Shimon Schiffer and Nahum Barnea are both senior political commentators for Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest circulation newspaper. They are both also leftist extremists. In their articles in last Friday’s weekend edition of Yediot they demonstrated how their politics dictate their reporting – to the detriment of their readers and to Israeli democracy. They also demonstrated the disastrous consequences of the Left’s takeover of predominant institutions in democratic societies.
Schiffer’s column centered on the subversive behavior of President Shimon Peres and ran under the headline, “Subversive for Peace.”
Schiffer published top secret documents chronicling Peres’s long history of abusing his office to subvert Israel’s lawful governments and obstruct their policies.
Schiffer’s article opened with an account of Peres’s current moves to undermine Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy. According to Obama administration officials, during his recent meeting with US President Barack Obama, which preceded Netanyahu’s stormy visit last month, Peres and Obama agreed that a future deal between Israel and the Palestinians must be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps involving Israeli withdrawals from areas that have been under its sovereignty since 1949. While he acknowledged that Netanyahu completely opposes these parameters and would openly oppose them if Obama adopted them publically, Peres embraced them.
His message to the US leader was clear: Work with me and we’ll get Israeli withdrawals.
Work with the elected leader of Israel and you’ll get nowhere.
Schiffer then showed that Peres’s behavior is nothing new. Using classified documents from 1987 and 1988 when Peres served as foreign minister under then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, Schiffer reported that during that time, Peres conspired with then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to defeat Likud in the 1988 elections. Peres also tried to convince the Reagan administration to disassociate with Shamir and deal only with him. His efforts were honorably rebuffed by then secretary of state George Schultz who reportedly told Peres that he could not ignore the elected leader of Israel.
Schiffer reported that Peres successfully collaborated with Mubarak to undermine Shamir’s policy goal of retaining Israel’s control over Taba in the post-Camp David implementation talks.
Finally, Schiffer reported that in the summer of 1987, unbeknownst to Shamir, Peres dispatched Avraham Tamir, then Foreign Ministry director general, to Mozambique to meet secretly with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. At the time Israelis were prohibited by law from maintaining any contact whatsoever with PLO members. So not only was Tamir’s meeting an act of gross insubordination and subversion. It was a crime.
Peres’s arguably treasonous behavior was not the only scandal Schiffer exposed in his article. From the perspective of Israeli democracy – equally scandalous was Schiffer’s admitted collusion with Peres’s subversive operations.
Specifically, in his discussion of Tamir’s illegal meeting with Arafat, Schiffer admitted that Tamir “told me at the time,” about the meeting.
What this means is that one of Israel’s most powerful reporters knew 24 years ago that the director general of the Foreign Ministry was sent by the foreign minister to conduct an illegal meeting with Israel’s sworn enemy behind the back of the prime minister. And he opted not to report the story.
Schiffer decided that Peres’s moves to empower Israel’s sworn enemies against the expressed wishes of the prime minister and of the general public were more important than the public’s right to know what he was doing. And so he hid the information from the public. For 24 years.
Imagine how different subsequent events might have turned out if Schiffer had fulfilled his professional duty and informed the public in 1987 that Peres was engaged in illegal activities whose expressed aim was the overthrow of the elected leader of the country and the empowerment of Israel’s worst enemy.
IN COMPARISON to Schiffer’s double whammy, Barnea’s article on Friday was nothing special. But it was a representative sample of Israel’s most esteemed political commentator’s consistent moves to distort current events in a manner that adheres to his radical politics.
Barnea opened his essay with a sympathetic depiction of a delegation of five anti-Israel US Congressmen organized by the anti-Israel lobby J Street. Barnea then attacked Netanyahu and his ministers for refusing to meet with the delegation.
From reading his column, you’d never guess that the members of the delegation were among Israel’s most outspoken opponents on Capitol Hill. And from reading Barnea, you wouldn’t know that J Street is an anti-Israel lobby, which among other things, urged Obama not to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for allowing Jews to build on their property in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria; lobbied Congress not to pass a resolution condemning Palestinian anti-Jewish incitement following the massacre of the Fogel family; and lobbied Congress not to pass sanctions against Iran.
What you would learn from reading Barnea’s article is that Israelis shouldn’t take heart from the overwhelming support we receive from Congress because the thirty-odd standing ovations Netanyahu received were nothing more than political theater.
The underlying message of Barnea’s piece was clear. Israel’s supporters in Congress are not really supporters, they’re just afraid of angering the all-powerful AIPAC. And obviously, if we have no real friends, then anyone telling us to stand strong is a liar and an enemy and what we really need to do is learn to love J Street and its anti-Israel Congressmen who share Barnea’s agenda.
It doesn’t matter to Schiffer and Barnea that the majority of the public opposes their views. It doesn’t matter that the government’s policies more or less loyally represent the positions of the public that democratically elected it. As Schiffer demonstrated by failing for 24 years to report Peres’s behavior and as Barnea showed by failing to inform the public about the nature of J Street and its anti-Israel Congressional delegation, radical leftist writers exploit their power to dictate the contours of the public discourse to advance their political agenda. And it doesn’t bother them at all that advancing their personal politics involves actively undermining the very mission of a free press – to enable the free flow of information to the public.
THE BEHAVIOR of the likes of Peres, Schiffer and Barnea is not unique to the Israeli Left. It characterizes the behavior of much of the American Jewish Left as well. There, as here, radical activists and ideologues have taken over mainstream institutions and transformed them into mouthpieces for their extremist policies.
Take the local Jewish Community Relations Councils in the US for example.
The JCRCs are supposed to be local umbrella organizations that conduct community events and other activities aimed at advancing the interests, concerns and values of the members of their local Jewish communities. But like the Israeli media, many of the local chapters of the JCRC have been taken over by radical leftists who do not share and indeed seek to undermine the interests, concerns and values of their local Jewish communities.
Last week, Andrea Levin, the executive director and president of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle Eastern Reporting in America (CAMERA), published an article in Boston’s Jewish Advocate exposing how Boston’s JCRC’s leadership unlawfully and secretly brought J Street into the umbrella organization and then, when it was caught, used unethical means to gain approval after the fact for their actions.
As a comprehensive survey of American Jewish views on Israel carried out last month by CAMERA demonstrated conclusively, the vast majority of American Jews oppose all of J Street’s positions on Israel and the Middle East.
But just as Israelis are denied their right to an open and objective public discourse due to the radical Left’s predominance in the media, so American Jews are denied their right to disown J Street due to the radical leftist American Jews’ takeover of key US Jewish umbrella groups and institutions.
Another depressing instance of this pattern just occurred at the Union of Reform Judaism with the nomination — and election — of Rabbi Richard Jacobs to serve as its president. Whereas outgoing president Eric Yoffie referred to J Street’s anti- Israel positions on Operation Cast Lead as “morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve,” Jacobs serves on J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet. He also serves on the New Israel Fund’s board.
When a group of Reform activists called Jews Against Divisive Leadership (JADL) published ads in Jewish papers signed by a hundred Reform rabbis, their actions met with condemnation by URJ’s leadership and even with calls to blacklist the signatories.
The younger generation of radical American Jewish activists on college campuses is following the same course.
Following Yale’s decision last week to close its institute for the study of anti- Semitism, recent Yale alumni Matthew Knee wrote a post at the Legal Insurrection blog claiming that Yale’s Students for Israel group is dominated by anti- Israel activists.
So too, at Berkeley, Hillel has been penetrated by anti-Israel organizations, which like J Street pretend to be pro- Israel when in fact they promote anti- Israel activities including economic warfare against Israel. The situation at Berkeley is so bad that members of the Hillel-affiliated Kesher Enoshi were key activists in the campaign to divest Berkeley’s holdings from Israeli companies.
As the URJ’s threat to blacklist JADL members indicates, there is only one effective response to the radicalization of mainstream institutions: the creation of new, actually representative institutions that will compete with and eventually replace those that have been subverted.
In Israel this means creating alternative media organs through the Internet and other outlets to end the radical Left’s monopoly on information dissemination and engage in a discourse that reflects reality, engages the majority and upholds the rule of law.
In the US it means establishing new umbrella groups that represent the majority and deny membership to marginal groups that represent next to no one.
In Israel, independent Internet journalist Yoav Yitzhak just announced an initiative to form a new journalists union that will represent reporters and writers who have no voice in the leftist dominated Press Council. Initiatives like Latma, the satirical media criticism website I founded two years ago, have rapidly become major voices in the national discourse. Like people everywhere, when given the opportunity, Israelis seek out information sources that inform rather than indoctrinate and empower rather than demoralize them.
In the US, last October frustrated activists in the Indianapolis Jewish community disenfranchised by the far left agenda of the local JCRC founded JAACI, the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana to serve as a new umbrella organization for the community.
Dedicated mainly to giving voice to the Jewish community’s deep concern and support for Israel, JAACI’s formation fomented an exodus of local Jewish groups and synagogues from the JCRC. When given an option to participate in a more representative organization, the local Jews grabbed it.
The ability of institutional leaders – whether Jewish professionals or journalists – to ignore their responsibility to serve those they claim to represent is not due primarily to their formidable resources. It is due to our willingness to put up with their behavior. If we want to have institutions that represent and serve us, we have to take the initiative and build them ourselves.