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July 20, 2011
A NY Times reporter who gets Israel right (and one who doesn't)
Miracle of miracles! An article in the New York Times that actually gets Israel right -- without any of the usual pejorative spins and tendentious innuendos about the Jewish state.
I am referring to a July 18 report by Dina Kraft about Israel as the world capital of in vitro fertilization (IVF), which accounts for 4 out of every 100 babies born in the state -- four times the U.S. rate ("Where Families Are Prized, Help Is Free -- In Israel, In Vitro Fertilization Is Both Subsidized and Common" page A5").
In a straightforward manner, Kraft writes that, whether they are Jewish or Arab, straight or gay, secular or religious, Israeli women using this procedure are united by a single hope -- that medical science will bring them a baby. About 28,000 such procedures are performed in Israel every year.
So what accounts for Isael outpacing every other country in IVF procedures? It helps that the state offers the procedures free of charge. But Kraft digs deeper and finds special cultural elements that also favor widespread use of IVF.
She cites a Hebrew University medical sociologist who explains that "it's because family is an extremely important social institution in Israel and what makes a family is children."
Naturally, there's also the biblical injunction for Jews to be fruitful, but Kraft points out that Arab citizens of Israel have the same right to state-paid fertility treatments.
Beside the biblical rationale, there's also a modern twist that boosts popular use of IVF. A legal adviser to the Health Ministry points out that Israel is the only country to cover not only unlimited IVF treatment, but to make this treatment available for all women regardless of their marital status or sexual orientation. The state is now even looking to expand coverage to gay men using a surrogate. "I think our country can be proud that a woman who wants to be a mother can try to do so," she tells Kraft
In sum, as a patient with a 4-year-old son as a result of IVF, remarks as she gently bounces the boy to sleep in her arms: "If we lived anywhere else we probably would never have gotten here. There is something deeply humane about this policy, this idea that people have the right to be parents. It's something that characterizes life here -- the value placed on life."
A rarity when it comes to NY Times coverage of Israel -- a story that provides readers with some real insight into the soul of the country.
Two days later, however, the Times is back to its old tricks -- a sly piece by Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner with a surreal stretch that revolutions sweeping the Arab world also have impacted and infected Israel. "Spirit of Middle East Protests Doesn't Spare Israel -- Anger Rises Over the Cost and Availability of Housing, Food and Other Basic Goods" July 20, page A4).
I had been waiting for the Times and other mainstream media to finally report the obvious -- that Israel is an island of stability in a region wracked by transformative upheavals in Arab countries -- mass demonstrations that aim directly at ouster of old autocratic regimes.
But Bronner instead invents a fictitious reality that actually shows Israel in a similar grip, beset by daunting threats to its very foundation. Here's how he puts it:
And what basis is there for this dire diagnosis?
Bronner points to tents that have sprung up in the median of Tel Aviv's most stylish avenue as a protest against high consumer prices and a shortage of housing -- as expressed by a "mix of characters: the unemployed down-and-out next to the artistic elite; half-naked men in straw hats, women in minidresses."
And because such anti-establishment tents have also sprung up in other Israeli cities, Bronner depicts them as "the first threat to the stable government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu."
Bibi about to suffer the same fate as Hosni Mubarak, or so Bronner would make Times readers believe.
What a fevered, ideological anti-Israel invention in the news pages of the New York Times!
As Bronner himself ends up pointing out (far down in his article) Israel's unemployment rate is below 6 percent, the shekel is strong and exports outstrip imports. Would Bronner or the Times serve up a similar sky-is-falling prognostication for President Obama, who's presiding over a far higher 9.2 percent unemployment rate, a falling dollar and a huge trade imbalance?
Of course, Israel still has economic and social problems (what country hasn't) -- not everybody shares in Israel's prosperous economy. Young couples have difficulty finding housing they can afford. And there have been lots of protests about a sharp rise in the price of cottage cheese. But Netanyahu's government is dealing with them, as Bronner belatedly and grudgingly reports.
More important, in terms of Israel's success in NOT replicating the explosive turmoil of its Arab neighbors, Israel is a robust, functioning, responsive democracy -- the only one in the Middle East. The cabinet is performing as an executive branch should -- with a mandate valicated at the ballot box. Ditto the Knesset. Also, Israel has a Supreme Court that never hesitates to act as a major check-and-balance on the power of its legislative and executive branches. None of these democratic underpinnings have been in evidence in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria or Yemen -- which is exactly why their regimes face existential turmoil and revolution -- and Israel doesn't.
But Bronner seems so intent on blackening Israel's image that actual reality passes him by.
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