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‘Killing civilians is unheard of’ — Israeli propaganda gets red carpet reception in US press

Media Analysis

Last week the Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman went on the NPR program “Fresh Air” as part of the red-carpet rollout for his book on the “secret history” of Israel’s program of assassinating enemies. Here’s a choice excerpt, Bergman’s remarks on Israel’s choice not to kill Yasser Arafat when he was traveling on commercial aircraft in the early 80s.

[I]t did not happen thanks to the bravery of a few senior officers at the higher echelon of the Israeli air force who said, we are not going to do that. They went to the chief of staff and said, this is a war crime. We are not against killing Arafat. Arafat was seen as a legitimate target at that time as the prime Israeli enemy. But killing civilians? This is unheard of. And if you, the chief of staff, cannot stand in front of the minister of defense, we would just make sure that the operation wouldn’t go through. And they jammed the communication. They fed the intelligence circuits with disinformation. They make sure to stall time until it was just unripe from the intelligence and operational point of view to execute. And thanks to the bravery of these officers who guarded the ethical code and the moral code of the military, all of Israel was saved from being involved in a horrific war crime.”

Yeah: killing civilians is unheard of. Bull feathers. (And Israel shot down a civilian aircraft in 1973).

The whole interview is an example of how liberal Zionists criticize Israeli war crimes. Notice how much admiration and respect there is for the killers. The reporter and interviewer, Dave Davies, practically gush over how clever they are and yes, also how moral they are. It’s shooting and crying from beginning to end. Then there is some talk about how in the end these operations probably did more harm and just created more terrorism, so that Bergman and Davies can say they were being critical. And the far right will see it that way.

But they downplay the brutality (civilian killing was “unheard of”) and put virtually all the blame for the civilian killing on the targets, because they use their families and other civilians as human shields.

Notice they aren’t gushing over Israel’s accomplishments in science. They are gushing over how moral and tough and clever Israeli assassins are. This is a romance. These people are like knights in shining armor, not as knights actually were, but as they were supposed to be.

Of course, Bergman’s spymaster sources favor a two-state solution, but the parameters of this issue are clear: You can’t possibly pressure Israel any more than its own liberals want us to pressure it.

[T]he chiefs of Israeli intelligence and military commanders and operation commanders all believe that there’s no other way but a two-state solution and a political discourse with the Palestinians…. [Though] they supplied the solutions that just prolonged the problem. They supplied the solution for many, many, many years that kept the Palestinian population in the occupied territories relatively quiet.

Bergman got more red carpet treatment from Glenn Frankel in The Washington Post. On a superficial level it isn’t a whitewash–Frankel does say that Bergman’s sources are self-righteous and makes other criticisms.  But it is a whitewash because you would never know from reading this that Israel habitually bombs civilian targets.  Or that Israel wouldn’t exist if it had not killed and expelled Palestinian civilians in 1948.  Frankel’s emphasis on the viciousness of Palestinian suicide bombers, and linking them to 9/11–

Imagine how swiftly and brutally the United States would respond if a gang of terrorists from Canada laid waste to a kindergarten or two in Detroit. Actually, there’s no need to imagine: After the 9/11 attacks, the United States threw out the human rights handbook and embarked on a spate of targeted killings

makes Americans sympathize with Israel, while the Palestinians are the Other. They are dastardly villains going after the “most innocent of victims” (and yes, the suicide attacks on civilians were disgusting); while the Israelis agonize over innocent civilians.

In the end Frankel says that it was a strategic mistake for Israel to have effected this program of assassinations, but following the unwritten rules governing liberal Zionist discourse, any criticism of Israel has to be draped in caveats so that you actually end up sympathizing with the soulful Israeli assassins as they fight the fiends on the other side who deliberately kill civilians.  Plus, gosh darn it, sometimes it works– as in the case of the murders of Iranian scientists.  (Imagine a Western reporter saying that terrorism worked because it was the only way Palestinians could attract attention to their cause.)

The Ronen Bergman promotion is a sophisticated form of Israeli hasbara, and perhaps even an unconscious one on the part of the players. For as Israel sinks into its new status as an apartheid state, denying rights to half its subjects, its advocates are seeking any way they can to change the subject.

It is impossible to imagine any of the media that have given such a platform to Ronen Bergman — The New York Times, Random House, NPR, Washington Post, 92d St Y — giving a platform to a Palestinian to speak of what these attacks entail. In fact, the 92d St Y canceled an appearance by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who wrote a book about the fact that his three daughters were killed in an Israeli attack in Gaza, after his Jewish copanelist couldn’t make the event…. The poor doctor was not permitted to go out on stage by himself, as a Palestinian telling his story.

And we are yet to see an NPR author interview or Times excerpt of a masterpiece: English professor Reja-e Busailah’s ravishing account of his Palestinian childhood leading up to the Lydda expulsion in ’48, In the Land of My Birth. Nope, he’s just writing while Palestinian.

Postscript. As for killing civilians, here is a passage from Norman Finkelstein’s new book, Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom. It involves “Black Friday,” August 1-4, 2014, when Israel responded to the capture of an Israeli soldier by turning parts of Rafah into an “inferno.”

More than two thousand bombs… missiles, and artillery shells were fired on the first day… By the end of the attack on 4 August, at least two hundred civilians had been killed and 2,600 homes completely or partially destroyed.

Phil Weiss and Donald Johnson

Phil Weiss and Donald Johnson are NY writers and regular contributors to this site

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30 Responses

  1. John O on February 7, 2018, 9:38 am

    “Imagine how swiftly and brutally the United States would respond if a gang of terrorists from Canada laid waste to a kindergarten or two in Detroit.”

    What a ludicrous analogy. Why, next thing you’ll be saying how necessary it is for US troops occupying Windsor, Ontario, to blow up schools there to teach those Canucks who’s boss.

    • Misterioso on February 8, 2018, 10:15 am

      @John O, et al.

      Speaking of Canada, I just received this “must listen” CBC interview from a friend in Toronto. Host of “The Current,” Anna Maria Tremonti, interviews young Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. I urge everyone to listen to it. I doubt that such a revealing and informative interview would be heard on mainstream US media.

      The interview begins at the 22 minutes, 33 seconds mark and continues after the half hour news break for another twenty minutes.

      • JosephA on February 8, 2018, 8:43 pm

        I just listened to the CBC discussion. Thanks for sharing! It was a very honest, open, and frank dialogue.

  2. eljay on February 7, 2018, 9:54 am

    Bergman: … We are not against killing Arafat. Arafat was seen as a legitimate target at that time as the prime Israeli enemy. But killing civilians? This is unheard of. …

    Frankel: Imagine how swiftly and brutally the United States would respond if a gang of terrorists from Canada laid waste to a kindergarten or two in Detroit. Actually, there’s no need to imagine: After the 9/11 attacks, the United States threw out the human rights handbook and embarked on a spate of targeted killings

    The rapist is not against kidnapping women, chaining them in his basement and raping them. But physically assaulting them? This is unheard of.

    But imagine how swiftly and brutally the average Joe would respond if he were swarmed by a gang of women seeking to do him harm. He’d stop being the perfect gentleman and embark on a spate of pugilistic violence.

  3. amigo on February 7, 2018, 10:00 am

    This won,t get red carpet treatment in the US.It will not see the light of day.

    The so called only democracy in the ME is a “Flawed Democracy ” once again in 2017.Israel ranked similar in 2016.

    In the Civil Liberties column Israel get 6.18 out of a possible 10.00.Normal “Full Democracies” like Ireland score 10.00 out of 10.00 in the same column.

    As usual Israel is in some really fine company.

    • oldgeezer on February 7, 2018, 10:54 am

      Israel, at best, is a tyranny of the majority over an artifically, and illegally, created minority.

      • druid on February 8, 2018, 11:42 am

        Artificially and illegally created minority? Oldgeezer, dementia has caught up with you!

      • oldgeezer on February 8, 2018, 1:38 pm


        It seems like you’re the one suffering delusions and memory loss.

        Ethnic cleansing is a war crime and zionists only gained a majority by criminally creating an artificial majority by that cleansing,

    • on February 7, 2018, 1:07 pm

      Israel is not a “flawed democracy”, it is a successful ethnotheocratic, totalitarian, genocidal, apartheid state based on the racist ideology of Zionism. It is the only true travesty of democracy in the Middle East.

  4. on February 7, 2018, 1:04 pm

    Phil, I’ve said it before, will say it again, and will keep repeating whenever I see you use the term. There is no such thing as a liberal racist, therefore there is no such thing as a liberal Zionist. Zionism is a racist political ideology, as you know very well. So why keep using that oxymoron?

    • Nicholas on February 7, 2018, 5:45 pm

      That’s a great question, Kid. I too, would really like to see an honest answer explaining the ‘existence’ of this oxymoron. Personally, I’m inclined to think there’s a bit of a coverup here…with regard to the actual motivations of these so called ‘liberal Zionists’, and the explanation is that they are evil to their core….which is actually extremely racist while pretending to be otherwise as they go protest on ‘behalf’ of the BLM movement in Ferguson, Mo., and cheer shelling of Palestinian apartment buildings full of children in Gaza.

      I also guess that they arrogantly suppose we’re too stupid to notice, and that large, substantial majorities of the so called mainstream press in the USA happily, and knowingly provide cover for these hypocrites, who just coincidentally happen to be members of the same tribe.

    • Talkback on February 8, 2018, 8:23 am

      Paranam Kid: “So why keep using that oxymoron?”

      Liberal Hasbara.

      • on February 8, 2018, 1:37 pm

        So Phil is “complicit” in that Liberal Hasbara because he keeps using the oxymoron regularly too.

    • on February 10, 2018, 7:17 pm

      It seems to keep coming up and for good reason this struggle with the term liberal zionist – like there were or are liberal nazis. Phil did comment on my comment about the term – link below.

  5. amigo on February 7, 2018, 1:38 pm

    “Israel is not a “flawed democracy”, It is the only true travesty of democracy in the Middle East.Paranam Kid.

    Coundn,t agree more.I was not offering my own opinion but that of the International Democracy org.

    I am just opening the door to the usual suspects to chime in and describe to us how Israel has Arab participation, (when they are not being manhandled out of the Knesset ) in the only democracy in the ME.

    • on February 8, 2018, 1:39 pm

      OK, got ya, and my apologies for the misunderstanding ;-)

      • amigo on February 8, 2018, 2:21 pm

        Ok , no problem.

  6. Ossinev on February 7, 2018, 2:13 pm

    “The so called only democracy in the ME is a “Flawed Democracy”

    More like a ” Flaccid Democracy” methinks.

    • amigo on February 7, 2018, 3:01 pm

      “More like a ” Flaccid Democracy” methinks.”0ssinev

      Yeah , but it is the “Only Flaccid Democracy” in the ME.

      Invented by Jews , for Jews.Can,t have the chosen people living under the same rules as Untermenschen.That would be an act of Jew hatred.

  7. Keith on February 7, 2018, 4:40 pm

    PHIL/DONALD- “It is impossible to imagine any of the media that have given such a platform to Ronen Bergman — The New York Times, Random House, NPR, Washington Post, 92d St Y — giving a platform to a Palestinian to speak of what these attacks entail.”

    Perhaps a contributing factor is that these media are located in New York, the Zionist capital of the world, home of Pam Geller and Howard Stern. I have linked to a Howard Stern rant on Lorde and Roger Waters who are obviously anti-Semites for boycotting Israel. Howard is f***ing sick of the rise in anti-Semitism. Must be heard to be appreciated. And this is what New Yorkers eat up. Link to Howard Stern on Lorde & Roger Waters:

  8. on February 7, 2018, 4:41 pm

    The most moral army in the world – napalm for the men on the USS Liberty – white phosphorus for Gazan civilians and cluster bombs for Lebanese civilians. Targets include kids playing football on the beach, UN schools while housing students, mosques during prayer time, hospitals full of patients, ambulances, reporters, the handicapped and pregnant. It matters not when you have taken the high road – a vantage point that makes killing easy.

  9. CigarGod on February 7, 2018, 9:53 pm

    Good work.
    NPR and Terry Gross can’t be criticized too much.

  10. Marnie on February 8, 2018, 2:14 am

    Why do some of these ‘liberal zionists’ have that creepy serial killer/rapist/cannibal vibe about them. This photograph is grotesque, but I’m sure he sees himself as a real ziostud in his magic mirror! Like this other creep coated with slime.

  11. Caruthers on February 8, 2018, 2:34 am

    Imagine how Americans would react if huge numbers of Arabs/Muslims immigrated to the United States and established an Arab/Muslim state on 80% of the land, expelling most Americans while subjugating the rest as second-class citizens.

    • on February 8, 2018, 9:05 am

      Caruthers- all the while claiming Mohamed granted them the USA by divine right, that being Muslim gets you membership in the Muslim nation, that all Muslims have a right to become a US citizen, and that cheeseburgers are and always have been part of the Muslim nations cuisine.

      • inbound39 on February 8, 2018, 12:32 pm

        I cannot wait until non pro Israeli politicians are forced to enter the Whitehouse via armed checkpoints and are arrested and held under administrative detention and their homes bulldozed. Maybe then Americans will wake up but somehow I think Israel could bomb Pro Palestinian cities in America like Gaza and the American Government would still support Israel.

  12. Misterioso on February 8, 2018, 10:38 am

    “The Implications of President Trump’s Jerusalem Ploy”

    By Henry Siegman ,
    The National Interest, January 23/18


    “The question whether ‘liberal Zionism’ can survive the far right trends that now dominate Israel’s political life was raised forcefully in the New York Times by its columnist Michelle Goldberg. It was prompted by Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which Goldberg described correctly as ‘another nail in the coffin of ‘liberal Zionism’.”

    “While the reactions to Trump’s initiative have not yet fully played out, much is already evident. To begin with, they have exposed the stunning level of ignorance and misinformation that exists on this subject. Trump tried to soften the destructive impact of his declaration by insisting it would not affect any of the final-status issues that are to be the subjects of the peace talks he is trying to restart. He is obviously unaware that Jerusalem is exactly that—a final-status issue. Indeed, it is the most sensitive of the final-status issues. Unlike the others, it led Mahmoud Abbas, the most moderate of Palestinian leaders, to break off relations with the Trump administration.”

  13. German Lefty on February 8, 2018, 5:56 pm

    Not sure if someone already posted this, but the Forward website asks its readers to define Zionism: “Have Your Say: What Is Zionism?”

    • on February 10, 2018, 12:51 pm

      I may be taking some liberties here and im sure some Jews will disagree but as a Palestinian, I often say Zionism to me is what Nazism is to a Jew.

  14. Justin Green on February 9, 2018, 1:24 am

    If I get any discretionary dough, I’ll send it to Mondoweiss with the proviso it gets earmarked for coverage of National Pentagon Radio’s consistent bias against Palestine.

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