Last Sunday I went to the CAMERA conference on "Jewish defamers of Israel" and it took me a day or two to recognize what the news was: a speech in which CAMERA president Andrea Levin said that the pro-Israel lobbying group has "an unwritten contract" with the American media to watch their step when writing about Israel. Having listened to my recording of the event, I wanted to set out Levin's comments in full.
Levin's speech was about Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper whose bleak portrayal of the occupation has helped to brief the world on the horrifying conditions there. Levin said that after Haaretz ran an opinion column describing the separate roads in the West Bank as "apartheid" roads, CAMERA members wrote letters to Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken saying this was a false charge. She then read from Schocken's responses. In one he said "the term 'roads for Jews only,' which may be mathematically incorrect, is fine with me.. because it describes the true nature and purpose of the roads." In another reply, Schocken wrote, "Your legalistic response is exactly the type that is used to blur reality, rather than clarify it. It is utterly ridiculous not to call these roads apartheid roads because the entire presence of Jews in the Occupied Territories is of an apartheid nature..."
This was distressing, Levin said, because Haaretz calls itself "the New York Times of Israel." The audience groaned and jeered.
Levin said, "The fact is, you know, we may be unhappy with the New York Times from time to time, and we at CAMERA have been, but I have to say we are fortunate. The American media is much, much more geared to understanding that there is an unwritten contract between them and us, and that is, that things should be factually accurate, and we get corrections all the time. Those corrections are very meaningful sometimes. We can prevent the repetition of serious errors... So there is that give and take here in the States."
Someone in the audience asked if the Israeli government couldn't take action. "Good question," Levin said. "Many many times we have urged in regard to American coverage-- to really, really serious defamatory reports in the American media--we have urged the Israel government, whether it was the IDF or some other components of officialdom, to be involved. Times that we thought that legal actions could be taken." But evidently that couldn't happen in Israel, where they have a "very free press."
Wow. An Israel lobbyist turns over some of her cards! Urging the Israeli government to take legal action against American publications over controversial reports? An unwritten contract with the American media not to say apartheid? A give-and-take with the New York Times?
Amos Schocken's lordly indifference to this sort of bullying makes me proud to be a Jew; his is the unassailable authority of a journalist who says what he says because he believes it, and will not be moved...
P.S. A few days ago I blogged about Jerome Slater's article contrasting Haaretz's coverage of the occupation and the New York Times's coverage. Slater argues that the Israel lobby is not the cause of the difference in coverage. I think he's wrong, for any number of reasons. Certainly he has not heard Levin describe her activities.