10 August 09
The story of this bogus quote goes back to 2003. Referring to Israeli claims that it had no negotiating partner among the Palestinians, Henry Siegman, wrote in the New York Review of Books:
This consensus has enabled Prime Minister Sharon's government to maintain that its only option is to wage an unrelenting war against the Palestinians that, in the words of the Israeli Defense Force's chief of staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon, will "sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people" before any political process can begin.
The Siegman version of the quote was "cited" by Gary Fields (a professor of communications, no less) in the Chicago Tribune in 2004, as did Toronto Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui (I can't find his original column online). It was picked up again in 2006 by Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway; Siegman repeated it in 2007, this time in the London Review of Books.
But the "quote" didn't get the scrutiny it deserved until last January, when Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi "cited" it in the NY Times. That's when our colleagues at CAMERA raised the first red flag. Moreover, CAMERA pointed out a 2002 interview where Yaalon told Haaretz (parts one and two) something far different than what Siegman, Fields, Siddiqqui and Greenway presented. Yaalon told journalist Ari Shavit:
Shavit: "Do you have a definition of victory? Is it clear to you what Israel's goal in this war is?
Ya'alon: "I defined it from the beginning of the confrontation: the very deep internalization by the Palestinians that terrorism and violence will not defeat us, will not make us fold. If that deep internalization does not exist at the end of the confrontation, we will have a strategic problem with an existential threat to Israel. If that [lesson] is not burned into the Palestinian and Arab consciousness, there will be no end to their demands of us."
Yaalon later added:
The facts that are being determined in this confrontation -- in terms of what will be burned into the Palestinian consciousness -- are fateful. If we end the confrontation in a way that makes it clear to every Palestinian that terrorism does not lead to agreements, that will improve our strategic position.
"The statement attributed to (Yaalon) was not just in the blogosphere but was widely quoted in mainstream, respected publications," explained Siddiqui. "There had been no correction or clarification sought or given that I was aware of. So I had no reason to think it was not a valid quote."
Better late than never.
Unfortunately, a lot web-sites and blogs with their own axe to grind with Israel in all likelihood won't make any correction. Electronic Intifada comes to mind.
And Siegman, to my knowledge, has yet to explain how a quote about terror not defeating Israelis morphed into a comment that the Palestinians must be utterly defeated. I haven't seen any editors note at the NY or London book review sites.
Mishandling quotes can kill a journalist's career. In 2002, Holger Jensen, foreign editor at the Rocky Mt. News, was forced out after a penning a column that included comments incorrectly attributed to Ariel Sharon.
This fumbled quote is just another skeleton in Siegman's closet.