What I wanted to tell Harriet Sherwood about Itamar

The press tour of Itamar I participated in, in the aftermath of the murder of five members of the Fogel family, included, among the couple dozen of European journalists, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent,  Harriet Sherwood.

Harriet Sherwood in Itamar

Like my understanding of the community itself, a mere couple hours spent in the company of Sherwood didn’t provide me with a complete picture of the journalist, but listening to the questions she posed to our hosts – Itamar’s mayor, Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith, and his wife, and community spokesperson, Leah – at least provided a glimpse into what informs her view from Jerusalem.

Sherwood’s prose has always lacked the anger – and ideologically driven animosity towards Israel – which seems to animate Rachel Shabi, and she doesn’t seem to possess the puerile artistic naiveté of Mya Guarnieri, and indeed her disposition and conduct while in Itamar seemed to conform with this assessment.

Though it would be easy to make more of Sherwood’s gaffe – she asked the Rebbetzin if she considered herself a “Messianic Jew” – than it warrants, it seemed an apt illustration of her unfamiliarity not just with Judaism, but with the political, moral, and historical terrain of the nation she’s covering.

Her pejorative depictions of Israeli “settlers”, which went so far as to suggest a moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorists and residents of Itamar (as illustrated by Medusa), as with her broader bias against Israel (as documented by Israelinurse), suggests a reporter in tuned with conventional thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the UK, rather than someone with a keen interest in the region or a desire to challenge her readers’ biases.

As Guardian Assistant Editor Michael White acknowledged in a frank and revealing comment on his blog:

“The Guardian has] always sensed liberal, middle class ill-ease in going after stories about immigration…about welfare fraud or the less attractive tribal habits of the working class, which is more easily ignored altogether….Christians, especially popes, governments of Israel..are more straightforward targets….[The Guardian is] striving much of the time to tell you what you’d rather know rather than challenge your prejudices and make you cross.”

Of course, none of this is to suggest that Sherwood’s habitual bias against Israel is any less injurious to the state’s moral legitimacy than if she was motivated by the malice of Shabi (or other CiF contributors, such as Ben White,Khaled Diab, or Omar Barghouti), merely that what struck me most about Sherwood while with her in Itamar was her evident lack of even the hint of gravitas.

The ugly Israeli caricature which Sherwood’s pen consistently conjures – the “dark, mythical Israel”, as Jonathan Spyer so aptly coined it – is in tuned with the attitudes of polite, liberal society in the UK.

Sherwood no doubt fancies herself refined, sophisticated, and, as she no doubt views the I-P Conflict through the prism of Palestinian victimhood, informed by liberal instinct to side with the underdog.

Yet, in her selective empathy, she fails spectacularly at understanding Jewish concerns – our hopes, fears, and national aspirations.

There was so much I wished I had told Sherwood about the brutal murders of Udi, Ruth, Yoav, Elad, and Hadas.

Yes, I wanted her to understand their humanity, the real life story which bears little or no resemblance to the tales she is told, and dutifully retells, about “extremists”, “hardliners”, and “zealots”, but I wanted to tell her so much more.

I wanted to tell her that such brutal acts of violence, the continuing physical threats from state and no-state actors, and the more amorphous moral threats posed by campaigns of delegitimization (efforts to characterize us as a nation beyond the pale) – the dramas that are dutifully reported by Sherwood and her colleagues at the Guardian – are seen by most Israelis through the much wider lens: thousands of years of Jewish history.

The moral sobriety which Israelis possess is informed by a connection with generations of Jews who came before us: from our Biblical traditions – our patriarchs, matriarchs, prophets and kings, heroes and villains.

Torah Scroll

We’re inspired by the wisdom of Esther, the courage of Judah Maccabee, the defiance in the face of overwhelming  Roman power at Masada, and the unimaginable resolve of our ancestors who resisted the cross during the Crusades.

We recall with indescribable anguish the two thousand years of expulsions, pogroms, and massacres: the masses who met their end in the gas chambers of Bergen-Belsen, the humanity thrown in an open fire in Matthausen and Sobibor, the living thousands who dug and were buried in mass grave at Babi Yar – the helplessness of statelessness.

But, I also wish I could have told her, far from wallowing in our past, we mostly remember to understand. We remember to understand the imperative of Jewish sovereignty, and to know that we’ll forever be in the debt of those brave few who fought and sacrificed so much so that we could miraculously arise from the ashes to be born anew in Israel – our old-new land – and to continue the struggle so that we’re never again subject to the goodwill, the whims and wishes, of those not informed by our history, those not invested in our collective destiny.

I wanted to tell her that the Fogels aren’t “settlers”.

We are the Fogels, and the Fogels are us.

Harriet Sherwood could have heard these words and completely understood the story.

But she’ll never really understand our story.

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