Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nicholas Kristof And Those Ugly Israelis

In his recent op-ed, In Israel, the Noble vs. The Ugly, Nicholas Kristof writes:
Israel goes out of its way to display its ugliest side to the world by tearing down Palestinian homes or allowing rapacious settlers to steal Palestinian land.
From this opening paragraph to the end, the other side of the story is not given.

Israel Medad of My Right Word responds to Kristof and does give the other side.

Among the points raised by Medad:

o The fawning portrait Kristof gives of Rabbi Ascherman does not take into account Ascherman's past activities.

o Kristof writes that "Muhammad Moqbel pointed to fields that he said had been stolen by settlers"
--without verifying what Moqbel is saying is actually true.

o Kristof writes that Moqbel was injured by settlers, but no mention is made of Arab attacks on Jewish land or Jews who have been injured.

o In response to Kristof's claim that "building bridges between Jews and Palestinians helps make Israel a safer place," Medad responds:
Which is why our neighbor to the east, Zaki, was taken twice to Shchem to be tortured by PA security personnel because he was building bridges to us. I know of no sustainable Pal. effort parallel to that of Peace Now, B'tselem, Taayush or Association for Civil Rights in Israel which means they are all "ugly"?
The problem of the lack of context in Kristof's piece is also taken up by Yaacov Lozowick, who takes a broader look and examines Nicholas Kristof's recent pieces on his visit to Israel.
First, he reported from the West Bank. A large majority of Israels actually agree with him that the settlement project is wrong and should be ended, but you'll not learn that from this column. On the contrary: there are some brave Israeli human rights activists facing down their country, lots of Palestinian victims, and that's it. Any pieces of the picture missing?

Kristof's second report was again from the West Bank, this time a paean of praise for Rabbi Arik Ascherman, head of Rabbis for Human Rights. Again, no real context, certainly no explanation of the fact that while there's that majority of Israelis who'd love to leave the West Bank, there are a reason or two to make them pause. Nothing. By implication, there's a Jim Crow Israeli majority, and some Freedom Riders standing up to them. (Kristof's imagery).

Finally, Kristof traveled to Gaza. There's no starvation, he found, and actually things are better than his last visit (which was when, I'm curious to know but he doesn't tell), but the Israeli siege is counter productive. It has made Hamas popular. No mention of the fact that Hamas won an election six months after Israel left Gaza entirely, when there was no blockade - that wouldn't fit the narrative, would it - nor of the fact that the last time Israel really and fully left occupied Arab territory Hezbullah filled it with rockets, then shot them at Israel, and since then has filled it again in flagrant contravention of UNSC 1701.

Kristof, unlike the Birthright kids, could have seen and talked to whomever he wished. He's a NYT columnist, no-one would have turned down the opportunity. He might have learned a bit about Israel, and then taught his readers. But no. In all his columns he never cites any of the 99% of Israelis (literally 99%, not a rhetoric exaggeration) who are to the right of B'Tselem and Rabbi Ascherman.
The last paragraph may be problematic. In Kristof's final piece he does write, "I asked them if they would agree to be interviewed. They refused to respond to my questions." It should be noted though that Kristof does not write that they refused to be interviewed--he says they refused to respond to his questions. Apparently they agreed to be interviewed but did not like the questions he asked or the way he phrased them. It would be interesting to know just what he asked and how he put it.

David Hazony addresses the underlying theme of Kristof's last op-ed piece and underscores the double standard Kristof applies and the bias it forces him into:
So there it is: he begins with the claim that nobility is defined not by honor, bravery, creativity, honesty, or constructive achievement but by Israelis critiquing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. You know, I can sort of accept how a reasonable, sensitive, if ill-informed, person might say that. But then he takes us two steps further. Nobility, we learn, is further defined by the “lucid unraveling of Israel’s founding mythology,” and finally by the “deepest critiques of Israel’s historical claims.”

This is the point where Kristof leaves reasoned discourse and falls down the rabbit hole of rabid anti-Zionism before spiraling into self-attacking universalism. I used to think that for an intellectual like Kristof, nobility should be defined not as attacking all self-affirming beliefs but rather as being willing to sacrifice myths when the facts dictate otherwise. But not, apparently, for Kristof, who seems to be saying that any affirmation of either the Zionist narrative (you know, the Jews were in exile for thousands of years, suffered because they had no political power, and have a right to their own state) or Israel’s historical claims (you know, that there were once a lot of Israelites in the Holy Land) is by definition not noble but ugly.

Lest you think Kristof is a wielder of anti-Zionist double-standards, holding such definitions of nobility only where Israelis are concerned, he ends by saying that noble Israelis should be a model for the world. So I wonder: does that include the Palestinians as well? I mean, where are their critiques of Palestinian treatment of Israelis, theirhistorians challenging the reigning Palestinian myths, or their archaeologists challenging Palestinian claims?
The problem with what Nicholas Kristof writes is the lack of context and balance. As one of the comments to his op-ed points out--"I guess that's the difference between a columnist and a reporter."


See: Nicholas Kristof Gets Ahead Of Himself


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