Hacks and Heroes

Hacks and Heroes

Who’s the hack? I nominate The New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Goldberg. He’s the new Remington, though without the artistic talent.


Who’s the hack? I nominate The New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Goldberg. He’s the new Remington, though without the artistic talent. Back in 1898, William Randolph Hearst was trying to fan war fever between the United States and Spain. He dispatched a reporter and the artist Frederic Remington to Cuba to send back blood-roiling depictions of Spanish beastliness to Cuban insurgents. Remington wired to say he could find nothing sensational to draw and could he come home. Famously, Hearst wired him, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” Remington duly did so.

I wouldn’t set The New Yorker‘s editor, David Remnick, in the shoes of a Kong-sized monster like Hearst. Remnick is a third-tier talent who has always got ahead by singing the correct career-enhancing tunes, as witness his awful reporting from Russia in the 1990s. Art Spiegelman recently quit The New Yorker, remarking that these dangerous times require courage and the ability to be provocative, but alas, “Remnick does not feel up to the challenge.”

That’s putting it politely. Remnick’s watch has been lackluster and cowardly. He is also the current sponsor (Marty Peretz of The New Republic was an earlier one) of Goldberg, whose first major chunk of agitprop for The New Yorker was published on March 25 of last year. Titled “The Great Terror,” it was billed as containing disclosures of Saddam Hussein’s “possible ties to Al Qaeda.” This was at a moment when the FBI and CIA had just shot down the war party’s claim of a meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague before the 9/11 attacks. Goldberg saved the day for the Bush crowd.

At the core of his rambling, 16,000-word piece was an interview in the Kurdish-held Iraqi town of Sulaimaniya with Mohammed Mansour Shahab, who offered the eager Goldberg a wealth of detail about his activities as a link between Osama bin Laden and the Iraqis, shuttling arms and other equipment. The piece was gratefully seized upon by the Administration as proof of The Link.

The coup de grâce to Goldberg’s credibility fell on February 9 of this year in the London Observer, administered by Jason Burke, its chief reporter. Burke established beyond doubt that Goldberg’s great source is a clumsy liar who did not even know the appearance of Kandahar, whither he claimed to have journeyed to deal with bin Laden, and who confected his fantasies in the hope of a shorter prison sentence.

Then, on February 10, amid widespread cynicism about the Administration’s rationales for war, Remnick published another Goldberg special, “The Unknown: The C.I.A. and the Pentagon take another look at Al Qaeda and Iraq.” This 6,000-word screed had no pretensions to being anything other than a servile rendition of Donald Rumsfeld’s theory of intelligence: “Build a hypothesis, and then see if the data support the hypothesis, rather than the reverse.” In other words, torture the data until the data confess. It’s a disgraceful piece of brown-nosing (of Rumsfeld, Tenet et al.), devoid of even the appearance of independent journalism. “Reporter at Large”? Remnick should retire the rubric, at least for Goldberg, and advertise his work as “White House Handout.”

Now the heroes. Goldberg once served in Israel’s armed forces, which may or may not be a guide to his political agenda. There are certainly some brave young souls in Israel these days who take their moral duty seriously. For months the Israeli military authorities and the Sharon government have been quietly worried by the specter of serious civil disobedience, most notably from conscientious objectors.

Now the Israeli government is really turning up the heat on the refuseniks. Neve Gordon, a professor at Ben-Gurion University, says the authorities worry that resistance to military service, either for reasons of pacifism or abhorrence at the prospect of committing war crimes in the occupied territories, might spread to more draft-age kids. Among those who face possible court-martial is Yoni Ben-Artzi, nephew of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ben-Artzi, sentenced to multiple thirty-day terms, has been in jail now for more than 200 days.

Ben-Artzi is a conscientious objector, a status that has standing in international law, signed by Israel. Nonetheless, the military prosecutor refuses to recognize his status as a CO, even though in the case of Uri Yakobi, held in jail as a CO for almost half a year, the IDF acknowledged on February 25 that he was unfit for military service and released him.

Yakobi is more fortunate than the other high school seniors who have refused to be drafted. Despite the fact that the COs have announced their willingness to serve the state through some kind of civil service, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon and military prosecutors are punishing the young men again and again for the same “offense,” as noted above in the case of Ben-Artzi.

Although political refuseniks are punished severely, thousands of yeshiva students are routinely exempted from military service, as are some women refuseniks (such as the daughter of Chief of Staff Ya’alon, a man who recently described Palestinians as a cancer needing “chemotherapy”).

The authorities are being rough on some of the political resisters. Take the case of Haggai Matar, who helped initiate the high school refusenik movement in 2001 and who has been in jail for more than 130 days. Matar, now facing court-martial and a possible three years in prison, has denounced the occupation, speaking last year in a number of cities across the United States.

Instead of court-martialing kids who refuse to commit war crimes in the territories, Israel should court-martial the war criminals themselves, as Belgium recommends. Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter recently canceled a trip to Belgium, fearing the Belgians would try to arrest him because of Israel’s conduct in the territories. Dichter was scheduled to deliver a lecture at a conference on international terror.

For more information on the campaign to release the conscientious objectors visit www.refusersolidarity.net.

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