What Does the New York Times Have That We Don’t?

The New York Times has an editorial out that laments the poor state of democracy in Israel and warns of its dire consequences for the country. Already it’s being tweeted and discussed around the internets, as though it is a brand new idea.

But it’s not clear to me why the Times’ editorial writers have more information, insight, or credibility on Israeli domestic politics than longtime and close Israel watchers. In addition, many, many others have been sounding the same alarms for a very long time (see +972 Magazine). Moreover, as Dahlia Scheindlin effectively points out, there are a few inaccuracies in the piece—which to me highlights the lack of deeper understanding of the subject under discussion.

Let me add two more: First, a misunderstanding of the motivation behind the establishment of the Netanyahu-Mofaz coalition and the chances of it passing major legislation. The editorial notes that

“the merger created a much broader coalition. It seemed to give Mr. Netanyahu — a disappointing, risk-averse leader — unprecedented authority to get things done”

and that “Mr. Mofaz became deputy prime minister and outlined an encouraging agenda,” including integrating haredi and Arabs into national service, reviving peace talks with Palestinians, passing a budget, and enacting electoral reform.

It is true that all of these were included in the agreement signed between the two leaders. But as many have pointed out, none of these were a reason for the coalition’s creation in the first place—which means lamenting them as tragically uncompleted business ignores the sheer politics that drove the two leaders together, and the unlikelihood of these issues being resolved during the coalition.

Take three bloggers who study and write on Israel, and know their stuff: Michael Koplow, Allison Good, and The Camel’s Nose. They debated whether the coalition would last, but none of them took seriously the idea that it was formed to change Israeli politics or society. All of them based their conclusions on the future of the coalition on the political motivations of Bibi and Mofaz.

The second gap in the editorial’s reasoning is this line:

“Mr. Netanyahu’s past dependence on hard-line parties has manifested itself in aggressive settlement building and resistance to serious peace talks with the Palestinians.”

In her piece Dahlia notes why, as the editorial continues on to state, Kadima was never a moderating force against these imperatives. I would add that Bibi never depended on the haredi or far right parties to expand the settlement enterprise and avoid talks with the Palestinians–at best these parties facilitated.

Many members of his own Likud party prefer both of those objectives, and Bibi himself ideologically believes in Jewish settlement in at least part (much?) of the West Bank and deeply mistrusts the Palestinians. There’s nothing to suggest he would have moved leftward on either of those fronts under any other circumstances. In fact, as Allison points out in her post, in cases where he did seemingly do so, it was always under heavy pressure, done reluctantly, and in the end undermined by avoiding the implementation of his own promises.

Let’s put the NYT editorial in its proper context. And pay more attention to those who write on Israel for a living.

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