NY Times slams democracy in Israel

The New York Times, in its May 3 edition, runs a four-column headline, "Israeli Premier Backs Referendum on any Peace Deal," by Isabel Kershner, page A9.

At first blush, one would think that this bodes well for Israel and for the peace process.  After all, if Israel and the Palestinians ever signed off on a deal, however illusory at this point, which resolves all final-status issues -- borders, refugees, Jerusalem -- this would be an existential matter for both sides.  So a referendum definitely would fit the occasion for Israeli citizens to weigh in, have their say, and ratify -- or reject -- such an agreement.

The prospect of a referendum also might have an immediate effect of facilitating resumption of peace talks, since negotiators might have more grassroots leeway and public support, simply because their citizenry might be more comfortable, knowing the final card is there for them to play.

So a big plus for democracy and resumption of talks, one would think.

But not at the New York Times, which views the prospect of an Israeli referendum through dark-tinted, anti-Netanyahu glasses.

In her dispatch, Kershner gives the thumbs-down to a referendum, calling it in her lead paragraph "a move some Israelis view as a potential obstacle to a deal."  Kershner doesn't quite explain her negative assessment.  But with a photo of a growling Bibi to reinforce her dark forebodings, she clearly views a referendum as somehow anti-peace.

Which is passing strange for the New York Times, which usually prides itself as an all-out democracy-booster.  Why not in Israel?

What makes Kershner's main theme even more curious is that further in her article, in the sixth paragraph, she reports that "the Palestinians are not opposed to Israel's holding a referendum, and plan to hold one of their own should the sides arrive at an agreement."  No criticism whatsoever of a Palestinian referendum.  The Palestinians, in Kershner's view, are entitled to a big dose of democracy, but not the Israelis.  Why this double standard of fault-finding only with Israel?

When fully parsed, Kershner's article is an exercise in silliness and futility, since the Palestinians, whether Hamas in Gaza, or Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, have relinquished all serious claims to act as genuine peace partners -- with or without the prospect of referendums on a peace deal.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers.

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