Reading about Israel’s deportation of Jared Malsin, an editor for the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, I’m not surprised that his relatively short journalistic career has reached this impasse.
Reading about Israel’s deportation last week of Jared Malsin, an editor for the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, I’m not surprised that his relatively short journalistic career has reached this impasse. Malsin and I were students at Yale University, where both of us were columnists for the Yale Daily News. He was an outspoken activist for leftist causes, ranging from support for the school’s intransigent unions to opposition to the war in Iraq; I defended the university and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. There was hardly an issue on which we agreed. But it was with his criticism of Israel that Malsin, like so many left-wing American Jews, made his mark.
I don’t remember the specifics of his involvement with anti-Israel activities on campus, which included protesting Israeli policies and debating them at the Yale Political Union, but then, as now, he used his Jewishness to portray his views as being more meaningful than those of any gentile agitator (“Who if not the Jews should express their opinions and feelings about Israel?” he told YNet last week).
So when I heard, several years ago, that Malsin had taken advantage of a Birthright trip to get a free ticket to Israel, I groaned. He then used a series of three-month tourist visas to remain over the past two and half years. When detained by immigration officers at Ben-Gurion Airport last week, he said he was considering aliyah, according to an Interior Ministry official interviewed by The Washington Post.
Despite Malsin’s attempt to game the system, he did nothing illegal. And despite the government’s denials, it appears that it was the tone of his journalism that prompted his forced exile. “They judged me to have anti-Israeli politics,” Malsin told the Post. “It’s outrageous that would even appear in a legal argument, that a person’s politics would be a relevant issue.”
Although it pains me to agree with Malsin, he’s right: His treatment at the hands of Israeli authorities was outrageous. One expects this type of behavior from Middle Eastern police states, whose systematic human rights abuses Malsin and his left-wing compatriots downplay or ignore – not from the region’s sole functioning democracy.
At the same time, one can understand the Interior Ministry’s apprehensions in dealing with Malsin. He wouldn’t be the first young Western leftist to travel to Israel and the terrorities to “report” on alleged abuses of human rights. Over the past decade, political tourists have become a phenomenon, descending upon Israel partly due to ideological fixation, but for a more quotidian reason as well: Israel has the freest media in the Middle East, an irony to which Malsin and those of his ilk are utterly oblivious. For the open-minded, spending time in the region can alter preconceived notions. But with these young ideologues, witnessing the perilous situation Israel confronts does little to shatter their illusions.
In that vein, it may be tempting to compare Malsin with Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American accidentally run over by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while acting as a “human shield” near a Palestinian home used for smuggling weapons. While the two share similar worldviews (antipathy toward Israel, fervent anti-Americanism, patronizing naivete about Arab and Muslim societies, etc.), their differences are more important. Malsin is a reporter, and while the line between activism and journalism has become increasingly blurred (particularly in his case), his job was to cover events in Israel and the territories, not agitate against the Israeli government. Ma’an is a respected news outlet (as far as Palestinian media go) and receives funding from the U.S. government. Corrie, on the other hand, was affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement, which has provided material support to terrorists.
The primary reason Israel garners sympathy in the United States is because it’s a vibrant democracy in a region plagued by tyranny. And a fundamental component of democracy is a free press. Jared Malsin may be an obnoxious and cynical nuisance who uses his Jewishness to add a veneer of respectability to his anti-Zionist agenda. But there are plenty of such people living in Israel today (many of them native-born). A Jewish-American leftist traipsing around Ramallah, credulously scribbling down accusations of Israeli barbarity a la the authors of the Goldstone report, is an annoyance, not a threat. Israel is strong enough not to resort to the drastic and illiberal measure of deportation. That it has done so indicates a weakness of resolve – ironic, given that those who made and defend the decision purport to be the most passionate of Zionists. Predictably, Malsin has become a hero of the anti-Israel left. But despite his ordeal at Ben-Gurion and the week he spent at a detention center there, he’s no more courageous than the American liberals who gained phony accolades for their “bravery” and “heroism” in criticizing the Bush administration.
Rather than report disproportionately on supposed Israeli repression, Malsin could have spent the past three years showing real bravery by writing about the abuses and corruption of the Palestinian Authority, or venture undercover to Damascus and Tehran, to describe the horrors those regimes inflict on their people. That he chose to fritter away his post-collegiate years delegitimizing Israel was his choice to make. Sadly, the government’s stupid and clumsy behavior will only reconfirm his negative views.