Earlier this week, David Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel, took to Twitter to mourn Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal, a 29-year-old father of four from the Samaria community of Har Bracha who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist.
20 years ago I gave an ambulance to Har Bracha hoping it would be used to deliver healthy babies. Instead, a man from Har Bracha was just murdered by a terrorist, leaving behind a wife and four children. Palestinian “leaders” have praised the killer. Praying for the BenGal family
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) February 6, 2018
The tweet did not sit well with Gideon Levy. Haaretz’s leading columnist, Levy is as ridiculed in Israel as he is revered in Europe, and for the same reason: For two decades, he’s used his considerable platform to portray Israel as just one goosestep behind Hitler’s goons, guilty of a cornucopia of monstrous violations of human rights. That some of these alleged violations turn out to be fake news—like Levy’s 2005 claim that Israeli Border Patrol soldiers had tied a young Palestinian man to a donkey and beat both, which has been widely debunked—doesn’t seem to curb Levy’s enthusiasm. Having openly declared that he feels deeply ashamed to be Israeli and has “nothing but hatred for the settlers,” the columnist was miffed to see the ambassador mourn the loss of life of a Jew who, to Levy’s mind, had it coming for living on the wrong side of the Green Line.
“Har Bracha,” he wrote in a column, playing on the community’s literal name, which means the Mountain of Blessing, “is a Mountain of Curses.” He then accused the rabbi of the nearby community of Yitzhar of sounding like a neo-Nazi, and chastised Friedman for not donating his ambulance to Gaza instead.
Incensed, Friedman tweeted again, taking the unlikely step of criticizing Haaretz directly:
What has become of .@Haaretz ? Four young children are sitting shiva for their murdered father and this publication calls their community a “mountain of curses.” Have they no decency?
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) February 9, 2018
Which, in turn, moved Amos Schocken, the newspaper’s publisher, to weigh in:
Mr. Ambassador Gideon Levy is right. As long as the policy of Israel that your Government and yourself support is obstructing peace process, practical annexation of the territories, perpetuating apartheid, fighting terror but willing to pay its price, there will be more Shivas.
— Amos Schocken (@AmosSchocken1) February 9, 2018
It’s always reassuring to see a publisher defend his journalist’s right to speak his mind, but Schocken is missing the larger point. In his tweet, Friedman has captured the frustration most Israelis, too, feel as they read Haaretz these days and notice that this formerly formidable publication has become a platform for little more than anti-Zionist agitprop. You don’t have to take it from Donald Trump’s emissary: Yair Lapid, as centrist a politician as you can find in Israel, called it, with uncharacteristic venom, “a pamphlet of the radical left,” joining thousands of other Israelis and canceling his subscription in protest. Even Hanoch Marmari, who edited Haaretz between 1988 and 2004 and is considered one of the newspaper’s most revered leaders, took the unusual step of publicly decrying what he said was Haaretz’s transformation from a fine paper committed to the highest standards of journalism to a growingly esoteric media outlet divorced from the realities of life in Israel.
Schocken has ignored these critiques. On the one hand, the kind of imperviousness can be righteous and good in editor. But in some cases, it can simply mean he and his newspaper are tone-deaf.