Media Watch: A Palestinian Gandhi, Like Godot


New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has been writing quite a bit from Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks. We learn that Israel and her policies are “obtuse,” “self-defeating,” the government “lashes out with force,” is “hard-line,” has “shot itself in the foot,” and is “antagonizing its support base in the United States” (June 2), aside from being “unjust” and “malignant” (June 30). The Israelis are divided between “the noble,” who agree with Kristof, “versus the ugly,” who don’t (July 7).

One column explores “The Two Sides of a Barbed-Wire Fence” (June 30), with three quotes explaining the Palestinian side but not a single quote from the Israeli government’s side.

Yet, Kristof finds “a reed of hope here. It’s that some Palestinians are dabbling in a strategy of non-violent resistance that just might be a game changer.”

Trouble is, “a group of Palestinian youths,” in the non-violent march cited by Kristof, “began to throw rocks” at Israelis.

“That’s the biggest challenge,” writes Kristof. “Many Palestinians define ‘non-violence’ to include stone throwing.”

That would be a challenge. But maybe not. Even in the pre-Oslo days, when the Palestinians were defending the killing of Israeli children in Ma’alot, and Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, and rolling Leon Klinghoffer in his wheelchair off the deck of a cruise ship, the Times and other journalists could always find someone to say that the Palestinians were really non-violent.

In 1992 (Aug. 23), pre-Oslo, Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian spokeswoman, told the Times, “We’ve been very reasonable and very gentle and nonviolent…”

In 2002 (Feb. 11), the Jerusalem Report told us that there is a “small but growing Palestinian non-violent resistance movement…”

In 2010, the Mondoweiss blog (July 9) tells us, “inspirational non-violent Palestinian campaigns against Israel’s policies have been around for years…”

For years, always about to happen but not happening. At what point, between Ashrawi and the 2002 Jerusalem Report headline, “Seeking a Palestinian Mahatma Gandhi” and the Kristof headline, “Waiting for Gandhi (July 9),” a time that saw more than 2,000 Palestinian rockets, more than 5,000 dead and wounded Israelis, and the electoral victory in Gaza by Hamas, does it become time to drop the promotion of Gandhi as the next Palestinian leader?

In fact, even as Kristof is telling us about Palestinian non-violence, the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (July 7) reported Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas telling Arab journalists, “If you [Arab states] want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favor.”

If it is potentially a “game-changer” in favor of the Palestinians if they launch a Gandhi-like resistance, is it a game-changer for Israel if the Palestinians don’t?

Palestinian threats and intransigence are already a game-changer, to Israel’s benefit. Despite Kristof’s claim that Israel is “antagonizing its American base,” a Gallup poll earlier this year found that 63 percent of Americans say they side more with the Israelis than the Palestinians, the greatest percentage for Israel in 19 years. Republican support for Israel is peaking at 85 percent.

Kristof’s warning that Israel is antagonizing its base brings to mind Churchill’s response when told England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.

“Some chicken,” said Churchill. “Some neck.”

Rep. Elliot Engel (D-Bronx) was quoted by the Washington Post (July 6): “I think the president has made some unfortunate statements; there’s no doubt about it, in terms of appearing to put public pressure on Israel while appearing not to put the same type of intense pressure on Palestinians. And that has caused a lot of angst among lots of people.”

The Washington Post then wondered “whether such angst could become politically potent enough to tip scales in the November midterms,” a topic increasingly being discussed in the capital.

“Israelis are much more skeptical of Obama,” added the Washington Post, and that “has had a ripple effect on Jews in the United States, giving Republicans an opening to appeal to a generally Democratic constituency and creating distance between the White House and congressional Democrats.”

So is Israel antagonizing its base or is it the Obama supporters in Congress who have antagonized their base? It isn’t as simple as Kristof would have you believe.

Kristof also brings up Peter Beinart’s recent article in The New York Review of Books “exploring the way young Jews in America feel much less identification with Israel than their elders did. Mr. Beinart noted that even the student senate at Brandeis University, which has strong Jewish ties, rejected a resolution commemorating the 60th anniversary of Israel.” Brandeis, of course, was also where a student group unsuccessfully tried to get the university to rescind a speaking invitation to Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren.

As Bogart said in “Casablanca,” “I wouldn’t bring up Paris, if I were you. It’s bad salesmanship.” But since Kristof brings up Brandeis, let it be said — as Kristof did not — that while many young Jews at Brandeis did want to distance themselves from Israel, at 51 other universities in 30 different states, reported JTA (May 21), one student president after another was inviting Israel’s ambassador to speak at their campus.

The letter to Oren, said JTA, was initiated by Brandon Carroll at Virginia Tech and Wyatt Smith at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, in response to disruptions Oren faced at the University of California-Irvine and the protests at Brandeis.

Such anti-Israel behavior “is absurd and offensive,” said the letter. “Please be assured that these individuals do not remotely represent American college students or mainstream campus leaders.”

Maybe Kristof is wrong. Maybe instead of antagonizing its American base, there are Americans on campus, Americans in Evangelical churches, Gallup pollsters finding Americans in a farmhouse or living alongside a mountain road, who look at Israel and like what they see: Yes, they say, Israelis makes mistakes now and then, but overall those Israelis are responding with remarkable restraint and decency, when you get down to it, in the face of one provocation after another.