A woman holds her baby as she casts her ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on April 9, 2019. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Given the enormous amount of focus that Israel receives in the foreign press, it’s hardly surprising that plenty has been written in the aftermath of what appears to be a Benjamin Netanyahu victory in the just completed Israeli election.
HonestReporting does not endorse any political party within Israel. We do, however, have the benefit of being on the ground, working and living in Israel and actually taking part in the elections.
But what about all of those foreign media outlets that are relying on their own journalists or external commentators for the “expert” analysis in order to decode what is a particularly complex democratic exercise with uncertain and fluid outcomes?
The extremist “experts”
Surely, the most obvious and even representative commentators and analysts to write about an Israeli election would be … Israelis?
Why bother when you can trot out anti-Israel extremists to give their nasty agenda-driven analyses?
Take the Los Angeles Times, which gives a platform to Saree Makdisi, a UCLA professor with a track record of falsely accusing Israel of apartheid, maliciously claiming that Israel deliberately kills Palestinian children, urging an academic boycott of Israel, and calling for Israel to be dismantled as the Jewish state – effectively for its destruction. We have previously called him out for questioning why anyone should recognize Israel’s right to exist, accusing Israel of collective punishment in Gaza, and claiming that anti-Israel campus activists are the victims of a campaign of intimidation.
Saree Makdisi (Credit: YouTube/Thomas Miller)
And it’s more of the same in his latest screed where he concludes that “The takeaway from Israel’s election is simple: The two-state solution is dead. What remains is a single racist state whose beneficiaries are satisfied with their government.”
It’s hard to imagine that it was actual Israelis who voted because, for some media, it’s only about one thing – the Palestinians. And who better to comment on the elections for The Independent than Ben White?
Ben White has a long standing reputation as an obsessive anti-Israel extremist. The author of “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide,” White has claimed “I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are.” He has made racist statements and supports racist statements of others. White advocates for a one-state solution and the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
So no surprise when White’s contribution to the discussion is to question Israel’s very democracy:
It is truly extraordinary that Israel continues, with a straight face, to declare itself “the only democracy in the Middle East”, and even more extraordinary that anyone takes such a claim seriously.
That The Independent considers him to be a credible voice on Israeli elections or anything else for that matter, speaks volumes about that media outlet.
It’s all about the Palestinians
While Israeli voters went to the polls to consider a huge range of issues, for many media, this election is seen almost solely through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
So, again in The Independent, for Patrick Cockburn it’s all about Netanyahu’s conservative approach to military action: “Israeli voters like leaders who talk tough, but not those who get them engaged in long or, as is the more common experience, inconclusive wars.”
No wonder The Independent’s readership has such a narrow view of what makes Israel and Israelis tick.
Plenty of commentary came from writers sitting thousands of miles away from the scene. But what about the many reporters who parachuted into Israel purely to cover the elections.
The Jerusalem Post’s chief political correspondent and analyst Gil Hoffman stated in reference to the likely criminal indictments facing Netanyahu:
Foreign press who flew in to cover the election said they do not understand why Israelis elected Netanyahu if he is facing such serious allegations.
All journalists could learn something from the mea culpa that followed US President Donald Trump’s election where many media admitted that they had failed to read the US public accurately. This was due to a tendency to focus on urban populations in major East and West Coast cities at the expense of middle America.
In a similar vein, many journalists in Israel, particularly non-Hebrew speakers rarely get to interact with the large numbers of Israelis who don’t live in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or other regional hot spots. The general mood of a country cannot be accurately gauged by those media who are hearing the conversation solely in English or who aren’t engaging with all parts of Israel’s incredibly diverse population.
Who knows best? Not the Israelis
The Independent’s editorial refers to Netanyahu as:
arguably the worst leader Israel has ever had the misfortune to be lumbered with.
That Israelis have re-elected Netanyahu for five terms, four of them consecutive, would seem to indicate that Israelis disagree. The Independent’s attitude is incredibly condescending towards Israelis and their abilities to judge their own leadership.
This attitude of ‘we know better than Israelis’ is hilariously addressed by the Preoccupied Territory website, which satirizes New York Times columnist Roger Cohen:
I’m Not Elitist – I Just Know Better Than You All What’s Good for You
My various columns over the years in which I showcase my upper-middle-class, translatlantic, more-educated-than-thou, and secular-but-culturally-Jewish-as-long-as-it-fits-my-politics-and-lifestyle outlook may have conveyed the wrong idea to many readers as to my guiding assumptions. Therefore let me state with no pretense: please view me not as one who looks down on most others and dismisses their ideas as mistaken, if not outright dangerous; instead please view me as someone who, by dint of his superior education, variety of experience, and clear thinking, simply knows more than your pathetic underclass brains could ever grasp, and my opinions must therefore hold more sway in the world than yours.
Nowhere does this important message carry more validity than in my pontificating about Israel.
You can read the full satire here.
A work of fiction
Nowhere is the danger of relying on an external commentator more evident than in Canada’s Globe and Mail. Erna Paris is an author. Here, referring to the makeup of the likely next Israeli government, she comes up with a work of fiction:
The new entity includes Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), an offspring of Kach, the party of the late Meir Kahane, which was outlawed in Israel in 1994 for inciting racism, and designated a terrorist organization in both the United States and Canada. Jewish Power advocates the annexation of the occupied West Bank without offering Israeli citizenship to its 2.8 million Palestinian residents, a move that would create a state like South Africa under apartheid. The party also promotes the deportation of “Arab extremists,” dependent upon an undefined “loyalty test.”
In catapulting Jewish Power to centre stage and becoming beholden to its politics, Mr. Netanyahu may have overstepped and altered the political status quo.
While Paris is entitled to bemoan the existence of the far-right Jewish Power, it’s quite another to claim that Netanyahu has ‘catapulted it to center stage’ and has ‘become beholden to its politics.’
Had Paris actually looked properly at the election results, she would see that no members of Jewish Power have even been elected to the Knesset. The Union of Right Wing Parties that Jewish Power ran under did not win enough seats to put the highest Jewish Power candidate into the parliament.
So much for expert analysis.
This wasn’t the only attempt to preemptively brand Israel’s yet to be formed coalition government as extremist. See here how the Huffington Post’s headline created hysteria.
This is the front page of the @HuffPo. "Israel votes extreme", screams the hysterical headline.— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) 10 de abril de 2019
No, it did not. With Likud and Blue and White winning the bulk of the votes, a clear majority of Israelis actually voted for center-left to center-right. pic.twitter.com/jXdxbDMI1v
Ultimately, it’s clear that most of the mainstream western media were, some more overtly than others, hoping for a Netanyahu defeat. The tone of some of the reporting is reflective of that attitude as is the inability of some journalists and media outlets to process how, despite everything, Netanyhu has won an election again.
So when you read a commentary in your local media outlet about the Israeli election, take a moment to consider whether you are being given a full and informed picture.
Simon Plosker, Honest Reporting, April 11, 2019
With overall responsibility for HonestReporting’s content and output, Simon joined the HonestReporting team in November 2005 following several years working in a variety of non-profit organizations, including the Jewish Agency and the Board of Deputies of British Jews prior to immigrating to Israel in 2001 from London. In Israel, Simon has worked for BICOM and as Managing Editor of NGO Monitor as well as serving for a short period in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. Simon has a BSoc.Sc in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Birmingham and a MSc in History of International Relations from the London School of Economics.