NY Times views Israel darkly as a 'populist ethno-religious state' (like Turkey)

The New York Times has a long history of antipathy to the establishment and existence of a Jewish state, but what most rankles the Times is when Israeli voters hand the reins of power to the right-of-center Likud Party, currently under the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu.  In fact, among liberals whose world views have been shaped by reading Times "news" articles and editorials, Likud has become a downright dirty word.

This visceral dislike of the Likud is vividly illustrated by the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, in a Sunday, Sept. 18, "news analysis," titled "Israel and Turkey, Foes and Much Alike."

Bronner draws a Turkey-Israel parallel, depicting them as two countries which have gone through similar political shifts -- from "aggressively secular societies run by Westernized elites to populist ethno-religious states" with more hawkish, religious orientations.

For Turkey, Bronner dates this seismic shift to 2002 when Prime Minister Erdogan and his Islamist party took power, ending the Western-oriented legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

For Israel, Bronner uses 1977 as the sharp dividing line between the Western-like, secular dominance of the Labor Party, starting with David Ben-Gurion in 1948, and the assumption of power by Likud three decades later..

Since 1977, as far as Bronner is concerned, Israel has come out of the light into the darkness, first with Menachem Begin's victory at the polls in 1977 and now, of course, with the Likud-led coalition of Netanyahu.  Israel for the last three-decades-plus, he writes, has been inflicted by a "central and growing role of religious nationalism." And this, of course, accounts for Israel's supposedly hard-line diplomatic stance vis a vis the Palestinians.  Or so Bronner would have Times readers believe.

His thesis, however, doesn't hold water -- not for Turkey, and certainly not for Israel.

Bronner is right when he singles out 1977 as an Israeli watershed year -- not, however, because Begin won at the polls, but far more importantly because this was the breakthrough year when Anwar Sadat traveled to Jerusalem and opened the way for Israel's historic peace treaty with Egypt.  And this is the critical history of the conflict that Bronner totally ignores -- that when an Arab leader steps forward, welcomes Israel as an equal and is ready for a genuine peace, it doesn't make any difference whether Israel is under Labor or Likud leadership.

And so it was that one year after 1977 when Israel was led by a supposedly Darth Vader-like Menachem Begin that the Camp David Accords were signed, followed in 1979 by the actual signing of the peace treaty by Begin and Sadat.  And it was Begin, a Likudnik, who handed all of Sinai to Egypt while evacuating all Jewish settlements in Sinai.  So much for the real legacy of a "populist ethno-religious" leader.

 Bronner also has it wrong when he bewails the excessive influence of religious Zionists since 1977.

For one thing, religious parties have been an integral part of Israeli politics since 1948.  It was after all during David Ben-Gurion's leadership that Israel opted for a proportional representation system, which has guaranteed ever since a fair number of small religious parties in the Knesset -- just as it has given several Arab parties representation in Israel's legislature.  The influence of religious parties, however, has been less on foreign and security policies and more on domestic, parochial interests and agendas

One of the major religious parties, Shas, which represents Jews from southern Europe and northern Africa, has participated in both Labor and Likud governments, aiming principally on getting more government support for a less affluent segment of Israeli society.  And all the while, Shas has supported peace moves regardless of who led an Israeli governing coalition.

On the Turkish side, Bronner is equally off the mark when he sketches a supposedly modern, secular golden age dating from its founding by Ataturk after the post-World War I break-up of the Ottoman Empire until 2002 when Erdogan assumed power.  Actually, in those eight decades, Atatuk's legacy was repeatedly shattered by political upheavals, punctuated by no fewer than four military coups -- in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.

And that's why any Turkey-Israel parallel completely falls apart.  Israel has been a stable, reliable democracy under both Labor, Kadima and Likud leadershp since its founding in 1948.  Turkey, on the other hand, has been a country repeatedly rocked by instability and internal strife, from which it has yet to fully recover.

In this article, Bronner is engaging in mythology, not responsible, reliable, accurate journalism -- all because he can't stomach the Likud.  In this, he has a kindred spirit in President Obama, who also took a shot at LIkud during his 2008 presidential campaign, telling voters:  "There is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel."  It's a view that unfortunately has led Obama to stumble as president in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Bashing Likud makes neither historical nor diplomatic sense -- something the New York Times resolutely refuses to learn.