The New York Times today has a “report” on Mossad, the Israeli spy service, that could have been written by the agency’s own publicity department. Ronen Bergman’s article, featured prominently on page 6 of the print edition, contends that Mossad has been indispensable in Israel’s fight against the coronavirus, that it has been “one of the country’s most valuable assets in acquiring medical equipment and manufacturing technology abroad.”
The article raises questions: Why does the Times employ as a supposedly-unbiased reporter a man like Bergman, an Israeli citizen with close ties to Israeli intelligence whose strong pro-Israel views are a matter of record? And why does the paper continue to glorify a spy agency that has over the years been charged with crimes, including murder, and has also been accused of exaggerating its prowess?
Bergman’s article goes into loving detail about how Mossad supposedly used its extensive overseas contacts to acquire coronavirus testing kits, personal protective equipment, and information on how to produce ventilators. His tone throughout is of breathless admiration, and he says that the agency’s actions have “bolstered the Mossad’s image as among the country’s most admired government institutions.” (This last observation once again erases the 20 percent who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, who may have a different view of the spy agency.)
Ronen Bergman is not a neutral journalist. In 2018, a Mondoweiss reporter slipped into a closed event in suburban New York hosted by AIPAC, the Israel lobby’s flagship, where Bergman heaped praise on the group: “You’ve got our backs.” That same year, Bergman published Rise and Kill First, a book about dozens of Israeli assassinations over decades that “brims with jokes about killing Arabs.” These cracks are made by veterans of Israeli security services: one says that a Palestinian target “died of natural causes by swallowing a pillow.” Another is quoted: the right way to confront the Israeli-Arab dispute is by “separating the Arab from his head.”
New York Times reporters are supposed to maintain neutrality. They are not supposed to publicize their political opinions, donate to campaigns, or attend demonstrations — even about issues they do not cover themselves. (A Times woman journalist told me years ago she couldn’t go to a pro-choice rally even though her beat was education.) Surely the paper can find such people to report on Israel/Palestine?
Bergman’s article is also just the latest example of the massive, decades-long effort to glorify Israel’s spy apparatus. There was a strong dissenting note back in the 1980s, from Admiral Stansfield Turner, who headed the U.S. CIA under Jimmy Carter. Turner said Mossad was mediocre as an intelligence service, but superb at self-promoting publicity. The truth about Mossad may not be easy to determine, but someone like Ronen Bergman cannot be counted on to report it.