On Monday the New York Times ran an important op-ed on racism inside Israel, penned by Rula Jebreal, the Israeli-Italian novelist who has family in Haifa, in which she called for a “civil rights movement” inside Israel to overcome the government’s “hate policies.” The piece represented a new high-water-mark in Times honesty about conditions inside Israel, following on Mairav Zonszein’s excellent op-ed on the silencing of dissent in the country a month ago.
Jebreal’s commentary was well-timed: it paralleled Israeli president Reuven Rivlin’s acknowledgement that Israel is a “sick” society because of shocking scenes of anti-Palestinian hatred inside Israel. But Rivlin isn’t being widely reported inside the U.S., and Jebreal is on the Times website; so her piece has fostered an angry backlash from Israel supporters. Some have told Jebreal and her family to try living in an Arab country. Or as one Times commenter states: “As depressing as this article is, even more depressing is reading all the comments by people who think that saying, “Hey, it’s even worse over there,” is somehow a cogent defense of Israel.”
Pro-Israel organizations have joined in the reaction. The American Jewish Committee on Twitter called Jebreal’s op-ed “error-filled.” Think about that for a minute; an American Jewish organization lecturing a person of color from a foreign country that she doesn’t know the political conditions in that country; I bet Jebreal speaks Hebrew better than any number of folks at the AJC.
The AJC then directed readers to an attack on Jebreal from Elder of Ziyon, who described the piece as “another overwrought, emotional anti-Israel op-ed.”
if Jebreal wants to fix the nation that she is a citizen of, lying in the New York Times to incite clueless Americans against Israel is not the way to do it. On the contrary – her methods seem to indicate that she wants to damage Israel, not improve it.
And the New York Times is eager to help her do so.
Matt Seaton, an editor at the NYT op-ed page, has promoted the piece and defended it against the attacks. When he wrote, “it’s equal opportunity opinion here; aim to give voice to all sides of a debate over time,” Tamar Sternthal of the pro-Israel organization CAMERA responded:
So we can expect two hit pieces in the next month about Palestinian racism?
And Seaton’s riposted:
Sure, soon as they have sovereign state to discriminate with. Meanwhile, expect piece from cabinet min. on why they won’t
Another piece to look forward to. And when a pro-Israel tweeter wrote, “So every country in that part of the world is allowed to favor their democratic majority, yet only Israel gets demonized for it,” Seaton responded:
you’re setting a low bar there, don’t you think? I believe Israel aspires higher
Israel’s archivist Yaacov Lozowick has quibbled with Jebreal’s numbers on the Palestinian population:
They’re 20% only if you count 350k in East Jerusalem. Ontherwise 16-17%. Glad the NYT recognizes Isr in E. J’lem
Other criticisms of the piece also come off as quibbles. Elder of Ziyon says that Jebreal lies when she she said that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has sought “to make the ‘transfer’ of Palestinians legal.” Elder wrote:
And the Lieberman Plan did not call for “transfer,” meaning moving Palestinian Arabs out of their homes. He called to redraw the borders to include more Arabs in a Palestinian state.
But his plan would transfer those Palestinians’ citizenship to another country, on a racial basis. People don’t like that idea, any more than I would like being told I live in Canada tomorrow.
A more substantive critique of Jebreal, titled, “New York Times Op-Ed Paints Israel as a Racist,” at Honest Reporting Simon Plosker, in which Plosker at least concedes the reality:
President Reuven Rivlin has recently made great efforts to confront what is undeniably a genuine problem for Israeli society… The New York Times has jumped on the opportunity to once again take Israel’s imperfections and magnify them to the extent of demonizing an entire country.
Plosker’s critiques are not all that convincing though. For instance, he writes:
Jebreal claims that even before the passing of a controversial law, it was “virtually impossible for a Palestinian to buy or rent a home in any majority-Jewish city.” In fact, the Admissions Committees Law that she cites, applies in practice to small communities and villages that have historically admitted new residents based on selective criteria.
That’s hardly trivial discrimination, that’s structural. That law “entrenches racial segregation; 434 small communities in Israel, or 43% of all residential areas, will be allowed to close their doors to Palestinian Arab citizens of the state.”
And what about Nazareth. Palestinians can buy in the old city, but they’re explicitly discriminated against in “Upper Nazareth,” whose mayor declares that it will be “Jewish forever” and who has refused to allow a school that teaches in Arabic. Sounds like a hate policy to me!
Plosker also says:
Jebreal writes: “Palestinian Israeli citizens, meanwhile, are subject to a ban on family reunification: If they marry a fellow Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza, they are prohibited from living in Israel under the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law.” She does not mention that this law, which is worded as a temporary order, was passed in the wake of the so-called Second Intifada due to legitimate security concerns.
But the Second Intifada was 14 years ago; and this law is an act of collective punishment against Palestinians as a security threat. If you’re a child in Ramallah of a Palestinian living in Haifa you can’t visit him because you’re deemed a security threat. Americans would never tolerate that kind of legal discrimination.
It’s great that the Times is standing up for Jebreal on these very basic questions of human rights. And what a shame that the American Jewish Committee is trying to run her down.