Commission and refute: The National Post celebrates Israel’s 60th by taking on its own writer
My pal Jeet Heer wrote me last week to point out the strange treatment the National Post gave his op-ed on Israel, a piece the editors of the Post commissioned to help mark the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state. Knowing his views, Post editors specifically asked Heer to write a piece that would run contrary to the paper’s oft-stated position that Israel can do no (or very little) wrong. Jeet agreed—“reluctantly”—to write it in his own words. The op-ed came out last Tuesday, with preludes announcing that the “National Post editorial board” would be running an accompanying unsigned editorial “refuting Mr. Heer’s conclusions.”
The National Post traditionally has voiced strong support for the welfare and legitimacy of the Jewish state. Thus, some readers may find it surprising that, on the pages that follow, we are publishing a column by Jeet Heer arguing that Israel was “founded through an act of ethnic cleansing.”….
Intellectuals have a habit of obsessing over Israel’s faults, even as they ignore the country’s success; the democratic freedoms its Arab, Jewish and Christian citizens enjoy; and the much greater sins of its totalitarian Arab neighbours. Mr. Heer’s article exemplifies this phenomenon all too well. We believe that shining light on such views serves as a good reminder that the true story of Israel should never get stale.
This as opposed to the “false” story of Israel, which the editors of the Post themselves commissioned knowing full well what they were likely to get. I wrote the commissioning editor, Jonathan Kay, asking why the Post reacted the way it did. He was quick with a candid and articulate response:
It was a natural concern—one shared by some very senior people in the National Post organization—that readers might see the publication of Jeet’s piece as a signal that we could be changing our stance on this important issue. To clarify that this was not the case—as well as to correct what we saw as serious and substantive deficiencies in Jeet’s argument—we ran the editorial on the same day.
I pressed, asking whether the Post needs to direct its readers to quite that extent, whether the whole point of running op-eds isn’t to let the reader decide.
As a general matter, the answer to your last question is yes. Moreover, it would be crazy for me to write an editorial every time I published an article containing something at variance with our editorial position. But there are a few issues that are so sensitive that special considerations apply…. I should also say that I did not know, at the time I commissioned Jeet’s piece, that I would be editorializing against it. It was only when I read it that I thought, “Oh man, this is not going to go over too well with a lot of my readers.” But I knew that I had to publish Jeet’s piece—because a lengthy series on Israel at 60 would simply not be complete without at least one full-throated defence of the pro-Palestinian position. And so I fought hard against the idea that it would be best to kill the piece entirely. And I’m glad I did. Jeet’s piece caused a lively and interesting debate in our letters column.
Fair enough. Still, the whole situation is more than a little odd. It points to the sorts of distortions that the Post’s ownership has built into their coverage of Israel. As the paper’s circulation numbers attest, it’s decisions like this that have the Post drawing more caveats than emptors.
• Jeet Heer on Israel’s creation: Ethnic cleansing by any other name [National Post]• The National Post Editorial Board on Israel and ‘ethnic cleansing’ [National Post]