The Jerusalem Post fired its last prominent progressive columnist over a controversial blog post, without even offering him the possibility to apologise; meanwhile, its ultra-right writers enjoy complete unaccountability. This is a watershed moment for the once-respectable publication.
News came in earlier today that the Jerusalem Post fired Larry Derfner, its last remaining prominent progressive columnist, over a post Larry wrote on his private blog, Israel Reconsidered (proper disclosure: I joined him as a co-author on the blog a few months ago). In the post, Larry expressed the not uncommon observation that the root cause of Palestinian political violence was the violence of the occupation; he called on his readers to state boldly that “..the Palestinians, like every nation living under hostile rule, have the right to fight back, that their terrorism, especially in the face of a rejectionist Israeli government, is justified,” and argued that “if those who oppose the occupation acknowledged publicly that it justifies Palestinian terrorism, then those who support the occupation would have to explain why it doesn’t.”
Larry went on to offer the following reservations:
“But while I think the Palestinians have the right to use terrorism against us, I don’t want them to use it, I don’t want to see Israelis killed, and as an Israeli, I would do whatever was necessary to stop a Palestinian, oppressed or not, from killing one of my countrymen. (I also think Palestinian terrorism backfires, it turns people away from them and generates sympathy for Israel and the occupation, so I’m against terrorism on a practical level, too, but that’s besides the point.) The possibility that Israel’s enemies could use my or anybody else’s justification of terror for their campaign is a daunting one; I wouldn’t like to see this column quoted on a pro-Hamas website, and I realize it could happen.”
Despite all that, Derfner came under a not so much a wave of criticism as a sustained barrage of refuse; one characteristically repellent example can be found in the column of his erstwhile colleague Isi Leibler (assuming you haven’t had your lunch yet.) Although Larry’s post didn’t appear in the newspaper, and although he already apologised on the blog and removed the offending text, Larry offered to publish an apology on the Jpost pages as well, after it got “hundreds of notices of cancellations.” Apparently, “a logistical mix-up prevented it.”
Larry’s main thesis – that Palestinian terrorism is bound to Israeli military violence – is about as old as the state, if not older; even Moshe Dayan has said as much. I strongly disagree with the phrasing – I myself wouldn’t use “right” or “justified” anywhere near violence against civilians, be it Palestinians killing Israelis, Soviet Partisans killing German civilians, Algiers guerrila blowing up cafes, or Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin blowing up Arab marketplaces. Still, the dismissal, despite offers to retract and apologise, is an outrage that dwarfs any conceivable damage caused by Larry’s text. Unfortunate phrasing of an unpleasant argument on a third-party forum cannot be a reason for the dismissal of a veteran columnist; but obviously, for the Jerusalem Post it was more than enough of an excuse.
Larry’s dismissal is made all the more obscene by virtue of the light it sheds on the egregious double-standard that once-professional publication now employs in regard to conservative versus liberal opinion; I say that as someone who fondly remembers the fairly conservative op-ed editor of my own time at the Post soliciting op-ed pieces he openly disagreed with. Larry worries his post might end up on some Hamas website. This is yet to occur, and even if it does take place, it’s doubtful it would influence the decision of any young Palestinian whether to become a terrorist or not. By contrast, the writings of Jerusalem Post deputy-editor Caroline Glick were cited in the manic manifesto of Norwegian terrorist Anders Brevik in justification of the bloodbath he executed earlier this summer; unlike Derfner, Glick has yet to be shown the door.
Moreover, right after the Norway carnage the Jerusalem Post published an outlandish editorial suggesting the calculated, murderous rampage of a self-confessed xenophobe was an opportunity for Norway to revisit its immigration policy. The editorial was so beyond the pale the Post only put it up on the website with a disclaimer, and sparked such an outrage in Norway the newspaper had to spend another editorial on an apology; to my knowledge, all of those responsible for this serialised farce kept their jobs. Not so for Derfner.
Now, I’m not suggesting Glick and the author of that editorial (assuming they’re not the same person) should be fired for their opinions. There are many other reasons not to retain Glick’s services. Serious complaints of her conservative column’s ultra-liberal attitude to facts should be a warning sign for any reader; her suggestions regarding the possibility of an alliance between Israel and the Vatican, instead of fickle, fickle USA, are enough to give anybody pause; and as far as embarrassing appearances outside the Jpost go, her responsibility for a “satirical” clip showing a blackface minstrel Barack Obama singing to Israel’s destruction is hard to forget.
Yet Glick’s right to express even the strangest and most obsolete of opinion from the pages of what publication would have her remains in place and should not be infringed upon. Opinion is up there to be read, to be disagreed with and to be criticised; this is the fundamental principle of op-ed pages. The Jerusalem Post has obviously sunk so low and became wedded to Glenn-Beck-type readership so tightly it now applies this principle to conservative opinion only. Pity. It used to be a newspaper once.