In the last 24 hours I have been called, a “self -hating Jews” , “ a hater of Israel”, a “Zionist Pig” and “spokesman for the Israeli Government”. Those were just a few of the 107 comments made on my article that was published yesterday by Newsweek.
I have had a column in Newsweek now for almost two years called, Tel Aviv Diary, trying to give a perspective of Israel from Tel Aviv. The column started during the Gaza War of 2014, but has since grown to cover a wide range of events, mostly, however, security and politically related. This was the first time one of my articles created the storm that it did. I wrote the article with a certain reluctance. While my own preferences on the Israeli political spectrum would be considered by many left of center, I consider myself mostly a pragmatist. Throughout my active life in the Israeli/Zionist world a period that now extends over 40 years I have always taken the position criticizing Israel should be done from the confines of Israel. That said in all the articles that I have written, I have always striven to ensure that I maintain as high a level of journalistic professionalism as I can and have never tried to consciously slant a story one way or another. For the last year my articles have appeared mostly under the section Opinion ( but that is a function of the fact that my editor moved from being the Foreign Editor of Newsweek to the Opinion Editor) which has given me the freedom to sometimes express opinions, but I have tried to follow the statement “just the facts”
My relationship with Newsweek does however, allow me to write on whatever topics I deem interesting and relevant to the readers, with the understanding that it will provide insight into Israel and Tel Aviv today. Thus I am certainly not bound to write about everything that happens here, many of which would be considered “inside baseball” by many foreign readers. It was thus with a certain reluctance that I decided to write a column about the separate rooms in Israeli maternity wards for Arabs and Jews and the incendiary statement made by MK Smotrich and the ensuing criticism of his remarks. It was a story that had dominated Israeli news for two days and unfortunately reflected a certain reality in Israel. It was a story that I felt needed to be told. I have often published articles that are more critical or more opinionated in the Times of Israel blog section, but the reality is their platform is such, that unless you become one of the “Featured Posts”, you disappear from view almost immediately, and thus the number of readers is often very limited.
I think I did a reasonable job in laying out the facts of the story without being overly critical of too many of the players and even presented a relatively flattering view of Minister of Education Naftali Bennet. Thus, I was surprised by the comments that the article unleashed. On one hand the minute I saw the headline, I should not have been surprised. I should note- I have no control over the headline, something that critics of various correspondents do not seem to recognize. We write a story and our editors or the headline writers choose the headlines. Their choice is based on some connection to the story and a headline that they feel will get read,r to click on the article and read it. In the days when media was mostly conveyed on paper medium, the headline was considered important, a way to get the attention of the reader. Today it’s much more important, readers do not read almost any publication linearly like they once did, but instead pick and choose the stories that strike their fancy, usually based on a quick look at the header. While I disagreed with the choice of headline “Apartheid Arrives at the Maternity Ward”. It was an effective headline and at least reflected aspects of the story. Of course, effectiveness is a function of the results and this article certainly generated the readership and level of interaction that a mostly web based news organizations desire. So much so that the Editor and Chief of Newsweek wrote me an E-mail thanking me for the article. Is it a fully accurate headline,? No its was not- Israel within the 1967 borders is not an apartheid state- Arabs are free to take any jobs go anywhere, live anywhere they desire. Is there racism and discrimination in the Israeli society?Yes as there is in almost any society. Is it codified in the laws? Something that is required to be apartheid, the answer is no. Of course, the situation is completely different on the West Bank but that is a different article. What is true however, is that in our state of perpetual war, it is too easy to fall into the trap of becoming an apartheid state.
One final thought on what was planning to make a short posting- The level of discourse in the comments was clearly frightening on both sides. Those that were pro Israel immediately attacked me for writing the story, “what gave me the right to criticize Israel- and Israel that seemingly can do no wrong” Of course, they obviously know little about me, but they immediate draw the conclusion that if someone is even mildly critical of Israel they must be an anti semite of self-hating Jew. Second there seems to be no understanding that there is a clear difference between the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza and the Arab- Israelis who are full citizens of Israel. Something I will try to address with an article in coming weeks.
Finally, when it comes Israel’s critics, for them there are no half measures, our very existence remains the original sin, at least, based on the comments, reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would result in the partition of the land would be a half measure at best for them.
I truly do not know who seem scarier- our supporters who think we can do no wrong and our opponents who think we can do no right.
If you did not read the article or want to read the comments here it is