‘NYT’ obit from Israel insists falsely that Jews can’t be Arabs

Last week Ronen Bergman, the Israeli reporter who does breathless accounts of Israeli spycraft in the New York Times, produced a long obituary for an Israeli spy Isaac Shoshan who died in December at 96.

The article is a list of grievous acts of violence or attempted violence. Shoshan spoke Arabic and participated in several killings and an attempted assassination of a Palestinian leader in 1948 and plans to assassinate the Prime Minister of Lebanon. He was disappointed when that hit was called off.

All this is mythologized, typically, by Ronen Bergman. There is absolutely no discussion of Why people would be upset with Israel and be working against it. No, Israel is viewed as virtuous in this article. Which is no surprise given that Bergman has “been all over” the United States promoting AIPAC and thanks AIPAC for having Israelis’ “backs” in a closed-door session. His beat is mythologizing Israeli spooks and assassins, and the Times runs his stuff routinely, and the Palestinians are always the villains.

Also objectionable is the way that Bergman repeatedly describes Shoshan, a Jew born in Syria, as impersonating an Arab. In fact, “Arab” is a linguistic/cultural definition that includes a great number of ethnicities and religions, including Jews. Isaac Shoshan was an Arab. But in Israel that kind of complexity must be removed. It’s Arabs versus Jews there…

This falsehood begins with the headline, “Isaac Shoshan, Israeli Spy Who Posed as an Arab, Is Dead at 96” and goes on throughout the article. Notably:

Mr. Shoshan was born Zaki Shasho in Aleppo, Syria, in 1924 to an Arabic-speaking Jewish family…. At 18, motivated by his Zionism, he traveled to what was then British-ruled Palestine and within two years was recruited by the Palmach, the Jewish underground fighting force.

During his training, he was posted to a secret unit known as the Arab Platoon. Made up of Jews who could pass as Arabs, it was charged with gathering intelligence and carrying out sabotage and targeted killings….

The unit’s members, most of them im­migrants from Arab lands,… underwent intensive study of Islam and Arab customs so that they could live as Arabs without arousing suspicions.

The insistence here that Arabs and Jews are separate categories is offensive. The reason Shoshan could “pass” as an Arab was because he was an Arab. But again, it’s a reflection of Bergman’s proudly-Zionist role that he essentializes identities of Arabs and Jews, just as Israel does itself in its i.d. cards — your “nationality” is “Arab” or “Jew”.

So Bergman is taking a complex and fluid Middle East reality and making pigeonholes. His obit is a victory for Zionism because it treats Jews as fundamentally different from Arabs. As in this laughable anecdote of Shoshan returning to undercover work even when he was elderly:

Going undercover, he would take the part of an Arab old man who might pretend to be in need of help — to enter a building to make an urgent phone call, for example, or to make casual contact with a target of recruitment.

But Shoshan was an Arab old man. How lamentable it is that the Times allows itself to be a tool for such a racist understanding of Jewish identity.

H/t James North.

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