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February 19, 2013
The Emperor of Ice Cream
Hold the presses! Under a four-column headline on the main foreign-news page, the New York Times exposes highly questionable expenditures of public funds by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Downright wasteful, profligate spending when most Israelis struggle to pay for basic necessities, the Times avers.
Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner, in the best muckraking tradition, informs readers that Netanyahu "stands accused of dipping into state coffers for an ice cream budget of $2,700 a year ("Uproar Over Netanyahu's Ice Cream Is Welcome in One Parlor" Feb. 19, page A4.)
Actually, it's not exactly a Times expose. Kershner merely reprises disclosures by Israel's leftist media, which like the Times, are not great fans of Netanyahu.
And like these anti-Bibi media, Kershner gins up her piece, painting a sharp contrast between a "struggling middle class" and Netanyahu's "supposed taste for the high life." The prime minister's "weakness for artisanal pistachio ice cream," she writes, "raised a national outrcry."
Later in the piece, we're informed that the bulk of the ice cream actually is for Netanyahu guests at dinners in the prime minister's official residence. But let's not spoil the fun.
Kershner can't resist a predictable quote from Shelly Yachimovich, leader of the opposition Labor Party, "If there's no bread, eat ice cream." Marie Antoinette would have approved.
And then there's the outrage expressed in an editorial by the ultra-liberal Haaretz, the Times' favorite Israeli newspaper, which raises a "larger issue of spending in the prime minister's residence, i.e. a royalist culture that has taken root there during Netanyahu's regime."
All in good fun. And as a stand-alone piece, really irreproachable. But when viewed in the context of overall Mideast news coverage by the New York Times, the ice cream "scandal" raises a pertinent question: If Netanyahu is fair game, why not also Mahmoud Abbas?
Why doesn't the Times demonstrate the same publishing zest about Abbas's exponentially far greater and graver misuse of public funds? Especially since some of this Palestinian Authority money comes from the pockets of American taxpayers.
Why, for example, doesn't Kershner show real journalistic initiative and provide readers with the annual Abbas budget for frequent jet-setting all over the world? In fact, why not compare Abbas's frequent flyer miles with Netanyahu's? My guess is that Abbas would win hands down.
Or why doesn't the Times show real curiosity about widespread corruption in the Palestinian Authority? Last year, an adviser to the late Yasser Arafat claimed that Abbas amassed $100 million in ill-gotten gains.
And why not delve into the wealth accumulated by Abbas's two sons -- Yasser and Tarek -- both millionaire entrepreneurs with flourishing companies in the West Bank and beyond? Could they have gotten a boost through nepotism? Some of their enterprises also are linked to U.S. aid.
If the Times deems Bibi's $2,700 annual ice cream budget important news, why pass up opportunities to expose far bigger fish in the highest rungs of the Palestinian Authority?
Compared with Mahmoud Abbas, Yasser Abbas and Tarek Abbas, Netanyahu with his preference for pistachio ice cream is just a parsimonious piker.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers
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