from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The New York Times Gets Israel Wrong Again

January 29, 2013

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Just for the record, it is useful to recall the New York Times’s analysis of Israel’s recent election campaign. Here is the prognosis by its chief Jerusalem correspondent, Jodi Rudoren, on the day before the January 22 election.

The headlines from Israel’s 2013 campaign have been about the failure of a fragmented center and left to field a credible challenger to Mr. Netanyahu, and the emergence of an emboldened national-religious party with a hard-line position on the Palestinian conflict. As the Middle East’s most stable democracy turns inward, experts say a growing majority of Israelis have given up on the land-for-peace paradigm that has defined the debate for decades, cementing the country’s shift to the right in politics, policy and public discourse....

Many analysts see the campaign as a watershed on two fronts: the collapse of the center-left and the rise of the national-religious community — also called religious Zionists — mainly through Jewish Home, which advocates annexing the part of the West Bank where most settlers live....

On the right, Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home emerged as the darling of the campaign, attracting voters with his hawkish policies and his persona: he is 40, wears a knitted skullcap, was an officer in an elite army unit and made millions in high-tech before entering politics.

The Times was not alone in making this entirely wrong analysis and prediction, but that’s part of the problem: the Times was simply presenting the mainstream media view. In that view Israel is always turning to the right and is "hawkish," the center is always collapsing or has entirely collapsed, and we must all deal with a dangerous Israel where democracy is merely "cementing the country’s shift to the right in politics."

The surprise of this campaign was, of course, the rise of Yair Lapid and his centrist party, whose showing will produce a governing coalition to the Left of the previous one. I am unaware of any follow-up article explaining why the Times got it all wrong, but part of the problem seems to be the media echo chamber: Times correspondents talk to other Times correspondents and to people on the Left who think as they do. I’ve written about this problem before, in this December blog post. The lesson is simple: read the Times’s coverage of Israel carefully to see what such people are thinking, but not to see what is actually going on in Israel.

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