In a recent interview with Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, here’s how Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin relayed Rosenthal’s answers about two recent TIME magazine stories:
Is a Time magazine cover story that asserts Jews in Israel only care about money or another article that analogizes the current climate in Israel to fascism in the 1930’s over the line? [Rosenthal] said without hesitation, “That is absolutely over the line.” Those types of assertions, she said, “are made by people who do not know history or misread history.“
A quick read reveals Rubin’s rendering of both the articles as deeply distorted. The first, from September 2010, claims that “Israelis are no longer preoccupied with” the peace process because “they’re otherwise engaged; they’re making money; they’re enjoying the rays of late summer.” One can agree or disagree with that claim, but the idea that it’s “anti-Semitic” to suggest that Israelis are more interested in living life and having a good time than in worrying about foreign policy — which is to say, acting like most people — or that such a claim amounts to “Jews in Israel only care about money,” is extremely tendentious.
As for the second article, which examines several new right-wing measures in Israel, including a law to investigate human rights groups critical of the government, the reference to 1930’s fascism was made by an Israeli, Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace. Pundak “said he sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history“:
“It’s totally abnormal,” [Pundak] says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”
The point of the article is that Israel’s rightward lurch is scaring even some conservatives. This was made clear by the headline “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Some Conservatives“:
Even inside Netanyahu’s coalition, minister without portfolio Benny Begin, the arch-conservative son of Menachim Begin, told Israeli Radio that the measure broke from the conservatism he knew: “This decision sends a warning signal — here is darkness.”
Considering all of this, I wondered if Rosenthal had read the articles, or if she’d actually intended to address them in the manner that Rubin reported. It turns out the answer to both questions is no.
“We did not discuss the substance of the articles and I clearly told her that I didn’t read Time,” Rosenthal said via email. “I reacted to the headlines only that depict stereotypes of anti-Semitism and that seek to compare policies to the Holocaust.”
According to Rosenthal, Rubin blatantly misrepresented Rosenthal’s answers as a condemnation of specific articles Rosenthal made clear she hadn’t read. This should raise serious questions about the veracity of the rest of the interview. At the very least, the Post owes a correction to its readers, and an apology to Rosenthal.