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NYTimes' due fear for Israeli democracy adds some misconceptions

The New York Times published a laudable, bold editorial this weekend that highlights a number of creeping threats to Israeli democracy. The article is vital for reaching audiences who really care about Israel’s future. After three years of onslaught on Israel’s democratic foundations (which were already deeply flawed), the situation is now urgent.

Every day, truly scary signs of under-the-radar McCarthyism can be seen – just this morning Haaretz reported on the attempt to oust an official (Hebrew) in the Education Ministry responsible for civics education, who has come under a right-wing witch-hunt, despite protests by both left- and right-leaning colleagues. The legitimization of political persecution, combined with a pernicious tactic of hitting minor-seeming administrative, policy, and legislative targets, aids in the deception about the true effects of this government.

The Times is doing the right and responsible thing by reflecting this reality. However, I found three semi-small but semi-serious inaccuracies in the piece. They’re not flat-out errors so much as misleading points that paint a skewed picture of the debates they describe and it’s worth explaining them to limit any further confusion.

First, regarding the debate about the government’s failure to reach a new draft law, the article states:

…Mr. Mofaz proposed enlisting 80 percent of the ultra-Orthodox…Mr. Netanyahu sided with his right-wing allies and insisted on something more incremental. There was also talk of doubling army enlistment for Arabs. Israeli Palestinians are not required to join the army, and most do not. Many feel like second-class citizens and are deeply conflicted about their place in Israeli society.

This makes it sound like the debate about Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel revolves around them joining the army; it does not. The discourse is almost entirely about having them perform some form of national (including local, community) service. This is a critical difference and much nuance is lost by mis-characterizing the dilemma. Something like this would have been more accurate: “there has been talk of encouraging Israeli-Palestinians to perform some form of national civic or community service. The topic is highly sensitive because they feel like second-class citizens, but also stands to further their goal of economic and social integration – by contrast to the Haredi goal of isolation.”

Next, when addressing the demographic issues in Israel, the article states:

The Palestinian population is also expanding, hastening a day when Jews could be a minority.

For many readers, this statement conveys an unnecessary measure of racial fear, which is not only morally, but demographically unjustified: Palestinian citizens of Israel are about 20% of the population, and roughly 15% of the adult (voting) population. That’s too small to produce anything like an Arab-Palestinian majority any time soon, especially if the trend towards economic integration and female higher education continues – this will ultimately slow down traditionally high birthrates to significantly lower than those of Haredim, for example.

The only imminent scenario of a Palestinian majority is through the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. The article fails to make this distinction, which is imperative for readers to internalize.

The final problem is a description of Kadima’s role in the government that is uncritical and problematic at best:

Mr. Netanyahu’s past dependence on hard-line parties has manifested itself in aggressive settlement building and resistance to serious peace talks with the Palestinians — who themselves have not shown enough commitment to a solution. Without Kadima’s moderating force, these trends will continue.

“Moderating force” is indeed what Kadima would like its audiences and voters to think. But the last time Kadima was in power, it started two wars, failed at (admittedly serious) peace negotiations, and built or planned 9000 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Former party leader Tzipi Livni was complicit in the current government’s actions through her silence while in opposition; the current leader, Shaul Mofaz, may talk the two-state talk but there is little to nothing in the party’s record to indicate that it would do much to change the status quo.

Let the New York Times go one step further, and call things by their name instead of letting politicians mislead its readers.

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    1. Philos

      @ DS, “there has been talk of encouraging Israeli-Palestinians to perform some form of national civic or community service. The topic is highly sensitive because they feel like second-class citizens, but also stands to further their goal of economic and social integration – by contrast to the Haredi goal of isolation.”
      I think this also a mis-characterization of the debate. Many on the right try to frame the issue of Palestinian-Israeli “service” as one about conscription. The likes of Liberman, et al, want to push this agenda in order to alienate the Arab population and so they can point their fingers and cry, “See? We told you they are all traitors.” Furthermore, in the “Jewish” mainstream press (I am not including Ha’aretz here) there was little debate about the problematic role of the Ministry of Defense in organizing national service. Furthermore, I heard one or two Palestinian-Israelis remark that service, military or otherwise, didn’t do a thing to dent the discrimination and racism endured by the Ethiopian community in Israel. My point is that whether we like it or not the whole debate does revolve around whether or not we can induct Palestinian-Israelis into the Army. The idea that they ought to do national service but be excluded from military service just goes to show the core of the discrimination they face as indigenous people in this country. “Fine, let them wipe some old persons ass in a hospital – but for God’s sake don’t give them a gun” seems to be the sentiment and it stinks.

      Reply to Comment
    2. @philos, I agree with most of what you wrote and glad you are adding this in for our readers – I don’t think you can expect to get into all that in a single NYT editorial.
      But when you write that “like it or not, the whole debate does revolve around whether or not we can induct P-I into the Army” that’s just not true. I did get your point about whether service is to be managed by Defense Ministry or not and it is indeed part of the debate. But really, the question for Pal/Arab and the proposals out there almost exclusively assumed national service, similar to the stuff religious women do. No uniform, no weapons (of course) – and it’s not the same thing. Still, your points about what it might or might not for the future of these citizens are important.

      Reply to Comment
    3. XYZ

      If the NY TIMES writes an editorial against us, are we supposed to lose sleep or something? Who appointed them the world-guardians of morality? The New York Times, under its original “our crowd” assimilationist German Jewish owners was always anti-Zionist. We have all heard that they buried stories about the Holocaust, including the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on the inside pages of the paper, fearing that people will consider the War to be “too Jewish” otherwise. I was told that during the waiting period before the Six-Day War they wrote that it was time to admit that the creation of Israel was a mistake. So what is new here? Why should I care what they think?

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    4. Piotr Berman

      I wonder how the “national service” looks on practical level. “Community service”, as we know, is used as a penalty in many countries, like you can see folks dressed in orange picking trash next to a highway. If you subject extra two millions of population to conscription and replace the military service for them with “national service”, you need twenty to forty thousand jobs that do not threaten unionized public employees etc.

      It can easily end up as nonsensical make work jobs invented as “not making it too easy” for those who evade combat duty, and the whole program being perceived as a punishment. And it could also be a very thoughtful program. However, I would not be optimistic given the frame of mind exhibited by IDF and other security officials, plus simple pressures to make such a program as cheap as possible.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Piotr Berman

      XYZ: newspapers usually concentrate on NEW stories. The story of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, while compelling, is not new. Same goes for Kitos War, Khmelnitsky Uprising etc.

      Reply to Comment
    6. XYZ

      The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising WAS news in 1943 and that’s the time period I was referring to, obviously.

      Reply to Comment
    7. daniel stein

      XYZ, I don’t think I can handle anymore of your zionist hasbara:

      ” Rindsberg’s view of Times, analysis shows its coverage to be consistently pro-Israel. A 2005 study found that the Times reported on Israeli deaths at rates up to seven times greater than its reports on Palestinian deaths, even though Palestinian deaths occurred first and in far greater numbers.

      A 2007 study of the Times’ coverage of various international reports on human rights violations by Israelis and by Palestinians found that the Times covered reports condemning Israeli human rights violations at a rate only one-twentieth the rate that it covered reports condemning Palestinian human rights violations. The investigation found that during the study period there had been 76 reports by humanitarian agencies condemning Israel for abuses and four condemning Palestinians for abuses

      Reply to Comment
    8. Equal protection is mostly improving, not absolute. If you deny an advance because it does not go all the way, the law (including jurisprudence) can go nowhere at all.
      I do not like the idea of pure national service as conscription; it would do the IDF much good to have to deal with this minority citizenry in a new way; it would ultimately do the West Bank good. It would also begin to expell the idea that a categorized race (not as real as you might think, genetically) is inherently presumed traitorous.
      As I’ve said too many times here, your Declaration of Independence is a meta-constitutional document framing ANY constitution, written or “unwritten.” Full equality of social and political rights will not stand for conscription denying entry to the IDF presumptively for non-Jewish citizens. There are some tricks one could do. One could equate 2 years of IDF service with three years of community service–one way of also retarding Jewish conscript attempts to dodge IDF service. If there is some compensation for community service (there should be, as you are forcing the labor of another), at first most Arab/Palestinian Israelis might take community, over time more choosing IDF to get out sooner.
      One could have general conscription upon which is superimosed a allocation lottery: a certain proportion, determined by the IDF, would be randomly allocated to them. Such draftees could then request alternative community service along the lines suggested above; I suspect many Arab/Palestinians would do so. The IDF would then decide on the request. De facto seggregation would result, with a tint of free choice–which is the important part. This, I would argue, is a little closer to eqaulity of rights and duties than just shunting one racially defined group into one service category, another racially defined group into another. The IDF could play with its demand (initial lottery proportion going to them) depending on its manpower needs. If both national service opportunities and IDF needs become glutted–too many bodies for too few posts–one could begin conscription proper with another lottery: a certain number of the young would “win” a no service standing (perhaps they could ask to serve even so, either IDF or otherwise). My point is that one could structure service calls so that racial categories, while still actively present, retreat somewhat, promising future racial blindness.
      In Brown v Board of Education, mandating school integration, the Supreme Court stipulated such “with all deliberate speed” or some such. When cases came forward saying this was not happening, the Court shunted them to the lower courts, knowing full well this would slow down integration–but also decrease polarized confrontation. If Israel ever really decides to decouple citizen and race, some such trick will be necessary during the consequent social storm of aprehension and anger.
      The NYT needs, in its own mind and from the outside, to appear neutral. So the description of Kadima. That the Times is saying anything at all shows, I think, that the all is fine attitude of the present Israeli government is not selling so well right now.

      Reply to Comment