Edward Said, the late Palestinian/American scholar and activist, once described a first-hand experience that showed the gulf between Haaretz, the brave Israeli newspaper, and the mainstream American press. Said related how a Haaretz writer conducted an interview with him, during which “I expressed myself candidly,” and the paper then published his views at length, “just as I voiced them, without the slightest editorializing.” He noted that the same interview could never have appeared “in any American newspaper, let alone any Jewish-American journal.”
Anyone who approaches Israel/Palestine and starts reading Haaretz (“The Land”) will be struck immediately by the truth of Said’s experience. His insight is further substantiated when you learn that the Haaretz interviewer who treated him fairly was Ari Shavit, the celebrated liberal Zionist who is hardly a left-winger. (Said’s view is included in The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid , a still valuable collection edited by Roane Carey.) Haaretz’s English edition, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, is an indispensable look at truths about Israel/Palestine that the New York Times and Washington Post often cover up.
Haaretz has regular coverage by Amira Hass, the courageous daughter of Holocaust survivors who has spent several decades reporting from Gaza and the occupied West Bank of Palestine; she wrote Drinking the Sea at Gaza after spending years in the beleaguered territory, probably the only Jewish Israeli who actually lived there. The paper also carries biting articles and opinions by Gideon Levy, who was once in the mainstream of Israeli politics but then woke up after he started reporting on the occupation:
I would see settlers cutting down olive trees and soldiers mistreating Palestinian women at the checkpoints, and I would think, ‘These are exceptions, not part of government policy.’ It took me a long time to see that these were not exceptions — they were the substance of government policy. I had failed to make that connection.
Larry Derfner, who broke with liberal Zionist orthodoxy in his 50s, is also a Haaretz contributor. Derfner has been active lately in reporting and condemning the infatuation for Donald Trump expressed by Benjamin Netanyahu, and many other Israelis.
Not all who write for Haaretz are as outspoken as these three. But the rest of the newspaper is still characterized by exactly what Edward Said had appreciated — a willingness to squarely face Israel/Palestine as it is today, instead of censoring out the dark truths of the rise of the Israeli far right and the ugly ongoing reality of occupation.
Haaretz has certainly suffered for its independence. In a recent letter to subscribers, the publisher, Amos Schocken, pointed out,
One of the charges most often leveled against the voices of opposition in Israel is that they ‘air the country’s dirty laundry’ in public — and in English. They are told that to do so is treasonous and feeds the monster of anti-Semitism.
Haaretz is struggling in a fiercely competitive media landscape. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire far right American gambling magnate, started a free throwaway paper in 2007 called Israel Hayom (“Israel Today”), mostly as a mouthpiece for Benjamin Netanyahu; the paper has lost several hundred million but is the largest single publication in the country, with 40 percent of the market.
This past May, the New York Times did pay Haaretz a high compliment, if indirectly and unwittingly. The Times’s Op-Ed page commissioned a hatchet job by an Israeli journalist, Shmuel Rosner, which argued that “Israel’s premier left-wing paper seems to have lost its grip on reality.” Rosner’s silly article boiled down to: (Jewish) Israelis are moving to the far right en masse; rightists hate Haaretz; therefore Haaretz is wrong and irrelevant. Instead of wasting space on Rosner, Times editors (and reporters) might ask themselves why their own publication is so cowardly that it hardly ever prints the kind of articles that you will find in Haaretz several times a day.
Haaretz is struggling along financially, and a few years back it unfortunately but understandably had to install a paywall. Americans should be able to rely on our own national newspapers to learn about Israel/Palestine. But we can’t.