Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A letter to Ha'aretz

Dear Mr. Harel/Ravid,

Re: Ha'aretz story: "Ministers: Israel needs to be more flexible with Hamas over Shalit talks "

As a responsible Israeli citizen who cares for his country, I am writing to protest the publication of this story in Ha'aretz.

With regards to the article, the story gives the basic impression that the consensus within the political and security establishment in Israel is that Israel needs to "give in" to Hamas' demands by releasing more convicted Palestinian terrorists. You know as well as I that the issue of the "price" to be paid to kidnappers, as well as the very act of negotiating itself, is the subject of considerable controversy. It is hotly debated by the public and by security experts. Yet your story, without mentioning who the "sources" are, concludes that there is no debate and that all have agreed that Israel needs to make more concessions. This is factually incorrect, and misleads the public in Israel and English speaking readers abroad. It is also a transparent attempt to "create" the news by creating the impression that the concessions are a done deal.

The extreme left bias of your paper is well known, and with a free press you have the right to write whatever you want. A free and vigorous press is important in a democracy. But responsible journalism requires a separation between editorializing and reporting the news. It would be completely appropriate for your paper to write an editorial column advocating this or that concession to Hamas. But including a leading news story that is so obviously slanted and tendentious is unethical and poor journalism. Furthermore, by doing so your paper acts as a mouthpiece for the enemy to further demoralize the Israeli public and prepare them for the "inevitable" concession. It also harms international efforts to delegitimize and fight terrorist groups.

As to the issue itself: Why is it that that only Israeli ministers "have no illusions of reaching an agreement" unless certain conditions are met? Why is it not the Palestinian terrorist group, that shouldn't "have any illusions" about extorting outrageous concessions from Israel? The negotiating environment is created using psychological pressure, and your paper is being recruited by Hamas to further their cause. How can you allow your paper to do this? I can already predict the numerous articles by supposed "experts" who will appear in your paper in the coming months, explaining why we should release Marwan Barghouti, that he is the Palestinian's natural leader, that he will moderate their positions, that he is just a national hero and not really a murderer, etc. Why does your paper behave in a way that is so damaging to Israel?? Often, when hearing anti-Israel rhetoric from abroad, I encounter the claim that "even Israelis feel this way" based on stories from Haaretz.

The results of this week's shameful exchange with Hizbullah are already apparent: hardening of Hamas' position vis a vis Shalit, threats from Hizbullah and other groups of more kidnappings, scorn on the Arab street, and consolidation of Nasrallah's power in Lebanon.

As to the supposed inviolate ethic in the IDF of "bringing the sons home", applying it to a a deal with terrorists is immoral, against all norms of criminal and international law, and completely contrary to Israel's supreme national interests. This ethic is properly applied to situations where the army itself has to act in order to retrieve the wounded or dead soldiers in the field, or to liberate prisoners. But it is still the army's job to defend the civilians, not the reverse. The idea that an entire country (and its national interests) can be held hostage because a soldier (dead or alive) is in enemy hands is an outrageous distortion of morality and national ideals. Suppose Hizbullah holds an Israeli civilian hostage, say an old lady. Is she worth any less? Or suppose a soldier is being held, and the "inevitable" price being demanded by Hizbullah is withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Would your paper be advocating giving in to such a demand? Would you argue that we should "have no illusions" about the price to be paid? I cannot imagine any other western country behaving in such a fashion. Would the US or Great Britain negotiate the release of convicted Al Qaida criminals? I'll bet they wouldn’t. The fact that we do makes us less moral, not more moral, contrary to PM Olmert's claims. 30 years ago no Israeli would even consider negotiating with a terrorist. The international community respected us for this. The only negotiating was: either surrender or die. Somehow Israel's will to fight has weakened in recent years, and Ha'aretz has taken an active role in the erosion of Israel's national ethic. Recent events have proven, all too clearly, that appeasement only encourages the enemy to demand more and raises his will to fight.

If the two of you care about Israel you should immediately demand a change in Ha'aretz journalistic standards or resign.

I have taken the liberty of sending copies of this letter to the editorial desks of the New York Times, and of a few other English newspapers in the U.S. and the UK, because I think that it is important that readers abroad know that the views expressed in this paper don't represent the "mainstream" view of Israelis. They should also be aware of Ha'aretz's poor journalistic standards.


Jeff Shames
Rehovot, Israel

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