Israel slouches ‘Left’? MK Aliza Lavie undermines the ‘Guardian narrative’

After the results of Israel’s national elections on Jan. 22 became clear, we published a post noting that, contrary to dire predictions by Guardian reporters and analysts that the state was poised to lurch dangerously to the extreme right, no such rightward shift actually occurred.  Contrary to the scare prediction by the paper’s Middle East editor that Netanyahu was poised to head “a more right-wing government than Israel has ever seen before”, the government which formed in March actually represented a move to the center – one which, for instance, excluded ultra-orthodox parties for only the third time since 1977

On a few important issues – such as negotiations with Palestinians, universal army conscription, and the rights of women and gays - the thirty-third Israeli government has in fact largely leaned somewhat left.  So, we thought it would be informative to hear from Aliza Lavie, an MK with Yesh Atid (part of the governing coalition), on her work on the issue of women’s rights in the Jewish state.

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MK Aliza Lavie

Lavie has a PhD from Bar Ilan and currently serves as the Chair of the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women, working on issues such as sexual harassment in the workplace, equality in the military, spousal abuse, and human trafficking.  Her book, “A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book,” has sold more than 150,000 copies.  She was recently part of a delegation of Israeli experts from the fields of politics, economics, women’s rights, and law and policy-making a multi-city tour  in the U.S. called ‘Israel Up-Close 2014, led by Professor Eytan Gilboa.  We were able to speak briefly with Lavie by phone a couple of days ago during her U.S. tour, which included talks specifically on the topic of women’s issues in Israel.

CiF Watch: You (along with Natan Sharansky) were key in convincing the Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, Shmuel Rabinovitch, not to arrest women for saying the Kaddish prayer at the Wall.  Relatedly, are you confident that the compromise you helped broker on prayer at the Wall – to add an alternative egalitarian prayer site in addition to the men’s and women’s sections – is a step forward for those who seek a more religiously pluralistic society?

MK Lavie: I’ve been extremely pleased to see how many groups from across the political and religious spectrum have agreed to work with my committee on the issue of prayer at the Western Wall.  Our work influenced Women of the Wall to be part of the solution, and agree to the current compromise.  There has always been a consensus that the status quo wasn’t fair to women, and wasn’t consistent with Israeli law. Our work simply galvanized this silent majority in favor of change.

CiF Watch. What are other important issues on gender and religion you’re trying to address? 

MK Lavie: We’re currently working to change the current set up at the Western Wall so that the women’s prayer section at the main prayer site is equal in size with the men’s section and has similar facilities. I’d like to add that we’re working well with the Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall on this and other issues. Also, we’re extremely glad that, for first time [due to a law proposed by MK Lavie] four spots are guaranteed for women on the eleven member committee which appoints rabbinical judges to serve on the rabbinical court. This panel, as you know, is critical in attempting to alleviate some of the problems faced by women seeking to obtain a religious divorce (a “Get“) from their husbands.

CiF Watch: What, broadly, do you hope to achieve by participating in the ‘Israel Up Close’ delegation?

MK Lavie:  So many women in America who I’ve spoken to seem much more concerned with the status of women in Israeli society, for instance, than with the Palestinian issue.  Further, many of these same women may strongly identify as Jewish but without any affiliation, and are concerned that Judaism in Israel is in some people hands, but not others. I’m hoping to educate American audiences on the truth about Israel, and explain the exciting changes occurring on gender issues and other social issues of extreme importance to the future of the Jewish state. 

Guardian continues pushing false narrative of Israel’s ‘lurch towards the right’.

On Jan. 22, shortly after exit polls were published on the evening of the Israeli election, we published a post demonstrating that the Guardian’s predictions prior to the election – warning of a dangerous shift to the right – were proven entirely inaccurate.

Scare passages from their “analysts” before Israelis went to the polls included predictions of “a more hawkish and pro-settler governmenta more right-wing and uncompromising government than Israel has ever seen beforeand ”the most right-wing government in its history

The Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent Harriet Sherwood predicted that “Netanyahu’s parliamentary group will be markedly more rightwing after 22 January.”

When all the votes were counted, it was confirmed that the country had moved slightly to the left in comparison to the 2009 results, and the government formed by Binyamin Netanyahu and presented to President Peres on Feb. 22 - comprised of Likud-Israel Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, Jewish Home, and Hatnua (Tzipi Livni’s party) – represented, broadly speaking, a centrist coalition.

The Guardian invested heavily in promoting their desired political narrative of a Jewish state lurching to the far right, and they got it completely wrong. 

Whilst we didn’t expect a mea culpa from the Guardian, their March 17 editorial on Obama’s visit to Israel, which lamented the ‘dim prospects’ for a breakthrough in peace negotiations, made a quite telling mistake – conveniently omitting one member of the new government.  The editorial misled readers by claiming that the coalition was composed of “the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu bloc: Yesh Atid, founded by former TV personality Yair Lapid; and Jewish Home, a party linked to the West Bank settler movement led by Naftali Bennett” – leaving out Tzipi Livni (Hutna), whose aggressive position on the need to resume peace talks would have undermined their desired narrative.  

The editorial was only adjusted to reflect reality when CiF Watch contacted Guardian editors and alerted them to the mistake.

The Guardian error, it should be noted, was especially egregious in light of the fact Livni, who led negotiations with Abbas while serving as foreign minister under Ehud Olmert, will be in Bibi’s inner cabinet, a member of the security cabinet and will lead a small team of “personally appointed staff into peace talks with the Palestinians”.

Harriet Sherwood’s latest report on efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to revive peace talks, ‘John Kerry returns to Middle East amid lowered expectations’, similarly demonstrates an unwillingness to acknowledge the profound errors in predictions that she, and her Guardian colleagues, confidently offered in the weeks leading to the election.

Sherwood’s report includes the following passages:

Kerry is believed to be keen to dust off the 11-year-old Arab (or Saudi) peace plan, under which regional states would normalise relations with Israel in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state. And he is likely to ask Turkey to play an active role in any revived process.

It all seems reasonably promising on paper, but the reality on the ground looks rather different.

The new Israeli government, sworn in two days before Obama’s visit, is a rightwing pro-settler coalition

In the spirit of the Guardian editorial from March 22, Sherwood conveniently omitted the presence of center-left parties (Yesh Atid and Hatnua) in Bibi’s 68 seat coalition – a government which, for only the third time since 1977, excludes ultra-orthodox parties.

Whilst terms such as “right”, “left” and “center” are, in fairness, fraught with problems, it’s interesting to observe that the decidedly liberal Jewish newspaper, The Forward’, for instance, saw fit to characterize the new government, in a March 14 report, as  ‘reflecting a shift to the centre’.

In fact, even Al-Jazeera, on March 15, in a story titled ‘Turbulent road ahead for Netanyahu coalition‘, avoided characterizing the new government in such deceptively monolithic terms.  Instead, they wrote that the “Centre-right [Israeli] government set to be formed in Israel seems wired for dysfunction”, and noted the ideological split represented by the four party coalition.

In our election eve post we predicted that the Guardian would likely learn nothing from their journalistic miscalculation about the political trajectory of the Jewish state – that, once again, nothing would be learned which could serve to lessen the grip of their hubris, the rigidity of their ideology. 

It doesn’t provide any comfort to note that our suspicions appear to have been valid.

CiF Watch prompts revision to Guardian op-ed which omitted Livni from coalition

On March 18 we posted about a curious omission in a March 17 Guardian editorial about President Obama’s (then upcoming) visit to Israel, titled “Obama in Israel: waiting for Godot.

Here’s the passage we cited (emphasis added):

Rarely has a US president prepared to visit Israel amid such low expectations of what he can achieve there. By the time Barack Obama arrives, Binyamin Netanyahu’s government will have been sworn in, a coalition composed of the Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc: Yesh Atid, founded by former TV personality Yair Lapid; and Jewish Home, a party linked to the West Bank settler movement led by Naftali Bennett. The coalition is uniquely suited to dealing with domestic issues, such as the exemptions to military service granted to the ultra-orthodox. But it is uniquely unsuited to unravelling the occupation in the West Bank

We noted that, in the above passage and in the subsequent text of the op-ed, the Guardian failed to mention one of the four Israeli government coalition partners – Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party.  This omission occurred despite Guardian editors’ inclusion of a hyperlink (in the above passage) which directed readers to Phoebe Greenwood’s March 14 Guardian report about the coalition agreement which specifically mentioned Livni’s inclusion.

Following communication with the Guardian, the passage has been revised, and the following footnote added.

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We commend the Guardian on their prompt revision. 

Guardian editorial on Israeli vote ignores their own erroneous political predictions

While we’re quite accustomed to Guardian reporters and commentators completely re-writing Israeli history, an editorial on the results of the Israeli election re-writes their own history by ignoring their entire body of work on the subject prior to the Jan. 22 vote.

The official Guardian editorial, Israel: the new normal, is, to be sure, characteristically imperious and hubristic towards the “truculent” Jewish state, but also concedes – based on the likelihood that Netanyahu will be forming a centrist coalition – that “the Israeli voter rejected “the far right”.

However, the editorial also briefly touches on those political observers who didn’t for a second believe that the Israeli center would hold:

“In the end, the crown prince of Israeli politics was not the dotcom millionaire who would annex 60% of the West Bank. He was neither of the far nor the national religious right, as many had confidently predicted.”

So, who precisely were these arrogant prognosticators who got it so terribly wrong?

Here’s a graphic look back at the headlines and passages published by the media group which they may be referring to.

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‘Comment is Free contributor, Rachel Shabi

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Guardian’s Middle East Editor, Ian Black

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Ian Black

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Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, Harriet Sherwood

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Ian Black is Gloomy and Inaccurate

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Observer’s foreign affairs editor, Peter Beaumont

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Again, Harriet Sherwood

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Harriet Sherwood cites a piece by the New Yorker’s David Remnick,  to confirm Israel’s rightward shfit

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Guardian journalist, Jonathan Freedland

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Jonathan Freedland asks why the Israeli move right – which didn’t in fact happen – was happening.

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Freedland also cites wisdom of ‘New Yorker’ contributor on Israel’s “endless” move right 

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Once again, Harriet Sherwood

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Guardian’s Middle East ‘Live’ Blog post edited by John Henley 

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Guardian publishes two letters from readers affirming Guardian analysis of Israel’s move to the right

As Adam Garfinkle recently observed, in a thoughtful piece about coverage of the Algerian hostage crisis, much of the media often sees what they expect to see, and thus ignores all evidence that “does not fit with [their] framing of the situation”.

Whilst I’ve been following the Guardian far too long to be so foolish as to expect anything resembling a mea culpa from their editors in response to such an egregious misreading of the Israeli electorate, it would truly be a gift to their readers if they were to even briefly acknowledge the limits of their capacity to interpret Israeli political phenomena unfiltered by their preconceived, ideologically inspired, conclusions.