Thursday, September 02, 2004

Haaretz - The Land of Bigots

Can any of us imagine a major or even minor American newspaper having a staff reporter whose primary - perhaps sole - responsibility is to track and trail and then spew out dirt about a discrete religious group like Mel Gibson's stripe of Catholics or Pat Robertson's Christian Fundamentalists or Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam or, for that matter, any of the dozens of intensely religious groups that we read about from time to time? Of course not. It would be a waste of limited journalistic resources; more importantly, such an obsessive focus is entirely inappropriate. The intent would be to demonize a religious group.

Haaretz is an Israeli newspaper that for decades has been crazed by a nearly psychotic reaction to certain religious Jews. Its animosity toward charedi or fervently religious Jews exceeds by a comfortable margin its distaste for Yasir Arafat. In addition to an endless stream of negative articles that are bereft of even the tiniest dose of empathy, Haaretz has on staff Shachar Ilan whose beat is to beat up on charedim, by now filing literally hundreds of articles whose message is that they are scoundrels, hypocrites, evil and deserving of total contempt.

Ilan's arsenal includes just about every stereotype that can be employed to demonize a people. There are no nuances in his writing, no acknowledgement of even the slightest charedi contribution to Israeli life and no indication that the story is not as one-sided or one-dimensional as he makes it out to be. These religious Jews are bad people, period. The efforts of religious parties to reflect and represent the views and needs of their constituents are portrayed as nefarious activity. In Ilan's warped outlook, they apparently have an obligation to represent those who are anti-religious.

His nasty words are frequently accompanied by cartoons that appear to be drawn by caricaturists who learned their craft at Der Stuermer. Religious Jews are depicted with long noses and ugly features, as being sneaks, cheats and worse.

The traducing by Haaretz and Ilan of basic journalistic standards runs much deeper. Assuming, as I do not, that it is appropriate for a newspaper to have on staff someone whose job is to provide a stream of strongly negative stories about a particular group, there is the additional question of whether a reporter with Ilan's history of hostility toward charedim can legitimately be given that assignment. I had thought that reporters are expected to be objective and certainly without bias. When Ilan files news stories, he is not objective, has no interest in being fair and is overwhelmed by his animus toward those whom he is writing about.

If there is any question about this, readers can look at the question and answer forum, conducted in English, on Haaretz's website in which he participated last December. (It is available at In response to the question, "Why the hatred?", he responded, "I have no hate for Haredim. But in my work there is a degree of anger. There is anger over dodging the draft and differentiating between blood and blood. It is anger over fictitious reporting to falsely squeeze more money out of the state. It is anger over arrogance, viewing secularism as inferior and negating its values."

And this in response to another question:

"There is almost no link between the Israeli Haredi sect whose most sacred beliefs include dodging the army draft and avoiding work and the Judaism kept by our ancestors. Israeli ultra-Orthodoxism is a complete distortion of Judaism and the Jewish culture and it is doubtful that such Judaism should be sustained. In my opinion, Jewish leaders like Shulamit Aloni or Reform Rabbi Uri Regev are far more faithful to the Jewish tradition."

This is historically false and, frankly, nuts. This man has serious problems. For all of his protestations to the contrary, he is a hater. He despises these religious Jews. If anything can be said in his favor, it is that his poisoned attitudes and biases are overt.

But others can decide whether Ilan crosses the thin line that separates his intense anger from raw hostility. Let us assume again, as I do not, that his unbridled anger toward charadim - there is much more than I have quoted here - is justified, that these Jews are no good, enemies of Israel and Jewish tradition and deserving of strong condemnation. Under even the most lenient journalistic standards, in view of his anger and the language that I have quoted, should covering charidim be his assignment? Is it proper for a reporter to approach his task with malice and intense animosity? Is it possible for him to be fair or accurate?

As deplorable as is Ilan's debasement of the ideal of journalistic integrity, the larger story in this scandal is the hypocrisy of Haarertz, its giving an assignment to a writer who is intensely biased. While Haaretz would like to be regarded as a liberal newspaper with a commitment to fairness, it is a repository of endless hostility toward religious Jews. Shachar Ilan has been given a license to demonize and denigrate religious Jews because that's the way Haaretz wants it to be.

For all of its undeserved reputation, Haaretz violates basic journalistic standards. It prefers to caricature and stereotype, to peddle prejudice and to instill feelings of hatred. About five years ago, a critic at Haaretz broke the pattern. In reviewing a play that was totally hostile to charedim, he wrote, "We are the new anti-Semites."