Ha'aretz is the paper of Israel's intellectual establishment. And befitting that status, it is left of center, and generally critical of government policy. The posture of its editors affects their treatment of news as well as opinion. Articles by the pro-Palestinian journalist Amira Hass often begin on page one, and extend over two pages in the middle of the paper. Gidon Levy can be counted on to blast whatever the government of Benyamin Netanyahu is doing, especially if it has ramification for the peace process.
Ari Shavit is not among the most predictably left-wing writers of Ha'aretz, but he does carry the title of Senior Corespondent and is a member of the Editorial Board. Thus, we should pay attention to his recent piece that appeared in the most prominent spot, above the fold, right below the cartoon, in the center of the op-ed page.
It is a vicious attack and ridicule of Barack Obama's passivity with respect to Iran.
The headline in the Hebrew print edition translates as "The Brave President Obama."
On the English-language Internet edition, it is "The world should focus on Obama, not Netanyahu."
The Hebrew headline is a literary allusion to the The Brave Soldier Svejk, a Czech satire published in 1923 by Jaroslav Hasek, about a draftee in World War I that conveys the image of a bungling, insensitive military that can do nothing right.
The book has been widely read in Israel. When I was drafted into the IDF at the age of 40 and went off to basic training, Varda put a copy in my kitbag.
It is equivalent to the American characters Willie and Joe in the Bill Mauldin cartoons.
The essence of Shavi's column is
". . . the man sitting in the Oval Office is ignoring the possibility that his inaction will make the Middle East go nuclear and undermine the world order. He doesn't care that he might be responsible for losing the United States' superpower status and turning the 21st century into a century of nuclear chaos.
The dispassionate man from Chicago is proving every day what rare stuff he's made of. The president sees how the Iranians mock him – and does nothing. He sees radical Islam approaching the nuclear brink – and does not budge. With amazing courage Barack Obama watches the tsunami rolling toward America's shores – and smiles. . . .
He is staging a deceptive show of a deal with the Iranians, which will seem to dull the . . . threat. He is trying to make a fool of Jerusalem as Tehran is making a fool of him. The president is pushing Israel into a corner, but is hoping that Israel will accept its fate submissively. He is counting on Benjamin Netanyahu not to surprise him and ruin his election season. Never has the United States had such a gambler for a president. . . .
The international community and international public opinion are preoccupied with King Netanyahu these days – will he or won't he attack? But instead of focusing on a statesman who isn't supposed to save the world from Iran's nuclear program, it would be better to focus on the leader whose historic role is just that. In the past 40 months Barack Obama has been betraying his office. Will he wake up in the next four months, come to his senses and change his ways?"
While Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been saying that Israel cannot tolerate Iran with a nuclear program, commentators are inclined to find splits in the Israeli establishment, and speculate that Netanyahu and Barak are simply trying to pressure Americans and Europeans into an firm posture on Iran. Why would Israel risk its status among the decent countries by an lone attack, especially in the run-up to an American presidential election, and if the Americans and Europeans claim to have reached a satisfactory agreement with Iran?
There is no hard information about the sentiments of Israelis as they might be affected by the details of a formal agreement, along with reservations heard from Iranians, the continued insistence by ranking Iranian officials that Israel must be destroyed, and signs of Iranian waffling on what the Americans and Europeans describe as their commitments.
Israeli commentators did not greet with loud applause the claims of the International Atomic Energy Agency head that Iran had agreed to increased inspection. The news came along with the report that the Iranians had already cleaned one of its most suspicious facilities of nuclear activity in advance of an inspection. The halting and broken English of the Japanese at the head of IAEA adds its bit of negative symbolism. No doubt he had the advantage of translations from Parsi to English and Japanese, but his halting praise of progress did not convey a great deal of confidence that he understands the Iranians.
Shavit's editorial, including its prominent location in Ha'aretz, suggests the breadth of Israelis' lack of confidence in the American president and his colleagues in this mission. It does not help that Catherine Ashton, ostensibly leading the European-American-UN delegation, shown smiling as she was shaking the hand of the head Iranian delegate, is viewed by reputable journals in her own country as a caricature of a diplomat
Netanyahu may only be bluffing in his unmistable criticism of what the Americans and Europeans are offering the Iranians at the onset of negotiations, in order to get the strongest posture imaginable from the Westerners.
On the other hand . . .