Larry Derfner Fired by Jerusalem Post

Aug 29,  2011 « Tikun Olam-תיקון עולם: Make the World a Better Place | Richard Silverstein

The subtitle of this post should be: “And then there was one.”   A year ago or so, the Jerusalem Post fired one its few liberal commentators, Naomi Chazan, when the paper ran a disgusting Im Tirzu ad caricaturing her with a rhino horn bursting forth from her forehead.  She threatened to sue the paper and they canned her.  That left only Larry Derfner and Gershon Baskin as the remaining progressives.  And now there is only a single one left.

I just heard a piece of terrible news, which unfortunately doesn’t shock me.  Today, the Jerusalem Post fired one of its only two remaining liberal columnists, Larry Derfner.  He’d written a post in his private blog, unassociated with the paper, about the Eilat terror attacks which expressed understanding for the Palestinian impulse to violence against Israel. This so angered the newspaper’s far-right audience that hundreds cancelled their subscriptions in anger.  And the Post, being that bastion of free speech and journalistic integrity of course fired him to pacify the baying wolves.

I’d suggest people cancel their subscriptions, but who subscribes to that shmateh, anyway?  What, do you do so in order to read the pearls of Shmu Rosner?  Or Caroline Glick?  Or Isi Liebler?  A zoch in vay!  Nonetheless, this day should live in infamy.  Call it the Pearl Habor Day of an Israeli free press.

Aside from the political content of what Larry wrote, there is an extremely important issue related to his being fired for writing a blog post.  While some may argue that what one writes on a private blog when one is a public figure reflects on one’s employer or career, I reject the notion that a blog post should be the cause of a journalist’s firing unless he’s advocated committing a crime or something of that order.

Here are the “offending” passages from Larry’s original column:

I think a lot of people who realize that the occupation is wrong also realize that the Palestinians have the right to resist it – to use violence against Israelis, even to kill Israelis, especially when Israel is showing zero willingness to end the occupation…

This unwillingness to say outright that Palestinians have the right to fight the occupation, especially now, inadvertently helps keep the occupation going.

… If we were to say very forthrightly what many of us believe and the rest of us suspect – that the Palestinians, like every nation living under hostile rule, have the right to fight back, that their terrorism, especially in the face of a rejectionist Israeli government, is justified – what effect would that have? A powerful one, I think, because the truth is powerful.

…We are compelling them [Palestinians] to engage in terrorism.  The blood of Israeli victims is ultimately on our hands, and…it’s up to us to stop provoking our own people’s murder by ending the occupation. And so long as we who oppose the occupation keep pretending that the Palestinians don’t have the right to resist it, we tacitly encourage Israelis to go on blindly killing and dying in defense of an unholy cause.

And by tacitly encouraging Israelis in their blindness, I think we endanger their lives and ours, their country and ours, much more than if we told the truth…

Whoever the Palestinians were who killed the eight Israelis near Eilat last week, however vile their ideology was, they were justified to attack. They had the same right to fight for their freedom as any other unfree nation in history ever had. And just like every harsh, unjust government in history bears the blame for the deaths of its own people at the hands of rebels, so Israel, which rules the Palestinians harshly and unjustly, is to blame for those eight Israeli deaths – as well as for every other Israeli death that occurred when this country was offering the Palestinians no other way to freedom.

Writing this is not treason. It is an attempt at patriotism.

Here Larry further clarifies his position, but alas, the damage has been done (from a right-wing vantage point):

…While I think the Palestinians have the right to use terrorism against us, I don’t want them to use it, I don’t want to see Israelis killed, and as an Israeli, I would do whatever was necessary to stop a Palestinian, oppressed or not, from killing one of my countrymen. (I also think Palestinian terrorism backfires, it turns people away from them and generates sympathy for Israel and the occupation, so I’m against terrorism on a practical level, too, but that’s besides the point.)

Though some of you, had you written this column might’ve written it differently, especially considering your audience, the plain fact of the matter is that no matter how controversial this statement might be for an Israeli Jew, it’s an unpopular view that should be heard in a democracy.  A view that should be published by a free press (if there is one).  What Larry was doing was provoking debate and thought, even uncomfortable debate and thought.  The plain fact of the matter is that as long as Israel refuses to settle the conflict there will be violence against it by Palestinians.  That nothing short of a settlement will stop that violence.  And that, by God, if you don’t realize that Israelis are gonna be killed because of that then you have your head buried in the sand.  And that the only way to stop Israelis being killed is to make a deal.  What’s so controversial about that?  Of course, it will be for the rightists.  But for the pragmatists among us, what’s the big deal?

It should also be noted that Larry took down his column from his blog (which I wouldn’t have done, but he’s entitled) and wrote an apology which was to have run in the Post before they decided to fire him.  In his apology he clarified what he meant by his statement.  But as far as the right was concerned the damage was done and he was toast.

On a personal note, I owe Larry an apology.  Recently, a reader informed me that Larry’s remarks about the dissolution of our blogging partnership were featured on a number of right-wing pro-Israel websites.  This angered me as I felt his words were being used to further tarnish my reputation.  Larry didn’t see it that way.  We had words, harsh words.  I want him to know if he reads this that while we may have had, and still have political disagreements (one of the major reasons our project together broke up), that my portion of yesterday’s interchange was wrong, especially given the context, and I hope he’ll accept my apology.

The Jerusalem Post doesn’t deserve Larry Derfner.  I hope that Aluf Benn, Haaretz’s incoming managing editor has already been on the phone offering Larry his own column there.


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