Q&A With Haaretz Publisher Amos Schocken

Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken answered readers' questions on topics ranging from Hamas and Gaza to Zionism and the Israeli left.

Eliyahu Hershowitz

Haaretz believes that even in a time of war and rockets fired at the home front, it is important to deal with questions that arise with regard to the role of the media. Last week, Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken answered questions posed by readers of the Hebrew version of Haaretz. The following are some of the answers he gave. Click here to read the full Q&A in Hebrew.

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Q: Do you feel that the government of Hamas, an organization that acts in word and deed to destroy the state of Israel, is legitimate? Do you think it would be correct to say outright to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that the organization that rules you is a clearly and openly anti-Semitic organization? In addition, does Israel have the right and the moral obligation to prevent rocket fire on rural locales and cities in Israel?

Amos Schocken: I don’t think there is any point in telling the Palestinians in Gaza that the organization ruling them is anti-Semitic. It wouldn’t make the slightest impression on them, certainly not after we have killed more than 600 of them. The Hamas regime is truly horrible but Israel has a history of relations with such regimes. From our perspective the problem is that Hamas doesn’t accept the Quartet’s conditions, that is, it doesn’t recognize Israel.

I thought the unification of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas could have brought about Hamas recognition of Israel, while at the same time there would have been progress in the peace process and Hamas would have faced the possibility of benefiting from the fruits of peace. I thought the use the prime minister made of the unification was more in order to run away from the peace process and that there might have been an opportunity here to transform Hamas into an interlocutor. Clearly there were a lot more obstacles to this, including the internal relationships among the Palestinians.

It’s clear that Israel has a right and an obligation to defend itself from rocket fire. There is absolutely no question of that. Israel has done this so far with impressive success.

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Q: Could it be that Haaretz, as the house organ of the leftists in Israel, has done more harm than good to the leftist and human rights movements by giving a platform to writers of articles who are considered extremist even among prominent leftists?

Amos Schocken: Amira Hass has often written about problems in the Palestinian Authority. I think she is also deeply discouraged by Israel’s disparaging and dismissive attitude towards Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas), by Israel’s humiliation and weakening of him; maybe she sees the influence this has on the positive attitude towards Hamas on the part of Palestinians in the territories and maybe she thinks that in the end Israel will have to face off with Hamas and not the PA, which Israel has helped to weaken. This seems like a pretty logical thought progression, doesn’t it? Very regrettable but logical.

The damage to the left originates elsewhere. From (former prime minister) Ehud Barak’s “no partner.” (At the Israel Conference for Peace we barely managed to extract from him that this statement was about Arafat “at the time it was said” and about Abu Mazen the situation is different now.) And from the stupidity (to my mind) of the Palestinians who did not have the sense to derive something different from the disengagement, though in my opinion with Israel’s help. After he was elected, Ismail Haniyeh told Haaretz that it was possible to have a tadiyeh (truce) for 10 or 20 years (I don’t remember exactly). I don’t in fact want to represent the Israeli left. I am content with representing Haaretz.

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Q: Why doesn’t Haaretz have a permanent correspondent in the Gaza Strip?

Amos Schocken: I would be delighted if we had a permanent correspondent in the Gaza Strip (as well as in Arab countries – at the time we didn’t even manage to keep a permanent correspondent in Cairo). Gaza is closer to us than New York and regular reporting from there is very interesting. Many years ago Amira Hass lived there, then she left. She went there again after Hamas took over, for a while, and in my opinion (I am writing from memory, she’s not answering on her mobile phone), the people there advised her to leave. Amira is now reporting from Gaza based on conversations with sources she is in contact with there. This is a lot more than what is appearing in other media.

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Q: Do Haaretz and its editorial board see themselves as a Zionist newspaper and identify somehow with the Zionist narrative and Israel’s Declaration of Independence or do the newspaper and its senior editors in fact prefer a critical and objective approach devoid of any identification with the state of Israel?

Amos Schocken: Tell me, do you read this newspaper? Not long ago we wrote an editorial about how there are forces in Israel acting against the definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and want to define it as the state of the Jewish people in order to shrink the democracy and damage its obligations towards the Arab minority that were given in the Declaration of Independence. Read this short article I wrote to understand what I think Zionism is and how the concept has been distorted beyond recognition.

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Q: Despite the professional news coverage, the editorial part of the newspaper has by and large become identical in its contents to extreme left blogs. The attitude towards the tunnels intended for slaughtering civilians is really abominable.

Amos Schocken: I haven’t been in Gaza for many years now but in pictures I have also seen quite a few new buildings. It’s impossible to keep concrete and iron from them but the failure we wrote about today in the editorial is that apparently Israel had a lenient attitude towards the phenomenon that was not entirely unknown.

We wrote that the war’s aim of the destruction of the tunnels posited by the prime minister is a justified aim. The danger they pose is clear to us. But we also wrote that the correct solution to this, in a longer time frame than until the next war, is diplomatic negotiations. I think Israel is even refusing to examine whether Abu Mazen is a partner to an agreement.

Israel’s conduct in John Kerry’s process was a kind of bluff. The peak was when Israel made the claim about Palestinian incitement against Israel and Abu Mazen proposed establishing a joint committee to mutual recriminations on the matter. (Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister) Yuval Steinitz, on behalf of the government, announced Israel’s refusal. Now Israel suddenly wants Abu Mazen to control the Rafah crossing point but until now it did everything it could to humiliate him. When this is the situation, is it any wonder that people in the PA territories rejoice when they think Hamas is having success against Israel?

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Q: Is there any significance to the fact that you are an Israeli newspaper or do you see yourselves as a foreign newspaper?

Amos Schocken: Of course we are a super-Israeli newspaper. Israel is our area of activity, our editorials are about Israel only, it is very important to us to influence Israel’s development in the direction of the values we believe in and I am glad that in many areas we are successful.

For example, I think we were an important factor in defending the legal system against attacks from the school of (former prime minister Ehud) Olmert, (former justice minister Daniel) Friedmann and (Foreign Minister Avigdor) Lieberman who wanted to bend the legal system to the will of politicians and to weaken the functioning of the attorney general. It’s hard to imagine what a disaster it would have been for Israeli democracy had they succeeded.

Our chief failure has been that we were not able to prevent the settlement project, even though we wrote against it form its inception. Regardless of the question of whether or not it is possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians (I think that it is possible), it’s clear that the settlements are a huge obstacle. We’ve heard this again from Martin Indyk and others.