Mainstream media continues to sanitize Itamar Ben-Gvir following election triumph

Itamar Ben-Gvir (Yonathan Sindel - Flash90)

James North

Mondoweiss  /  November 2, 2022

Itamar Ben-Gvir will probably be the kingmaker in Israel’s next government. So why do The New York Times and National Public Radio downplay his racism ?

As expected in the Israeli elections this week, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Religious Zionism party doubled its number of seats in Israel’s Knesset. Benjamin Netanyahu will depend on Ben-Gvir as he tries to form a new government. 

Certain Israeli commentators are not mincing their words about Ben-Gvir’s party. In Haaretz, the respected Israeli daily, Esther Solomon’s first sentence called it “racist, supremacist, homophobic, theocratic, [and] far-right.” Anshel Pfeffer, who is also no far-leftist, added that Ben-Gvir is “Bibi [Netanyahu] squared, with an extra helping of racism.”

By contrast, U.S. mainstream coverage was mostly pathetically timid.

The main New York Times news story — which was buried in the print edition on page 10 instead of on the front page where it belonged — partly sanitized Ben-Gvir’s party by calling it “an ultranationalist religious alliance” that is “far right.”

Even more offensive, the Times report then insinuated that “many right-wing Jewish Israeli voters” had supported Ben-Gvir because they were “unsettled by Arab participation in Israel’s outgoing government.” This is astonishing media malpractice. The implication is that Jewish Israelis turned toward an extreme racist mainly because they were “unsettled” that the previous government, led by Yair Lapid, had been supported by a small party representing some Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The truth is more like: “Many right-wing Israeli voters are ‘unsettled’ that any Palestinians live in Israel or in the occupied territories at all.” Any cub reporter could have gone to the Ben-Gvir party’s post-election celebration last night and gotten some hair-raising racist quotes in a couple of nano-seconds — but the Times has a long-standing tradition of hiding such viciousness.

The Times report did improve. Reporter Patrick Kingsley did smuggle in some telling details about Ben-Gvir, including that “until recently, he hung a portrait in his home of Baruch Goldstein, who shot dead 29 Palestinians in a West Bank mosque in 1994.”

National Public Radio’s coverage was even worse. Daniel Estrin’s 3-minute on-the-spot report simply called Ben-Gvir “a far right provocateur” — but failed to mention that Netanyahu will have to now give him an influential ministry. Even worse, Estrin described Ben-Gvir’s campaign as “calling for tough law enforcement against Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel.” The insinuation is clear: it’s the Palestinians who are ‘lawless’ — instead of second-class citizens living under what all major human rights groups have called a system of “apartheid.”

By contrast, The Washington Post did much better. Its very first sentence accurately reported that the election results are “a stunning victory for Israel’s far right — a once fringe, aggressively anti-democratic, fundamentally racist movement that in a number of weeks may man the country’s most influential seats of power.”

But maybe the Post’s senior editors got scared by how honest their reporters were. Because at 8:30 a.m. this morning, you couldn’t find this news report anywhere on the paper’s online home page. 

Meanwhile, here’s how a real reporter is covering Israel’s election. Phil Weiss is in Jerusalem. Here’s some of what he found. You won’t see this in the New York Times.

Ben-Gvir and Netanyahu’s political message was that the current Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s policy of killing 260 Palestinians this year in response to resistance was too soft; and I heard that fascistic message resonating among Jews on election day. 

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large