One of the pleasures of reading the New York Times is learning to recognize different writers’ structural biases. I don’t really know Jim Rutenberg or Mike McIntire, but I’ve been reading Ethan Bronner’s work for years now. His work is tendentiously pro-Zionist; he’s the commensurate ‘hugger and wrestler’ with Israel. Somewhat pitifully, I think he might find the characterization complimentary.
For me, the recent article about the tax-deductibility of Jewish settlement and terror funding became an exercise in rooting out the Bronner. His deft (not really) elisions and subtle positive markers weave Zionist hasbara into a piece that ought to be constitutionally resistant to it. It’s really remarkable. Now, I could be wrong. It could be McIntire who’s incorporated the hasbara into the article, but I don’t think so.
Here’s one embarrassingly indelicate example of what I’m talking about from the first sentence: “Twice a year, American evangelicals show up at a winery in this Jewish settlement in the hills of ancient Samaria…”
The New York Times is telling me that the Jewish connection to the West Bank is ancient – this is Samaria. But wait, in the next paragraph the words “West Bank” are used to describe the same territory. That must mean that the two sides are engaged in an equal dispute whose contours are being negotiated. And the ancient Jewish claim to Samaria clearly precedes whatever other claim may exist – it’s ancient, after all. Thus, “Judea and Samaria” are recontextualized.
It’s also significant that the West Bank is referred to as Samaria in the first sentence of the six page article. I’d be interested to know how much impact the primacy effect has on the uninitiated reader’s perceptions of the conflict.
On a related – equally important – note, I was stricken by the image of beautiful pastel-clad settler children at the top of the article. I like kids and pastels, so how bad can the settlements actually be? What would the effect have been if that picture was replaced with one of a gun-toting and tzitzit-laden Jewish man?
Anyway, back to the language.
The average reader of the Times is American. So when that reader sees that, “In some ways, American tax law is more lenient than Israel’s,” in a story about the pernicious abuse of the tax regime, he or she is being subtly directed to think of Israel as superior. America’s tax regime is regressive here. Israel “ended tax breaks for contributions to groups devoted exclusively to settlement-building in the West Bank.” It’s not important that none of the ‘charities’ involved claimed to be engaged exclusively in building Jewish-only housing on occupied territory. Or that the entire settlement project is endorsed by Israeli society and every government since 1967. What matters here is that Israel’s tax regime is not only as good as, but better than, America’s. Israel is just like us, see… and smarter, too – with good intentions.
And so on, and so on, and so on.
The piece is important in a lot of ways that don’t need too much rehearsal. Despite its subversive Bronneritis, it isn’t broadly sympathetic to Zionists. And the article won prominent placement – page A1 and the top left of the online site. Furthermore, the straightforward linkage between Jack Abramoff and the settler-colonialists can’t be very positive for their wars on perception and cognition. There is a really important revelation, however, but it’s buried on page five. Consider the following passage:
“As recently as four years ago, Mr. Ha’Ivri was involved in running The Way of the Torah, a Kahanist newsletter designated as a terrorist organization in the United States. He has had several run-ins with the authorities in Israel over the last two decades, including an arrest for celebrating the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a television interview and a six-month jail term in connection with the desecration of a mosque… Treasury officials said a group’s presence on the terror list does not necessarily extend to its former leaders, and indeed Mr. Ha’Ivri is not on it.”
Beautiful. We now know that terrorists aren’t terrorists, presumably after they’ve shredded their terrorist identification cards in the presence of a notary and second witness.
More seriously, this is the doctrine of Jewish exceptionalism unfolding in clearer ways than usual for us to gawk at. David Ben Gurion was a terrorist, and Tzipi Livni is a terrorist (whose parents, incidentally, were romantic-type terrorists), but their terror organizations are state-sanctioned and their terror implements the state’s implements. David Ha’Ivri, by contrast, belonged to an organization called The Way of the Torah – a Kahanist terror cell identified as such by the United States Treasury Department. But because Mr. Ha’Ivri is a Jewish terrorist who represents moneyed Democratic and Republican party interests he goes unmolested. That’s how he gets to cozy up to Michael Steele (to be fair, that’s not a notable distinction).
I did some googleing and came up with a good Jonathan Swift quote for the occasion: “Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.”
Ha’Ivri, it seems, is a hornet.