When Israel launched its attacks on Gaza last December, Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz, Israel’s prestigious daily, “Once again Israel’s violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law, and wisdom.”
Such bold critique is not unusual in the Israeli media. Haaretz stands at the epicenter of dissent, with stories by writers such as Amira Hass and Levy that attack the government for its seizures of Palestinian lands, its savaging of Palestinian civilians, and its battlefield brutalities.
“There is no pressure on Haaretz,” Levy said in a phone interview from Israel. “Not even from the government. Here and there, people cancel their subscriptions, but nothing more than that. Haaretz would not surrender to that kind of pressure.”
The general lack of respect for official sensibilities was clearly illustrated in a November 2003 interview in Yediot Aharonot, a daily tabloid and the most widely circulated paper in Israel, with four former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security apparatus, its own FBI. Each interviewee condemned the occupation in voices that sounded more like Gideon Levy’s than J. Edgar Hoover’s.
Avraham Shalom, for instance, was quoted in the right-leaning paper as saying, “We are behaving disgracefully. Yes, there is no other word for it. Disgracefully. We totally debase the Palestinian individual … Nobody can take this. We too would not take it if it were done to us.” Ami Ayalon, another former Shin Bet head, agreed. “Much of what we are doing today [in the Territories] is immoral, some of it patently immoral.”
Israel is a country that takes its schizophrenic democracy seriously. It may deny the people it occupies their basic human rights, but it manages not to let that be an impediment to the functioning of its democratic institutions.