This summer marks the 25th anniversary of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. For those who labor under the mistaken assumption that media liberals and leftists turned against Israel because of its handling of the two Palestinian intifadas, or because of what they perceive to be the neoconservative hold on the Bush White House (particularly during Bush’s first term), or because they lay the blame squarely on Israel for the collapse of Oslo and the failure of the Clinton initiatives at Camp David and Taba, it might be instructive to take a brief look back at what liberals and leftists were saying about Israel a quarter-century ago.
Columnist Nicholas von Hoffman, who recently described Israel as “not good for much beside limited or mass destruction” and who decries “the Israeli-American war against the Palestinians,” was already secreting his anti-Israel bile back in 1982 when he wrote, “Incident by incident, atrocity by atrocity, Americans are coming to see the Israeli government as pounding the Star of David into a swastika.”
The late columnist Carl Rowan also looked eastward and beheld the Fourth Reich rising in Jerusalem: “In their zeal to ensure that the Jewish people never suffer another Holocaust, Israel’s leaders are imitating Hitler.”
Columnist and author Pete Hamill cited an unnamed “Israeli friend” who supposedly said of Israel, “Forgive me, but all I can think of is the Nazis.” (One of the Monitor’s journalistic rules of thumb: When a reporter quotes anonymous sources, they invariably agree with the reporter’s agenda or story line – assuming the sources are even real in the first place.)
The late Alfred Friendly, former managing editor of the Washington Post, was in fine frenzy: “[Israel’s] slaughters are on a par with … Trujillo’s Dominican Republic or Papa Doc’s Haiti. Still absent are the jackboots, the shoulder boards, and the bemedalled chests, but one can see them, figuratively, on the minister of defense.”
Columnist Richard Cohen, who just a few months ago tried to backpedal from his statement that Israel is “a well-intentioned mistake,” had this to say 25 years ago: “Maybe the ultimate tragedy of the seemingly nonstop war in the Middle East is that Israel has adopted the morality of its hostile neighbors. Now it bombs cities, killing combatants and non-combatants alike – men as well as women, women as well as children, Palestinians as well as Lebanese.”
Columnist William Pfaff suggested that “Hitler’s work goes on” – and speculated that Hitler may “find rest in Hell” with “the knowledge that the Jews themselves, in Israel, have finally … accepted his own way of looking at things.”
The late NBC News anchor John Chancellor, reporting from Lebanon, delivered a series of commentaries sharply critical of Israel, including this historically illiterate blast: “What will stick in the mind about yesterday’s savage Israeli attack on Beirut is its size and scope…. Nothing like it has ever happened in this part of the world…. What’s an Israeli army doing here in Beirut? The answer is that we are now dealing with an imperial Israel which is solving its problems in someone else’s country, world opinion be damned [emphasis added].”
NBC’s Tom Brokaw, interviewing Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, burnished his progressive credentials with this bit of nonjudgmental gable: “…the PLO, or the terrorists as you call them [emphasis added].”
Reporters and anchormen weren’t the only media types to take the sledgehammer to Israel. Zev Chafets, in Double Vision, his 1985 study of anti-Israel media bias, noted that editorial cartoonists were particularly vicious and inclined toward the Nazi imagery favored by so many pundits:
Artist Steve Benson compared Ariel Sharon with Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and showed goose-stepping Israeli storm-troopers guarding a death camp labeled BEIRUT; Tony Auth depicted the ghost of a Jewish inmate of Auschwitz looking at a bombed-out site in Lebanon and, in horrified recognition, saying, “Oh, my God.”
The Louisville Courier-Journal ran a picture of Begin looking into a hole where Lebanon had been, captioned “A final solution to the PLO problem,” and the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner carried a Bill Schorr cartoon in which Begin said, “For every problem, there is a final solution.”
The Indianapolis Star carried one cartoon by Oliphant of a wrecked city with a sign saying WARSAW GHETTO crossed out and the words WEST BEIRUT substituted and another with Israeli soldiers saying, “We are only obeying orders.” The Arizona Republic ran a picture of Begin wearing a badge saying NEVER AGAIN, and an Arab standing next to him wearing a button saying UNTIL NOW.
Chafets’s book, by the way, is as powerful today as it was when first released, not least because many of the journalists whose work he critiques are still active.