Analysis from Israel

In his post earlier today, Michael Rubin voiced concern that “the desire to ban rather than debate,” once a fringe phenomenon, is increasingly “infiltrating the mainstream.” But that shouldn’t surprise anyone, because the two primary sources free societies depend on to educate and inform them – teachers and journalists – increasingly view their own job not as educating and informing, but as censoring any information that contradicts their preferred narratives. This is particularly evident when it comes to Israel, as a few recent examples demonstrate. But as the old truism goes, what starts with the Jews never ends there.

One salient example is last month’s BBC documentary, “Children of the Gaza War,” which includes Arabic-language interviews with English subtitles. But as the Jewish Chronicle noted, reporter Lyse Doucet consistently and deliberately mistranslated the word yahud, meaning “Jew,” as “Israeli.”

Doucet defended herself by saying her Gazan translators told her “Israeli” would be more accurate, and I’m sure they did. Foreign media fixers in Gaza are all approved by Hamas, and Hamas isn’t stupid; it knows accusations against “Israelis” sound much better overseas than accusations against “Jews” would. It’s the same PR savvy Hamas showed when it ordered all Palestinian casualties of last summer’s war dubbed “civilians,” even if they were combatants.

The problem is that Doucet thereby opted to conceal important information from her viewers: Gaza is run by a viciously anti-Semitic organization whose founding charter explicitly calls for massacring Jews, and which propagates its anti-Semitic doctrines to children in schools and mosques throughout Gaza. Why did this information have to be censored? Because it undermines the media’s narrative that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is Israel’s fault: If people understood how widespread Palestinian anti-Semitism is, they might wonder how exactly Israel is supposed to make peace.

Or take another BBC program that aired on America’s National Public Radio last month. Discussing the Iranian nuclear deal, host Razia Iqbal told her stunned Israeli interviewee, “But you’re not under threat by Iran. Nobody in Iran has threatened you for a very long time. You’re harking back to a time when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened Israel directly.”

In a blistering response detailing several recent Iranian threats to annihilate Israel, David Harris of the AJC questioned whether Iqbal’s astounding untruth stemmed from “ignorance or ill will, or both.” But it doesn’t actually matter whether Iqbal lied deliberately or simply refused to investigate the truth of Israel’s claims; the motive is the same: The media’s narrative is that the Iran deal is good and Israel has no justified grounds for opposing it. Thus any information that might support Israel’s arguments must be suppressed.

And the education system is no better than the media. Just last week, British Jews lodged a complaint against the country’s largest teachers union over a new “educational program” detailing “the daily struggles experienced by Palestinian children as they try to gain an education” while “living under military occupation.” The National Union of Teachers and Edukid, the charity that helped create the program, both insisted they sought to remain neutral in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But as critics pointed out, the program makes no mention of the daily struggles of Israeli children trying to gain an education while under rocket fire from Gaza.

Again, this isn’t an innocent omission; it’s deliberate censorship designed to make sure British schoolchildren imbibe the narrative that NUT – which endorses anti-Israel boycotts – wants to sell them: There isn’t a conflict with two sides here; there’s just evil Israel oppressing innocent Palestinians.

Nor is this problem confined to British educators. Just this spring, American Jews were up in arms over an “educational program” about the conflict produced by Axis of Hope, an organization affiliated with Boston University, that’s used in U.S. high schools. Inter alia, the program omits any mention of Hamas suicide bombings – which is no surprise, since Axis of Hope’s founder claims that Hamas has “chosen to support change … by more peaceful means than intifada.” Censoring information about Hamas terror is obviously essential to promoting this narrative.

Such censorship is a blatant betrayal of trust by the journalists and educators on whom free societies depend for information. But it also shows, once again, that anti-Semitism harms the surrounding society no less than it harms the Jews. Censorship about Israel has been the accepted norm among liberal elites for a long time now. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone to discover that the rot is now spreading to other topics and other segments of society as well.

Originally published in Commentary on August 5, 2015

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Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

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