Ari Shavit Iran interview: A bootlicking masterclass

Israeli readers woke up this morning to a deafening, orchestrated drumroll, with the headlines of all four Israeli dailies beating out a steady call for war. The soloist of this dubious ensemble was Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, who was given prime-space on top of the Haaretz to interview Defence Minister Ehud Barak, hilariously presented as an anonymous but senior “decision-maker”. Noam picked out the important bits of today’s papers in general and the interview in particular in his post earlier today. I just wanted to dwell briefly on the style of the Barak interview and the role Shavit, still seen by some as a barometer of mainstream liberalism in Israel, seems to be vying for: The role of the sycophantic town crier. Consider the Brechtian JK Rawling-like first paragraph of the Hebrew original:

The Decision-Maker is a controversial man. There was a time he was seen here as a saviour, and immediately afterwards, a leper. And again, a near-saviour, and again, a leper. But even those opposed to The Decision-Maker admit he’s highly intelligent. Even those with reservations about him are aware he is possessed of unique strategic experience. For half-a-century, The Decision-Maker has been travelling around the core of the security establishment of the state. On more than one occasion, he was the core. Late at night earlier this week, The Decision-Maker opened his door for me in light summer clothes and black sandals. As he sat down in front of me in his favourite armchair, he disclosed he has read with great interest the estimates of the various strategists I’ve interviewed for this series. He has respect for both supporters of an action in Iran and its opponents. But although he had thought over the matter once again, he remains unmoved from his original position and is utterly convinced that he is right. For two hours and a half, with a black concert piano in the background, The Decision-Maker painted in striking colours his picture of reality.

Barak – in case you forgot, the most widely loathed and unelectable politician in Israel – is awarded even more embarrassing epithets further down in the piece. “He sips from his drink and  immediately charges forth… my musical host explains… the well-trained militarist says…” And although Shavit pretends to ask tough questions, he lets his “musical host” get away with just about every ridiculous statement, and doesn’t challenge him to explain, say, the disparity between his pitifully small and as-yet unexplained estimates of civilian casualties in a future war (several hundreds) and everyone else’s (thousands to tens of thousands).

But this isn’t the first time Shavit has taken up the cheerleader’s baton. On Facebook, Noam also pointed out:

Six years ago tomorrow, on 11 August 2006, Haaretz published as its main story the article “Olmert has to go,” by Ari Shavit, just as Olmert and Peretz were about to agree to end the Second Lebanon war in accordance with the French ceasefire plan at the UN. According to several estimates, Shavit’s article played a significant role in both spineless men – the prime minister and the defence minister, that is – to send the IDF on the failed military operation on the last day of the war, which has cost the lives of 33 soldiers and an untold number of Lebanese. The article read: “If Olmert runs away from the war he initiated, he cannot stay a prime minister for even one more day.

The diplomatic plan to end the war remained, obviously unchanged [by the attack.] Peretz and Olmert have gone – not least because of that war – and were replaced by Netanyahu and Barak. Shavit remained. Six years later, Barak grants Shavit the grand finale instalment of his series in praise of an attack on Iran. History repeats itself, first as farce, then as apocalypse. Only Shavit remains the same.

Journalists should write as they see fit. (Although Haaretz’s decision to enhance the credibility of this paean of an interview by putting it up as their main story is debatable, to put it mildly.) But if “The Decision-Maker” really does take Israel to a war in Iran – an action worse and more treasonous than suicide, because “the musical host” himself will remain unscathed in his bunker as we and our loved ones perish – history should remember the shameful, shameful role journalist Ari Shavit has cast himself to play.