An Imaginary Dilemma

A society that fails to call its leaders to account for their sins weakens the society’s antibodies to other diseases of government

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledges delegates' applause after his address to the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, September 27, 2018.
AP Photo/Richard Drew

After reading Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn’s piece on “the leftist’s dilemma" (Sept. 27), I asked myself what the paper’s readers should now expect: Under Benn, who shows a willingness to ignore Benjamin Netanyahu’s corrupt conduct in exchange for the prime minister’s willingness to support the two-state solution, will Gidi Weitz cease his exposes of the covert channels through which Netanyahu, his family and his associates obtain abhorrent favors? Will the paper’s opinionated columnists stop sharing with readers their insights on the state of the nation? Will the editorials stop sounding the alarm over the government’s negligence, moral lapses and outrageous actions?

Benn presents readers with an ethical challenge: ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in return for abandoning the principles and other critical elements of a properly run country. In other words: When we weigh the chances of resolving (“or at least mitigating”) the conflict against Netanyahu’s conduct as prime minister, the greater goal of reaching a peace agreement prevails.In effect, Benn is asking that Netanyahu be protected so as to encourage him to adhere to the two-state idea. To that end, he implies that all the prime minister’s corrupt and unethical behavior since taking office be forgiven.

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In his eagerness to justify realpolitik, Benn minimizes the offenses attributed to Netanyahu, including ones that made headlines and filled pages in Haaretz, as “[favorable] coverage on Walla, champagne and cigars, chef’s meals.”

Without addressing the likelihood of Netanyahu actually endeavoring to realize the two-state vision, Benn raises a weighty issue: Is it appropriate to erase a government’s despicable acts because its goals are desirable? On the face of it, there are two ways to decide: the first, to weigh the sum total of the ruler’s actions against the ultimate goal (or his efforts to reach it). The second, correct way, is to judge the ruler’s actions, including his efforts to reach the goal, against the norms of proper conduct.

In managing the affairs of state, Netanyahu has destroyed the country to its foundations, introduced a culture of lies and deprived citizens of their ability to judge reality correctly. The negatives outweigh his accomplishments in the economic, security and diplomatic spheres.

In terms of ethics, the choice is even clearer: Utilitarian considerations cannot be applied to the jurisdiction of morality, justice, law and absolute integrity. Suggesting that Netanyahu’s alleged criminal behavior be swept under the rug, and ignoring his responsibility for the collapse of the democratic rules of the game, on the pretext that not doing so ruins the chances to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, is a renunciation of means abandoning the doctrine of reward and punishment. A society that fails to call its leaders to account for their sins weakens the society’s antibodies to other diseases of government.

>> Read more: Netanyahu Backs Future Palestinian State, Reigniting the Leftist’s Dilemma | Analysis 

This is a position that all citizens, not only leftists, should adopt, much less journalists. Benn implied a tendency to prefer the practical aim to the basic moral position. The danger is that this may lead the newspaper to speak in favor of the prime minister.

There is a precedent. In summer 2006 Haaretz backed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the withdrawal from Gaza. Then-editor David Landau, later admitted to a policy of favorable coverage, in the belief that to stop the big sin of the Strip’s continued occupation, smaller sins (investigations of corruption allegations against Sharon and his sons) could be ignored. Landau adopted the policy of “coddling Sharon like an etrog” until the disengagement was completed.

And so, important journalists admitted openly declared their decision to provide biased coverage of a prime minister because he realized their political vision. In doing so, they sanctioned the blurring of the line between the permissible and the forbidden in journalism, and mixing together fair and tendentious reporting. Benn is in danger of following in their footsteps and joining a mindset that dictates the conduct of the reporters of the right-wing daily Israel Hayom and TV’s Channel 20.