I’ve avoided reading Martin Sherman’s articles for years, knowing what to expect. But when my friend Perry Dror, a serious supporter of Israel who lived here for some years, asked my opinion on his latest, I decided to plunge in.
Sherman and I have opposite methods of research and writing. He starts with a premise, and then finds, distorts or invents facts to support it, while ignoring facts that don’t. I start with discovering facts, and experience and knowledge, and they lead me to a conclusion.
Sherman’s latest is called “Presumption of guilt.” Here are the facts: In July, someone threw a firebomb into a house in Duma, a Palestinian village in the West Bank, killing a two-year-old and his parents. Slogans spray-painted in Hebrew on the wall of the house were typical of extremist Jewish settlers and their campaign called “Price Tag,” targeting Palestinians in response to their attacks or Israeli government moves they find objectionable. The Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) detained a number of settlers and finally charged two with the attack.
It appears, then, that Sherman’s goal is to question the evidence in the case. It is that, indeed, but much more. His article is a skillfully crafted piece of tendentious writing that could be studied in the classroom for its structure and content.
From the outset, supporters of the extremists among the settlers insisted that Arabs must have been responsible, that Jews would never do such a thing. The slogans on the wall, their level of Hebrew and biblical reference counter that, but keep in mind that facts don’t matter here. And of course, Sherman takes care to state that if the arrested man is guilty, he should be punished. He takes care to state the opposite of all of his arguments, so you’ll see how fair he is.
Sherman commences with a campaign to discredit the Shin Bet, since, he maintains, “subterfuge is their trade.” Actually, intelligence and enforcement are their trade, and subterfuge is one of their tools.
And how does he refute the evidence? By quoting newspaper reports from Haaretz and The New York Times, after carefully pointing out that they are “leftists.” That’s Israeli rightist code for “anti-Semitic, Israel-bashing devils.”
So if even these devils have questions, what can that mean for the sane people over here? And what is his counter-evidence based on? Reports by the two papers from the scene of the attack, quoting Palestinian witnesses. Some people say they saw two masked attackers, some say they saw four.
Some say they escaped in one direction, some say another.
Welcome to the real world. This is not a CSI episode on TV where everything falls quickly and neatly into place. This is how real investigations begin. They end after the professionals put together what actually happened and file charges. This time it took four months. Sherman must know that.
He gives away his real agenda by dragging out ancient incidents involving the Shin Bet, one a major mess-up in 1984 and two others from the era of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 – Margalit Har-Shefi and Avishai Raviv – that are known triggers to excite anger and resentment among the Right, especially when they are misrepresented as he does here.
We come away, then, with a subliminal message that not only is the suspect probably not guilty, neither is anyone else, really. The Shin Bet is the guilty party for its tactics, or maybe, as he hints darkly, another “ethnic” – Palestinians, in other words.
He closes with an ominous “word of caution,” not to violent extremists who burn Palestinians alive, but to “hand-wringing, moralistic mea culpa folks” who denounce the attack in Duma as terrorism. Again, the nuance is telling. “A work of caution” indicates a warning, a threat. None is stated, but we get it.
He charges that those who equate this terrorist attack with Palestinian terrorist attacks are harming Israel. The truth is that this terrorist attack harmed Israel.
The definition of terrorism around here is violent acts designed to make it impossible for one’s enemy to continue living as he does where he does. That applies equally to Palestinians who attack Israelis and to Israelis who kill Palestinians in the dead of night, burn their fields, uproot their olive groves and shoot up their houses. The goals of each side are the same – to force the other side to leave.
The difference, and it isn’t hard for me to figure why he wouldn’t write this, is that Israelis and their government are shocked and appalled by terrorist attacks like this, while Palestinians and their government praise and cheer terrorist attacks against Israelis. That distinction leaves Jewish terrorists as the tiny, despised minority that they are, not an integral part of the well-oiled, legitimate and powerful body known as Israel’s Right.
I imagine that if Sherman reads this and decides to respond, he will call me a “leftist.”
Anyone who has read the articles on my website knows that I can’t be categorized, because I go where the facts, my experience and my knowledge take me. I am a serious writer who cannot be dismissed by adjective.
Neither can Martin Sherman.
The writer is a foreign correspondent who has been covering the Mideast since 1972. His book Broken Spring exposes and corrects