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The AP, Herzi Halevi and his big bad settlement

The news agency’s reporter failed to check the most basic facts about the IDF’s new chief of staff.

IDF Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Commanding Officer of the IDF Southern Command speaks during the conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
IDF Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Commanding Officer of the IDF Southern Command speaks during the conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Tamar Sternthal
Tamar Sternthal
Tamar Sternthal is director of the Israel office of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

As predictable as a Grimm’s Fairytale, the Associated Press’ Tia Goldenberg portrays the newly appointed IDF Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi as the big bad wolf licking his drooling chops at the sight of Israel’s vulnerable law enforcement, diplomacy, peacemaking and even democracy.

The villain is a threat, you see, because he is a settler, hailing from Kfar HaOranim, a community just across the armistice line that separated the Jordanian-occupied Judea and Samaria from Israel between 1948 and 1967. Ironically, because this community is between the Green Line and the large ultra-Orthodox settlement of Kiryat Sefer, it was always, in every peace proposal, slated to be included in Israeli territory. But pay no attention to the meddling geographic details.

The AP’s tweet about the story gives a neat summary of the imminent collapse of all law and order due to Halevi’s appointment: “A West Bank settler will for the first time become chief of Israel’s military, the enforcer of a 55-year military occupation. Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi’s rise caps the settlers’ transformation from a fringe group to Israeli mainstream.”

As we know, Twitter’s limited space can never do a story justice. So here’s a more extensive look at how Goldenberg kicks off her grim tale:

Israel’s military has long had a cozy relationship with Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Those ties are about to deepen.

For the first time, a settler will serve as chief of staff of Israel’s military, becoming the enforcer of Israel’s open-ended occupation of the West Bank, now in its 56th year.

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi’s nomination was approved on Sunday and he is expected to begin his three-year term on Jan. 17.

Halevi’s rise caps the decades-long transformation of the settler movement from a small group of religious ideologues to a diverse and influential force at the heart of the Israeli mainstream whose members have reached the highest ranks of government and other key institutions.

Critics say the settlers’ outsized political influence imperils any hope for the creation of an independent Palestinian state and endangers [Israel’s] future as a democracy. They say Halevi’s appointment lays bare just how interconnected settlers and the military truly are.

“It isn’t surprising that we’ve come to a point where the chief of staff is a settler too,” said Shabtay Bendet of the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now.

Back to reality. Israel’s government—not the army—sets the country’s political agenda, and thus the notion that even the most senior settler soldier can shape policy this way or that is absurd. But even if we step into Goldenberg’s fantasy space in which army generals set diplomatic policy, the intrepid reporter is still wrong.

The irony is that, hypothetically assuming that Halevi was able and inclined to throw around political weight, he would likely pitch it away from the “fringe” right-wing positions that Goldenberg marked out. According to the official voting record of Kfar HaOranim, the settlement where Halevi lives, his fellow residents are overwhelmingly aligned with the political bloc that does not represent the settlement movement.

In the March 2021 elections, the “fringe” settlement population of Kfar HaOranim stood squarely with the diverse government coalition opposed by far-right ideological settlers. Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid Party captured the most votes (30.81%), Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s equally centrist Blue and White Party snagged 18.21% and the left-wing Labor Party took 13.41%. Trailing badly in fourth place, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud garnered only 12.13%. The pro-settlement Religious Zionist party doesn’t appear at all on the voting record.

But instead of doing any actual reporting, like checking the voting record—a task that took this writer all of 10 seconds—or visiting the proverbial pack of wolves residing smack in between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, just two seconds over the Green Line, Goldenberg opted for stereotypes and supposition.

Indeed, rather than asking Kfar HaOranim residents what drew them there, she guesses—which is bad enough in journalism. She speculates, with zero fact-checking, “Many of those moving to Kfar HaOranim might have been drawn by cheaper housing prices in a central location between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, rather than a radical ideology. Yet choosing to live in a settlement often indicates even some nationalist political inclination. Many Israelis are still hesitant to visit parts of the West Bank.”

Compounding her sin, Goldenberg guesses wrongly, suggesting that “nationalist political inclination” was the likely driving force behind her subjects’ choice of residence.

While Goldenberg can’t be bothered to speak with any residents of Kfar HaOranim, she does reach out to former PLO advisor Diana Buttu, and even gives her the final word:

Diana Buttu, a Palestinian commentator, said having a settler as chief of staff raises concerns that the military’s conduct toward the Palestinians will worsen, further entrench Israel’s occupation and make the creation of a Palestinian state all the more unlikely.

“There’s this fiction that people in the international community seem to have that somehow there’s Israel and then there’s the settlements—as though they are separate and apart from one another,” she said. “But really, in reality, we see that it’s all one.”

How fitting that Goldenberg’s fictional account casting Halevi as a settler bogeyman closes with confirmation from no less than the factuallychallengedRockets Have No Explosive Heads” Buttu, who dutifully affirms the supposed dark rise of the dangerous settlers taking over Israel.

Indeed, with her facts-be-damned, predetermined Kfar HaOranim settlement fabrication, the AP journalist-in-name-only unmasks herself as nothing more than a Buttu-style propagandist spinning silly tales.

Tamar Sternthal is director of CAMERA’s Israel Office.

This article was originally published by CAMERA.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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