Why so many got the elections wrong
An obsession with Israel’s far right allows pundits to ignore the country’s sober centrists.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On voting in Petah Tikva, January 22, 2013. Photo: Courtesy Zehava Gal-On
The Forward has absolved itself.
Although editors of the Jewish daily now
admit they “got it wrong” by getting caught up in the media frenzy about
hardline Israeli politician Naftali Bennett, temporary poster boy for Israeli
politics’ presumptive surge to the Right, they concluded after some thought that
“all those whose predictions were off deserve a break.”
“In our defense,”
they explained last month, shortly after the Israel elections, “we only
reflected the consistent message from Israeli pollsters” who failed to predict
that the actual surge would be toward the political center.
defense, too, the Forward’s profile of Bennett avoided some of the more heated,
self-assured exclamations seen in pre-election coverage of Israel.
Guardian columnist spoke of Israel’s “lurch to what was once deemed the lunatic
fringe,” The Nation called it a “Lurch to the Right,” Reuters “a far-right surge”
and NPR a “Move to the Right.” The list goes on.
But it was David
Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, who delivered what might have been the most
overconfident and protracted pieces on the topic. Before the first vote was
cast, Remnick insisted that “the story of the election is the implosion of the
centerleft” and substantiated this assessment with 9,000 carefully chosen
It turned out, of course, that Remnick was flat wrong, and like
the Forward’s editors, he made sure to remind critics that Israel polls had also
overestimated support for right-wing parties.
But ineffective polling
results fail to fully explain the eagerness and certitude with which the Western
press, Remnick at the lead, pounced on the “rightward shift”
After all, as the the Forward itself explained, “public
polling in Israel is deeply flawed,” in part because pollsters rely on
landlines, which effectively excludes “huge swaths of the
And of course, this was just as true before the rush to
denounce Israel’s supposed rightward lurch as it was after the
Likewise, the popular sentiments that contributed to the
success of Israel’s new centrist party, Yesh Atid, were there before the
elections, ready to be explored or ignored by pundits like Remnick. But the
Israeli center was largely ignored.
It seems the temptation to focus on a
far-right Israeli bogeyman was just too strong for those journalists eager to
cast Israel as the source of all troubles in the Middle East. To this end,
Remnick’s table-banging about the far-right in Israel allowed him to brush aside
serious concerns held by mainstream, centrist Israelis: the Palestinian
rejection of peace offers; the rise of terror groups in territory evacuated by
Israel; the thousands of rockets launched by Palestinians at Israeli civilians
in violation of international law.
Much more than any small far-right
party, these fundamental realities must be understood by anyone hoping to make
sense of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But Remnick dismissed them as the
“ingrained” narrative of “most Israelis,” who he says “no longer care” about
Just as an obsession with Israel’s far right allows
pundits to ignore the country’s sober centrists, it also makes it all too easy
to ignore the Palestinian share of responsibility for the conflict. In Remnick’s
piece, the region’s “xenophobes” are all Israeli Jews. So are the “unapologetic
racists.” And the rightwingers.
And the religious. And the messianic.
Even the terrorists are mostly Israeli. (Helpful hint: Whenever you come across
an article that glosses over Palestinian violence but reaches into the sparse
history of Israeli terrorism to discuss Baruch Goldstein, whose horrendous crime
occurred nearly 20 years ago, and Meir Kahane, the American firebrand who was
killed even before that, ask yourself why the writer opted to present so
selective a history.) Palestinians, meanwhile, are afflicted not by radical
Islamism, not by anti- Jewish sentiments, not by a leadership that inculcates
inflexibility regarding the so-called right of return and explicitly rejects two
states for two peoples, but merely by “frustration” and “anxiety” imposed on
them by their enemy.
In short, caricaturing Israel makes it possible to
caricature the Palestinians. The false diagnosis of an Israel veering
uncontrollably to the Right helps sustain the fashionable but unhelpful view the
Palestinians have no active role in the conflict, and no responsibility for its
course. How straightforward it all is to Remnick: “Israel’s hard-liners harden
further. The Palestinians grow more frustrated.”
This might be an easier
story to tell, and it might be an easier story to believe. But it is not what
readers want and deserve: a fair assessment of the conflict.
is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle
East Reporting in America.