In an all-too-typical incident, Haaretz, Israel’s most prominent left-wing newspaper, published a column arguing that religious Zionists are a greater danger to the country than Hizballah. The article set off a predictable firestorm, garnering condemnation from Israel’s president, prime minister, and three cabinet members. Yet despite the attention the paper draws from its enemies at home and from foreign admirers, notes Shmuel Rosner, it has little relevance beyond its ability to create controversy:
The story of the people vs. Haaretz—that is, of a great number of Israelis’ growing dislike for the paper—is worth telling only because it tells us something about Israel itself: that the country’s far left is evolving from a political position into a mental state and that the right-wing majority has not yet evolved into being a mature, self-confident public.
The result of [the hard left’s] increasingly provocative discourse is often pathetic, at times comical, and occasionally worrying. Haaretz irks the majority of Israelis by giving voice to preposterous descriptions of what Israel is or does (“fascism,” “apartheid”), and the majority and its leaders never fail to take the bait and fly into a rage. It is a childish game and, in the long run, Israel loses. Its quality newspaper of coherent dissent, necessary in a pluralistic society, has become a platform for juvenile contrarianism. Its left-wing opposition, to which Haaretz gives voice, has become synonymous with needless antagonism; public debate has been made blunter and less constructive; the public is angrier and less tolerant of dissent.
Tempting as it is, the story of the people vs. Haaretz is not a story of a country whose public is no longer willing to tolerate debate. It is a story about a group within Israel that is losing its ability to communicate with the rest of society and to have any chance of influencing its future. It is a story about a group within Israel that finds its relief in provoking the rest of us until we snap.