Reporters at the New York Times love to have their stories featured on the front page. In fact, among themselves they dismiss articles that run inside as merely “vitamin page” reports — because the Times labels the pages in its print edition as A6, B3, and so on.
The paper’s Jerusalem bureau has missed another sure-fire chance to get on page A1. Brigadier General Ofer Winter, the Israeli army’s most controversial officer, just got promoted again — but the Times continues to ignore him. Winter’s notoriety is summarized in Haaretz’s characterization: “a Pattonesque holy warrior on the battlefield.” Winter has been well-known since the early 2000s, but one Times reporter after another has somehow failed to write a profile.
Here’s why: one of the ways the Times rigs its coverage of Israel/Palestine is by covering up Israeli extremists, to make Israel seem a much more moderate place than it really is. You will rarely if ever read about the far-right leaders of the West Bank settler/colonists, for example, nor will you learn about the vicious anti-Palestinian racism that is becoming steadily more normalized in Israeli life.
General Ofer Winter’s true views and conduct would trigger shockwaves in America. During Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, he sent his unit commanders an apocalyptic letter that told them they were fighting “a blasphemous enemy that defiles the God of Israel.” Winter’s cruel military actions in Gaza were entirely consistent with his messianic words; Haaretz reports that “dozens of innocent [Palestinian] civilians were among the casualties.”
Winter is apparently a charismatic leader. An admiring account in Haaretz quotes another officer as saying that he “radiates lightning.” The officer continued: “When he’s in the company of subordinates, you can feel the electricity in the air; when he enters the discussion room, all eyes are upon him.”
Americans have been exposed to almost none of this. So far, one rare source of information in the U.S. about Ofer Winter is Max Blumenthal’s excellent book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. Blumenthal wrote about Winter in some detail, explaining that he is “a graduate of the Beni David yeshiva in the religious nationalist settlement [colony] of Eli, which has sent at least fifty commissioned officers into the Israeli army.” Blumenthal adds, “The hero of a generation, Winter returned from the battlefield to bask in the adulation of his countrymen.”
Surely the Times could write a report about this important general, who is so representative of what Israel is like today. If Winter won’t cooperate, surely Times reporters can find people who know him who will talk.
There is one somewhat surprising exception to the Times blackout of General Ofer Winter: Thomas Friedman. During Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, Friedman was in the country, and in his August 5 column that year he disapprovingly relayed one of Winter’s hair-raising quotes to his troops: “History has chosen us to spearhead the fighting [against] the terrorist ‘Gazan’ enemy which abuses, blasphemes and curses the God of Israel’s [defense] forces.”
Neither then, nor since, has any Times reporter taken Friedman’s hint and set up an interview with General Ofer Winter.