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Ari Shavit Iran interview: A bootlicking masterclass

Israeli readers woke up this morning to a deafening, orchestrated drumroll, with the headlines of all four Israeli dailies beating out a steady call for war. The soloist of this dubious ensemble was Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, who was given prime-space on top of the Haaretz to interview Defence Minister Ehud Barak, hilariously presented as an anonymous but senior “decision-maker”. Noam picked out the important bits of today’s papers in general and the interview in particular in his post earlier today. I just wanted to dwell briefly on the style of the Barak interview and the role Shavit, still seen by some as a barometer of mainstream liberalism in Israel, seems to be vying for: The role of the sycophantic town crier. Consider the Brechtian JK Rawling-like first paragraph of the Hebrew original:

The Decision-Maker is a controversial man. There was a time he was seen here as a saviour, and immediately afterwards, a leper. And again, a near-saviour, and again, a leper. But even those opposed to The Decision-Maker admit he’s highly intelligent. Even those with reservations about him are aware he is possessed of unique strategic experience. For half-a-century, The Decision-Maker has been travelling around the core of the security establishment of the state. On more than one occasion, he was the core. Late at night earlier this week, The Decision-Maker opened his door for me in light summer clothes and black sandals. As he sat down in front of me in his favourite armchair, he disclosed he has read with great interest the estimates of the various strategists I’ve interviewed for this series. He has respect for both supporters of an action in Iran and its opponents. But although he had thought over the matter once again, he remains unmoved from his original position and is utterly convinced that he is right. For two hours and a half, with a black concert piano in the background, The Decision-Maker painted in striking colours his picture of reality.

Barak – in case you forgot, the most widely loathed and unelectable politician in Israel – is awarded even more embarrassing epithets further down in the piece. “He sips from his drink and  immediately charges forth… my musical host explains… the well-trained militarist says…” And although Shavit pretends to ask tough questions, he lets his “musical host” get away with just about every ridiculous statement, and doesn’t challenge him to explain, say, the disparity between his pitifully small and as-yet unexplained estimates of civilian casualties in a future war (several hundreds) and everyone else’s (thousands to tens of thousands).

But this isn’t the first time Shavit has taken up the cheerleader’s baton. On Facebook, Noam also pointed out:

Six years ago tomorrow, on 11 August 2006, Haaretz published as its main story the article “Olmert has to go,” by Ari Shavit, just as Olmert and Peretz were about to agree to end the Second Lebanon war in accordance with the French ceasefire plan at the UN. According to several estimates, Shavit’s article played a significant role in both spineless men – the prime minister and the defence minister, that is – to send the IDF on the failed military operation on the last day of the war, which has cost the lives of 33 soldiers and an untold number of Lebanese. The article read: “If Olmert runs away from the war he initiated, he cannot stay a prime minister for even one more day.

The diplomatic plan to end the war remained, obviously unchanged [by the attack.] Peretz and Olmert have gone – not least because of that war – and were replaced by Netanyahu and Barak. Shavit remained. Six years later, Barak grants Shavit the grand finale instalment of his series in praise of an attack on Iran. History repeats itself, first as farce, then as apocalypse. Only Shavit remains the same.

Journalists should write as they see fit. (Although Haaretz’s decision to enhance the credibility of this paean of an interview by putting it up as their main story is debatable, to put it mildly.) But if “The Decision-Maker” really does take Israel to a war in Iran – an action worse and more treasonous than suicide, because “the musical host” himself will remain unscathed in his bunker as we and our loved ones perish – history should remember the shameful, shameful role journalist Ari Shavit has cast himself to play.

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    1. samuel j.

      Sorry to say that, but apart from the rather rightful criticism
      at Shavit’s writing, I really cannot find the connection to the latter part of the article.
      I am far from being a right winged person myself, but doesn’t the author have anything meaningful to say about Barak’s logic and analysis other than ‘He will live in his bunkered and I will die because of his decisions’?
      What does that have to do with the reason of going or not going to war ? You can say that demagogy on every war in history, including btw on Churchill’s decision to go to an all means war on Nazi Germany during WWII. He would also survive the war in his bunker.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Philos

      Hear, hear! And let’s not forget that other sycophant – Ron Ben-Yishai over at Yediot! Where is our Aristophanes? Although his satire wasn’t able to stop the Athenians engaging in their haughty wars of choice that led to their ultimate demise.
      “The generals, there are many, but what are they good for?”

      Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      @Samuel, most criticism on 972 of Barak’s logic for a potential war derives from a deep inherent hatred of the Israeli government and not from actual logical considerations. If Barak had stated that the world was round there would be someone on 972 calling the statement insensitive and irresponsible.

      Rather than arguing why Barak is wrong, it is much more effective to attack the man and his motives, especially when Barak makes a lot of sense.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Philos

      @ Samuel J.; when Churchill became PM Britain was already at war with Germany. That war was initiated by Germany. It was a German war of choice, of aggression. Your comparison of Barak to Churchill doesn’t fit. A better one, although probably offensive because of blah blah, would be of Barak to Hitler. Hitler lived through the war safely ensconced in his bunker while he sent millions of Germans to die for his maniacal ambition. If the Third Reich had never existed Churchill would have been remembered as a drunken aristocratic fool who authored the catastrophic invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli in 1915. Alas, there are no Churchill’s in Israel. They don’t nearly drink enough. Perhaps then they’d have a notion of what a terrible idea is.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Samuel j.

      @Philos, do note that I have by no means compared WC to Mr Barak, but I have merely tried to point out the nonexistent connection between Mr Reider’s assertions and conclusions.
      A comparison between the two personas is naturally ridiculous, but while I do share many people’s harsh criticism of Barak’s personal traits and values, I still try to keep my mind open to what he says.
      And my question still stands: Doesn’t the author have anything more concrete to say about Mr Barak’s assertions?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Aaron

      Bootlicking, as opposed to what? +972? You guys use your tongues as well as any other journalists, no more but no less. Here’s an example, currently on your site, of an Israeli author getting it well-licked: Sami Michael’s speech is introduced here as “a ‘cri de coeur’ that is full of love and grief.”
      Political journalism is a slime pit, and the best and least slimy of the journalists are those who don’t try to deny it. You guys (as a whole) are no worse than the others, but don’t flatter yourselves that having the right politics somehow puts you above all the rest.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Prometheus

      Barak is still a decision-maker? That’s why the country in such deep shit.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Robert Waldmann

      That’s anonymity. I’ve never seen Israel and even I know that musical military man means Barak.

      Least he didn’t discuss the 96 key points of the discussion (laid out in black and white).

      Reply to Comment
    9. Piotr Berman

      “Barak is still a decision-maker? That’s why the country in such deep shit.”

      Sometimes I try to absorb Hasbarah as the divinely revealed truth, but every attempt is sabotaged by such remarks. Isn’t Israel the land of economic miracles, awash with milk, honey, kosher wines and microchips? Apparently, not.

      In the meantime, Barak is in the command and planning nexus of the sweeping plan of Judaization and de-Arabification of wide swaths of West Bank, to be affected with most humane varieties of repressions and demolitions, hence slowly and methodically. This effort, while extremely vital to the Jewish Project, somehow does not fulfill Barak’s (and Netanyahu) need for grand achievements, something that would allow the subsequent generations to form sentences like “famous commanders like Alexander the Great, Duke of Wellington or Ehud Barak blah blah blah.”

      Reply to Comment
    10. Prometheus

      ““Barak is still a decision-maker? That’s why the country in such deep shit.””
      That was a sarcasm. Hardly there are ANY important decisions that are in Barak’s sole prerogative – he’s too cheap to be trusted.
      “Isn’t Israel the land of economic miracles, awash with milk, honey, kosher wines and microchips?”
      Well, apparently yes, given lack of natural resources and HUGE expenditures on defense.
      “Barak is in the command and planning nexus of the sweeping plan of Judaization and de-Arabification of wide swaths of West Bank”
      “somehow does not fulfill Barak’s (and Netanyahu) need for grand achievements”
      Even greater nonsense.

      Reply to Comment

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