Pick up a copy of the New York Times or the Washington Post any day of the week when they run an article on Israel and you're apt to find prominent quotes from reporters and columnists of Haaretz, a far-left newspaper with limited circulation that is treated as gospel by Western reporters based in Jerusalem.
The problem with this excessive reliance on Haaretz is two-fold. It ignores other Israeli media that might give American readers a somewhat better insight into mainstream Israeli views and opinions. It also runs the risk that Western reporters will pass on Haaretz content that's made up of whole cloth. where spin turns into fiction.
The latter aspect of Haaretz journalism was pointed up by its latest exclusive -- an article claiming that the White House and the State Department are "furious" at Defense Minister Ehud Barak for allegedly misleading them into assuming that, as Israel's de facto foreign minister to Washington, he could "deliver" Prime Minister Netanyahu to bend Israeli policy accordingly to President Obama's wishes and agendas. Henceforth, the article declared, Barak's contacts with Team Obama would be severely limited (The Haaretz piece, as one might expect, was based entirely on anonymous sources.)
Haaretz's scoop was a fabricated "hit" piece aimed at Barak and it was immediately so exposed by a strong, on-the-record denial by P.J. Crowley, the State Department's chief spokesman, who took time out from New Year's festivities to denounce the Haaretz article. Crowley called Israeli media to underscore the fact that Haaretz's "exclusive" was a piece made up of whole cloth, and that the welcome mat is still there for Barak at the highest lvels of the U.S. government.
So why would Haaretz engage in such shoddy journalism against Barak, a former prime minister who joined with Bill Clinton in 2000 to advance a generous peace iniative that included dividing Jerusalem, only to have it shot down by Yasser Arafat?
The answer: Barak wears three hats -- He is Israel's defense minister, he's also the day-to-day top Israeli special envoy to Washington (because Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is not versed in diplomatic niceties and tells it like it is to one and all) and he also happens to be chairman of Israel's Labor Party, which is split down the middle between, on the one hand, dovish, liberal politicians like Barak who nevertheless have learned some security lessons from Hezb'allah and Hamas terrorist threats, and on the other hand, even more dovish Laborites who are ready to give up the whole store just to get a peace deal on some worthless piece of paper.
It's these peace-at-any-price Laborites who have their knives out for Barak. In fact, all indications point to their being in cahoots with Haaretz to cut the legs from under Barak. They want Labor to quit the Likud-led coalition government and bring down Netanyahu as prime minsiter. Barak's big sin is that he's behaving like an adult.
Such sharp-knife schisms within Israel's major parties are not uncommon. What is special about this particular instance is that Haaretz is fronting for one faction within Labor with a fictional article designed to destroy Barak's credibility as Israel's special interlocutor with Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Yet, any seasoned, responsible Jerusalem-based correspondent should not be surprised by Haaretz's effrontery to publish fiction as "news." Israel's media -- even more than America's -- are freewheeling in how they infuse their mostly leftist ideology into supposedly objective news articles. However, Haaretz, whose editor once famously asked Condoleezza Rice to "rape" Israel for its own good, is in a league of its own in disseminating fiction in the service of its far-left agenda.
So one would think that Western reporters in Israel would avoid Haaretz like the plague. Instead, it's their gospel, their main source for bending and spinning their own dispatches.