Everyone On Alert


Two different kinds of subscription e-mails — one, a news digest, the other a blog — have become essential reading for the well-read Zionist: The Daily Alert (dailyalert.org), a collection of approximately 15 links and summaries of Israel-related news, and Jeffrey Goldberg’s more freewheeling blog that can be found at The Atlantic’s Web site, theatlantic.com.

Earlier this month, Jews in Hebron went on a rampage against Palestinians after the Israeli army evicted Jewish protesters from a disputed house. Palestinians threw rocks. Jews fired guns. Several were wounded; none were killed.

“The sight of Jews firing at innocent Palestinians has no other name than pogrom,” said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The Daily Alert, which is distributed by the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Organizations, did not include the Hebron affair in its digest.

On Dec. 5, Goldberg posted: the Conference of Presidents had “its head in the sand.” The Daily Alert, he writes, “can be quite exhaustive,” that day featuring “articles on the Mumbai terror attacks, torture in the Palestinian Authority, and anti-Semitism in Egypt. It does not, however, contain one word about the pogrom by Hebron settlers against their Palestinian neighbors. So the question to the Conference of Presidents is: Was it not a pogrom, and therefore not newsworthy? Or are you simply too ashamed to report, amid your long list of Arab and Muslim sins, evidence of Jewish sin? These people, the Hebron settlers, are a threat to Israel and to Zionism. But not everyone in the American Jewish leadership has figured that out yet….”
The Daily Alert is prepared for the Conference of Presidents by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a group that sees its mission as helping Israel “wage the war of ideas in global opinion.” The JCPA is headed by Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations. Gold admitted to The Jewish Week that the Daily Alert had made a mistake.

“The Daily Alert,” Gold e-mailed, “was originally conceived to cover international developments regarding Israel — Iran’s nuclear program, terrorism, Quartet statements on the peace process, and global policies towards Israel, in general. It has sought to avoid internal domestic developments and political conflicts. Nonetheless, the Hebron story should have been covered.”

The next day, Dec. 11, the Daily Alert posted three “perspectives on the Hebron house dispute,” from Israeli papers. The Jewish rioters were called “thugs” and “fanatics” and the IDF was said to have used “excessive force” during the eviction. Haaretz pointed out that the disputed building was purchased by a descendant of Jews driven out of Hebron in the 1929 Palestinian pogrom (in which 67 Jews were murdered). The Palestinian who claimed not to have sold the house was caught on videotape counting the money. The Palestinian’s denial of the sale, it was reported, may well have been prompted by the fact that the Palestinian Authority “hands down the death sentence to anyone who ‘commits the crime’ of selling land to Jews.”

The Daily Alert has been the target of critics on the left for quite a while. Andy Silow-Carroll, editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, calls the Daily Alert the “Daily Gevalt,” because it accentuates the negative and eliminates the positive.

“Despair breeds more despair,” wrote Silow-Carroll, and “ignoring the left, as the Daily Alert often seems to, marginalizes them altogether.”

Doug Bloomfield, a former legislative aide for AIPAC and a columnist for several Jewish newspapers, told The Jewish Week that in 2005 the Daily Alert chose to ignore the Israeli government’s own Sasson Report on illegal settlement activity.

“Settler violence is suppressed” by the Daily Alert, said Bloomfield, “but any anti-settler violence is well-covered.”

In defense of the Daily Alert, it appeals to Jews who, after the last century, would rather be warned than comforted. Annapolis peace conferences come and go; death on an exploding bus or from an incoming rocket is forever. The Daily Alert’s thinking seems to be, one needn’t be alerted endlessly about the peace process. If it happens, peace, like a sunny day, can take of itself; we need to know about gathering storms. Storms travel. After all, as Jews used to say during the Dreyfus trial, when it thunders in Paris, open umbrellas in Berlin.

This December, the Daily Alert linked to stories — ignored by too many papers — about rockets crashing into Israel; business booming in Palestinian cities, including Hebron; a federal court upholding a $156 million verdict against three U.S.-based Islamic groups accused of bankrolling terrorism; a Jewish mother and baby injured when Palestinian-thrown rocks smashed through their windshield, a West Bank incident that didn’t galvanize a fraction of the Jewish angst as did Hebron; a Jewish father shot to death in Yemen by killers yelling, “Jew, accept the message of Islam;” and how Gilad Shalit, captive in Gaza, was mocked at a mass event when an actor dressed as Shalit pretended to beg for his life, crying “I miss my father, I miss my mother.”

A Daily Gevalt, all right, but is it wrong?
To read Israeli papers, you’d think Israel was czarist Russia the way pogrom is used to describe not only Hebron in December but also a clash in Acre in September.
What’s curious is that after the Crown Heights riot, very few Jewish newspapers, to the best of my recollection, allowed “pogrom” to be used except if someone was being quoted. Most Jewish leaders and journalists agreed that the word “pogrom” exemplified hysteria, even racism, a smear to hurt Mayor David Dinkins.

Dinkins was quoted in The New York Times (June 1, 1993), “A pogrom is to me, by definition, state-sanctioned, and this was clearly not state-sanctioned.” Most Jewish leaders agreed.
The riot in Hebron was not state-sanctioned either.

Joyce Purnick wrote in the Times (June 3, 1993), “As someone who grew up hearing her father’s recollections of violent anti-Semitism in Poland … give the word ‘pogrom’ a rest.” [To] call the riots a pogrom is “not only wrong — and inflammatory — but an insult to those who lived through the real thing.”
Purnick explains, “Pogroms were not riots or even violent demonstrations. They were eruptions of mass murder, tolerated, condoned and sometimes carried out by the government. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, a pogrom is ‘an organized persecution and massacre, often officially prompted, of a minority group, esp. of Jews.’”

If that disqualifies Crown Heights, where Yankel Rosenbaum was murdered, it disqualifies Hebron, where there was no murder at all.

Purnick quoted Elie Wiesel saying a “pogrom was usually always with [the] consent of authorities. Any pogrom was always with [the] consent of police.”
The riot in Hebron was not with the consent of Israeli authorities or police.

“Let us remember pogroms, real pogroms, and mourn their victims,” wrote Purnick. “Let us not cheapen their memory with crass politics.”

There is “crass politics” opposing settlers and Hebron, too.

So, regarding Hebron, as Goldberg asked the Conference of Presidents, “Was it not a pogrom?”
No, it was not. Based on how most Jewish journalists and leaders wrestled with the word after Crown Heights, Goldberg and Olmert were wrong.

But Goldberg was right; Hebron was news. And the Daily Alert was right to correct the mistake.