David Halbfinger has left his job as the New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem to take a new position as a publicist for Israel’s military. That’s one explanation for today’s embarrassing, gushing PR article about how the army is using technology to fight the coronavirus.
Another possible explanation is that a hostile critic, determined to discredit Halbfinger’s pro-Israel bias, commandeered his computer and produced a wicked parody.
Here’s how the article starts:
The Israeli Defense Ministry’s research-and-development arm is best known for pioneering cutting edge ways to kill people and blow things up, with stealth tanks and super drones among its more lethal recent projects.
The flippant tone is jaw-dropping. Israel’s army has been credibly accused of war crimes, particularly in Gaza, including charges from its own soldiers who belong to the courageous Breaking the Silence movement.
Halbfinger goes on to enumerate in numbing detail how “Israel’s vaunted high-tech sector and its military-industrial behemoths” are confronting Covid-19 with diagnostic tests, tracking, and telemedicine. Here’s one example; he reports enthusiastically that Israel “has also adapted the cockpit controls it builds for fighter jets and helicopters to store and analyze information about Covid-19 patients on ventilators.”
Halbfinger’s press release is straight out of the strategy book at Hasbara Central, Israel’s sophisticated propaganda apparatus. Over time, the hasbarists recognized that close scrutiny of Israel’s human rights record would damage the country’s reputation. So they changed the subject, to praise Israel’s alleged advances in high technology. Hasbara Central’s theme became “the Start-up Nation,” and Dan Senor, who worked as a mouthpiece for the Bush administration during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, even co-authored a book with the expression in the title.
How today’s article got published, even in the notoriously pro-Israel Times, is a mystery. Cringe-inducing sentences like this one lend credence to the theory that a hostile critic may be responsible:
“In Israel, if there’s a mission that has to be done, it’s like a war,” said Brig. Gen. Dani Gold, who is leading the charge. “Everybody drops what they’re doing, tunes into the mission and works on the mission with a lot of energy and creativity.”
Meanwhile, real coronavirus news in Israel/Palestine goes unreported in America’s leading newspaper. This site has already noted how the Times ignores important angles, such as discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel in relief efforts despite the disproportionate role of those very same people on the front lines in the country’s medical system. The Israeli paper Haaretz has published compelling human interest stories about Palestinian Israelis amid the crisis. But David Halbfinger can’t seem to track them down.