This article is published in Mondoweiss.
On 17 March, the day of the 2015 Israel election, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned Israelis that Arabs were voting “in droves” (alleging, in a conspiratorial manner reminiscent of white supremacists in the US Jim Crow South, that “Left-wing organizations are busing them out”). Arab second-class citizens voting is supposed to be a very bad thing in Israeli democracy.
The New York Times published an article about the incident—and more generally about Netanyahu’s bigoted, jingoistic, far-right tactics to attract more votes—titled “Netanyahu Expresses Alarm That Arab Voter Turnout Could Help Unseat Him.” The piece was written by Isabel Kershner and Rick Gladstone. At least, at the moment, that was the case.
Several hours later, the NYT published a rewrite of the article—a rewrite not just of parts of it, but of all of it. 100% of it.
The new title? The much more innocuous “Deep Wounds and Lingering Questions After Israel’s Bitter Race” (itself a modification on a previous headline of “Deep Wounds in Bitter Race”)—now, with just one author, Isabel Kershner. Gladstone appears to have been effaced from the historical record.
The former article used the words “racism” (twice), “racist,” and “racial fearmongering.” The second line of the piece reads “Opponents accused Mr. Netanyahu of baldfaced racism that smacked of desperation.” It included statements and quotes such as:
- The Zionist Union alliance denounced Mr. Netanyahu’s language as racial fearmongering.
- “No other Western leader would dare utter such a racist remark,” Shelly Yacimovich, a senior member of the bloc, wrote on Twitter. “Imagine a warning that starts, ‘Our rule is in danger, black voters are streaming in quantity to the polling stations.’”
- “A prime minister who conducts propaganda against national minority citizens is crossing a red line of incitement and racism,” said Dov Hanin, a Joint Arab List candidate. “Such a message, voiced by a prime minister on the very day in which citizens are supposed to be encouraged to go out to vote, is testimony to a complete loss of compass and his preparedness to smash all principles of democracy just for the sake of his own leadership.”
The latter article removed the quotes from Netanyahu’s opponents, leaving only the line “Opponents accused him of baldfaced racism.” And, no longer at the beginning of the piece, this sentence is now buried in the middle, where studies show most readers will not see it.
Netanyahu is quite simply whitewashed in the second article. This new draft—doubtless penned when NYT editors realized Netanyahu would likely be the next prime minister—is significantly kinder. Its thesis is essentially that Netanyahu is not actually a racist and that he does not truly unequivocally oppose the two-state solution. It features lines such as
- Mr. Netanyahu has a long history in power and has in the past demonstrated that he can change positions from campaigning to governing. His record is as a pragmatist, analysts said.
- “I am sure that Netanyahu, with his broad historical perspective, if he is prime minister again, will be thinking long and hard about what legacy he will want to leave behind with regard to the demographic makeup of the country and its standing in the world,” said Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Reut Institute, an Israeli strategy group. “In the end I would not rule out his going back to the two-state solution.”
Euphemistically, the esteemed publication writes “In the final days of a closely fought election race, Mr. Netanyahu threw all political and diplomatic niceties to the wind.” That is one way of saying that, in order to attract votes, the right-wing Israeli prime minister resorted to base racism, fear-mongering, and—in what is strikingly reminiscent of early-20th-century anti-Semitism—conspiracy theories about powerful foreign interests supposedly conspiring to unseat him.
NYT Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting for the latter piece. Rudoren has a long history of shamelessly writing pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian propaganda. She is also good friends with pro-Israel lobbyists and anti-Arab racists like Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abraham Foxman. Perhaps most staggering of all is the fact that Rudoren lives in the home of a renowned Palestinian BBC journalist who was ethnically cleansed in the Nakba, Israel’s 1948 attack on and expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian population.
In fact, every NYT Jerusalem bureau chief has lived in this home—the perfect metaphor for the NYT’s position vis-à-vis Israel’s systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing, colonization, and what Israeli historian Ilan Pappé calls “incremental genocide” of the indigenous Palestinian population.
The first draft of the piece reads as follows:
Netanyahu Expresses Alarm That Arab Voter Turnout Could Help Unseat Him
By Isabel Kershner and Rick Gladstone
Beseeching Israelis for support in the final hours of a closely fought election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on a tirade Tuesday, lashing out at Israel’s Arab voters and warning of what he called their conspiracy with the country’s leftists to unseat him.
Opponents accused Mr. Netanyahu of baldfaced racism that smacked of desperation.
Mr. Netanyahu, the leader of the rightist Likud faction that has dominated Israeli politics for years, made the emotional appeals in a video posted on social media, and hours later, in a speech posted on his Facebook page, after government officials said he could not broadcast the speech live because of campaign laws.
His exhortations reflected what critics called an increasingly unnerved leader whose decision to call the elections had threatened his power.
When polls closed, the results appeared too close to call, according to exit polls and Israeli news media. Still, Mr. Netanyahu decreed on Twitter that his supporters had achieved “a great victory.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s statements were the most strident in a series of assertions he has made in recent days to rally right-wing supporters to his argument that he is the only leader capable of saving Israel from its enemies.
Denouncing the Joint Arab List, a coalition of four small Israeli-Arab parties that could influence the outcome of the vote, Mr. Netanyahu spoke of a conspiracy between them and his leftist opponents, supported by what he described as outside money.
“A leftist government that depends on this list will surrender all along the way,” he said in Hebrew in his Facebook speech.
“I wish to clarify, there is nothing wrong with citizens voting, Jewish or Arab, as they wish,” he said. What was wrong, he said, was that foreign-funded leftist organizations were bringing droves of voters to the polling stations in buses in a way that “distorts the true will of the Israelis in favor of the left, and grants excessive power to the radical Arab list.”
He appeared to be referring to V15, an independent Israeli group that Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly denounced. The group does not support specific candidates but has campaigned to replace Mr. Netanyahu’s government and is advised by a former aide to President Obama’s presidential campaigns.
Israeli journalists said Mr. Netanyahu’s accusations appeared to be misplaced. “Reports of busing Israeli Arabs to vote are figments of a ‘frightened’ Netanyahu’s imagination,” wrote Chemi Shalev of Haaretz, a left-leaning Israeli newspaper, in a Twitter message. “No buses supplied, they say.”
On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu said if his Likud faction was returned to power, he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state, reversing a stance he had taken six years earlier. His statement was seen not only as validating Palestinian suspicions, but also risking further alienation between Mr. Netanyahu and the Obama administration, which supports a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Mr. Netanyahu also openly acknowledged having promoted a settlement over the 1967 lines in southeast Jerusalem in order to block the expansion of the West Bank city of Bethlehem and its connection with Jerusalem, something that critics said harmed the contiguity of any future Palestinian state.
His remarks on Election Day came amid indications that Israeli-Arab citizens, whose turnout has been historically lower than Jewish citizens, were voting in larger numbers.
They appeared to be supporting the Joint Arab List, which could win a significant bloc in the 120-seat Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, potentially preventing Mr. Netanyahu from gaining the 61 seats he needs to form a government.
The Arab parties have maintained that they will honor their tradition of refusing to join any governing coalition. But their leader, Ayman Odeh, has indicated he would support Isaac Herzog — the leader of the center-left Zionist Union alliance, Mr. Netanyahu’s most important adversary — if Mr. Netanyahu is defeated.
“Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a video posted earlier in the day.
He exhorted supporters of Likud to vote. “With your help and God’s help we will form a national government and protect the state of Israel,” he said.
The Zionist Union alliance denounced Mr. Netanyahu’s language as racial fearmongering.
“No other Western leader would dare utter such a racist remark,” Shelly Yacimovich, a senior member of the bloc, wrote on Twitter. “Imagine a warning that starts, ‘Our rule is in danger, black voters are streaming in quantity to the polling stations.’”
The Joint Arab List announced that it had complained to Judge Salim Joubran, the chairman of the Central Election Committee, against Likud’s campaign clip, asking him to instruct the Likud to remove it.
“A prime minister who conducts propaganda against national minority citizens is crossing a red line of incitement and racism,” said Dov Hanin, a Joint Arab List candidate. “Such a message, voiced by a prime minister on the very day in which citizens are supposed to be encouraged to go out to vote, is testimony to a complete loss of compass and his preparedness to smash all principles of democracy just for the sake of his own leadership.”
Unapologetic, Mr. Netanyahu’s Facebook page speech hours later appealed to voters to help narrow what he said was a “significant” gap between him and Mr. Herzog.
And turning his wrath to the Joint Arab List parties, Mr. Netanyahu said their leader, Mr. Odeh, “who supports Herzog, has already said that I should not only be replaced, but that I should also be put in jail for having defended the lives of Israeli citizens and I.D.F. soldiers.”
Although many Israeli analysts had predicted that the Joint Arab List could significantly raise voter turnout among Israel’s Arab citizens, it remained unclear by late Tuesday how many Israeli-Arabs were voting. There are about 1.7 million Arab citizens of Israel, making up about 20 percent of the population.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, an Israeli rights activist and blogger, noted in a Twitter message that Mr. Netanyahu’s appeal to voters was echoed by his ally, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s nationalist foreign minister.
Mr. Lieberman suggested recently to Mr. Odeh that he had no right to participate in Israel’s elections.
The second draft:
Deep Wounds In Bitter Race
By Isabel Kershner
Benjamin Netanyahu was acting as if he was poised to return to power. But there was a cloud over his apparent turnaround, the result of an increasingly shrill campaign that raised questions about his ability to heal Israel’s internal wounds or better its standing in the world.
He said there would be no Palestinian state.
He railed against Israeli Arabs — because they had gone out to vote.
From the capitals of Europe, to Washington, to the West Bank, to the streets of Israel, even while his critics said Mr. Netanyahu had reaffirmed his reputation as a cynical, calculating politician, it appeared that his approach succeeded in drawing votes from other right-leaning parties.
But along the way he angered the president of the United States with a speech to Congress and infuriated European leaders eager to see the peace process move ahead to create a Palestinian state.
David Axelrod, President Obama’s former senior adviser, said Tuesday evening on Twitter that Mr. Netanyahu’s last-minute stand against a Palestinian state might have helped ensure him another victory. “Tightness of exits in Israel suggests Bibi’s shameful 11thhour demagoguery may have swayed enough votes to save him. But at what cost?” he wrote.
Still, Mr. Netanyahu has a long history in power and has in the past demonstrated that he can change positions from campaigning to governing. His record is as a pragmatist, analysts said.
“I am sure that Netanyahu, with his broad historical perspective, if he is prime minister again, will be thinking long and hard about what legacy he will want to leave behind with regard to the demographic makeup of the country and its standing in the world,” said Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Reut Institute, an Israeli strategy group. “In the end I would not rule out his going back to the two-state solution,” he said, referring to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Tzachi Hanegbi, a Likud deputy foreign minister in the departing government, told reporters on Tuesday night that he expected the American administration to make an effort to renew the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. “We would be very delighted to renew the negotiations,” Mr. Hanegbi said, adding that it was up to the Palestinians. “It is to the benefit of both peoples,” he said.
The campaign for the parliament was divisive, exposing the fault lines in Israeli society, between the religious and the secular, the left and the right. It exposed a fatigue with a man who is seeking to serve a fourth term as prime minister, and a fear over Israel’s place in the international community. Much was driven by the tenor of the campaigns, which became personal and bitter.
None more so that Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign.
Many Israelis called it the “gevalt campaign,” using a Yiddish expression for alarm. In the final days of a closely fought election race, Mr. Netanyahu threw all political and diplomatic niceties to the wind.
He said that if his Likud Party won Tuesday’s national elections, he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state, a reversal of a stance he had taken six years earlier. That risked further damaging his already frayed relations with the Obama administration after a high-stakes confrontation over Iran and increasing European frustration with Israel.
In interviews with the Israeli news media that Mr. Netanyahu usually shuns, he complained of a conspiracy of left-wing organizations funded from abroad and foreign governments out to topple him.
And in a seemingly desperate bid to rally support halfway through the balloting, he went on a tirade against Israel’s Arab citizens. He said they were being bused to polling stations in droves by left-wing organizations in an effort that “distorts the true will of the Israelis in favor of the left, and grants excessive power to the radical Arab list,” referring to the new alliance of Arab parties. Opponents accused him of baldfaced racism.
“More than a gevalt campaign it was a ‘Let’s blow up the world’ campaign,” said Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor of political communications at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. “It was a scorched-earth policy to stay in power.”
In Washington, lawmakers who were angered by Mr. Netanyahu’s speech to Congress said they would be disappointed if voters in Israel reward the prime minister with another term in office.
”There were a number of us who wanted to see whether his gambit to criticize the president, in breach of all diplomatic protocol, will be rewarded in Israel,” said Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia.
Mr. Connolly, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is a relatively junior member of Congress. But his views echoed those of many Democratic lawmakers who have expressed dismay about what they said was Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to ally himself with Republicans in America.
”As far as I’m concerned, Netanyahu burned his bridges with the American government and a broad swath of the American people,” Mr. Connolly said. “It is to me, frankly, a really sordid approach to diplomacy and friendship and alliance. I hope that behavior is not rewarded today.”
Martin S. Indyk, a former special envoy for Middle East peace in the Obama administration who is now vice president of the Brookings Institution, said that while it was still unclear what kind of government might arise in Israel, the tenor of Mr. Netanyahu’s relationship with the Obama administration was likely to be governed by a confrontation over Iran in the short term, should a nuclear deal be reached. In the longer term, Mr. Indyk said, a right-wing government led by Mr. Netanyahu was likely to be in confrontation with the international community over the Palestinian issue.
But Shmuel Sandler, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said Mr. Netanyahu had been fighting for his political survival. “Yesterday he was prepared to do anything,” he said. But he added that Mr. Netanyahu knew he now had to repair his relationship with Mr. Obama.
At the headquarters of the Joint List of Arab parties in Nazareth, in northern Israel, people hooted and cheered as the election results came in.
“This is a great achievement,” hollered Ahmad Tibi, a veteran Arab politician, referring to indications that the list had won about a dozen seats in the 120-seat Parliament. “But we will have before us great challenges,” he added. “We will fight racism, we will fight fascism, we will defend our rights, regardless of the government. We are the indigenous people of this land and we look to the future with the optimism and realism,” he said. “Today we are stronger.”
By the night’s end, Mr. Netanyahu seemed to realize he needed to recalibrate his message. In a late-night speech claiming victory, he spoke of delivering security and social welfare to “all citizens of Israel, Jews and non-Jews alike.”