The Goldberg Manipulations
by Andrea Levin
June 6, 2004
The New Yorker's Jeffrey Goldberg is not known for dishonesty; he's
recently won awards for daring stories on Hezbollah and Iraq. But a May
31 piece entitled "Among the Settlers: Will They Destroy Israel?" is so
distorted, included being sloppy with facts, as to raise questions about
his other writing.
The title signals the thrust of the piece and rightly indicates there
will be little interest in balanced or thorough consideration of the
genesis, purpose and legality of the settlement enterprise. Instead
readers find a 24-page spread, rich in stereotypes and heavily devoted
to lurid portraiture of Jewish residents of the West Bank and Gaza. A
number appear emotionally unstable and many are physically repellent --
one has "fingernails [that] were chewed and dirty," others are "sallow"
and "sour-faced." The opening "Zealots" section has one after another
spewing vile language and fierce anti-Arab sentiment.
Moshe Levinger, with "bulbous eyes" and "outsized teeth," is said to be
the unfortunate "face" of the settler movement, a man who calls for
expelling any Arab "who hurts Jews." Yet Goldberg contradicts himself,
writing, for example, that "three-quarters of the Jews in the West Bank
and Gaza could be considered economic settlers" - that is, not motivated
by religious fervor - and the remaining 25% of the "national religious
camp can be divided into two main groups." One part will "respect the
authority of the elected government in Jerusalem" as compared to what he
terms the "more unremitting settlers" of Hebron. So, then, Levinger the
Hebron firebrand is a fraction of a small minority.
Another indicator of his tangential role can be seen in a Nexis search
of major world publications for the last three years. Goldberg's "face"
of the settler movement was mentioned in fewer than a score of media
stories and these mainly in passing references to his activity in the
late sixties in Hebron. In contrast, Ron Nachman, mayor of Ariel, turns
up in four times as many news citations. But perhaps the writer
preferred readers not to see this "face" or to know that in Ariel at the
College of Judea and Samaria hundreds of Arab men and women earn degrees
along with Jews.
Goldberg sticks to his dominant message that religious fanatics
disconnected from Israel's daunting, real-life political challenges
embody and define the entire settlement question.
Thus too he skates over or ignores completely essential information
about the history of settlements. In the entire piece, there is not a
mention of the Labor party's embrace of the Allon Plan, first enunciated
in July 1967. That peace proposal defined Israel's defensive territorial
needs in the wake of the Six Day War, consistent with UN Security
Council resolution 242, whose framers believed that it would not be in
the interests of peace for Israel to return to its pre-1967 armistice
lines. The Allon Plan projected ambitious settlement construction to
secure strategically critical areas, including in the Jordan Valley,
areas in general sparsely populated by Palestinians. In the next decade,
under Labor prime ministers seventy-six settlements were built.
Goldberg alludes to Labor's founding role only in a brief, misleading
observation that "such men as Shimon Peres and Yitzhak
Rabin"..."discerned a strategic value to settlement; these kipa-wearing
pioneers would keep watch over the newly-conquered Arabs..." In fact,
Israelis who established the twenty-one Jordan Valley settlements, for
example, were primarily not "kipa-wearing" religious settlers, but
secular men and women who founded kibbutzim and moshavim for security
motives. There were no residents of Jordan Valley or Gush Etzion or
other, similar, Allon Plan communities interviewed for the piece.
Goldberg is equally deceptive in his single, dismissive reference to the
legal status of settlements. He declares simply: "Most international
legal authorities believe that all settlements, including those built
with the permission of the Israeli government, are illegal." That's it.
Case closed. None of the "international legal authorities" are named and
none of the contentious issues involved are described.
The writer fails to mention that the United States does not characterize
the settlements as "illegal." And many experts on international law have
disputed their illegality on multiple grounds. Professor Julius Stone, a
leading scholar on the subject, has maintained that the effort to
designate Israeli settlements as illegal is a "subversion. . . of basic
international law principles."
Likewise, suggestive of both the casual incendiary tone of the piece and
Goldberg's shoddy approach to accuracy is his repeated charge that
Israel is practicing "apartheid" in areas "across the Green Line." He
explains the system is "apartheid, because two different ethnic groups
living in the same territory are judged by two separate sets of laws."
One wonders whatever happened to the touted fact-checkers at the New
Yorker. In the West Bank, there are different laws not on the basis of
ethnicity but of nationality. The Palestinian Autonomous areas have
their own legal system, mainly inherited Jordanian law and new law
introduced by the Palestinians themselves. Moreover, if Israel moved to
extend its own legal system to the territories, that would constitute
annexation, which both Palestinians and Israelis oppose, and would be
universally condemned. The areas under emergency Israeli military
control are, as Goldberg notes, "temporary." To bring the charge of
"apartheid" in circumstances involving the Israeli military's recent
counter-attack against a terrorist onslaught unprecedented in the
nation's history is, yet again, highly distorted.
"Among the Settlers" is one of those accounts that says much more about
its author than its subject. It is a gaudy display of twisted Jewish
assault on caricatured "other" Jews and intellectually dishonest
generalizations about the representative significance of those "others."
In occasional moments of professional integrity, Goldberg introduces
facts - such as the very small percentage of settlers represented by his
featured "representatives" - and those facts demonstrate less the
strength of a zealot threat to Israel than the weakness of Goldberg's
Andrea Levin is Executive Director of CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in
Middle East Reporting in America