Maurice Ostroff has been having a tête à tête with Haaretz editor Ehud Ein-gil all week. Ostroff, an expat SA Zionist and prolific writer, lives in Herzliya & is a keen follower of SAJR Online’s editor Ant Katz. He thought the SA Jewish community would enjoy following this (ongoing?) web war. We agreed – SA Jewry will find some elements of each man’s arguments compelling – and Maurice’s tenaciousness fun too.
The complete e-mail argy-bargy publoished below speaks for itself and requires no further comment from us.
Haaretz violates rules of good journalism again
Sent by: Maurice Ostroff, Herzliya, Israel on Monday 9 December 2013 @ 12h13
To: Ehud Ein-gil, senior editor, Haaretz, cc: Israel Press Council
Subject: Haaretz violates the rules of good journalism again
Recently Haaretz and Gideon Levy were reprimanded by the Israel Press Council for violating the ethics code that mandates fact-checking, objectivity and loyalty to the truth and that bars any mention of a person's country of origin, ethnicity or social class if it isn't relevant to the subject under discussion. It also said Haaretz's editors had not made sure the facts were checked and that they were not careful enough about what the paper published
Your December 8 article under the sub-title "Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have no right to eulogize Nelson Mandela" similarly contravenes the basics of good journalism. For example while you correctly quote Nelson Mandela as having said "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians" you omitted his very important qualification acknowledging Israel's legitimate security concerns: "I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders."
Careless with facts, Levy erroneously slams Shimon Peres for allegedly having hosted South Africa's prime ministers and says this disqualifies him from admiring Mandela. As far I can recall only two apartheid prime ministers visited Israel and Peres hosted neither. Ben Gurion was PM when D.F. Malan visited in 1953 and Rabin was PM when B.J. Vorster visited in 1976. Malan also visited Britain, Switzerland, Belgium and Netherlands and Vorster was welcomed in Portugal, Spain, France, W. Germany Paraguay, Uruguay and Switzerland. P.W. Botha was welcomed in Britain as late as 1984. Between 1980 and 1988 he visited most European countries including the Vatican.
Singling out Israel is not only malevolent, it is absurd. Levy's argument implies that none of the leaders of countries that hosted South African prime ministers in the days of apartheid are entitled to admire Mandela.
Levy FALSELY alleges that Israel was "virtually the only country that collaborated with that evil regime." It is disgraceful that he recklessly propagates this damaging canard in violation of clause 5 of the Israel Press rules that states unambiguously "Prior to the publication of any item, the newspaper and the journalist shall check the accuracy thereof with the most reliable source and with the caution appropriate to the circumstances of the case."
The fact is that dozens of countries traded and collaborated with the apartheid regime. In 1986, while apartheid was suffering worldwide opprobrium, South Africa's main trading partners were, USA $3.4 billion, Japan $2.9 billion, Germany $2.8 billion, and UK $2.6 billion. By comparison, Israel's puny $0.2 billion total trade with South Africa amounted to less than 1% of South Africa's total trade. In addition the apartheid regime was propped up by Arab oil and financing by major European banks
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan opposed sanctions against South Africa in the 1980's. Thatcher visited SA and was hosted by Botha who said he was highly impressed by her. The US considered the ANC a terrorist group and Mandela's name remained on the U.S. terrorism watch list until 2008.
In the circumstances and in view of the harmful political implications, it is highly irresponsible to propagate the canard (i.e. the false deliberately misleading story) that Israel was the only country that collaborated with South Africa and a retraction is called for.
You're not bound by ethics code, fact-checking
Sent by: Ehud Ein-Gil, senior editor, Haaretz
To: Maurice Ostroff on Monday 9 December 2013 @ 18h51
Dear Mr Maurice Ostroff,
Thank you your detailed letter. Unfortunately, you have misfired.
Shimon Peres was Minister of Defence when the South African premier visited, and actively participated in hosting him. Please see the attached photograph from Haaretz front page of April 10, 1976. It shows PM Rabin and Peres with the South African PM.
So what if other countries entertained Mr Vorster, who had been detained during WWII for his pro-German sympathies and anti-Allies activity, and remained a racist and one of the architects of apartheid.
Israel did have special relations and cooperation with the apartheid regime, an alliance that was not based on trade but on military, strategic and political (and according to foreign sources, including South African ones, also nuclear) mutual interests.
I see that you did not wait more than three hours for our reply before publishing your unfounded criticism and accusations, but sure, you are not a journalist and therefore are not bound by the ethics code that mandates fact-checking before publishing.
I stand by the facts I stated, I respectfully disagree
Sent by: Maurice Ostroff, 10 December 19h17
To: Ehud Ein-Gil
Thank you for your prompt and considered response. I appreciate it.
If by "misfired" you mean that the facts I stated are incorrect, I respectfully disagree.
You can't be serious in using the logical fallacy of guilt by association, inferring that a photo of Peres with Rabin and Vorster justifies Levy's declaration that Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have no right to eulogize Nelson Mandela.
Yes, Peres was Minister of Defence when Rabin hosted Vorster, but how do you connect the dots in reaching the conclusion that because Peres met with Vorster and Rabin he has no right to express admiration of Mandela? Does this conclusion apply only to Peres or also to Rabin and all who accompanied him when he was with Vorster? And more interestingly does it apply to the Christian mayor of Bethlehem, Elia Freij who welcomed Vorster and showed him the manger in which infant Jesus lay?
If you apply the reasoning that Peres is tainted by indirectly hosting Vorster, then Levy would be more directly tainted by his association with Arafat. In an April 28, 2009 Haaretz article Gideon Levy tells how he dined with Arafat who is regarded by many as the father of modern terrorism, involving Black September with its hijackings and violence in Jordan, hundreds of terror acts including the 1972 murder of Israeli athletes in Munich, the 1985 hijacking of the Achilles Lauro and throwing overboard of wheelchair-bound Klinghoffer as well as Arafat's siphoning of hundreds of millions of dollars from the Palestinian people.
You ask "so what if other countries entertained Mr Vorster?" Do I really need to explain that if a balanced standard were applied, then by Levy's reasoning none of the leaders of the many democracies that hosted Malan, Vorster and Botha would have a right to eulogize Mandela; a classic example of reduction ad absurdum? It is this recurring, propaganda-like insinuation of a sinister meaning only to events in Israel that are considered unremarkable when occurring in other countries that is objectionable.
You say Israel did have special relations and cooperation with the apartheid regime.Yes Israel, like other democracies had relations with apartheid South Africa but I gave you figures showing clearly that Levy's statement that Israel was virtually THE ONLY country that collaborated with the apartheid regime is patently false and I challenge you to prove otherwise.
By the way, I did not publish my letter to you in the media as I have been awaiting your response so that it could be published together with mine. I did however send copies to my mailing list and it appears that someone passed it on to an online publication which published it without my knowledge.
“We're not in the business of censoring opinions”
Sent by: Ehud Ein-Gil, senior editor, Haaretz
To: Maurice Ostroff on Wednesday 11 December 2013 @ 10h07
Thank you for your response.
I have refuted your claims that Levy's article contained factual errors.
Now your claims concentrate on opinions. These are Levy's opinions, and he has the right to express them.
We are not in the business of censoring opinions.
By the way, there was a period when Israel was the only country that refused to respect the UN sanctions on South Africa, as even a defender of Israel's policy confirms SEE HERE.
As for Israel's special cooperation with South Africa, and its economic importance for Israel, SEE HERE.
Sending a text to a mailing list is nowadays the equivalent of publishing it, as you should have known, and if you did not – now you certainly do.
“I repeat my challenge to you…”
Sent by: Maurice Ostroff, 11 December
To: Ehud Ein-Gil
Thank you for your email. Unfortunately it doesn't address the gist of my email to you. For example, it ignores my request for an explanation of how Peres' accompanying Rabin and Vorster justifies Levy's declaration; "Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have no right to eulogize Nelson Mandela" and my question whether you apply the same reasoning to the others who hosted Vorster that I named.
The article by Avi Shilon to which you refer supports my argument. He wrote that describing Israel as a friend of the apartheid regime is flawed and simplistic.
Shilon does not support Levy's claim that Israel is virtually THE ONLY country that collaborated with the apartheid regime. He says it was the only WESTERN country that in 1986 did not take part in sanctions and even this is incorrect. Factually, when economic sanctions were imposed in 1986 Germany and Britain merely made recommendations and imposed no binding sanctions. Switzerland rejected sanctions and Margaret Thatcher actively opposed sanctions as did Ronald Reagan.
The non-profit Khulumani Support Group filed claims against dozens of major international companies in 2002 for having aided and abetted Apartheid. They include Barclays, Citibank and Deutsche Bank and oil companies Total, BP, Engen and Shell, among others who violated the embargoes (none from Israel). Also car manufacturers such as Daimler, who supplied armoured vehicles, knowing they would be used in repressive activities in the townships and arms manufacturers. Apartheid's four main credit lenders were the US, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. German net capital export to South Africa between 1985 and 1993 amounted to $2.13 billion. SIPRI reports that the largest suppliers of arms to South Africa were France, UK, USA, West Germany.
Allow me to emphasize that I advocate honest criticism of Israel. I am proud of Israel's free press and I believe that criticism of government is not only healthy but essential for democracy. However, while I don't expect objectivity, press freedom must always be subject to accuracy, fairness and accountability. The disproportionate singling out of Israel and insinuation of sinister meanings to events in Israel that are considered unremarkable when occurring in other countries, violates the basics of ethical reporting.
In view of the above I REPEAT MY CHALLENGE to you to prove that Levy's statement that Israel was virtually the only country that collaborated with the apartheid regime is accurate. I am not, as you suggest, concerned with Levy's opinions. He clearly stated this as a fact, not an opinion. He wrote "Why was Israel virtually the only country that collaborated with that evil regime."
Virtually is defined by Merriam-Webster as almost entirely or for all practical purposes.
Your replies will be published together with my emails.
Stay tuned, users, we're sure Maurice will update us if the action continues...