There is not a more known and celebrated personality in Danish journalism when it comes to Israel/Palestine than Herbert Pundik, chief editor of Politiken (Denmark’s biggest paper) for 24 years (for which he still writes once a week). On the day of his 90th birthday, Politiken did a piece titled “Congratulations to Herbert Pundik – congratulations to Nachum Pundak” – applying both Pundik’s Danish name as well as (Pundak’s) Hebrew one.
Kristeligt Dagblad also ran a long piece in its ‘Liv&Sjæl’ (‘life & soul’) section to celebrate Pundik. Here, the focus is on the ‘humanist’ Pundik, his Jewish victimhood, and his Zionist propaganda – yet it did not utter a word about his having been a Mossad spy while working as a journalist in the 1960’s (for Information and Politiken), and not a word about his part in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and specifically the Tantura massacre of 1948. All that is too contentious. Let’s not upset the charm.
The article documenting Pundik’s activities as a Mossad spy appeared in Information in 2010, titled “Yes, I was an agent for Mossad”. Pundik was interviewed by Lasse Ellegaard, who also brings up the Tantura massacre and Pundik’s part in it. First about the spy issue, it is noted how in 1970, when Pundik became chief editor of Politiken, he told Danish Radio, “As long as I was chief editor, Politiken would identify with Israel’s destiny”. In the 2010 interview Pundik confirms: “I meant it”.
For Pundik, the border between spying and journalism is vague: “Where is the border between journalism and spying?”, he asks, earnestly– and agnostically.
Curiously, an article in Journalisten by Rasmus Elmelund, published nearly two months ahead of Pundik’s birthday, quotes Pundik saying the opposite:
Herbert Pundik: ”If there is anything that is bad for a paper, it is political partisanship”.
In that article, Pundik boasts of how, when he became chief editor of Politiken, he informed the centrist political party Radikale, which had had a strong influence on the paper, that “we are free”. Alas, such “freedom” would not be applied regarding Israel. Somehow, this declared “identification” with Israel would not at all be considered compromising for Pundik – it would be considered natural.
Pundik has lived in Israel, with a hotel residence in Copenhagen– even as chief editor for Politiken. Pundik tells Elmelund that when Politiken’s managing director Ernst Klæbel made him the job offer in 1969, he said, “I have an idea. You don’t need to come home [to Denmark], you can live in Israel, and then you come here a month at a time and do your weekends in Israel. Then we’ll make a two-year contract”.
Pundik answered “Gosh, yes yes”, and started 1st January 1970. “Then 24 years passed. There was no one who reminded me about those two years in the contract”, says Pundik.
In 2010, Information’s Ellegaard said:
[B]ecause Pundik is a respected Danish Jew, it would automatically be considered slander to call him a Zionist agent, which he notoriously was, and which he is not ashamed over.
Ellegaard further adds that
“had Herbert Pundik not been a Zionist, but rather a communist for example, then he would be more grinded in the media machine, maybe even in the legal machine”.
As for his part in the Tantura massacre (which I wrote about extensively here), Pundik is again agnostic. But he served in the Zionist army, the Haganah, the predecessor of the Israeli Defense Forces, during that action.
“I do not go further than saying what I can allow myself to say, that is, that I did not see anything” (my emphasis), Pundik told Ellegaard. And Pundik says he only saw one case of a Palestinian being “mistreated” by an Israeli soldier.
In response to questions from Ellegaard about the massacre (mentioning Ilan Pappe’s historical work concerning it), Pundik says:
“You shouldn’t forget, that here comes a boy, young boy from Hellerup [northern suburb of Copenhagen, ed.], who cannot manage the language and goes around like a foreign soldier amongst the Israelis – my witnessing is compromised by my background. I couldn’t speak Hebrew, I couldn’t ask anyone, and I didn’t know anything.”
One should remember that the over 1000 Palestinians of Tantura didn’t know Hebrew either, but you didn’t need to. The gratuitous killings by lining up large groups of people against the wall and shooting them in the head, and the mass grave of some 250 bodies tell their own stories.
But Pundik didn’t know anything.
To further blur the picture, Pundik indirectly reduces Ilan Pappe to an ‘extreme leftist’:
“I am not convinced that Ilan Pappe’s rendering [of the bloody massacres], is correct. Ilan Pappe has won support on the furthest left, which is in permanent conflict with the established Zionist Israel. I don’t know how right or wrong it is, I only know, that if it is true, then I was not a witness”.
So what does Pundik actually know? When Ellegaard asks him about the general historical perspective of Zionist ethnic cleansing, suddenly Pundik is wiser.
“What did you Danish Jews in 1948 know about the Zionist project? Did you know that there was a blueprint for ethnic cleansing?”, Ellegaard asks. Pundik answers:
“Nothing, we knew nothing. We were totally myopic in our view. We had collected some money in so a dunam of land could be bought, and we knew [David] Ben-Gurion was the leader.”
But Pundik admits quite clearly to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in the 2012 book “Pundik & Krasnik and the rest of the world”, by journalist Allan Sørensen. Here he is quoted saying:
“I know, that if the ethnic cleansing [sic] hadn’t occurred alongside a voluntary flee under the War of Independence, there would not have existed a Jewish State. If the 700.000 Arabs hadn’t fled, there would today lived about six-seven million Arabs in Israel, and the Jewish State would not survive that” (p. 120).
So Pundik does concede to ethnic cleansings, but like Israeli historian Benny Morris (who likes to call this ethnic cleansing ‘transfer’), Pundik seems to subscribe to the “born by war, not by design” narrative. “There was a war”, Pundik tells Ellegaard in Information, “and in war all kinds of horrible things happen, and it was a war which was forced upon Israel by the Arabs”.
Here Pundik is regurgitating classical Zionist propaganda, which runs directly against the fact that by the time Israel was declared (shortly after his spring arrival), already about half of the roughly 750,000 Palestinian refugees were expelled and about half of the over 500 villages which would in time be destroyed, were already a finished matter. The ‘blueprint’ for ethnic cleansing referred to before was not only a general Zionist ideological blueprint, but also a printed and formal one, known as Plan Dalet of the Haganah, launched 10th of March 1948, more than two months before the establishment of the state or entry of foreign armies.
Surely, Pundik knows this. But when you have first endorsed Zionism as uncritically as he has, it’s difficult to turn back. One wonders when exactly Pundik regained his sight with the other eye, to balance his ‘myopic view’ from his youth.
Pundik is forced to do the typical ‘balancing act’ of liberal Zionists – on the one hand, blaming ‘circumstances’ for forcing Israel to act as it does, on the other hand, noting how ideologically intrinsic war crimes (ethnic cleansing) are for the maintenance of the Zionist ideal. I think Benny Morris did cut through that when he concluded that “transfer was inevitable and inbuilt in Zionism – because it sought to transform a land which was ‘Arab’ into a Jewish state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of Arab population”.
On the other hand, Pundik seeks to portray himself as a liberal who does care about refugees – as long as they are not Palestinian, that is. In Journalisten, the article ends with Pundik chiding Denmark for having dissolved an agreement with UNHCR concerning refugees:
“Denmark has dissolved the old agreement with UNHCR about taking 500 convention refugees, because we can’t afford it. Afford! The fact that there is no public storm concerning the fact that the world’s most wealthy nation does not consider itself to be able to afford taking 500 – war damaged and vulnerable – refugees, is for me a mystery. It has apparently been lost on most, that we have been behaving in non-solidarity. Everyone has betrayed. Priests. Academics. Where is the academic protest? In the 50’s and 60’s it was the feminist protests, child protests, anti-nuclear protests. Where is it? Denmark can afford to be a shining example of a new world, where on does not only speak about, but also practices international solidarity – without it compromising life-standard. But we don’t do it. And it’s a pity”, Pundik bemoans.
Pundik’s view is one that has unquestionably come to affect the Danish mainstream view of Israel and Zionism. As Ellegaard noted, Pundik is “a model for journalists, who want to write about the Middle-East: His knowledge is enormous, his analytical sense is revered, and he is considered an almost untouchable moral authority, because he can criticize his own. Herbert Pundik is today a hero in the Danish public life.”
And so Denmark and mainstream newspapers celebrate the “hero”, and even if some of the coverage is critical, it’s very forgiving. In the big Kristeligt Dagblad birthday coverage, it’s all roses, heroism and Jewish victimhood. A big portion is given to the notion of “Tikkun Olam”:
“Judaism contains so many different strains, but all have in common tikkun olam”, Pundik tells Ulla Poulsen in last Friday’s coverage. “It is a completely central commitment in the life and world view, which Judaism consists of, and it is the only thing I believe in. That has meant a lot for me”, he says. “It is the idea that we as humans can make it better – deal better with each other, arrange the world better – and one can of course do that”, he adds.
Poulsen is fascinated by this humanist outlook, and asks more about how one can improve the world surrounding us.
“It is said in Judaism, that he who saves a human, saves the whole world,” says Pundik. “And that’s how it actually is,” he adds. “The individual IS the world. That is what I feel my Judaism is about. It is the most fundamental thing.”
But otherwise, Pundik considers himself agnostic when it comes to religion: “I’m not an atheist, rather an agnostic. I would not exclude that there is a God. I have simply not found him”, he says.
I would assert that Pundik is religious. As Israel’s celebrated ‘leftist’ leader Moshe Dayan once said, “As far as Zionism is concerned, I am a religious Jew” (in Tom Segev, 1967, p. 550).
This is the “Zionist religion” that Herbert Pundik is preaching, and has been preaching, to the Danish public for decades. And the Danes have generally eaten it raw, and loved him for it. His ‘agnostic ambivalence’ is for them a charm, ostensibly ‘not here and not there’, supposedly always questioning, therefore supposedly not fundamentalist and not extreme.
But that’s the illusion. Pundik has been a frontman for Zionist ethnic cleansing, he’s literally been a Zionist spy while shaping Danish public opinion, and he’s not ashamed of it one bit, really. When it comes to the really bloody parts, he just “doesn’t know anything”. When it comes to defending those crimes on a grand scale, he suddenly knows everything (which Zionist propaganda dictates).
Perhaps Herbert Pundik’s celebrated, even untouchable status, is more important as a mirror for the Danish public today than it is as a portrayal of the man himself. Danes loved this mirror, because after all he is also ‘one of ours’, and he’s fought for Israel, he’s critical of Israeli policy and so on.
But most importantly, he makes Danes feel good about Zionism, Israel’s founding ideology which still informs it in every way imaginable. This support for Zionism relieves collective European Holocaust guilt, and allows Denmark to continue in its ambiguity concerning Israeli crimes vis-á-vis Palestinians.
Pundik is the classical liberal Zionist, who whitewashes crimes against humanity. Mainstream Danish journalism and public life generally wash him back for it, and everyone is happy. Except Palestinians, of course.