Commentary on the Commentary: Editing during wartime

What can an op-ed editor do during wartime? Naturally the paper must cover the war, but it must also tread carefully between being a war-monger and making naïve calls for “peace."

Kassam missiles and IDF bombs in Gaza ahead of cease-fire 39 (photo credit: Samuel Vengrinovich)
Kassam missiles and IDF bombs in Gaza ahead of cease-fire 39
(photo credit: Samuel Vengrinovich)
Two weeks ago our op-ed pages were full of the hum-drum issues that seemed important at the time. Michael Freund wrote about the importance of bringing Jews from the Bnei Menesha community in India to Israel, former CIA director David Petreaus was in the news and Shmuley Boteach wondered, “did a great man have to fail?” David Newman was worried about the “Yid army” controversy in which the English football (soccer) team’s fans were accused of using an anti-Semitic, even though many are Jews and they do it in a positive manner. Aaron Magid wrote encouraging President Shimon Peres to run for prime minister.
Even then, before Operation Pillar of Defense, there were rumblings that something was wrong in the Gaza Strip. Gilad Sharon wrote on November 11 about the hardship of living under Hamas’s rockets. Hayat Alvi wrote an important piece about how Egypt “is looking more and more like Pakistan," prescient comments considering how the Egyptian president has now made a major grab for more executive power. Gershon Baskin wrote a piece on Tuesday with a “message to the leaders of Hamas and Israel." Then, the IDF launched its operation to root out terror infrastructure in Gaza.
Pillar of Defense may go down in history more like Operation Summer Rains in 2006 than Cast Lead in 2009. While both were conflicts between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, Cast Lead has tended to be seen as a major upheaval because of the high body count and the resulting Goldstone Commission. Turkey’s recent anger at Israel is also seen to stem from that round of fighting, even though this interpretation ignores factors that underlie the Turkish-Israeli tensions that predate 2009. Nevertheless the latest Gaza fighting seemed like a war, especially when rockets targeted Tel Aviv and sent the Jerusalem Post staff into our building’s bomb shelter when two rockets were fired at Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv as well, our Internet desk staff were located very close to the bus bombing. So we are affected by the war and many journalists were sent down to the South, including myself, to cover events.
But what can an op-ed editor do during wartime? Naturally the paper must cover the war, but it must also tread carefully between being a war-monger, calling for ground invasions and high enemy casualties, and making naïve calls for “peace." To that end we ran an important and incisive piece by Michael Sussman on “Hamas’s political wartime gain," in which he argued that Hamas was trying to influence Israel’s elections and was playing a clear political game. Maurice Ostroff wrote about the ever-present claim that Israel is “disproportionate” in its use of force. Isi Leibler added to that with a major piece on how Hamas must be deterred from firing rockets. Some, perhaps many, thought that Gilad Sharon’s article “a decisive conclusion is necessary” went too far in calling for some neighborhoods in Gaza to be “flattened.” Gilad Erdan, the Minister of Environmental Protection, offered an important view when he noted that “without guarantees from the international community, Israel will not stop its military operation.” Similarly Nachman Shai, an MK now running in the Labor primaries, wrote about the importance of an international consensus on the war.
Kenneth Bandler reminded us not to forget about Syria just because there is a conflict in Gaza. The world’s journalists tended to converge on Gaza during these last weeks, and indeed the Syrian civil war was all but forgotten. At the same time Mike Evans, a well known author, noted that the Israeli operation in Gaza was in fact part of the larger context of Israel’s confrontation with Iran.
As the conflict drew to a close we ran several articles analyzing its outcome, with surely more to come. Particularly poignant were the personal stories of immigrants and people living in Israel who felt the war had shown them the importance of Jewish unity. Renaya Anbar and Hannah Blustin of Gesher wrote about the personal growth and importance of unity in wartime that they experienced. These events should serve as a message to us all that not only is the larger issue of what is happening in Egypt or Iran important, but also the everyday little things that happen in a conflict, can be the real game-changers in helping the state survive the future.
The writer is The Jerusalem Post's opinion editor.