Ha’aretz is a like the BBC: a news outlet that enjoys a reputation for progressive, liberal reporting, despite the fact that its fundamental bias is not really pro-Right or pro-Left at all, but strongly pro-Establishment. Editorially, both the BBC and Ha’aretz are essentially mouthpieces of the powers-that-be in their respective societies. Their great virtue is that regardless of how conservative (with a small “c”) their editorial position, they at least provide a platform for outstanding individual journalists to speak, even when that individual does not toe the party line. BBC News owes its worldwide reputation today not to its editorial policy or its governors, but to individuals who posted no-nonsense, hard-hitting reports which, as often as not, the corporate BBC could not back away from quickly enough. (I’m talking here about truly great news reporters like Charles Wheeler, Martin Bell, Kate Adie, Keith Graves etc, etc. Perhaps their closest counterpart today might be Orla Guerin, the BBC’s correspondent in the Occupied Territories, and nemesis of Natan Sharansky for her refusal to be cowed by his any-criticism-of-Israel-is-anti-Semitism nonsense).
Ha’aretz is “liberal” in exactly the same way: it gives a platform to outstanding individuals who will challenge conventional wisdom on Israeli affairs in a way that the newspaper as a whole will not. Amira Hass and Gideon Levy regularly supply eyewitness accounts of the realities of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation that no U.S. newspaper would dare print for fear of the orchestrated outrage that would follow from so-called “friends of Israel”. Danny Rubinstein (on Palestinian affairs), Akiva Eldar (on the peace process) and Gideon Samets (on internal Israeli politics) also regularly report on their respective areas of expertise with a degree of nuance and understanding that defies the “you’re either with us or against us” school of reporting that U.S. newspaper readers have to put up with when it comes to Israel and Palestine. I’m sure I have quoted all of them at various times on this blog.
There is one area of Ha’aretz’ reporting that I doubt I have ever relied on however, and that is their reporting of I.D.F. affairs.
Too often, reports from Ha’aretz’ military analysts consist of an unquestioning repetition of unsubstantiated claims about Palestinian intentions and military capabilities, or an uncritical justification for I.D.F. actions with no analysis, no corroboration and no source except some unnamed, unspecified “military source”. If I wanted to read a press release justifying the I.D.F.’s latest "incursion" or "targetted killing", or laying the groundwork for the next mass home-razing in Rafah, I could go to the I.D.F.’s homepage: I don’t need to have it regurgitated as “news” on the pages of Ha’aretz. Adding a correspondent’s name to the top of an I.D.F. press release and publishing it in a respected newspaper doesn’t suddenly turn propaganda into journalism.
I was reminded of how seamlessly Ha’aretz supplements Israeli military propaganda as I followed up on an item I posted last week - When Is An Ambulance Not An Ambulance? - about the I.D.F.’s misuse of ambulances for military purposes. One of my source articles was a report about the arrest of Fatah West Bank Sec.-Gen. Marwan Barghouti, which I found in Ha’aretz’ Hebrew edition online. I had to use my own translation of the original Hebrew article to make my point, because for some reason I could not find the article in translation when I searched for reports about ambulances in the archives of Ha’aretz’ English-language website.
It turns out, however, that the story is right there in the English archive after all: it’s just that it’s been changed in translation in ways that made it hard to track down if you are looking for the facts as they are told in the original Hebrew. I’ve put together a chart providing a synopsis - I knew that Theology background would come in handy one day – of the Hebrew and English versions of the same story, showing how Ha’aretz chose to report the same story differently for its Israeli and overseas audiences.
I guess that would explain why I couldn’t find that story when I searched for information about ambulances on Ha’aretz’ English-language site. Aren’t those interesting changes to the original report? Ha’aretz’ message here to its English-speaking (largely American) audience: Thanks for the moral support and the three billion bucks annually, but don’t expect us to tell you the truth about what Israel does with it. Thank goodness you’re too dumb to read Hebrew and find out for yourselves. Well thanks, Ha’aretz.
It really wouldn’t matter if this was a Pipes or Horowitz story in the Jerusalem Post, because the Post has long-since shed its credibility in favor of providing a mouthpiece for the Likudnik hard Right. But this is “liberal”, “moderate”, “peace-promoting” Ha’aretz, proudly lying by omission for the I.D.F. And that is why Ha’aretz, despite the achievements of some truly outstanding journalists on its staff, is collectively and institutionally a piece of propagandizing crap.