New York Times Jerusalem Deputy Bureau Chief Isabel Kershner is married to Hirsh Goodman, an Israeli citizen and prominent liberal Zionist intellectual. Goodman works at a military-linked Israeli think tank called the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), where he serves as a senior research fellow in a position endowed by the billionaire Jewish philanthropist Charles Bronfman. On the INSS website, Goodman described his job as helping “Israel devise a strategy to impact positively on international and Arab public opinion and overall disseminate its message more effectively” — in other words, media spin. In a recent column for the Jerusalem Post, Goodman urged the government of Israel to treat threats to its image as acts of war, and to respond in kind.
An ethical reporter on a politically sensitive assignment might have avoided allowing intimate relationships they maintained with people at the center of the conflict to impact their reporting. But not Kershner. As Alex Kane just revealed in a devastating report published by the media watchdog FAIR, Kershner “overwhelmingly relies on the INSS for think tank analysis about events in the region.” According to Kane, Kershner has quoted her husband’s think tank a whopping 17 times — far more than any other comparable policy outfit. However, she has yet to publicly disclose her connection to the INSS and the media spin strategist who doubles as her husband.
The Times’ former Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Ethan Bronner, left his job last month after a string of humiliating scandals. First, the Times public editor called for his reassignment when he attempted to conceal from the public his son’s enlistment in the Israeli army. However, Times editor in chief Bill Keller rejected the recommendation. Bronner suffered further embarrassment when I exposed his business relationship with a pro-Israel public relations firm operated by an illegal settler. Once again, the Times editorial leadership let him off the hook.
Last month, at a farewell party for Bronner in East Jerusalem sponsored by the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), international diplomats and members of the Israeli and Palestinian intelligensia grilled the outgoing bureau chief about his conflicts of interest. One Israeli journalist in attendance told me Bronner expressed no misgivings about his conduct, treating his questioners with a mixture of dismissiveness and smug condescension. After a group of young Palestinian intellectuals and activists stormed out in disgust, a South African diplomat reminded Bronner that he could not “determine his own objectivity.” The rancorous scene illustrated the deep stain Bronner’s legacy had left on the Times’ reputation in Israel-Palestine.
Though Bronner is gone, Kershner’s clear violations of Times ethical guidelines are likely to compound the damage to the paper’s credibility in the region. Will the Times ignore Kane’s reporting, exempting Kershner from rules other reporters are required to stringently observe, or will Public Editor Arthur Brisbane treat the revelations with the seriousness they deserve?
We insisted that Jews should focus their outrage not at us, but at the statements the subjects of our video made, and recognize the extent to which they echoed the rhetoric of leading Israeli politicians, military figures, pundits and rabbis.
American-born Israeli author Gershom Gorenberg argued on his blog that the statements of “a drunken kid in a bar” have no journalistic value, and therefore we were unprofessional (“Racism, Amalek and Videotape ” 13 June 2009).
Gorenberg even asserted that because some of the people who appeared in our video were American, their racist opinions had no little or no connection to the Israeli situation. At the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ron Kampeas, who has disclosed that he purchased an apartment with an Israeli-government subsidized loan in a Jewish colony in occupied East Jerusalem, wrote that it’s “time for [Blumenthal] to grow up and put [his talents] to good use.” (“Best take so far on Blumen-journalism,” 5 June 2009).
Meanwhile, YouTube and Vimeo banned Feeling the Hate, while the Huffington Post’sRoy Sekoff refused to allow us to publish it, claiming in an email that it had no “real news value,” as though the soft core porn that accounted for the content on his and Arianna Huffington’s (now AOL owned) site each day did.
The most recent attack occurred on 11 February on King George Street, just blocks from the warren of seedy bars where we filmed Feeling the Hate. There, a group of drunken religious nationalist youths attacked Hussam Rwidy, a 24-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, stabbing him while they allegedly chanted “Death to Arabs!” Rwidy and his friend, Murad Khader Joulani, staggered into a nearby restaurant drenched in blood and begging for help. Hours later, Rwidy was pronounced dead (“The final moments of the martyred Husam Rwidy,” Wadi Hilweh Information Center — Silwan, 20 February 2011).
“A drunken brawl gone bad” was how several reports described the killing of Rwidy, parroting statements by the Jerusalem police that his death was the result of a fight. The two main assailants were initially indicted for manslaughter before overwhelming evidence forced Israeli government prosecutors to charge them with premeditated murder. As with the reaction by prominent Israeli media figures to Feeling the Hate, the racist behavior of Jewish nationalists was downplayed as a product of intoxication, if not dismissed altogether, while the incident was portrayed as an aberration. Any reflection about the trend of racial murders inside Israel was officially discouraged (“Murder of Palestinian highlights Israeli judicial discrimination,” 972mag.com, 23 February 2011). And so the band plays on.
With Feeling the Hate, we edited an hour of footage into a four-minute video that focused on the hatred many Jewish nationalists in Israel and the United States felt towards President Barack Obama. Our unreleased footage contains statements by the same kids about Palestinians. The political science major who said “I know my shit” but didn’t know who the Israeli prime minister was told us that the Palestinians should all be transferred to a small corner in the West Bank and kept there in a virtual cage. The boisterous young man with the mesh hat who remarked, “We don’t want any Nazi shit, Obama!” defended Israeli Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman’s proposal to strip citizenship from “disloyal” Palestinian citizens. These drunk kids in bars had a coherent, if very simplistic, ideological basis for their racism. It is called Jewish nationalism.
Because Jewish nationalism is an exclusivist project that defines everyone who exists outside the Zionist spectrum as a potential threat and an obstacle to the ultimate ambitions of Israel, racism directed against Obama and anti-Palestinian racism form a seamless thread. This thread connects automatically to the African and Asian migrant workers who Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called “a concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country” (“Netanyahu: Illegal African immigrants – a threat to Israel’s Jewish character,” Haaretz, 18 July 2010).
It is no coincidence that migrant workers in Israel are increasingly targeted alongside Palestinians in racist vigilante attacks. They are seeking a place in a country that views the removal of non-Jews from as much territory as it can gain control over as a national goal (“Police: Sudanese men stabbed by Israeli gang,” Ynet, 12 February 2011).
While young rightists attack migrants in the street, the government may warehouse some migrant workers in what Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has called a “concentration camp” in the Negev Desert (planners from the Israeli Prison Service described the camp as an “accommodation center” in official material) (“Knesset Speaker: Racist rabbi’s letter shames the Jewish people,” Haaretz, 9 December 2010).
Though Rivlin condemned the plan, he has simultaneously endorsed a $1.5 billion shekel proposal to build a wall along the border of Egypt. “The goal is to ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature,” Netanyahu said about the proposed wall.
Her words rang hollow, not only because her party had co-sponsored many of the racist and anti-democratic bills winding their way through the Knesset (see “Can’t we all just get along — separately?” — David Sheen’s disturbing 24 February 2011 interview in Haaretzwith Kadima lawmaker Shai Hermesh on the “Communities Acceptance Law”), but because she has personally fanned the flames of extremism through her words and actions.
After the Israeli assault on Gaza in winter 2008-2009, Livni boasted, “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded” (I Lost Everything,” Human Rights Watch, 10 May 2010).
Now that some Jewish Israelis are “going wild” against Palestinians inside Israel, and demonstrating “real hooliganism” in racial attacks, does the opposition leader think she has the moral authority to condemn them? If the hooliganism starts in Gaza, where will it end?
Last summer, while living off of Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, we regularly taped interviews with locals. After the murder of Rwidy, we decided to compile some of those clips into a short video so viewers could get a sense of the atmosphere we lived in. Now everyone can meet a few of our neighbors, like the Birthright Israel alum who believes that if Palestinian resistance becomes too acute, “you gotta just annihilate them.” Or the Canadian lone soldier who joined the Israeli Army’s Kfir Brigade, a notoriously abusive unit that serves exclusively in the Occupied Territories, who believes he’s defending the Jews “from terror, and such,” and that there is no such thing as the occupation (“Kfir brigade leads in W. Bank violations,” Haaretz, 11 May 2008).
Living among droves of heavily indoctrinated extremists on Ben Yehuda Street was not always a pleasant experience. But then again, had either of us been a Palestinian, it might have been impossible. Though many might want to ignore this fact, after Rwidy’s murder, it is increasingly hard to dismiss.
The only image of a Palestinian inside Yad Vashem depicts the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem sig heiling Nazi troops
Update: A cross-posting of this piece at Mondoweiss of triggered a few extremely insightful comments. I have posted three of them below the fold; they are worth reading. And The Hasbara Buster has alerted me to another disturbing incident of Israeli racism, this time against five Arab renters who were driven from their apartment in Tel Aviv — one of them had served in the IDF. Read about it here.
This week, a group of elderly Palestinian women were escorted to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance musuem to learn about the Jewish genocide in Europe. At the entrance of the museum, they were surrounded by a group of Jewish Israeli youth who recognized them as Arabs. “Sharmouta!” the young Israelis shouted at them again and again, using the Arabic slang term for whores, or sluts.
The Palestinians had been invited to attend a tour arranged by the Israeli Bereaved Families Forum, an organization founded by an Israeli whose son was killed in combat by Palestinians. They were joined by a group of Jewish Israeli women who, like them, had lost family members to violence related to the conflict. Presumably, both parties went on the tour in good faith, hoping to gain insight into the suffering of women on the other side of the conflict.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian members (who unlike the Israelis live under occupation and almost certainly had to obtain special permits just to go to Yad Vashem) learned an unusual lesson of the Holocaust: A society that places the Holocaust at the center of its historical narrative — that stops traffic for two minutes each year on the national holiday known as Yom Ha’Shoah — could also raise up a generation of little fascists goose-stepping into the future full of irrational hatred.
“In Palestinian culture, older women are most honored and they could not believe their ears,” said Sami Abu Awwad, a Palestinian coordinator of the tour. “We never talk like this to older women. The Palestinians, who were all grandmothers, were very shocked and offended.”
The report on this outburst of Jewish Israeli racism comes from the Israeli news website Walla! For some reason, I could not find reporting on it anywhere in English.
Perhaps the story was lost in the flood of reports about the anti-Arab racism that poured through the streets of Israel this week. Besides the publication of a series of rabbinical letters forbidding renting to Arabs and condemning relationships between Jews and Arabs, a school principal in Jaffa prohibited Palestinian-Israeli students from speaking Arabic to one another. In Bat Yam, a mostly Russian suburb just south of Jaffa, Jewish residents demonstrated against the presence their Arab neighbors. “Any Jewish woman who goes with an Arab should be killed; any Jew who sells his home to an Arab should be killed,” one protester reportedly shouted. And in Tel Aviv, locals rallied for the expulsion of foreign workers.
On Saturday, three teenage girls born to African migrant parents were attacked and severely beaten by a mob of teenagers while walking to their homes in the Hatikva neighborhood.
That same night, someone tried to torch an apartment in Ashdod housing seven Sudanese citizens. The assailants set a blazing tire outside the front door of the apartment, and five of the seven residents were lightly hurt by smoke inhalation before they managed to break the burglar bars and flee through a window.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a gang of Jewish youths was arrested after staging several random attacks on young Palestinian men with weapons including tear gas, which would be hard to acquire from anywhere except the army. Ynet reported:
The gang of teens was allegedly headed by a 14-year-old boy, and used a girl their age to seduce Arab youths.
The girl would then lead the young men to a meeting point in the city’s Independence Park, where they were allegedly brutally attacked by the teens with stones, glass bottles and tear gas. Police suspect the girl took part in three of the assaults.
Daniel Bar-Tal, a renowned Israeli political psychologist who has conducted some of the most comprehensive surveys of Israeli attitudes since Operation Cast Lead, found that the racist, authoritarian trends that are increasingly pronounced in Israeli society are products of a “psycho-social infrastructure” dedicated to promoting “a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering.”
This infrastructure is comprised of institutions like the Zionist educationsystem, the Israeli Defense Forces, and even Yad Vashem, which explicitly links the Palestinian national struggle to Nazism.
Indeed, the only image of a Palestinian in all of Yad Vashem (at least that I am aware of) is of the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, who was forced by the British to flee to Germany, where he became a (not very successful) Nazi collaborator. In recent years, the Mufti has become a key fixture of Israeli propaganda efforts against the Palestinians. As such, a photo is featured prominently on a wall in Yad Vashem depicting him sig heiling a group of Nazi troops. However, there is no mention anywhere in Yad Vashem of the 9000 Palestinian Arabs the British recruited to fight the Nazis, or of the 233,000 North African volunteers who fought and died while battling the Nazis in the French Liberation Army (and whose heroic efforts were dramatized in the excellent film, “Days of Glory”).
According to Peter Novick, the author of “The Holocaust in American Life,” though the Mufti played no significant part in the Holocaust, he plays a “starring role” in Yad Vashem’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. “The article on the Mufti is more than twice as long as the articles on Goebbels and Goring, longer than the articles on Himmler and Heydrich combined, longer than the article on Eichmann — of all the biographical articles, it is exceeded in length, but only slightly, by the entry for Hitler.” [Novick, p. 158]
Not only has Yad Vashem attempted through propagandistic means to link the Palestinian struggle to Nazism, it has promoted an exclusivist view of the Holocaust. In April 2009, Yad Vashem fired a docent, Itamar Shapira, because he had discussed the massacre of Palestinians in Deir Yassin with a group of students from the settlement of Efrat. “All I was trying to say is that there were people who lived here before the Holocaust survivors arrived, that they suffered a terrible trauma too, and that we shouldn’t hide the facts,” Shapira told me a month after his firing. “Yad Vashem carefully selected what facts it wanted to present, but deliberately avoided things like Deir Yassin, even though its ruins were just a thousand meters from the museum.”
Iris Rosenberg, a Yad Vashem administrator who was involved in Shapira’s firing, said of the verbal assault against Palestinian women at the museum this week: “Despite the regrettable incident at the entrance to the museum, the team’s visit to the Holocaust History Museum was conducted in a dignified manner which was significant and important.”
Tamara Rabinovitch, the Israeli leader of the Bereaved Families tour, told Walla! that her Palestinian counterparts “were very excited by the visit. Some of them approached me and told me they heard details of the Holocaust but did not know how painful it was. In two weeks we plan to visit an abandoned Arab village so that the Palestinian narrative is represented.”
A member of the Barakat family displays the shirt he was wearing when a Jerusalem cop allegedly maced and beat him
Why did the Jerusalem police react with such brute force to a non-violent protest last Friday in Sheikh Jarrah? According to Moshe Strol, a retired Israeli cop, the cops received politically motivated orders. In a response to former government attorney Michael Ben-Yair’s letter protesting police behavior in Sheikh Jarrah and activist Haggai Matar’s accusation of police discrimination against leftists and Arabs, Strol wrote (translation by Noam Sheizaf at Promised Land):
As a policeman, I was in thousands of demonstrations. I want to tell you, not in a politically correct way: in demonstrations of Arabs the finger on the trigger is very easy. Demonstrations of Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox Jews) are treated with kid gloves. Demonstrations of left-wing activists on Friday also means trigger-happy cops. Rightwing activists in the settlements which break olive trees and beat the Border Police are also treated with kid gloves.
These are orders from above. Don’t believe what police officers and the Police Minister say.
While I was filming the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration, I met Sari Nashashibi, a young reporter for the Arabic East Jerusalem news outlet, Panet. Nusheishibi alerted me to a story he had recently filed about an outrageous instance of police violence against a family of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Because the story was published in Arabic, it never registered outside of the region it occurred in. If true, the story adds more weight to the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators’ charge of police discrimination against Arabs and leftists. I had Nashashibi’s article translated [original here], so here it is in its entirety:
A family from Beit Safafa: The police assaulted us for no reason
Khaled Barakat from Beit Safafa told the correspondent of Panet and Panorama magazine that, “On Saturday evening, on the day of the Germany-Argentine match, while driving back from Bethlehem with my two sons, Ra’fat and Firas and my nephew Na’im, a police officer stopped us. He noticed that Na’im was not wearing his safety belt so he asked him for his ID. Na’im gave it to him and asked him to speed up fining him because we are in a hurry to go and attend the Germany-Argentine game.”
At that moment those in the car cheered with joy when Germany, the team they support, scored an early goal. When the police officer found out that they support Germany he quickly snatched a cigarette from the mouth of one of the four passengers as well as his pack of cigarettes and crushed both with his foot. Then, he quickly sprayed all those in the car with tear gas.
“When I asked, as a father, about the reason for spraying us with gas he said, “Because you support Germany.” He then started verbally assaulting us using very obscene words while beating us with a baton. He then called for back up and asked that it come quickly and we were taken to the police station.” Barakat said, adding, “They released me at night while the three young men were released the next day without a trial or bail.”
“ Of the physical and moral side-effects to being sprayed with gas, sworn at and arbitrarily arrested, is that we now suffer from constant anxiety and eye infections.” Barakat continued, “I suffer from different illnesses and I am incapable of sleeping because I saw my two sons and my nephew get beaten up while I was paralyzed due to that burning gas. We all, also, have burns in the face and the hair and feel emotionally drained due to the verbal assault on us.
The Panet and Panorama magazine correspondent contacted the office of the Jerusalem police spokesperson and this is the response we received:
“The driver was stopped to get a traffic ticket following which his sons got out of the car and began verbally assaulting and trying to attack the police personnel. This necessitated that they be restrained. They were arrested and the father was released the same night while the sons were released the following morning.
So it’s the Barakat family’s word against the word of the cops. There were no other witnesses. However, if any Palestinian tried to “attack” a police officer in Jerusalem, as the cops allege the Barakat family did, it’s highly doubtful that they would spend just a night in prison. In a more likely scenario, they would face more than ten years in prison. The police department’s version of events is simply not credible.
JERUSALEM — This Friday’s protest at Sheikh Jarrah was met with the most violent repression since the weekly demonstrations began. The Jerusalem police and Israeli Border Guard officers brutalized the three hundred non-violent demonstrators and arrested at least eight in response to the demonstrators’ attempt to protest in front of homes illegally seized from Palestinian families by radical right-wing Jewish settlers.
Though Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators have been arrested en masse in the past, the protest is often a mellow affair characterized by chanting, singing, and kibitzing among a few hundred Jewish Israeli leftists. However, this week the demonstrators demanded to enter the Simeon the Just compound that the police normally cordon off to everyone except settlers. Their intention was to highlight the unfairness of not only the right of settlers to throw Palestinian families out of homes they had lived in for 60 years, but to expose the police’s discriminatory practice of blocking the neighborhood off to supposedly protect the settlers. The police practice is eerily reminiscent of the Israeli Army’s apartheid policies in the West Bank city of Hebron, where access to Shuhada Street is forbidden to everyone except the radical settlers who have occupied the surrounding areas — even the Palestinians who live near the street must avoid it under threat of settler violence or arrest.
At first, a small group of demonstrators climbed a stone wall and sneaked through a backyard until they reached the neighborhood. They were followed by another group, and then another, until the street was filled with protesters. The police responded with massive force, attempting to push the demonstrators up a hill and back behind the cordon. The violence resulted in a spate of arrests which seemed to be carried out randomly; the police simply grabbed anyone they could get their hands on. For over an hour, Jerusalem cops shoved everyone in sight, including old people and a woman holding a small child (see the first video I posted). And yet, the police brutality could have been more extreme. If the demonstration had been supplemented by a significant contingent of Palestinian Israelis, there is little doubt that the violence deployed against it would have been exponentially greater.
While inside the cordoned-off neighborhood, I spoke with a young Palestinian woman who lives next door to a house seized by the settlers. She feared disclosing her identity, insisting to me that more publicity would put her family in danger. The woman told me that she was recently attacked by a group of teenage settlers while she returned late at night from university classes. The attack began when the boys shouted curses at her, prompting her to shout back. Then they surrounded her, punching and kicking her until she fell to the ground. After she screamed for help, some neighbors rushed from their homes and chased her assailants away. “Every day the settlers curse at us and make rude gestures,” the woman told me. “The reason they do it is obvious: they are trying to scare us so that we leave.”
A Jewish settler in Sheikh Jarrah watches the demonstration
The door of the woman’s house was covered with Stars of David painted by the settlers. As in Hebron and elsewhere in the West Bank, Jewish settlers spray paint Stars of David on Palestinian homes and businesses which they seek to occupy or which have emptied of their original residents. (This practice caused writer Judy Mandelbaum to wonder if the Star of David is becoming the “new swastika.”) “The police don’t do anything about this,” the woman remarked to me. “They have seen the attacks, they know they take place. But even if I did call them they would not arrest the Israelis. They only arrest us.”
Indeed, none of the settlers’ religio-fascist machinations could have been fulfilled without the full support of secular figures in the government, from the technocratic Barkat to the atheist Prime Minister Netanyahu to Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who just ordered his occupation army to seal off the windows of Palestinian homes located along the route to Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs. The violence directed against the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators on Friday was just another snapshot of a settler-colonial state slamming its last remaining vestiges of opposition against the wall.