PCP Runs into Opposition: Kristof vs. Steinberg on Hebron

I was going to fisk this prime example of the Politically-correct paradigm, with its Oslo Logic of inverted cause and effect, and I still welcome commetators to do so. That it comes from Kristof, whose work in Darfur is so courageous and relevant, is sad but not surprising. In the meantime, Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor has published an excellent rebuttal which I reproduce below.

(UPDATE from Shrinkwrapped below.)

The Two Israels

Published: June 22, 2008
HEBRON, West Bank

Nicholas D. Kristof: Inside the West Bank

To travel through the West Bank and Gaza these days feels like traveling through Israeli colonies.

You whiz around the West Bank on new highways that in some cases are reserved for Israeli vehicles, catching glimpses of Palestinian vehicles lined up at checkpoints.

The security system that Israel is steadily establishing is nowhere more stifling than here in Hebron, the largest city in the southern part of the West Bank. In the heart of a city with 160,000 Palestinians, Israel maintains a Jewish settlement with 800 people. To protect them, the Israeli military has established a massive system of guard posts, checkpoints and road closures since 2001.

More than 1,800 Palestinian shops have closed, in some cases the doors welded shut, and several thousand people have been driven from their homes. The once flourishing gold market is now blocked with barbed wire and choked with weeds and garbage.

“For years, Israel has severely oppressed Palestinians living in the center of the city,” notes B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, in a recent report. The authorities, it adds, “have expropriated the city center from its Palestinian residents and destroyed it economically.”

Rima Abu Aisha, a housewife in Hebron, has the misfortune of living in an area near the settlers. When she went into labor, an ambulance could not get the appropriate permissions in time and the baby died, she said.

Even if the Hebron settlement were not illegal in the eyes of much of the world, it is utterly impractical. The financial cost is mind-boggling, and the diplomatic cost is greater.

Perhaps greatest of all is the cost for any hope of a peaceful settlement: the barriers and checkpoints have undermined Palestinian moderates like President Mahmoud Abbas and have empowered Hamas. Polls show that two-thirds of Palestinians now approve of terror attacks against civilians in Israel, up from 40 percent in 2005.

The Palestinians are committing national suicide as well. By turning toward the zealots of Hamas, and toward the short-term thrill of sending rockets into Israel, they are building a tombstone for their state before it is even born.

Americans who haven’t toured the West Bank or Gaza recently may not appreciate how the new security regime of the last few years is suffocating, impoverishing and antagonizing Palestinians.

In the village of Ein Bani Salim, a farmer named Khalifa Danna pointed to his field, separated from his house by a barbed-wire fence that Israel built in 2004. Since then, he has been unable to get to the fields. Mr. Danna shows photos he has taken of Israeli settlers on his land — even using it to throw stones at him.

B’Tselem is giving video cameras to Palestinians to document the attacks and abuses they suffer. Just this month, a Palestinian woman near Hebron used a camera to record a group of four settlers clubbing her family in a field; two settlers were later arrested.

The settlers see the issue very differently, emphasizing the continuing Palestinian attacks on them and noting that the security steps were put in place only in reaction to Palestinian terrorism during the second intifada a half-dozen years ago.

“If people are trying to actively wipe you out and kill your people, then you have to take security measures,” says David Wilder, a spokesman for the settlers in Hebron. “If that antagonizes them, they should stop trying to kill us.”

So the chasm grows wider and peace more distant.

It is here in the Palestinian territories that you see the worst side of Israel: Jewish settlers stealing land from Palestinians (almost one-third of settlement land is actually privately owned by Palestinians); Palestinian women giving birth at checkpoints because Israeli soldiers won’t let them through (four documented cases last year); the diversion of water from Palestinians. (Israelis get almost five times as much water per capita as Palestinians.)

Yet it is also here that you see the very best side of Israel. Israeli human rights groups relentlessly stand up for Palestinians. Israeli women volunteer at checkpoints to help Palestinians through. Israeli courts periodically rule in favor of Palestinians. Israeli scholars have published research that undermines their own nation’s mythologies. Many Israeli journalists have been fair-minded toward Palestinians in a way that Arab journalists have rarely reciprocated.

All told, the most persuasive indictments of Israeli actions come from Israelis themselves. This scrupulous honesty and fairness toward Israel’s historic enemies is a triumph of humanity.

In short, there are many Israels. When American presidential candidates compete this year to be “pro-Israeli,” let’s hope that they clarify that the one they support is not the oppressor that lets settlers steal land and club women but the one that is a paragon of justice, decency, fairness — and peace.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground, and join me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kristof.

One of the more interesting aspects of this piece is that the “good” Israel is the human rights movements that criticize Israeli policy as opposed to the militants who fight for their perceived rights. The resounding silence of this piece is the unfortunate asymmetry of this particular phenomenon. If we apply the same standards to the Palestinians, there is scarcely a trace of a “good” Palestine, of groups that even care about the human rights of Palestinians, much less of Israelis. It’s actually quite cruel of Kristoff to praise Israel for its most severe critics and not even mention the grotesque absence of a self-critical culture among the Palestinians. Once again, Palestinian victims, Israeli aggressors, and the one bright light from Israel, those Israelis who fight Israeli aggression.

Here is Steinberg’s response:

Response to Nicolas Kristof´s op-ed “The Two Israels”

Letter to the Editor
New York Times

In his oped, Nicolas Kristof (June 22, “The Two Israels”) illustrates the danger of the “halo effect” that surrounds many powerful non-governmental organizations, which use distorted human rights claims to promote ideological agendas. While otherwise very professional journalists question and independently verify the claims of governments, corporations, and others, the statements of groups that assert moral objectives tend to be taken at face value. In this article, Kristof extols B’tselem and Machsom Watch (the women who “volunteer at checkpoints to help Palestinians through”). As documented by NGO Monitor, both are political organizations based in Israel that have appropriated human rights rhetoric for partisan goals, mix fact with fiction, and grossly distort history in order to promote their private agendas.

For example, Kristof repeats the simplistic statements of these NGOs regarding Hebron – a city of immense religious and historical importance to the Jewish people – without mentioning the impact of the 1929 massacre and expulsion of the entire Jewish community. A limited return to this historic city was only possible after 1967. Since this context is inconvenient for promoting B’tselem’s political objectives, which would mean again removing the Jewish population from Hebron, these political activists focus instead on one-sided human rights allegations in which Palestinians are always victims, and Israel is always the oppressor.

Seduced by the “halo effect”, Kristof uses B’tselem’s very narrow window to strip the wider context and sell his own interpretation of the conflict and strip it of the wider context. Following B’tselem’s lead, Kristof also ignores the human rights violations of Jewish Israelis in Hebron, including the murder of a 10 month old baby – Shalhevet Pas by a Palestinian sniper. And claims regarding the impact of Israel’s separation barrier and checkpoints completely erases the fact that hundreds or perhaps thousands of Israeli lives that have been spared by preventing the entry of suicide bombers. This is also a primary human rights issue, which the activists in B’tselem and Machsom Watch find inconvenient, and which no human rights group has documented using video cameras.

Expropriating human rights rhetoric for partisan claims, erasing the context and complexity of conflict situations, and applying human rights exclusively to one side of a conflict is morally unacceptable. Such biased approaches from NGOs have severely undermined the ethical foundations and credibility of human rights, which are by definition universal and must be applied equally.

Gerald Steinberg
Executive Director
NGO Monitor
Jerusalem, Israel

UPDATE: Superb analysis at Shrinkwrapped:

The combination of journalistic self-perceptions as courageous defenders and advocates for the weak and helpless, along with their intolerance of seeing themselves as fearful dupes and useful idiots, suggests that attempting to introduce historic data, attempting reasoned arguments, or even confronting them with overt Pallywood artifice, is most akin to slowly chipping away at a dam with the hope that someday soon the walls will be breached and something more akin to the truth will come rushing out. Perhaps the blogosphere, with its real-time fact checking and its army of amateur journalists and commentators, will eventually prevail, but for now, it is the Nicolas Kristofs and the New York Times editors who determine the daily story line and narrative and they will not give up their power to shape perceptions easily.

14 Responses to PCP Runs into Opposition: Kristof vs. Steinberg on Hebron

  1. […] Augean Stables » PCP Runs into Opposition: Kristoff vs. Steinberg on Hebron PCP Runs into Opposition: Kristoff vs. Steinberg on Hebron […]

  2. Eliyahu says:

    It is very significant that Kristof overlooks –one assumes deliberately– the whole history of Hebron, its religious and historical importance to the Jewish people, and the outstanding monument and bone of contention there — the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Cave of Machpelah [same place]. Somehow, none of that exists for Kristof with his simplistic moralizing, his reliance for information on what are in effect Western-guided and financed bodies [B’Tselem gets funds from the Ford Foundation, inter alia], his morally superior tone, his failure to even mention the 1929 massacre of 68 Jews by Arabs, and the subsequent removal of Jews from the town by British forces who had previously refused to protect the Jews of Hebron.

    On the British role in 1929, Pierre van Paassen’s books and reports are essential. Albert Londres mentions the British acquiescence in pogroms in several other locations in the country in that same period [in Le Juif errant est arrive], although he does not mention the British role in Hebron, as I recall. Other sources giving a critical view of the British role in 1929 include William Ziff in The Rape of Palestine.

    Kristof ought to be asked whether he ever read Van Paassen’s and Londres’ accounts of the 1929 massacres/pogroms. I wonder if he ever heard of this much greater, much more honest journalist than himself.

    I am sure that he is unavware of accounts of “human rights violations” by Arabs against Jews in Hebron and the humiliating status of the Jews there before the middle of the 19th century when conditions for dhimmis seem to have improved in most parts of the Ottoman Empire. One account of Jews and Arabs in Hebron by an American should be of special interest to Kristof. This is the account in William Lloyd Stephens’s book, Incidents of Travel in Egypt, … and the Holy Land (reprint Oklahoma U Press, 1970). Stephens was the guest of Hebron Jews in 1836. See link here and other parts of the Stephens’ account on the Emet m’Tsiyon blog:


    could Kristof be capable of learning about a Hebron rabbi who came to the United States shortly before independence to raise funds and became friendly with Ezra Stiles, future president of Yale??? Would the cognitive dissonance of learning about this rabbi induce a stroke in Kristof, perhaps?? [on this rabbi, see link above]

  3. oao says:

    kristof is a typical tourist journalist. he belabors under the illusion that he can travel once in a blue moon to the region and without any serious knowledge of the roots, nature and histort of the conflict or what of what actually happens there he can, by simply talking to some people he can provide a sound position on the subject.

    the reality is that he is ignorant, leftwise prejudiced and manipulable by actors with agenda.

  4. Cynic says:


    Kristof most probably has not read the books and it wouldn’t matter because he has an agenda to fulfill.
    The Same thinking that drives geWalt&Moonshiner can be applied to most of these journalists.

  5. Eliyahu says:

    Good News for Hebrew readers!! Albert Londres’ book, Le Juif errant est arrive, has just been published in Hebrew with an afterword by Emanuel Halperin, one of the few sane people in the Israel Broadcasting Authority. This is I believe the first publication in Hebrew and it just came out this year. The title is היהודי הנודד הגיע
    or some similar title.

  6. Sophia says:

    Eliyahu, thank you.

    I was hoping RL would write about the Kristoff piece. I also hope the NYT will publish an article discussing this history. The assumption that Hebron’s history began in 1948 (or 1967) is deeply disturbing.

  7. Richard Landes says:

    deeply disturbing only to those for whom anything before 1967 matters. it’s so much easier to frame things in the recent past (occubation, occubation, occubation). ironically, the same progressives who heap scorn on creationists for thinking the world is only thousands of years old rather than billions, prefer to think the Arab-Israeli conflict is decades old rather than more than a millennium old.

    the really sad part of the Kristof column is that a) he is so stark in his language (probably thinks he “speaks truth to power), and b) sees no parallel between the folks doing the genocide in Darfur (Arab Jihadis) and those prevented from it in the Israeli case.

  8. oao says:

    The Same thinking that drives geWalt&Moonshiner can be applied to most of these journalists.

    with the difference that w&m are academics and were supposedly trained in distinguishing between agendas, while journalists are less sensitized to this. that w&m are indistinguishable from journalists is excellent evidence of the collapse of education.

    it’s so much easier to frame things in the recent past

    intellectual limitations and lazyness is the major attribute here. simplifies life enormously if you don’t have much grey matter.

    as one who has not been born and raised in the US I must, however, say that there is an american culture component at work here too: americans find it hard to comprehend and deal with long deep conflicts that do not lend themselves to compromise, usually in some sort of material terms. the closest they come to one is racial conflict in the US, which is you get Rice to project from it on the arab-israeli conflict.

    aside from that assume, for a moment, that they would study the conflict and comprehend it: that would cause them unbearable cognitive dissonance, make them realize the dupes they’ve been and how they were manipulated. you can see what enderlin is doing to avoid that at all cost, no matter how absurd.

  9. Eliyahu says:

    RL and Sophia, it really is amazing that so many can’t “connect the dots.” That is, they can’t see the unifying elements in the Muslim on Muslim [sunni-Shi`i] massacres in Iraq, the mass slaughter in Algeria, also Muslim on Muslim [both sides suni] which started about 1990-1991, the genocide in the Sudan of southern blacks which started in 1956, the sunni massacres of shi`is in Pakistan, the Muslim Brotherhood’s massacres of tourists and Christian Copts in Egypt, etc etc. Now, informed people should be able to see the unifying elements among all these events and fit the Arab jihad against Israel into that framework. Of course, one might claim that the MSM filter out much of the news, especially in the USA. But enough news gets through so that informed people should know about all of this. But even the academics can’t or don’t extrapolate from the civil war in Lebanon, for instance, to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Anyhow, look at the ignorant, crude comments on the Inside Higher Ed site.

  10. Eliyahu says:

    here’s a good account of Kristof’s past stupidities and contempt for truth, by Steve Emerson.


  11. oao says:


    most people are NOT informed, particularly in the US about foreign issues.

    out of the few who are, they get their info from MSM, and do not have the knowledge and critical reasoning ability to judge what they are getting.

    one of the major sources of anti-semitism is ignorance. its recent reemergence in the west indicates that ignorance is way up.

  12. oao says:

    hell, they are barely informed about the US. otherwise how would you explain that in such a time of crisis for US the only candidates that the system can produce are obama, mccain and clinton?

  13. Eliyahu says:

    oao, I still say that obama is the most sinister of the three because of his connection to zbig brzezinski. I call Obama the War Candidate par excellence in this election. Yes, I know that Hilary’s hubby Bill made war on Serbia in 1999 and John McCain would go to war if he thought it necessary. But zbig is the greatest threat to world peace on two legs. And obama will put him in position to do the most damage. Just recall that zbig was jimmy carter’s national insecurity advisor in the 1970s. He helped osama bin laden to get started in Afghanistan. He helped khomeini take over Iran and he, zbig, threw the Shah under the bus, so to speak. And he facilitated Syrian and PLO war crimes against civilians in Lebanon, not to mention what he did to the Jews of Israel.

    Now, I’ve read, zbig wants to start a conflict with China, besides peacemongering against Israel for the sake of an invented “palestinian people.” Can the world survive four more years of zbig, courtesy of obama, the candidate who was once a “community organizing” activist???

    The imbecilic, insane and/or ignorant American Left –gauche and sinister at the same time– may learn the dangers of fancy but empty rhetoric.

  14. oao says:

    I still say that obama is the most sinister of the three

    they’re all crap

    Can the world survive four more years of zbig, courtesy of obama, the candidate who was once a “community organizing” activist???

    the world gets what it deserves

    The imbecilic, insane and/or ignorant American Left –gauche and sinister at the same time– may learn the dangers of fancy but empty rhetoric.

    if it’s imbecillic it can’t learn. they cannot get the most obvious things.

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