April 20, 2016
|In this week of removing the leaven from our homes as part of the pre-Passover preparations, paying attention to the specks and crumbs of media misbehavior is quite appropriate.
As hassidic rebbes stressed, there is more than the physical chametz (leaven) to which we are obliged to pay attention. There is the chametz that drives attitudes of people.
In our columns we have noted that too often, media personnel, those who not only inform us of the news from the field but those at the news desks who send reporters out to collect the story, or who provide direction for their investigations; those who write up the texts for the broadcasters; those who edit; those who select the panels; the columnists and editorial writers and more assume they may intervene and even interfere in the reporting and interpret it for us. In doing so, they can insert elements of their own personal bias or political inclinations.
Even a small distortion is just like that little bit of chametz that can ruin one’s kitchen or prepared food.
Too often, too many people in the media presume that they are in some ways superior, different and above the criticism of the consumers who watch, listen and read their output. It is proper to recall what the outstanding journalist Gay Telese observed in his The Kingdom and the Power on The New York Times: “Most journalists are restless voyeurs who see the warts on the world, the imperfections in people and places.” Telese, by the way, worked for the Times and a good few newspapers before and after.
Being engaged in such a profession, too many can adopt disdain for their subjects which then evolves into unfair treatment of the subject. At the same time, too much adoration for your subject can also lead to bad journalism. It was Swedish professor Hans Rosling, and not a “right wing” Israeli, who, on Danish television last September, criticized the media for being “arrogant,” adding, “You can’t trust the news outlets if you want to understand the world.”
This past year, our campaign to amend elements of the new Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation Law, specifically the obligation that news broadcasts “avoid one-sidedness, prejudice, expressing personal opinions, giving grades and affixing labels, ignoring facts or selectively emphasizing them not according to their newsworthiness,” failed. Those in the studios and behind the microphones deem themselves, too often, as being above the rules.
A Kol Yisrael radio host can call a soldier under investigation for shooting an Arab terrorist a “terrorist” without worrying about the consequences.
Rino Tzror, a Galatz radio host, pontificated last week about the origins of this last half-year’s wave of terrorism. To his mind, “the ‘intifada of the individuals’…
began after a series of ascents by Jews to the Temple Mount. That was the match. It was ignited in September 2015… the flame consumed all… due to this Temple Mount festival….”
One would think, as Ma’ariv’s Kalman Liebskind noted, that a liberal and democrat like Tzror would at least blame those who actually committed the killings for their lack of tolerance and acceptance of the “other.”
But Tzror went one step further and blamed the Makor Rishon newspaper, and its weekly Temple Mount column penned by Arnon Segal, as a contributing factor to the Muslim violence. Tzror justified Islamist fanaticism and recourse to knifings and car-rammings by pointing to what, supposedly, causes it: the Jews. And Tzror is a “distinguished” and “admired” media person. And, in our opinion, full of chametz.
Yonit Levy is a prime-time news anchor on Channel 2 who regularly uses her position to further her own agenda. As pointed out by Shimon Riklin on Facebook, on April 17, after reporter Guy Peleg broke the news that there would be a rally in support of Sg. Elor Azaria who will be tried for manslaughter, Levy had this to say about entertainers who originally agreed to appear: “A bunch of artists who follow the public sentiment to understand what they should be doing for themselves.” Or, in plain words, the artists who were to go, Eyal Golan, David D’or and Subliminal, were doing so to curry favor with the public, not because they truly support Sgt. Azaria.
Now, one wonders who heard Levy say the same about the artists who participate in Meretz-organized rallies. Indeed, Levy’s job is to report the news, not to be the psychoanalyst of performers. We the public should stop listening to her; that would be the correct way to destroy this source of chametz.
Another media professional, Roy Baharir Perl, whom most of us had never heard of before, is another example. As reported on the INN website, in response to the planned rally in support of Sgt. Azaria, Perl wrote the following on his Facebook: “Dear Terrorists, On Tuesday there will be a large rally at Rabin Square. You are invited to carry out a terror act.”
Perl is an editor on the Walla news site.
He later retracted the offensive note, but consider what would have happened had a right-wing journalist made a comment like that with regard to a left-wing rally. The media would have ostracized her or him, and the person would been quickly out of a job. Not so at Walla. They do not believe in getting rid of the chametz.
Last week we all witnessed a non-story.
Heinz-Christian Strache has been chairman of the Austrian Freedom Party since 2005. As a reminder, the Freedom Party was headed by Joerg Haider from 1986 until then. Haider was a vocal anti-Semite, but Strache has disavowed anti-Semitism and disposed of many members of his party who harbored such prejudice. In the latest elections in Vienna, his party garnered over 40 percent of the vote and many are predicting that he could become the next chancellor of Austria. Strache is the leader of a right-wing party, so our foreign ministry, headed by someone who claims also to be the leader of a right-wing party, the Likud, decided not to grant Strache “official visit” status. Instead, he was invited by the Likud Party and secretly met with Likud ministers and MKs, as reported in Makor Rishon.
Was this story newsworthy? Should it have been up for public discussion of the pro and cons of such a visit? Should the media have asked the Foreign Ministry some tough questions, such as why Strache cannot be an official visitor of Israel while Western leaders such as Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom are worthy of official recognition? Strache is supportive of Israeli settlements.
Is this the reason he was considered chametz by our media?
We wish you our dedicated readers a very happy and chametz-free Passover.
April 14, 2016
|We depend on the media not only to report and analyze current events but also to remind us of past events so that today’s news is provided with proper context and perspective.
We expect reporters and columnists to mine the archives of their newspapers and networks to make interviews more incisive and reportage more accurate.
This past week demonstrated conclusively that our media does not uphold such standards. Instead of relating to all issues with the same impersonal but professional standard of providing the public with the news, our media manipulates it in accordance with its own convictions and desires.
Our first example is the recent coverage of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Ya’alon was very critical in public of the soldier who shot an incapacitated Arab terrorist in Hebron. Due to his principled stance, Ya’alon has been under considerable pressure from within the Likud as well as outside of it. The result is that Ya’alon has become the darling of the media and those who attack him, the black sheep.
Most mainstream media outlets have glossed over the fact that Ya’alon seemingly is interfering in an ongoing criminal investigation.
By contrast, when Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked criticized the Supreme Court’s recent decision further delaying the implementation of the agreement on the utilization of the offshore gas fields, she was portrayed as interfering with the country’s rule of law.
However unlike Ya’alon, Shaked’s pronouncements came after a decision was handed down which she thought wrong. She did not interfere with the judicial process at all.
Digging a bit deeper, we note that now Ya’alon’s pronouncements are praised as upholding true liberal and democratic values. Not too long ago, the media’s frame of reference was quite the opposite.
In mid-January 2014, Yediot Aharonot broke a story that the defense minister had, in a supposedly off-the-record background talk, made comments in which he called US Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic.” He was also quoted as saying that Kerry “should take his Nobel Prize and leave us alone.” The media played up his remarks, stressing how damaging they were to Israel’s relationship with its “greatest ally.” The leak was obviously not only breaking the accepted norms of interviews in which reporters respect the wishes of the person interviewed and keep off the record comments private, but aimed at damaging Ya’alon and his political backer, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Under fierce media pressure, Ya’alon apologized.
Two months later, he had to do so again, after criticizing the US for its global weakness. Lecturing at Tel Aviv University on March 17, he said, “If your image is feebleness, it doesn’t pay in the world.” US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel placed a call to protest. Ya’alon was again raked over the coals in Israel’s media.
But now he is being backed, especially by Yediot Aharonot. The difference between then and now? If his judgment was so bad then, how come it has become so good now? We can only conclude that Yediot and the media are not reporting the news, but managing it to fit their own personal wish list. A Ya’alon perceived as not relenting to American pressure is put down. The same Ya’alon, when his actions fit the agenda of the press powers, is bolstered.
Another, related example of a lack of historical perspective is the recent investigative item of Dr. Ilana Dayan on her Uvda program in which former minister Rehavam Ze’evi was accused of sexual harassment. “Gandi,” as he was nicknamed, has been dead for 15 years, assassinated by Arab terrorists.
Besides the fact that he cannot defend himself, the program cannot change the behavior of the deceased.
If Dayan truly believes that such stories, whether true or not, should be investigated, why doesn’t she take up a long list of suspected public personalities whose dalliances may have been, by today’s standards, harassment? These might include Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizmann or even David Ben-Gurion, who had an affair with Regina Klapholz, 21 years his junior.
What positive contribution did this segment on Ze’evi make? Things become almost ludicrous when we compare the media’s coverage of MKs Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) and Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi). Bahloul, in a statement made in his party’s faction and then again on Thursday in an interview on Galatz with Yaron Dekel and Amit Segal, clarified his views regarding terrorists and freedom fighters. In essence, any attack on Israeli soldiers is considered part of a struggle for freedom, according to Bahloul. Only the murder of innocent civilians may be considered terrorism.
Bahloul was roundly criticized, both within and outside his party.
His party colleague MK Eitan Cabel said Bahloul was no longer a member of the Zionist Union. Indeed, anyone who has followed Bahloul’s programs on the regional Arab-language A-Shams radio or who read the detailed report of Shlomo Daskal and Dr. Tehila Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute would know Bahloul considers himself to be first and foremost a Palestinian whose land was taken away by Israel. Bahloul insists on referring to the city of Upper Nazareth as Nazareth, claiming that the lands of the Jewish city were stolen from the Arab city of Nazareth. He is an admirer of Muhammad Bakri, the producer of the Jenin, Jenin film which falsely accuses the IDF of perpetrating war crimes in the 2002 battle in the Jenin refugee camp.
Legislation aimed at preventing any public show of mourning on Israel’s Independence Day was considered by him “a shady and despicable act.”
None of this appeared in the ensuing media discourse. Quite the contrary, on Monday, Razi Barkai devoted almost an hour of his Galatz program to analyzing whether Bahloul’s differentiation between killing soldiers and civilians holds water. He thus legitimized Bahloul’s assertion instead of asking the obvious question which is whether any country in the world would defend someone who identifies with its enemies, let alone allow such a person to serve in its parliament.
Smotrich did not receive such empathy. He was branded a racist.
Haaretz’s Uri Misgav used the term “Judeo-Nazi” – ironically, a term coined by the newspaper’s darling, the late professor Yeshayhu Leibowitz, who employed it to describe IDF troops in Lebanon.
But why provide context? It would only ruin the media’s story-line.
April 6, 2016
|Media critics can be harsh, even a bit unfair. On August 30, 1888, writing to novelist Katharine Tynan, Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote, “I hate journalists. There is nothing in them but tittering, jeering emptiness… they have given up their individuality….The shallowest people on the ridge of the earth.”
Despite perhaps unfair criticism, it is amazing that a group of professionals who engage in criticizing people, organizations, governments and policies and who delight in revealing the foibles, failings and flaws of their subjects, are themselves remarkably thin-skinned when they become the subjects of monitoring, analysis and criticism. They are also very intolerant of those who stray from their ideological-cultural line.
Ehud Ya’ari, the well-respected Arab affairs correspondent at Channel 2 news, recently suffered a peer-group put-down. He had been participating in a panel discussion with Amnon Avramovitz, Ronni Daniel and Dana Weiss on March 25 on Ulpan Shishi, the Friday-night weekly news wrap. The subject was Islamic terrorism in Europe and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that Israel and Europe were facing the same phenomenon. Ya’ari disagreed strenuously with Weiss.
Weiss declared, “I’m sure that now all the male panelists will gang up on me,” and Daniel protested her manipulative usage of gender discrimination. Ya’ari said, “Better you should delve more deeply into the sides… and also the data.”
She responded, “Why do you think I haven’t checked?” “Because that’s the way it sounds,” Ya’ari said.
When another participant began to talk, Weiss engaged Ya’ari in a side conversation that was caught on mic. Ya’ari was heard to say, “You’ve become a yachna.” The Yiddishism indicates a female gossip, busybody and even a shallow woman. Ya’ari was raked over the coals by his colleagues for his remark, which they considered insulting to women. Haaretz’s Tzippi Sa’ar termed Ya’ari himself a yachna, writing that the poor man doesn’t know where he is living and is harassing women.
It just so happened that six weeks previously, on the Channel 10 HaMateh HaMercazi program, Shimon Schiffer of Yediot Aharonot was on a panel discussing the subject of MK Anat Berko’s remark a few days earlier on the Arab use of “Palestine.” Berko had said, “There isn’t even a ‘P’ in Arabic, so it’s a borrowed term that’s worth analyzing… there is no ‘puh’ sound!” and indicated clearly that it was Latin word originating from the land’s Roman conquerors.
Schiffer, a sharp opponent of Netanyahu and Israel’s right wing, called Berko a “behema,” another Yiddishism, meaning uncouth and literally, a bovine animal. Surprisingly, there was no similar ganging up on Schiffer. His quite misogynistic insult, declared in a derogatory manner, was protested only by the Right.
Worse, Berko’s official complaint to Channel 10 about the insult was treated as an in-house media joke. The media clique knows well how to protect its own.
HOWEVER, THE case of Benny Ziffer marks the nadir of this phenomenon of media people destroying colleagues for espousing the wrong opinions. It is the very antithesis of the freedom of expression that the media leftists always use in their own defense.
Ziffer has become a red flag for the media elite.
Back in July, this paper’s Greer Fay Cashman observed, people were wondering if Haaretz, the bastion of left-wing opinion, was turning to the Right.
Ziffer was defending Sara Netanyahu. He admitted that he had come to her defense when she was being pilloried by the media.
Cashman thought he was even “fawning” in his writing and that “even the reporters at Israel Hayom could not do better.” An August column enraged the LGBT community. Ziffer’s fate was sealed and his colleagues waited for an opportunity.
It came when in his blog column on March 4, Ziffer wrote what was interpreted as a defense of statutory rape by artists of young girls as essential for art. His exact words were, “artists… are also required to feel with intensity those things that are considered the basest urges in life, like intercourse with young female admirers. Without this, there would be no creativity, for all the pain this is liable to cause these young women, whose lives might have been damaged.” Over 90 poets refused to appear at a poetry festival in Metullah because Ziffer was its artistic director.
Since one of the artists Ziffer mentioned was Eyal Golan, accused at the time of sleeping with underage girls, Ziffer was considered to be promoting abhorrent, criminal acts. That Golan was never charged with statutory rape seems not to have stemmed his critics. Kalman Liebskind in his March 12 column at Ma’ariv saw Ziffer as being the victim of “terror” perpetrated by those who usually hold themselves to be the champions of free speech but now, in Ziffer’s case, had decided to euthanize that freedom.
Ziffer, in an interview that week with Razi Barkai on Galatz, had virtually pleaded for understanding. He mentioned Woody Allen.
He could have mentioned a fellow Haaretz columnist, poet Yitzhak La’or, accused of multiple rapes but uninvestigated due to the statute of limitations. A darling of Israel’s cultural literary leftist elite, Dahn Ben-Amotz, was accused by Yudit Shachar, who was his housekeeper, of sleeping with underage girls, but he is still an icon. And, as Liebskind noted, the pages of Haaretz are well-known for the scandalous language of Gideon Levy, Rogel Alpher, Zev Sternhel and a host of others that we have documented over the years, including direct calls for murder and support for real violence.
Ziffer, however, was a marked man. He was considered a Netanyahu-backer, an unpardonable sin among our media elite.
On March 9, he succumbed to his critics and, as if in a resurrected version of a Stalinist-period trial, confessed and pleaded for mercy. In what was to be his last column, which was entitled, “A Heartfelt Apology,” he informed readers that he was “corrupt,” had been called at Haaretz’s Culture Conference “a disgusting person” and “had become a satanic clown.” He admitted, “I am crying.”
He finished by writing, “Even though I have no right to ask for mercy… my heart is now totally submissive.”
Almost noiselessly and unnoticed, the guillotine had fallen.
March 30, 2016
|No one – neither we, the public nor the politicians – knows what really happened in Hebron last Thursday.
We do not know what the exact circumstances were, what the atmosphere was, what the commanders said and did, and when, why the shooting of the terrorist was carried out and more. Even the mainstream media doesn’t know.
It would be ridiculous of us to assume we can pass judgment, for this is the responsibility of our judicial process.
But we do know one indisputable fact, that the B’Tselem NGO once again succeeded, with the collaboration of the media, to give Israel a black eye. It presented the world with a damning video clip filmed by Emad Abu-Shamsiyah in which one sees the terrorist lying on the ground, seemingly alive and powerless; after the passing of an ambulance, one sees a red spot under his head.
After a flurry of social media attention, Israel’s mainstream media, Pied Piper-like, picked up on the B’Tselem clip’s message: that the soldier was presumably guilty of an extrajudicial murder and the IDF was perhaps covering up a crime. Israel’s army is “immoral” was the implication.
For example, on the IDF’s Galatz radio station, correspondent Tal Levram accused the IDF of preventing medical care to the injured terrorist, as the troops are seen standing around, he recounts, for many minutes, doing nothing and not even caring about a wounded person lying on the ground.
He adds, “The incident is very quiet – no shouts, everything is calm – then one hears the click of a gun…. This is one of the worst incidents that I ever saw, there are no questions about editing, the army spokesperson understands this, no one suspects that something was edited in the video clip….
This is a very serious incident.”
Yet Magen David Adom CEO Eli Bin noted that there was no police sapper or official entity who could confirm that the terrorist had no explosives attached to him. Medics are not allowed to treat a person suspected of having a booby trap on her or him.
THE FOCUS of this column is not on the morality or immorality of killing subdued terrorists, nor on the actual incident, but rather on the media’s handling of a clip emanating from an organization that has a track record of presenting misleading evidence to the public, aimed at portraying Israel at its worst. This is not the first time that we point out how dangerous and false this organization is.
In our May 3, 2012 column published in this paper, we described the questionable reporting of Channel 10 TV’s Orr Heller in January, 2010 when he described Arab youths demonstrating in the vicinity of Neve Tzuf. His story was quite odd. He said the youth were non-violent, yet we see a broken jeep mirror, a burned-down hut and some forcible shoving, not the usual result of passive demonstrations. He reports that Jewish youth appeared on the scene and threw rocks at the Arabs and that the IDF did nothing to stop them. An interview with a lieutenant who “explains” that his job is to arrest not Jews, but only local Arabs, is included the clip. However, it was a B’tselem production trick – the “interview” with the lieutenant was an old clip that had nothing to do with the Neve Tzuf demonstrations.
On September 17, 2008, former minister and then-president of Israel’s Media Watch, Dr. Uzi Landau, basing himself on a report by Tamar Sternthal of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, sent a letter to the head of the Israel Broadcasting Authority detailing a list of flagrant ethics violations, falsifications, fabrications and outright lies by B’Tselem. For example, B’tselem had blamed Israel for killing an 11-year-old Palestinian child who actually had been killed by Hamas and Fatah fire.
This is a pattern. As reported by CAMERA’s Yishai Goldflam and Sternthal, a February 27, 2011 B’Tselem clip purportedly showing the mother of an 11-year-old boy pleading with a policeman to accompany the boy actually was re-purposed from an unrelated incident in which a Israeli police officer had asked the mother to come along, but she was pulled away by a Palestinian thug. The B’tselem version received wide coverage, for example, on Ynet.
Other groups and websites have documented numerous cases of B’tselem inaccuracies.
A visit to the NGO Monitor website provides ample instances of misleading (to put it mildly) B’tselem reports. It was a major player in the attempt to discredit Israel during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
In a January 21, 2011 op-ed on the +972 Blog website, B’Tselem’s then-director Jessica Montell attacked a reputable journalist.
“Caroline Glick is a hack of a journalist who parrots any drivel that suits her extremist ideological agenda without having the basic journalistic integrity to check her facts.”
This from an organization that not only does not have any integrity to check facts, but actively falsifies them. Perhaps belonging to a group that made falsifications the norm renders someone like Montell quick to assume that everyone else does the same.
THE REAL ethical problem is Israel’s media collusion with B’Tselem’s proven unreliable source material. On Sunday, Kol Israel interviewed Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, introducing him as vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute. He was requested to give his learned opinion about the affair, but moderator Yossi Hadar and his editor, conveniently omitted mentioning that Kremnitzer is a member of B’tselem’s presidium.
The unrestrained and unverified propagation of B’tselem material raises a fundamental issue of how the media should report or broadcast information that emanates from interested parties – especially ideologically driven political groups.
The BBC guidelines are clear.
“We should ensure that material from members of the public is clearly labeled, so that our audiences know it has not come from the BBC or another news organization. Material from third-party organizations such as lobby groups must be labeled to ensure the audience understands its provenance.”
Yet even this moderate approach is not observed by the Israeli media. Galatz’s Tal Levram, did not for one minute consider the source of the clip and the dubiousness of the organization behind it. He failed his listeners and violated journalistic norms.
Most of the mainstream media also lends full credence to B’tselem by including in their website article a link to its video footage but not to other clips that have surfaced showing different angles and a different version of events, even if none show the full story.
Perhaps, though, the redeeming factor is that the Israeli public does not “buy” B’Tselem’s narrative. Polls show that more than 80% of Israelis approved of the soldier’s actions.
B’Tselem will probably gain increased donations for portraying Israel as if guilty of a “war crime.”
This would be the most cynical part of this story, that the only profiteer from the demise of the terrorist is the “human rights” organization B’Tselem.
March 23, 2016
|Last week we reviewed some blatant examples of anti-Israel bias in the foreign press. We also noted that Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) has not really succeeded in improving the coverage.
This week, we will suggest various strategies that could assist the struggle for a fair international coverage of events in Israel.
As the outset, it should be clear that we have high respect for the people at the GPO and their efforts. The GPO today is more accessible and user-friendly than it ever was. It is also willing to take a stand.
For example, on March 17, the headline on the GPO’s website was “TIME won’t clarify that ‘Palestinian graphic designer killed by Israel’ was terrorist who murdered 3.”
This was in reference to a Time magazine report on December 22, 2015: “a graphic designer from the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood Jabel Mukaber, was killed by Israeli security forces after allegedly trying to carry out an attack in Jerusalem.”
The GPO’s action vs. Time is a step forward, but are there any real consequences for Time as a result? Why can’t the GPO provide on its website (publicly available) contact details of the reporters and editors responsible for such an outrageous headline? Why doesn’t it allow people and groups to subscribe to a newsletter which would provide on-thespot information? That would facilitate the ability of both individuals and groups to express their disapproval more directly and effectively.
Action can take different forms; it can be through letters of complaint. Citizens or groups could ascertain that the public and the politicians know who the reporters are.
Action can be a demonstration at the offices of the media organ responsible. It can also be carried out abroad, by concerned citizens in the country of origin of the media organ.
Action should also be positive. Concerned citizens might invite the relevant reporters to their homes, discuss the situation with them, explaining the Israeli viewpoint. It can also take the form of recognizing and encouraging those media outlets that are fair.
For example, the Voice of America March 14 headline read: “Three Palestinians Killed in West Bank Attacks” and was later altered to “Israel Military Kills Three West Bank Attackers.” From the story’s lead in one learned that “Three Palestinians who carried out attacks in the occupied West Bank were shot dead.” Reuters proved that headlines can be composed correctly and fairly when that same story appeared as “Three Palestinians attack Israelis in West Bank, shot dead.” The AFP’s headline, “3 Palestinians carry out shooting, car-ramming attacks, shot dead,” also proves the point.
But responsible action must be predicated on reliable information. This should be coming from the GPO. A search of the GPO website using the words “Voice of America” or “VOA” gave zero results. Even Reuters doesn’t fare much better.
On the website, in the section “About the GPO,” one can read that “The GPO also monitors and collects, on a daily basis, stories in the foreign press about the State of Israel and sends the survey to the relevant government offices.” Why then isn’t this information made available to the public? The GPO should have a section entitled “Media Bias.”
This would not only lend increased credibility to the work of the independent NGOs engaged in waging the battles from which official Israel remains aloof. The GPO should let the public know what is going on. As the GPO claims it gathers this information in any case, uploading it to the site would not cost anything.
There is much more. An important part is dissemination of the information internationally.
Naturally the GPO cannot do this, nor can it act upon it. However, there are at least a dozen pro-Israel media review organizations world-wide. Why doesn’t the GPO fund an annual International Conference of Media Review Organizations and individuals? It would then hear what these organizations are doing and at the same time learn how it can help them in their struggle to defend Israel. More effective networking is an important side benefit of the conference that would increase cooperation between these organizations, making their voice even stronger.
There is another arena where the GPO could make a difference: it should provide press credentials to outstanding bloggers and editors of news websites who bother to bring the truth out. This would not only improve their professional standing, it would allow them to participate in press conferences and attend events where only the media is allowed in. These people would be able to ask some of the questions that the standard politically correct media never does. They could also observe just how mainstream media works.
Consider this past week when Kol Yisrael repeatedly, perhaps even gleefully, reported that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the German foreign ministry and America’s state department criticized Israel for embarking on the long road which would turn almost 620 acres in the vicinity of the Almog settlement, close to the Dead Sea, into Israeli government land. Not a word of response from the government’s official spokespeople was mentioned in these reports.
Now consider that a reporter, in a press conference, poses the question to the foreign minister, who is also the prime minister: Why didn’t Israel respond to the criticism and defend itself? Who in the Foreign Ministry should take the blame? Wouldn’t this help in preventing the kind of article written in the Neue Zuercher Zeitung on March 18, by their Israel correspondent Dr. Ulrich Schmid (who is not an Israel-basher), whose headline on this issue was “The Israeli Palestinian conflict,” with the subtitle, “Land expropriation in the Jordan Valley” and a further subtitle “Israel has confiscated additional land near Jericho. The Palestinians and the world protest. Jerusalem does not respond.”
The name of the game is information. Our enemies have no difficulty for they falsify it freely. We need to be reliable, responsible and accurate. While hyper-activity is not the style of any government bureaucracy, passivity is no advantage.
Take for example the story of Hanan al-Haroub who received last week $1 million as the winner of the Global Teacher prize. The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, participated in the award ceremony via a video link. As it happens, Haroub is married to a former security prisoner, someone who could be termed a terrorist, a fact the Israellycool blog posted.
While the GPO or someone from the Foreign Ministry might be loath to point that relevant item out in a backgrounder to the press, there should have been no problem in informing them that in Haroub’s classroom hangs a map of “Palestine” (which another tweeter forwarded) which shows all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River, leaving no room for Israel.
A legitimate question could have been: is this the geography she teaches? These are but a few examples of how our GPO could take a lead in providing Israel’s citizens as well as our friends abroad with reliable and factual information to act on.
This would make a quite difference.
March 17, 2016
|It is no secret that the foreign press too often distorts events in Israel. Likewise, the fact that the Government Press Office (GPO) is rather impotent in improving the coverage is no secret.
A blatant example was the CBS February 2 headline “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on” in the aftermath of the terrorist attack that took the life of Hadar Cohen. Nitzan Chen, GPO director, reacted sharply, announcing he was considering rescinding the official certification of the journalists involved. Nothing of the sort happened. The only result was that CBS changed the headline to “Palestinians kill Israeli officer, wound another before being killed.”
Is it really impossible to change the situation? Why does Israel face a hostile press? Are answers to the two questions interrelated? The GPO does not itself gather the needed information. This is done by those individuals and organizations that care to do so.
One of them is Kenneth Abramowitz, founder and president of SaveTheWest.com, which seeks “to advance knowledge concerning the foundational underpinnings of Western civilization” as well as advance strategies, tactics and common-sense solutions for its survival. Abramowitz, who has also funded the Israeli Media Criticism Prize for the past 13 years, commissioned Jon Sutz to look into The Huffington Post, one of the most popular and influential news websites, with nearly 130 million monthly readers from its 15 international editions.
The results were damning.
Sutz’s documentary portrays “a systemic anti-Semitic bias and… even justif[ ication]” of terrorism against Jews in the name of “Palestine.” The study found that 90 percent of Arab terrorist attacks between September 13 and November 30, 2015, never appeared on either the front page or world page of the Huffington Post.
Of the 11 stories that did appear, nine were manipulated to blur the distinction between Palestinian terrorists and their Jewish victims, or to evoke sympathy for Palestinians. In several incidents, HuffPost editorials whitewashed and legitimized the Palestinian narrative.
Does anyone in Israel know about this? Does the GPO? This is by no means an isolated event. Britain’s The Guardian also engages in the systematic distortion of events here. Its headlines following terrorist acts are invariably a description of the Palestinians who were killed, employing words that soften the harsh reality of Arab terrorism. On October 17, 2015, the headline was, “Four Palestinians shot dead after attempted stabbings.” On December 18: “Two Palestinians shot dead by Israeli forces as violence flares.” On February 14, “Three Palestinian teenagers shot dead on West Bank.” In all cases, those Palestinians shot were terrorists intent on murdering innocent civilians. Violence did not just “flare,” it was perpetrated by the terrorists.
Various NGOs work hard to report press manipulations. CAMERA and HonestReporting in the US, Presspectiva here in Israel, UK Media Watch in the United Kingdom and Audiatur in Switzerland are but a few examples. But what does anyone here in Israel know about them? Does the GPO do anything to bring their work to the attention of the media? At this past Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked that “we are taking action against media channels that encourage the murder of Israelis and Jews… I spoke with French President Francois Hollande… and requested that the French broadcasts of the Al Aksa channel be taken off the air.” That was indeed done but Netanyahu admitted it had gone back on air via another satellite.
Netanyahu did not even mention the “standard” foreign press and its perversions.
Finished with her stint as the bureau head of The New York Times in Israel, Jodi Rudoren was interviewed by her own paper on March 3. Her line was that media watchdogs critical of her Israel coverage do not base their critique on journalistic values.
In her mind, critics are advocates whereas knowledgeable media figures say her output was okay.
Her arrogance is noteworthy. Especially when it comes from those who usually describe themselves as liberal and seek to protect freedom of expression.
Her attitude echoed the words of Luke Baker, a Reuters journalist and head of Israel’s Foreign Press Association, at a Knesset subcommittee meeting on the issue of false or biased reporting on Israel news in international media on February 9, 2016. He claimed there is “a pretty rigorous process of reporting and checking facts.” There are errors, he admitted, and “sometimes it’s been harder to correct them than others,” but there is little “to answer in terms of systemic bias.” Nitzan Chen was present but did he present Baker with the facts? No.
Could it be that the GPO simply does not know them? It was the Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni who was the moving force for the deliberations in the Knesset over the perceived unethical behavior of the foreign media. Her interest, as is ours, was what changes could be made to the procedural work of Israeli spokespersons.
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) bemoaned the lack of coordination among the various organs of state that deal with putting out the message as well as orchestrating a stronger element of being “on the same track.” Oren pointed to the need for further streamlining and shaming such news outlets.
Livni also bemoaned the slowness of the IDF Spokesman’s Office in responding to outlandish claims of wrongdoing. All GPO head Nitzan Chen could add was to confirm that occasionally “headlines published about terror attacks were distorted.”
One of us (YM) was present at a session of the US Conference of Presidents’ Leadership Mission to Israel on February 18 devoted to the question whether there is a double standard in media portrayals of Israel. The panel comprised Barbara Opall- Rome, Israel bureau chief of Defense News, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, IDF spokesperson for foreign press, Udi Segal, Channel 2 diplomatic correspondent, Josef Federman, the Associated Press Israel bureau chief, and was moderated by David Horovitz, Times of Israel editor.
Both Horovitz and Lerner highlighted the lack of context and perspective that can taint media reports, with Lerner suggesting that “there needs to be a fuller story [told].”
But Segal countered that “Israel should not be complaining about unfairness in the media.” In fact, foreign journalists should be given more access to information, said Segal.
It was Federman who proved just how weak our professionals are. His statement “it has become very unpleasant to be a journalist in this country” wafted by with no outcry. Lerner, the IDF spokesperson to the foreign press, knows that this is not the case, but did not respond. With no media watch NGO rep on the panel to provide expert testimony, Federman continued in an Orwellian fashion, saying, “There is very little intentional distortion, errors are usually due to haste or carelessness, and are generally corrected quickly.” The examples we cited above, from the Huffington Post and the Guardian, certainly negate Federman’s assertions.
So what can be done to change the situation? We will provide our answers next week.
March 9, 2016
|The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is considered to be Israel’s melting pot. Soldiers come from all walks of life in Israel as well from abroad, get to know each other and become an integral part of Israeli society. One significant exception to this is the army radio station Galatz.
The radio station is open only to those not fit for combat. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Why should the army waste the services of people fit for combat, the army’s primary task, for a radio station? The fact is that serving in Galatz is the equivalent of going to the most prestigious media school in Israel, all paid for by the Israeli taxpayer. Why should this opportunity for those who might wish to pursue a career in the media be denied to combat soldiers? Why can’t they compete freely and, if found worthy, join the station for the mandatory three years? Consider the latest brouhaha involving Golan Yochpaz, a former Galatz employee. He had served as the station’s “territories reporter” (not the Yesha reporter as that is too Zionist a term) from 1992-1995.
What happened afterwards is more interesting.
From 1999-2008, he was the chief editor of Channel 2’s Kolbotek consumer affairs television program.
From 2004-2006 he was the editor and host of the The world this morning news magazine on that channel.
He then continued as editor of the channel’s Friday news program roundup show and simultaneously editor and host of Galatz’s Good Morning Israel news broadcast.
In 2013, he became the executive director of TV Channel 10 news. As reported on March 6 on the News 1 website, at the time, he demanded from Galatz to continue to host the morning news program, knowing full well that this was a blatant conflict of interest. Galatz understood this and Yochpaz was released from his duties.
His reaction was to spit into the well from which his whole media life was created. He is now suing Galatz for the paltry sum of NIS 1.2 million.
Matan Chodorov entered Galatz as a soldier in 2003. He became the traffic correspondent and, subsequently, the senior economics correspondent in 2005. In 2006, he served as editor of the Good Morning Israel program. It was then but a short jump to the prestigious professional media world.
During 2008-2009, while still working at Galatz, he also served as economics commentator for various Channel 2 programs. In December 2009, he left Galatz to become the economics correspondent of Channel 10.
Chodorov had a good teacher: Noa Kolp. She also started her career in Galatz, in 1998 as a real estate correspondent.
She was the first religious female soldier at the station. In 2005, she moved to Channel 10 to become head of the economics desk there, serving also as host of the channel’s economic program. She then moved with her spouse in 2009 to the US, becoming Channel 10’s and Globes’ New York correspondent. Chodorov assumed her post when she left.
A more recent example of Galatz soldiers moving on to the big time is Yona Leibson, who was drafted into Galatz in 2007 and, given her Soviet origins, covered at first immigration and absorption affairs and the Jewish world. She was then promoted and became the economics and environmental affairs correspondent. She also became an editor of the morning news program and vice-head of the current affairs department. In September 2015 she was chosen to be the social and welfare correspondent of Channel 2.
One of Galatz’s biggest success stories is Amit Segal, son of Chagai Segal, the editor of the Makor Rishon newspaper. Segal, who does not hide his right-wing sympathies, embarked on his career in 2000. In 2006, he was already employed at Channel 2, continuing as a media correspondent, the post he also held previously at Galatz. Nowadays he is the political correspondent, hosts a weekly show on the Knesset TV channel, pens a weekly political commentary column in Makor Rishon and more.
These are but a few representative examples of the deep influence Galatz has on Israeli media on the one hand and on the other, the huge advantages of those who embark on their media career at the Galatz station. This bring us back to our opening comment, that it is patently unfair that soldiers fit for combat cannot enjoy the same opportunities just because they risk their lives for the state.
This situation is so wrong that even extreme left-wing Yediot Aharonot commentator Nachum Barnea called in July 2011 for the closure of the station. Among his reasons was that “young people arrive at the station and leave it after three years, well-trained professionally but ethically screwed up. This is what happens when an 18-year-old youngster pushes a microphone into the fact of a prime minister. …But the central issue is that he did not serve in the army. Thanks to Galatz, the media is full of journalists who have little interest in Israel outside of the perimeter of the Yarkon River.”
Is there a solution to this situation? Is it really necessary for the station to discriminate against those who really deserve to serve in the station? There are two choices. One is to close the station down. This is the correct choice that we, as well as many others, have advocated, noting the ludicrousness of a media organ which belongs to the military but broadcasts mostly civilian and political content. Israel does not need so many public radio stations.
But, as is perhaps also evident from the examples above, Galatz’s alumni permeate our media everywhere and whenever there is even a hint of an initiative to close the station, the hue and cry they raise scares off the politicians.
There is a solution: the army could and should make it imperative for anyone who wants to serve at the station to sign on to a four-and-ahalf- year stint. The first 18 months would be spent doing regular duty in the army. Those fit for combat, in combat units, those not, in support units. After this period, they continue to serve for three years at Galatz.
Ideally, they should not receive payment for the last 18 months, given that they are receiving free media schooling. But as a compromise, one could also pay them a minimal salary, as received by officers who serve a fourth year in the army for the added period.
This suggestion has many advantages.
Foremost, it would open Galatz to combat soldiers, ending the discrimination.
Secondly, it would perhaps bring into Galatz people who are somewhat more ethical than Golan Yochpaz. Thirdly, any soldier who has served for 18 months of regular duty would understand the army much better and could then perform in Galatz with a much deeper perspective about the army.
We have suggested this policy to a number of politicians, but to no avail. Perhaps the public can influence those who decide for us.
March 2, 2016
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 03/02/2016
It is no secret that the academic elite in Israel identify mostly with the secular, left-wing liberal community.
In our consumer-driven society, a privately owned newspaper has the right to advocate the views of its editors and publishers. The consumer who does not like the editorial line or, better, the party line, is free to purchase other newspapers. But freedom of expression is not freedom of vilification. A media outlet which respects itself should allow even villains the right of reply and the ability to defend their good name.
Haaretz doesn’t act that way. When it decides to latch onto someone, it does so with no holds barred, cruelly, bitterly and decidedly unethically. This is so in the case of Haaretz vs. Bennett.
The party line of Haaretz is liberal, extreme left-wing but fiscally conservative. Education Minister Naftali Bennett is perceived as a threat, especially to the first two characteristics. Under his leadership, his Bayit Yehudi party is changing some of the most important strongholds of the elites, and they are screaming, with Haaretz leading the pack.
It is no secret that the academic elite in Israel identify mostly with the secular, left-wing liberal community.
They are avid consumers of Haaretz and Bennett is threatening their hegemony. Israel spends many billions of shekels on higher education. Policies are implemented through “Malag,” the Council for Higher Education, and the funding goes through “Vatat,” the Coordination and Budget Committee. The education minister is, by law, the chair of Malag and he appoints the chair of Vatat.
In practice, the vice-chair of Malag is the person responsible for its day-to-day management since the minister does not have the time needed (nor perhaps the expertise) to run the affairs of Malag on such a basis.
Professor Hagit Messer-Yaron, a professor of electrical engineering at Tel Aviv University, served as the vicechair from October 2013 until February 2016. Bennett forced her resignation. Although he did not publicize his reasons, one can fairly well guess what they were: Messer-Yaron led an effort to neutralize the powers of the education minister to implement the minister’s policies and to oversee academia.
Briefly, the Commission for Regulation of Governance which she headed recommended that the members of Malag be appointed through an independent committee, chaired by a Supreme Court justice. The academic community applauded as this would assure their domination of academia. The forced resignation of Messer-Yaron put an end to this.
Haaretz is understandably concerned. So it permitted Professor Moshe Shoked, professor emeritus of anthropology at Tel Aviv University, to write an op-ed article entitled “In Our Very Own Weimar Republic” on February 19. In it, Shoked berates his colleagues and attacks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, he said, is “the unrestrained, deceptive magician who grew up in the home of a historian but was trained to enlist and promote ignorance, fear and hatred in Israeli society.”
He saves, however, his harshest remarks for Benett, “whose conduct is a reminder of dark regimes of other periods” and who wears a “pistol on his waist.”
He ends his article by describing Israel as “a society…that in practice is moving toward an apartheid regime” and asks: “How can we remain passive in an era that is our equivalent of the happy days of Weimar?” When people in the Gaza Strip, who were threatened and in fact then expelled from their homes, wore a yellow star as a demonstrative act, the media hanged them in the public square. But Haaretz is allowed to publish an article which effectively accuses a minister of Nazi-like behavior, and no one considers this a serious issue.
Indeed, Haaretz knows that Shoked has a habit of demeaning the Holocaust. He previously did so in a Haaretz op-ed on March 11, 2011, “No to Boycott, Yes to Suicide,” reacting to a Knesset bill which would forbid boycotting Israeli academic institutions, writing, “it is hard not to recall the 1930s and 1940s, when another great nation took its own life under a mad vision of border expansion.”
Bennett has a number of additional “sins” for which he need atone. These include the decision of his ministry not to place the book Borderlife by Dorit Rabinian on the list of compulsory reading for the matriculation exam in literature. If a student wants to she or he can include it, but it is not an integral part of the curriculum.
Haaretz was incensed. In an editorial on January 1 it wrote: “The backing of Minister Bennett [for the decision on the book] is another step in the nationalistic indoctrination that the heads of the education ministry are providing for the secular public school system.”
But even this was not enough. The paper went so far as to publish a letter to the editor by author Amos Ben-Vered on February 2, who describes his childhood experience in a German school in Bulgaria in 1938.
Although the school was German and its teachers wore the swastika, the curriculum remained as it was in pre-Nazi Germany. Ben-Vered writes: “The question is how does the government and, especially Minister Bennett, want to act? Are they willing at least to accept the moderate spirit of the Nazi [Konstantin] von Neurath who permitted the schools to teach as in previous years, when Germany was a democracy?” On the Haaretz website, the letter comes with a picture of the Nazi von Neurath. The equation, Bennett is a Nazi, speaks for itself.
This is not to say that Haaretz was not taken to task.
On February 26, journalist Erel Segal criticized the paper in an article published in Makor Rishon and the NRG website. The story related that: “As long as Minister Bennett worried about the number of children in the class, adding helping teachers and increasing math lessons, it worked not too badly. But when he dared to touch core issues of our existence here, the left went berserk. What was permitted to [former education ministers Yuli] Tamir and [Yossi] Sarid is forbidden for the right.”
After describing outrageous acts by previous left-wing education ministers, he ends by noting: “For me at least, the story is clear. There is no danger to democracy, there is no fascism. There is here an elite struggling for its hegemony. A paranoid and frightened elite unwilling to accept the fact that the government of Israel, chosen by a majority which believes in Zionism, decided to act accordingly.”
Segal was not alone, but the mainstream media remained silent. The talk shows, the radio programs, the TV news shows, all of which were very quick to decry any allusions of the Left to Stalinism or Nazism, said nothing.
They did not call upon the Israel Democracy Institute or the president of the Press Council, former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, to express their opinion on Haaretz’s articles. They did not request a response from President Reuven Rivlin or Knesset speaker Edelstein.
No, they were silent, quiet accomplices of a newspaper which is a blight to our society.
February 25, 2016
|One of the mantras often repeated by our democracy gurus is the need for pluralism. In a democratic society which upholds freedom of speech, one should create platforms which bring to the forefront the broad spectrum of opinions, cultural backgrounds and ethnic origins that exist in it. Indeed, this is a cornerstone of the laws which created our public broadcasting authorities. The distance between theory and practice is unfortunately very large, as we shall see when we consider the saga of TV Channel 20.
A different mantra, pushed by our capitalist society, is the need for competition and the reduction of government involvement in the operations of private companies.
The Netanyahu governments have been oft-criticized by our socialists for their privatization policies. But when it comes to the media, one may conclude, especially during the past six years, that the opposite is the rule. If anything, the Netanyahu governments were more interested in concentrating media power within a government umbrella through its agencies, than in encouraging a free and competitive electronic broadcasting market with minimal government involvement.
And, as we shall illustrate, the saga of TV Channel 20 proves the point.
Toward the end of the previous century, the Israeli government rightly concluded that the number of players in the TV market was too small. To overcome legal obstacles and contractual obligations, a rather strange formula was created.
Israel would have five “dedicated” TV channels: a Russian- language channel, Israeli music, Arabic, news and Jewish heritage. The Jewish heritage channel has had a tumultuous history. Eventually, Channel 20 began broadcasts on June 30, 2014. It is a commercial channel, garnering income from advertisements. It may be viewed on cable TV as part of the free package. It can also be watched via satellite as well as on the Ynet website and the cellular phone system.
Its mandate is to provide entertainment and cultural programming related to Jewish heritage, stressing a Zionist and pro-Israeli viewpoint. Its programming is family-oriented. A left-of-center media critic, Lior Averbukh of Globes, describes the channel’s programming as “right-wing religious.”
The owners of the channel are Isaac Mirilashvili and Avi Bar. Mirilashvili is an Israeli billionaire of Georgian descent.
He is considered to be the Russian equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg, having created the Russian- language social network Vknotakte.ru, which boasts 150 million users. Bar was formerly the executive director of the Sports Channel. The chairman of the board is Mordechai Shaklar, who has a rich history in Israel’s broadcasting industry.
He served as the chairman of the board and then as the executive director of the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR). He then became the executive director of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Shaklar identifies with the national religious camp and lives in Ofra.
So much for background.
Shaklar and the channel have a big appetite. They want to broadcast news and current events programs, knowing well that this would increase their viewership and thus their income. This has upset our democracy gurus. The headline on May 21, 2015, Haaretz story on the channel was: “This is how channel 20 changed from a Jewish Heritage channel to the Israeli Fox News.” The subtitle claimed that Channel 20’s mandate was to broadcast programs on Jewish heritage and tradition, “but under the nose of the regulator the channel turned into a current events channel with a clear right-wing conservative point of view.”
As expected, Haaretz hiccuped and the rest of Israel stands at attention. In June 2015, the SATR fined Channel 20 NIS 100,000 for broadcasting an election rally. On August that same year, the channel was fined another NIS 151,000 for presenting news headlines.
Is the news to be a government- controlled commodity? The chair of SATR is Eva Medziboz. She was appointed by Likud Minister Gilad Erdan when he served in the previous Netanyahu government as communications minister. Her board continues to behave in a rather nasty fashion toward Channel 20. The channel has presented a formal request to the SATR to change the conditions of its license. In a country where law and order is respected, this would of course be unthinkable, but in Israel, where Channel 10 TV had for years requested and then eventually was authorized to change its contractual obligations, such a request should be considered the norm.
What did the channel ask for? As reported by the Globes’ Averbukh, the request was to reduce the Jewish heritage programming to 75 percent.
It is here that all those who spoke about pluralism and the need to have more than two TV channels showed their true colors. TV channels 2 and 10, the music channel 24 and the editors union are all against the request. Channel 10 claims that this would give Channel 20 an unfair competitive edge! The Keshet concessionaire of TV Channel 2 claims the same.
They went so far as to note that the license of Channel 20 was not to provide the right-wing religious segment of the Israeli population with its own TV station.
Of course, TV Channel 2 news also joined the fray, claiming that the SATR does not have the legal right to allow Channel 20 to broadcast news. Globes adds that Channel 2 noted that “naturally we support fair competition in TV news broadcasting.”
Channel 20 is also vying to obtaining the license to run the Knesset TV channel.
This would of course allow it to enter the hard and soft TV news market. However, to date, nothing has happened. We do not expect the SATR to give any concessions to Channel 20.
After all, its job is to defend the concessionaires who pay the salaries of the SATR. These are Channels 2 and 10. Channel 20 is part of the cable network and does not have to pay royalties into the coffers of the SATR. So why should the SATR care? It makes more pragmatic sense to kowtow to the concessionaires.
The sad part of all this story is not the expected bureaucratic attitude of the SATR, but that those who trumpet democracy in Israel are for some strange reason rather quiet. The Israel Democracy Institute is silent.
The Seventh Eye left-wing media review website does not defend Channel 20 either.
Communications Minister Netanyahu has also been rather quiet.
Could it be that pluralism is a value honored only on paper but not in practice? That “pluralism” is defined as different shades of left-wing liberal content, with the Right to be shunned and allowed extremely limited access to the public broadcasting arena? We are heartened by a report that senior officials in the Communications Ministry are reviewing the decision to permit only left-wing satire on Channel One television, the subject of our article last week.
Will there be progress on Channel 20’s status soon? We don’t know but in the meanwhile, next time you hear someone complaining about pluralism, remind them of the saga of Channel 20.
February 18, 2016
|Reuven Ze’ev (Razi) Barkai, age 67, is a veteran self-admitted left-wing journalist.
His brother was killed in a training accident while undergoing an IDF officer’s course and Barkai himself served as an officer in the paratroopers. Only after leaving the army did he start his professional career as a journalist. In 1971, he joined Kol Israel, remaining there for the next 22 years. Since 1995, he hosts a two-hour daily morning interview program on Galatz called Ma Boer? (What’s Burning?).
Barkai is an Israeli media icon. He is a recipient of many honors, including the prestigious Sokolov Prize. There is no question that he is a Zionist, yet there is also no doubt that he belongs ideologically to the Israel liberal secular camp.
Barkai has appeared too many times in this column, and not in a positive context. Detrimental comments on haredim (the ultra-Orthodox), smoking in public in the Galatz radio studio in violation of the law (since then he has given up smoking) and much more. Yet, his biggest failing comes from his outsized ego. Barkai knows what is good for us as no one else knows.
This past week, Barkai was at the center of a media storm. Sunday a week ago, interviewing Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, he posed the following question in the context of the issue of releasing the bodies of slain terrorists to their families for burial: “Imagine Israeli families, and sadly we know such cases, for example, as a result of Operation Protective Edge, who are waiting endlessly until the bodies of their fallen beloved are returned to them.” Erdan responded: “This is the comparison you are making?” and Barkai retorted, “From the point of view of the feelings of the families.”
The families in question, whose sons Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul fell in the operation and whose bodies are held hostage by Hamas, were upset. The next morning, Simcha Goldin was interviewed on Galatz by Niv Raskin and expressed his unhappiness with Barkai’s question. Raskin was prepared and had Barkai on air to respond. It was here that Barkai’s stubbornness and ego came to the forefront. He was willing to apologize if he hurt the families – but was not willing to retract his question. As he declared, “I believe that there is no difference between the feelings of a grieving mother, whether she is Israeli or Palestinian.”
Barkai was not willing to concede that there is a qualitative difference between a mother who loses her son who was sent by the state to defend it from the enemy and a mother whose son is a cruel murderer or even attempted murderer of innocent people. His question implied that he does not find it justified if Israel keeps bodies of Palestinian terrorists hostage, until Hamas does the decent thing and return the bodies of our fallen.
Worse, Barkai was playing into the hands of the enemy, legitimizing in a sense the fact that Hamas does not allow a decent burial for our fallen soldiers.
True, Israel’s authorities do not always immediately return fallen terrorists to their families, but not simply to hold them as hostages.
They want to prevent mass hatred-fueled demonstrations, fearing that these would only further incite other misguided people to try to kill Israelis. But according to Barkai, this is cruel toward the Palestinian mother, to be equated with the suffering of the Jewish mother.
As a private person, Barkai has the right to his opinion, but he is not a private person.
He is the voice of Israel’s Army Radio Station for the past 20 years. He even represented it during Knesset deliberations on the future of the station. One might have thought he would understand that this publicly funded media outlet should not engage in undermining the effort of the security services to defend the state.
The public outrage against him was huge.
The parents wrote a letter to Galatz head Yaron Dekel, demanding an apology without ifs ands or buts. We, at Israel’s Media Watch’s website, received close to a hundred complaints from citizens all over the country, demanding an apology, but to no avail.
Worse, even, was the February 14 answer of the ombudsman of the station, Eran Elyakim.
“As a public broadcaster, although a military station,” he wrote, “it is our duty to bring to the public the full spectrum of opinion and voices…also if sometimes they are debatable.
Accordingly, it is the job of the interviewer to challenge the interviewee with tough questions that represent opinion and thoughts among part, even if small, of the public.”
He continued with a flat-out falsification of the truth, claiming that “Razi apologized to the families at the beginning of his program this morning.” In fact, that same morning, Barkai opened his program with the following statement: “I cannot lie to myself and give a retraction.”
It just so happened that during this whole brouhaha, Dekel let it be known that Barkai’s two-hour Sunday through Wednesday program would be cut in half with the second hour being hosted by right-wing radio presenter Erel Segal of the Galei Yisrael regional radio station and the NRG news website.
This would not have been the first change brought about at Galatz by Dekel. The leftwing morning news roundup presenter, Micha Friedman, found himself outside, replaced by a much younger colleague, Assaf Lieberman. Yael Dan, the veteran left-wing host of the two-hour noon program, found herself with only one hour, the other being given to another lefty colleague, Rino Tzror.
While the reduction of Dan’s program was accepted without complaint, the very idea of balancing Barkai enraged the media elites. As reported by Elkana Shor on the NRG website, Labor MK Nachman Shai, a former head of the station himself, claimed, incredulously to our mind, that he “is worried about the very existence of the station.” Gabi Gazit, who had to leave public broadcasting because of his outspoken views and rude comments, invited Barkai to join him on FM 103 radio.
Yitzchak Livni, an icon of public broadcasting, joined the fray saying, “this damages Galatz.” Avi Benayahu, another former head of Galatz, added his two bits: “I am concerned about the politicization infiltrating the studios of Galatz.” For some reason, this politicization did not really disturb him when, appointed by former prime minister Ehud Barak as head of the station, he perpetuated its left-wing, liberal character as much as he could.
The brouhaha worked again. Dekel’s resolve collapsed. It was reported on Tuesday that Barkai will continue broadcasting his two-hour program. As for Erel Segal, who knows.
But does someone really care? After all, he is but a member of Israel’s lowly right wing.
Barkai and friends succeeded in bringing Galatz to a new low. Humility, ethics and all the nice words are irrelevant. Public feelings and outrage are of value only when they support liberal left-wing beliefs. The recourse left to the public is to switch to those media outlets which support just a wee bit of decency.