13:14
Tom Friedman, the New York Times’ solicitor-journalist for the Palestine Liberation Organization, wrote a column last November titled, “Something for Barack and Bibi to Talk About,” where he writes, “[Ari] Shavit is one of a handful of experts whom I’ve relied upon to understand Israel ever since I reported there in the 1980s. … [E]xpressed with deep insight, compassion and originality, [it is] a must- read book.”
I agree with him; it is a must-read book. Ari Shavit, leftist writer for Israel’s New York Times-wannabe Ha’aretz, has written a book about his personal relationship with his very special land. Through interviews with both heroic and not-so-heroic personalities in Israel’s history, he has crafted his story of a nation that the world has obsessed over for 66 incredible years. Much depends on the extent of your historical knowledge, but anyone who loves Israel is sure to gain from this fascinating history of Israel. Shavit manages to get under your skin as he tells a story from the viewpoint of a paradoxical Sabra. I have been reading Shavit for at least the last 10 years and deeply appreciate his talent as a thoughtful writer. When he spoke at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago on his recent book tour, I told him My Promised Land was a good title but his subtitle – The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel –was totally wrong. He asked what the subtitle should have been. Pausing, I replied with a smile, “A Love Story!” “You’re right,” he agreed, “it is a love story.”
Afterward I talked with him about the chapter that drew the most criticism, “Lydda, 1948,” about an alleged Israeli massacre of Arabs during the 1948 War of Independence. Shavit was born in 1957, so all of his so-called “eye witness accounts” were basically Arab fabrications, embellished and handed down from generation to generation. The War of Independence was bloody. An intense battle did take place at Lydda between the Irgun and the Arabs. What Shavit conveniently omits, or is willfully ignorant of, is the infamous savagery characteristic of the Arabs during the war, as exemplified by the murder and mutilation of Captain Noam Grossman:
Fresh in the minds [of Jewish fighters] … was the long list of Arab killing, looting, rape and mutilation of bodies. Typical Arab mutilation was performed on the body of an American volunteer and company commander, Captain Noam Grossman. Grossman’s penis and testicles were cut off and stuffed into his mouth, his head hacked off his body and so bloodied as to be unrecognizable. … Daniel Spicehandler was able to make a positive identification because [Grossman] always wore a Boy Scout belt. — Ralph Martin, Golda, p. 328
But with today’s reports of Islamic beheadings, quibbling about mutilating the body of a Jew was not on Shavit’s historical agenda. I told him that what I found most interesting in his chapter “Lydda, 1948” were in fact his references to Arabs. Shavit is a very careful writer. In this chapter, he refers to the Arabs 82 times: 78 times he calls them Arabs, while only 4 times he calls them Palestinians. I asked if this was intentional. He smiled and said, “You actually counted?” When he admitted that it was unintentional, I couldn’t help but remark, “Even you don’t believe they are a distinct Arab people!” He turned dismissively and walked away.
Two must-read chapters are Chapter 10, “Peace, 1993” and Chapter 14, “Reality Shock, 2006.” The book draws upon interviews with many of the well-known personalities in Israel’s history. In “Peace, 1993,” Shavit interviews the far-left Yossi Sarid, referring to him as “an arrogant prince” (p. 242), and remarks that “you [Sarid] were always about negation.” In his interview with another from the far left, Yossi Beilin, Shavit writes, “You opted for the appearance of peace. You thought you were manipulating Peres and Rabin, but in reality it was the Palestinians who manipulated you.” (p. 251) Yet Shavit then looks in the author’s mirror and turns the interview on himself: “The peace story is also my story. For upper-middle-class secular Ashkenazi Israelis like me, peace…defined our identity. … Peace was our religion.” (p. 252) He continues, “But only when I turned thirty and began listening seriously to what Palestinians were actually saying did I realize that the promise of peace was unfounded, … bogged down by a systematic denial of the brutal reality we live in.” (p. 253) “[T]he Left endorsed the unsound and irrational belief that ending occupation would bring peace. … The Left adopted the peace illusion …” (p. 254)
Shavit’s book is a chronicle of his dilemma. But the same cannot be said of Friedman. In fact, considering that Shavit was “an expert whom [Friedman] relied upon,” you would expect to find an acknowledgment of Shavit in Friedman’s book, From Beirut to Jerusalem. But among the many people Friedman did cite, Ari Shavit is not among them.
No, Friedman – paragon of elitist arrogance – hails from the Eason Jordan branch of nuanced journalism. Eason Jordan was forced to resign from his post as chief news executive at CNN in 2005 “to quell a burgeoning controversy over his remarks about U.S. soldiers killing journalists in Iraq,” wrote Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post on February 12, 2005. But what caught my attention about Eason Jordan was not his trumped-up allegations of American soldiers intentionally killing journalists, but rather his sordid account of how CNN had to appease the PLO terrorists in Beirut by vilifying Israel in order to stay alive and get the story. Jordan “had touched off a furor with a New York Times op-ed piece in April 2003, saying that CNN had withheld information about some of Saddam Hussein’s abuses out of concern for its Iraqi employees in Bagdad. This sparked criticism that the network was collaborating with a murderer’s regime to maintain its access.” (Ibid.) And it was the 2003 op-ed in the Times that sparked fond remembrances of Tommy “the Tool” and his Beirut escapades in 1979. After all, what’s more important: truth or a good story above the fold?
Let me be clear. I do not believe Friedman is of the New York Times variety of a Jayson Blair who resigned from the Times in disgrace in 2003 for “fabricating comments and concocting scenes.” In “Correcting the Record,” published May 11, 2003, the Times admitted that Blair “used techniques to write falsely about emotionally charged moments in recent history. … Every newspaper…trusts its reporters to uphold central principles, and the [Times’] inquiry found that Mr. Blair repeatedly violated the cardinal tenet of journalism, which is simply truth” – truth in journalism, unadulterated – except when “the truth” is dictated by terrorists.
Back when Friedman’s prize-winning book, From Beirut to Jerusalem came out, a friend gave me a copy of a book he had helped edit. Titled The Media’s War Against Israel by Stephen Karetsky, it focused on the skewed reporting coming out against Israel in 1982 preceding and during Israel’s war in Lebanon. Remember that Yasser Arafat and his fellow terrorists were thrown out of Jordan in 1970 and were greeted with celebrations in Lebanon, but by the late ’70s the welcome was over. The saga of
Friedman in Fatahland, Lebanon began in 1979. Arafat had been terrorizing northern Israel from southern Lebanon, and by 1982, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin had had enough.
I often cross-read several books on the same topic at the same time to get multiple viewpoints and a broader understanding. In From Beirut to Jerusalem, a somewhat nonchalant sentence on page 26 piqued my curiosity: “Some people kill reporters in Beirut, but I’ve been here only a few weeks.” As I read both books, two things became apparent. First, almost all journalists in Beirut lived at the Commodore Hotel for both “security” and (PLO) “control” reasons; and second, if you wanted to stay alive in Beirut, you needed to avoid upsetting the various factions including Arafat and the PLO who might take exception to something you wrote.
Using his credentials as a Jew and his “love and sincere concern” for Israel as his ticket to the dance, Friedman had free rein to deal with his New York Times’ bias against the Israeli government of Likud’s Menachem Begin. Admittedly, his book was very interesting. His interviews in both Beirut and Jerusalem were insightful, especially if the reader understood the context. And yet throughout my reading of Beirut, a number of nagging questions persisted: Why was Friedman so fortunate to have his own apartment and not restricted to the Commodore Hotel? Why was he so privileged to play golf at the Beirut Country Club? And how was he allowed such access for his interviews?
As I read both books, a number of names of journalists started to appear as corpses in The Media’s War Against Israel. Sean Toolan – ABC News; Larry Buchman – ABC News; Bernd Debusmann – Reuters; Edouard Saeb – L’Orion Du Jour; Tony Italo – Italia; Robert Pfeffer – Der Spiegel; Salim Lawzi – Events; and Riad Taha – president of the Lebanese Publishers Association – all murdered by the PLO or its factions in Beirut for not playing by Beirut rules. James Markham of the New York Times described Beirut as the most savage place on earth. (The Media’s War on Israel, p. 171) The Times’ own reporter, John Kifner, knew of and reported on the intimidation of reporters who tried to tell the truth, and Kifner got out of Beirut before his time was over. Tim Llewellyn and Jim Muir of the BBC were forced to leave because of threats to their lives, while Milan Kubic of Newsweek was warned by a friend that if he wanted to live he’d better leave. But Tommy “the Tool” – he played golf, enjoyed dinner parties, scored exclusive interviews, made the New York Times proud, and made a bundle on his book.
In Chicago on his book tour, Tommy “the Tool” gave a talk at a synagogue at Water Tower Place. When it came to the Q and A, I began: “I enjoyed your book.” (He smiled.) “You were very fortunate to get to play golf at the Beirut Country Club.” (He smiled again.) “You got some great interviews.” (Another smile.) “How was it that most reporters had to live at the Commodore Hotel and you were privileged to have your own apartment and seemingly could tool around Beirut with impunity?” His demeanor turning more serious, Tommy “the Aristocrat” explained that the New York Times was a very important newspaper. And then I asked him to tell the audience what happened to reporters in Beirut if they didn’t cooperate with the PLO and its surrogates – what happened to Salim Lawzi and Sean Toolan and Larry Buchman … And by the time I got to Riad Taha and Robert Pfeffer, Tommy had gathered his things and disappeared from the stage, not to be further heard from that evening.
Anyone – Jew or non-Jew – who describes Israel as “Yad Vashem with an air force” (p. 281) – who mocks a Holocaust survivor at a wedding because she covered the numbers on her arm with a bandage to avoid reminding guests of her tragic history (p. 276) … Anyone, Jew or non-Jew, who, much to the delight of his smirking glitterati at the Times, would berate a leader of Israel like Menachem Begin whose only “crime” was to protect the lives of Jews, many of whom had believed in the goodness of humanity only to have their trust betrayed in the crematoria, lime pits and gas chambers of a silent, indifferent world … Anyone fitting that description should take a leave of his arrogance and the comforts of his 11,000 square-foot palatial home, having won the marital lottery, and seriously reflect on “those who are with us and those who are not with us.” After the prizes and the accolades, words still matter.
Jack “Yehoshua” Berger