Israel vs. the Bedouins

As the old saying has it, no good deed goes unpunished. And doubly so when the New York Times gets hold of Israeli plans to improve living standards for some 200,000 Bedouins in the Negev.

At present, there's a critical shortage of clinics, schools, and other basic infrastructure serving the Bedouins. The government plan would legalize and upgrade many Bedouin villages, providing generous treatment for displaced residents. About 70,000 Bedouins may have to relocate to far better accommodations than they now have.

Still, there also have been protests by some unhappy Bedouins and their purported supporters who want Bedouins to be able to roam at will and set up slapdash housing in the Negev wherever it suits them. But they don't represent the entire picture. There are some Bedouins who do favor basic upgrades and modernization. With the fastest birth rate in Israel, they recognize that the status quo is unsustainable for their fast swelling population. Beneath all the clamor, there are voices of moderation and progress.

Enter the New York Times, which relishes any pretext to bash Israel. In a Dec. 8 dispatch by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, the paper publishes a huge spread with a blazing six-column headline at the top of its international news section, "In an Israeli Plan, Bedouins See a Threat to Their Way of Life -- Tribes in Negev Resist Campaign To Relocate Them."

Rudoren casts the Bedouin issue in stark anti-Israel terms that fault Israel for ignoring Bedouin needs for many decades and then faults Israel when it finally works to improve Bedouin living standards. Either way, Israel ends up as the guilty party. Or as Rudoren puts it, "After decades of discrimination and neglect, many Bedouins and their supporters see only a plan to destroy their way of life."

But that's just the start of Rudoren's anti-Israel screed. She then widens her target to suggest that Israel's alleged maltreatment of Bedouins is symptomatic of Israel's interactions with Arabs across the entire Middle East. "The plight of the Bedouins," she writes, "has in many circles become a proxy for the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, prompting condemnation from human rights groups, European lawmakers and cultural celebrities." And, if candor prevailed, Rudoren might have added to this circle of Israel bashers her own reportage.

To provide a semblance of journalistic even-handedness, once her poison pills have been injected, Rudoren reports that proponents of the $2 billion redevelopment plan "say no state can abide people's building where and what they wish without approval, and that it promises the Bedouins, by far Israel's poorest sector, clinics, jobs, education and infrastructure that they sorely lack."

But don't put Rudoren in this category. She immediately brushes aside such arguments by writing that "opponents call it insidious racism, ethnic cleansing or even apartheid." This blood libel is the real objective of her piece.

Much farther down in the article, she reports that Israel has recognized more than a dozen villages, but notes critically that it's moved hardly at all in modernizing them. Again, Israel can do no right. Either it keeps Bedouins in abject conditions, or when it does act, it's not moving fast enough to remedy the situation.

Also far down in her dispatch, Rudoren finally acknowledges that not all Bedouins would be relocated -- only one out of three could face relocation. And most get land plus cash in compensation.

But by then, Rudoren's poison pills already have left the indelible impression that , as the headline over the jump page puts it in big type, "In Israeli Relocation Plan, the Bedouins See a Threat to Their Way of Life." In short, another blast against Israel in the New York Times, as faithfully rendered by its Jerusalem bureau chief.

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

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