The ousting of Naomi Chazan, the president of the New Israel Fund, as a columnist for the Jerusalem Post is no normal storm in a media teacup.
The row is much more a symptom of the bitterness which has erupted over the role of Israeli NGOs in framing some of the content of the Goldstone Report than the politics of the Jerusalem Post and its British-born editor-in-chief David Horovitz.
The New Israel Fund, established in 1979 to support social justice in Israel, finds itself directly in the crossfire in the wake of Goldstone. Its president, President Naomi Chazan, is the subject of a campaign of vilification by Israel’s Im Tirtzu (“if you will it”) movement. Among the offensive items are a series of posters issued by the group picturing the NIF leader with a horn emerging from her forehead and a label describing her as “Naomi Goldstone Chazan”.
The accusation against the NIF is that among the groups to receive funding are Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Yesh Din and Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights. All of these organisations allegedly provided negative references to the IDF in the Goldstone report.
Horovitz is blamed for organising a coup against Chazan as a columnist in response to the Im Tirtzu campaign. The reality is more complicated. It was the JPost management which silenced the writer after it had received a legal threat from the NIF, Chazan and their lawyers when the paper carried hostile advertisements. According to some reports, legal action is now under way, which makes the JPost’s decision even more understandable.
A senior journalist at the JPost, who insisted on anonymity, told me that contrary to media reports in Ha’aretz, repeated in the The Forward in New York and on the web, Chazan was not one of the “few left-wing columnists at the right-wing Post”. Instead, the paper has a diverse team of opinion-page commentators. Among those mentioned to me were Larry Derfner, David Newman, Gershon Baskin, as well as others from the political left.
Horovitz is said to have made an effort over the past five years to break the association of the paper with the right-wing cause. He takes the view that given the JPost’s unique position as an English language paper, it had a duty to ensure that its readers in Israel and worldwide have access to a wider range of views on Israel and the Jewish nation. If this was not the case then Chazan would not have been writing for the JPost in the first place. The paper’s loyalists insisted to me that no other Israeli paper offers such “freedom of expression” on its opinion pages.
Whereas the activities of the NIC, which has an annual budget of some $15bn are reasonably well known — as are its donors — details on Im Tirtzu are a little harder to come by.
Ha’aretz writer Jonathan Lis notes that while the group describes itself as a centrist movement, its loyalties are to the political right. Among the supporting foundations are the radical right-wing group Women in Green, as well as Pastor John Hagee of the Christians United for Israel, who Ha’aretz alleges has “been implicated in antisemitic statements”.
The row has even reached the Knesset, with the Kadima faction initially demanding a parliamentary inquiry into the NIF. But it has since decided to pool resources with Labour and allow matters to be looked at by the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.
Not surprisingly, the dispute has created a robust debate in the blogosphere, with the influential US-based Huffingtonpost weighing in against the “McCarthyism” of those who silenced JPost.
It is the editor’s remit to assign and drop columnists as he or she sees fit. If the editor feels management has overstepped the mark on matters of content there is the option of protest and resignation.
But clearly it would be all but impossible for an editor to give free rein to a commentator who had resorted to legal action against the paper in which he or she writes.