Discriminating readers of The New York Times grew accustomed in the late 1990’s to the error-prone (as well as transparently biased) reports filed with mind-numbing regularity by the paper’s former Jerusalem bureau chief Deborah Sontag. (Given her stylish creativity with bothersome things like facts and details, Sontag happens to be much better suited to her current incarnation as a feature writer for the Times’s Sunday magazine.)
Memories of Sontag came flooding back last week as the Monitor beheld a particularly jarring assault on historical truth committed by Times reporter David Sanger in the middle of an analysis piece on the Bush-Sharon-Abbas summit in Jordan.
Referring to Sharon’s refusal to publicly commit to freezing the growth of Jewish settlements (as opposed to his agreeing to abandon some ‘unauthorized outposts’), Sanger wrote: “The prime minister, of course, helped create many of those settlements as Likud minister in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967, when Bush was a junior at Yale.”
Mon Dieu! Where to begin with this towering monument of Times-style inaccuracy? First of all, Sharon was not a “Likud minister in the aftermath of the Six Day War.” For one thing, there was no Likud until 1973; for another, Sharon was not a minister of any kind during those years; he was named head of the Southern Command in 1969 and didn’t leave the IDF until 1973. (Later that year, after helping Menachem Begin form the center-right Likud coalition, Sharon was recalled to service for the Yom Kippur War and led Israeli forces across the Suez Canal).
Though he was elected to the Knesset in December 1973, Sharon resigned after just one year of relatively undistinguished service and shortly thereafter took a gig as a special adviser to (Labor) prime minister Yitzhak Rabin from June 1975 to March 1976.
Contrary to the scenario spun by Sanger, it wasn’t until 1977 – a full decade after the Six Day War – that Sharon had anything at all to do with the building of settlements. That opportunity arose when Begin, having been elected prime minister in May of ’77, appointed Sharon minister of agriculture in charge of settlements.
Oh, and in case anyone feels inclined to give Sanger the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that perhaps he operates with a rather elastic understanding of the word “aftermath” (after all, we are, one could conceivably argue, still living in the “aftermath” of the Civil War, 138 years after the Union and the Confederacy laid down their arms), please go back to what Sanger wrote and note that he ends his sentence with: “when Bush was a junior at Yale.”
By his placing Bush at Yale in the context of his claim about Sharon, it’s clear that Sanger was referring to the more-or-less immediate ‘aftermath of the Six Day War’ – for the simple reason that Bush received his bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1968. (Or maybe Sanger is confusing Yale with Harvard, since Bush received a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School in 1975. But of course that still wouldn’t explain how the publication formerly known as the Paper of Record permits such factually-challenged reporting to grace its pages.)
Speaking of Sharon, the Monitor never ceases to be amazed at the bewilderment expressed by the prime minister’s more devoted fans, both here and in Israel, whenever he reveals himself to be something of a political chameleon.
As has been pointed out by writers as ideologically diverse as Barry Chamish and Chemi Shalev, Sharon was talking about territorial compromise – and more – a long, long time ago.In 1977, Sharon formed a political party he called ‘Shlomzion’ which held out the idea of an independent Palestinian state; Sharon even tried to get the super-dove Yossi Sarid (who went on to head the ultra-left Meretz party) to join Shlomzion.
Sharon disbanded Shlomzion after the party won just two seats and he was asked to join the new Begin government. As mentioned above, Begin gave him the Agriculture portfolio – and in the blink of an eye the man who just months earlier had considered himself a good match with Yossi Sarid became a born-again hawk and ardent advocate for settlements.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org