The Problem With Ari Shavit

Ari Shavit’s latest Ha’aretz column may surprise some people. It is an enthusiastic endorsement of Israel’s war with Hamas.  As perhaps Israel’s most prominent “left-wing” journalist, he has often been a severe critic of Israel’s policies.

Shavit writes,:”Who are we fighting? A fascist organization that terrorizes the people of Gaza, oppresses women and gays and shuns all democratic values of freedom and progress”

Furthermore, Shavit asserts that in Gaza Israeli soldiers are for the only home of the Jewish people, and they are ensuring that “”the only democracy in the Middle East will survive.”

He concludes,

Are we justified? We’ve made terrible mistakes — politically strategically and militarily;. We were complacent and walked into traps with open eyes. But don’t get confused, friends. Don’t cross the lines, friends. We must stand strong together against the evil tunnels and the wicked rockets that threaten us. We’ve forgotten how to say it and sometimes it’s difficult to even whisper it, but we’re right.  In this sad, terrible story, we’re in the right. What we must do over the coming days is to be smart, as well.”

Last week Shavit was interviewed as part of Shalom TV’s (an American Jewish cable network) ongoing coverage of the Gaza War. Shavit’s interviewer; the network’s founder Mark Golub; posited that there was a fundamental difference between the Israeli-Hamas and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a good Israel pitted against an evil Hamas. The larger Israeli-Palestinian dispute was more nuanced with neither side being either completely in the right or all in the wrong. In this context, Golub asked Shavit how he would respond to someone claiming that the Fatah faction that rules the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is different than Hamas.

In response, Shavit asserted that Israelis would not agree to a withdrawal from the West Bank resulting in the establishment of a Palestinian state unless they can be sure that they will not be threatened as they now are from Gaza. That will require that any new Palestinian state on the West Bank will be kept demilitarized. Eventually, however, Shavit shifted back to Gaza. If Israel cannot eliminate the threat from Gaza, how can Israelis be expected to acquiesce to the creation of a West Bank Palestinian state?  Moreover, since a final peace — in Shavit’s view — required the establishment of a Palestinian state, there could be no peace without the total defeat of Hamas.

Shavit’s answer was blatantly evasive. It ignores the existence, for the last two decades of a Palestinian Arab regime that rules on the West Bank. Consistently, Israel’s left-wing critics have refused to scrutinize that regime or hold it accountable for its policies and behavior.

At least one left-wing commentator thinks that this is as it should be. Shavit’s fellow columnist at  Ha’aretz.Peter Beinart wrote in June: “There is a difference between criticizing the behavior of a powerful state and criticizing the behavior of a stateless people.” Clearly, Beinart seeks to equate the absence of formal Palestinian statehood with Palestnian powerlessness.

But the PA’s government is hardly impotent. According to many sources, the Fatah regime receives more per capita foreign aid than any other country in the world. The PA has a record that is hardly better than the one of Hamas in promoting social and economic development.

Last December, the European Court of Auditors; which monitors the revenues and expenditures of the European Union’s government; reported that the Palestinian Authority had improperly used EU foreign aid to pay the salaries of people who had supposedly worked for the government of the PA.. In fact, some of the individuals receiving salaries hadn’t worked for the PA’s administration for seven years. The Palestinian Authority’s Labor Minister defended the payments. He said that the employees had lost all means of financial support after they lost their PA jobs, and the government  couldn’t just cut them off. But the European Parliament points out that some of the salaries were paid to terrorists incarcerated in Israeli jails. The EU donates more financial aid to the PA than than anyone else.

The payment of “salaries” to these terrorists shows how little difference there is between the ideologies of Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. Last week, Israeli journalist Evelyn Gordon, wrote on Commentary magazine’s “Contentions” blog:

“In every possible way, Abbas has told his people that the true heroes; the ones to be emulated; are those who kill Israelis, whatever the cost. And it works so well that now, when he tries to tell them shooting rockets at Israel isn’t worth the price in Israeli lives, they denounce him as a traitor.”

Gordon noted that during Abbas’  time in office, city squares, summer camps and sports tournaments have been named for terrorists. The PA’s official television station broadcasts videos and television programs glorifying terrorism. As recently as June, Abbas awarded  an “Order of Merit” to an individual involved in planning suicide bombing.

Itamar Marcus, the founder of Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), an organization that monitors everything that is published by the Palestinian Authority, makes it clear that incitement isn’t limited to the glorification of terrorism. Marcus was Golub’s guest on Monday. Directly challenging Shavit, Marcus asserted that the PA would never agree to a demilitarized Palestinian state. Indeed, according to the head of PMW, Abbas’s regime promotes violence against Israel. The rifle — to be used in the military conquest of Israel — is an important national symbol. Furthermore, despite many claims in the West to the contrary, the PA’s rulers have never accepted  the Jews’ right to a state, Even children in the PA’s schools are taught that the Palestinians will eventually extend their control over all of Israel. The PA’s opposition to Israel’s existence is rooted in antisemitism. Marcus pointed out that material published by the PA in the 21st century still claims that Jews want to murder Palestinians in order to use their blood for ritual purposes. Marcus had an ominous prediction about the future. Even those who unrealistically think that Abbas is a moderate, should consider what will probably happen when he passes from political life. Because he is 79, this will to happen soon. His younger successors are likely to be more hard-line than he is, precisely because they have been raised on virulently anti-Israel and anti- Israel propaganda.

You’ll find very little discussion of this in most news outlets or in the writings of critics like Beinart and Shavit. This incitement belies their portrayal of Abbas and the PA as a possible partner for peace.

About the Author
Martin Krossel is a Canadian journalist living in Westchester County, New York. He's been writing about Middle East affairs for over 40 years.