At the Times, a favorite was the urbane and Cambridge-educated (with notably polished accent and diction) Abba Eban, who was Israel’s foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations. In contrast, Begin and some of his associates could seem crude or coarse.
David Shipler said that after Begin won his surprise victory, Eban and others would continue to lunch with their friends at the Times in New York, where they regularly predicted the imminent collapse of the Begin government.
Zev Chafets, born in Pontiac, Michigan, moved to Israel and eventually became the director of the Begin government’s press office. “Before 1977, the Israeli diplomatic establishment were Abba [Eban] and Golda [Meir],” he said. “And they were very close to the American Jewish establishment and to the American media establishment.”
He said that people like Eban spoke frequently to their friends in the media, telling them that the new crowd was a disaster, “that Begin was an extreme nationalist, a war-monger.”
Greenway, who later became The Boston Globe’s foreign editor, said the proliferation of Israeli civil rights groups devoted to the Palestinians’ situation contributed to more critical coverage. These groups provided not only a quotable source, but additional evidence that Israeli society itself was engaged in a robust debate about the nation’s policies.
The greatest factor in shifting the narrative surely has to be the events of the conflict itself, including some decisions undertaken by Israel that diminished its standing in the world. Many of these actions may have been the natural if not inevitable result of years of frustration, of worn-down patience and the inability to envision any lasting peace for the region.
All nations behave badly—that is they abandon some of their essential values—in times of stress and threat. And that syndrome is always more noticeable in democracies with high standards and expectations. Tom Hundley, who was a foreign correspondent with the Chicago Tribune for nineteen years and worked in Israel from 1990 to 1994, said the country faced its first wave of highly negative coverage in 1982 after its ill-considered invasion of Lebanon, “and suddenly everyone realized that Israel could be criticized and the world went on.”
There may be no single issue that has alienated more American supporters of Israel, Jewish and otherwise, than Israel’s policy of establishing settlements in places like the West Bank of the Jordan River. It became and remains the focus of much media coverage.
Israel’s policy of settling hundreds of thousands of Jews inside the West Bank and East Jerusalem has hampered peace efforts and been more than an irritant in relations with the United States, including during the Obama administration.
J Street, an organization based in Washington that aims to provide an alternative to traditional American Jewish groups that support Israel, conducted a poll in 2009 that demonstrated the growing split among American Jews over Israeli policies. When asked about their view of Israel’s settlements, 60 percent of American Jews were uncomfortable with the policy.
But within the segment of respondents who said they were Orthodox, the results pointed in the opposite direction; 80 percent supported the settlement policy.
These Orthodox Jews who said they supported Israel’s approach typically travel regularly to Israel, might have relatives who have emigrated there, and occasionally send their children to Israel for a break year before college.
And it is from those ranks that the critics of the Times are likely to come.
The Israelis have always had a strong appreciation of the importance of shaping their story for the world. They even have a word for it in Hebrew, hasbara, which translates roughly as “explanation” but encompasses a wider conception of public diplomacy. There was, for many years, no equivalent effort on the part of the Palestinians. “People began to appreciate that the Israeli government had the smooth machine for propaganda and the other side had nothing in that regard,” said Hundley.
But by the time of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Western news reporters and outlets began regularly citing dispatches from Wafa, the Palestinian state news agency, as to what was occurring in Lebanon.