July 1, 2020

MEDIA COMMENT: Israeli media’s annexation scare tactics

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:29 pm by yisraelmedad

Israeli media’s annexation scare tactics
Many parts of the Israeli media, we find, are directly and indirectly using scare tactics to try and prevent implementation of the Israel law east of the Green Line.

by YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK, JULY 1, 2020

When news of the imminent move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem became known just over two years ago, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority warned that such a decision would have dire consequences on the peace process and the security of the region and the world. As we know, the embassy was transferred and nothing out of the ordinary happened. Nowadays, Abbas once again is repeating his threats, but our media, with very few exceptions, reports them without context and without reminding the public that such statements in the past have proved to be empty.

Jordan’s monarch, Abdullah II, was not less adamant at the time. He warned the Trump administration and the heads of Congress that the transfer of the embassy would harm peace efforts and would only strengthen terrorist organizations in the Middle East. This time, to preempt Israel from implementing its law in parts of Judea and Samaria, his threats are again aired. Here, too, without the necessary context. His dire predictions as to what Jordan would do have not materialized in the past.

Is Israel’s media providing us with a balanced perspective by experts on what could happen if the government applies Israeli law over some of the territories currently administered by a military governor since 1967?

Many parts of the Israeli media, we find, are directly and indirectly using scare tactics to try and prevent implementation of the Israel law east of the Green Line. The word “annexation” is bandied around. As any legal resource, easily located online, indicates, annexation is an administrative action relating to the forcible acquisition of one state’s territory by another state and is generally held to be an illegal act. Since a Palestinian state does not exist, nor has it ever, Israel will not be annexing Judea and Samaria, since the territory in question does not “belong” to any other state. True, many, especially in Europe, already today consider Judea and Samaria as belonging to the Palestinian Authority and for them, this is the vision of the two-state solution.

But why does our media have to accede to this wishful thinking and accept a term wrongly defined as relevant to the discourse? It should describe the expected act of the government for what it is – extension or application of Israeli law instead of military law, on certain areas in Judea and Samaria.

We are being warned day in and day out that removal of the military government will irreparably harm our relations with the democratic world as it is a violation of international law. Tel Aviv University’s INSS, a research institute and think tank, has summarized these dire warnings succinctly: Imposition of Israeli law on all the settlement areas might be considered to be an attractive option, but such a move is expected to undermine the stability in the West Bank area, which has been under stable control for the past 15 years. It will cause an outburst of violence and even seriously harm Israel’s international and regional standing as well as the peaceful relations between Israel and Jordan and Egypt, who will find it difficult to handle internal criticism over a unilateral Israeli annexation.

Of course, our media makes sure that we know that Europe will “punish” Israel for such moves. For example, it will retract Israel’s standing in the prestigious Horizon scientific program. European ambassadors are interviewed on the media to bring their government’s position.

This last Sunday, Efi Trigger, the moderator of Galatz’s early morning news program, aired his interview with the Belgian ambassador. Apart from allowing him unrestrainedly to express opposition to Israel’s intentions, not a single serious question was asked. For example, one could have expected that Trigger would remind the ambassador of the 100 years old San Remo decision and how European policy relates to it.

If Israel’s implementation of law in Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights is considered to be a serious violation of international law, then what about the US recognition of our rights in the Golan Heights. What are the steps that the European Union has taken against the United States? Or, is it the old story of Israel being handled differently than other nations?

BUT, NO, these questions and many others are not being aired. The mainstream approach was well-described by Ben Caspit in his June 21 report in Maariv: “Most security organs of Israel will establish, with high probability, that any one-sided annexation will lead to violence. The GSS will, it seems, lead in predicting the dire consequences. In internal discussions the GSS predicted that a wave of terror will come especially from the South. It would then move to Judea and Samaria and in the worst case scenario turn into a general conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, turning even into a third intifada… The assessment is that the GSS will officially warn that there will be a round of violence which might lead to a total loss of control.”

Notice how Caspit uses scare tactics. There is not one piece of solid news in his whole article. He is predicting what the GSS will conclude even though the GSS is at present in the midst of deliberations.

Amnon Abramovitz of Channel 12 news notoriety brings the same message. Earlier this month, he commented on Trump’s plan: “It has destructive implications. The achievement, also of Netanyahu, in the past decade has been that the Palestinian issue has become marginal and an anti-Iranian coalition has been formed. Annexation will destroy this.” Abramovitz is even willing to credit Netanyahu with something as long as it can be used to prevent Israel’s legal changes. Of course, Abramovitz was against Netanyahu’s Iranian policy all along, especially his public moves against then president Barack Obama. But intellectual honesty is not one of the strong points of our media.
Another of our media icons, Nadav Eyal of Channel 13, reported on June 16 that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson considers that annexation will be a grave violation of international law. What he conveniently forgot is to quote the whole response.

As reported in the Times of Israel, when “Asked in the House of Commons about possible sanctions on Israel if it goes ahead with the move, Johnson said: ‘I believe that what is proposed by Israel would amount to a breach of international law. We have strongly objected. We believe profoundly in a two-state solution and we will continue to make that case.’” In other words, Johnson sidestepped the question of what Britain will actually do. This was but another example of a public figure paying lip service, which implies that actually implementation of the law will not lead to any serious moves against it from Britain’s side.

Will these scare tactics affect Israeli and American policy decisions? We do not know. We would hope that the politicians are sufficiently experienced, as is the Israeli public, to understand that they are more a reflection of wishful thinking of a minority rather than reflecting reality. Scare tactics are but another stone on the gravestone of present day journalism.

^

June 18, 2020

MEDIA COMMENT: The prejudice and populism of lobby journalism in the media

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:23 pm by yisraelmedad

 

The prejudice and populism of lobby journalism in the media
Israel’s media should take a careful look at what is happening to the standards of journalism, not with awe, but fear, or perhaps the courage to show the world that there is something better.
By YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK      JUNE 17, 2020

Journalism, it is becoming apparent, has itself fallen victim to the “I Can’t Breathe” protest movement in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. Andrew Sullivan, a gay and conservative independent-thinking columnist, was banned by his employer, New York magazine, from writing about the recent riots. Stan Wischnowski, top editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, resigned following discontent among the newspaper’s staff. They reacted to a headline on a column discussing the destruction and looting that accompanied the riots with the title “Buildings Matter, Too.”

Across the pond, a clip came out documenting a mounted policewoman smashing into a traffic light and severely injured as a result of a demonstrator throwing a missile at her horse. The Guardian’s pop culture columnist, Hannah Jane Parkinson, felt free to tweet out in response that the clip should be set to a song by Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl,” memorable for its inane lines: “This my shit/ This my shit/ Let me hear you say/ This shit is bananas.”

A particularly egregious example of the present day smothering of journalistic culture was the forced resignation of The New York Times’ James Bennet and two of his coworkers. Their “crime” was allowing US (Republican) Sen. Tom Cotton to publish an article in which he argued that President Trump should invoke the Insurrection Act and “send in the troops” to help quell the lawlessness in US cities.

The union, representing some 1,200 rank-and-file journalists at the paper, claimed the piece promoted hate and endangered the paper’s own reporters in the field. More than 800 staff members signed a protest letter. As a result, a review that examined the piece and its publication process, overseen by Adam Rubenstein, was undertaken. It found a “clear that a rushed editorial process led to the publication of an op-ed that did not meet our standards.” Not only that, but the paper intends to reduce the number of op-eds it publishes.

At the same time that message went out, another, from New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, was sent to the employees stating, “Our journalistic mission – to seek the truth and help people understand the world – could not be more important than it is in this moment of upheaval.” But as a letter to the editor expressed it, Bennet’s resignation simply amplified a message that “left-leaning media… are too sensitive and intolerant of heterodox views.”

LET US BE clear about this: The NY Times claimed that some facts in the article were unproven and should not have been published. This claim comes to the Israeli audience as being quite strange considering the lies propagated about Israel by various op-ed columnists, such as five-time murderer Marwan Barghouti without identifying him, and Hamas spokesman Ahmed Yousef

The NY Times journalists were justifiably fearful, the lawlessness on the streets did not distinguish between Right and Left, white or black, male or female. However, the demand that the paper capitulate to such lawlessness is perhaps the best evidence for its lack of moral stature.

The whole story has an even more ominous twist to it. In a follow-up development, the Quincy Institute’s Alex Kane used the Bennet story and the Cotton op-ed to launch a vicious anti-Jewish attack on Adam Rubenstein, the person he presumed was the editor responsible for publishing the piece. In fact, Rubenstein was later cleared of responsibility by the Times’ former op-ed editor Jim Dao. But this did not faze Quincy, who also sniped at neo-conservative Barri Weiss for daring to go after critics of Israel. Weiss was then subjected to aggressive attacks at the well-known defender of human rights: Twitter.

A Wall Street Journal editorial lamented that the publisher of the NY Times “failed to back up his editors, which means the editors no longer run the place. The struggle sessions on Twitter and Slack channels rule.”

American journalism, it further posited, “is now dominated by the same moral denunciation, ‘safe space’ demands, and identity-politics dogmas” as had been happening at universities this past decade. Ultimately, there will be fewer institutions, it suggested, “that will defend free inquiry and the contest of ideas that once defined American liberalism.”

This outburst of personal intervention by media employees, inserting themselves and their opinions into the news that is then presented to us, the media consumers, as reliable and factual, undermines the entire objectivity and fairness standards we have been promised. This subversive process has been developing for years.

Here in Israel, Israel’s Media Watch (of which Yisrael Medad was executive director 1995-2000) lobbied in the Knesset and in other public forums over two decades ago. And recently, when the rules at KAN were altered, it lobbied against the intent of public broadcasting oversight bodies to permit employees of state-sponsored radio and television presenters to insert personal opinion comments in the form of on-air monologues, topic introductions or outright statements.

WHAT ONCE was Haim Yavin’s incorrect raised eyebrow has become a veritable flood of sometimes even silly opinions, all aimed at persuading the consumer to think like the media celebrity.

Suzanne Moore, who has worked for left-wing and right-wing papers, acknowledges that she was made particularly uncomfortable in their closeness to the political parties. She wrote in The Guardian on June 1 against “lobby journalism” and what she termed “a new breed of activist/journalists [for whom] “activism came first, truth second and bullying not far behind. Intentionally or not, they have fed straight into the fake news agenda. ”

A sad example of this type of bullying here in Israel is the concerted effort by people in Army Radio, most notably, Yaron Vilensky and Ya’akov Bardugo, to use their program in support of the demands of various sectors, especially entertainment, on the public coffers, even providing advice as to how they should pressure government officials.

We have highlighted in previous articles one of the negative byproducts of Twitter journalism. Journalists use it to become personal and then strident and nasty in their conversation. This then spills over back into their reporting. In The New York Times on June 8, an article reviewing new developments in media reporting by Ben Smith, the paper’s media columnist, noted: “The central vein for reporters, producers, activists and a vast national audience was Twitter, which had already begun subtly shifting the power dynamic in news. It steered coverage.”

He continued, writing that on Twitter, the young journalists received “positive reinforcement, they’re getting thousands and thousands of people saying, ‘Yes, we do like that.’”

For the younger generation of journalists, it is now current wisdom that, as former Washington Post reporter Ben Lowery was quoted by Smith, that “‘objectivity’-obsessed, both-sides journalism is a failed experiment” and that mainstream American media should be driven by “a journalism that is more personal.”

In contrast to that thinking, we recall that former chief editor of the NY Times, A.M. Rosenthal, is buried under a gravestone inscribed, “He kept the paper straight.”

Israel’s media should take a careful look at what is happening to the standards of journalism, not with awe, but fear, or perhaps the courage to show the world that there is something better.

^

June 3, 2020

MEDIA COMMENT: News. Who needs it?

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:02 pm by yisraelmedad

News. Who needs it?
As usual in such cases, there are two narratives and in this case even three: one from the deceased’s family and two from the police officers.

By YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK JUNE 3, 2020

Let us consider two stories. One made headlines and became a talking point, while the other vanished as soon as it appeared.

Two police officers, under the impression that Iyad Halak was a terrorist, shot and killed him last Saturday. After the fact, it turned out that Halak was autistic, and there is a reasonable probability that his reaction to the police officers was nothing but fear, misapprehension and panic, with no negative intent. We do not yet know what really happened.

As usual in such cases, there are two narratives and in this case even three: one from the deceased’s family and two from the police officers.

The story, though, is big. Israeli politicians quickly apologized to Halak’s family, and our media did what they perceived to be their duty by giving the family complete credit, while faulting the police.

Israel is bashed abroad, and there were attempts to link it falsely to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. There is, of course, a big difference. While Floyd’s murder was filmed and broadcast all over the world, Halak’s shooting perhaps was caught on surveillance cameras, but the media have not raised a clamor, demanding that the police release any footage it may have.

But there is another story. Eyad Hamad worked as a photographer for the Associated Press for 20 years but was fired last week. As reported in The Jerusalem Post by Khaled Abu Toameh, Hamad claimed that his dismissal was political, a result of a complaint against him by the Palestinian Authority. His wrongdoing was that he seemingly criticized the PA for “arresting and beating a Palestinian journalist.”

The Associated Press would not shed light on its version of the story. But the mainstream Israeli media simply did not carry it. Gone was the defense and solidarity with fellow journalists. There were no interviews with the photographer. Nothing. Was this not newsworthy?

Aryeh Golan, the left-wing morning presenter on KAN Radio’s Reshet Bet, made it his business to ask a silly question – whether annexation would harm the chances of returning our people and soldiers’ bodies by Hamas. It appears that it is beyond his capacity to ask whether the PA should be held accountable, and to say that its actions against democratic elements pull the rug out from under its feet as it denies Israel the right to annex parts of Judea and Samaria.

ONE CAN presume that Yair Netanyahu dislikes Channel 12’s Dana Weiss, a high-profile reporter.

In March 2019, after screaming, literally, the same question over again at US President Donald Trump during a press conference in the Purple Room with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sitting next to him, to wit, “Do you support Netanyahu?” she was unceremoniously removed for uncouth, if not unprofessional, behavior.

That same month she apologized for calling Yair “a zero, an autist, a child of feces.”
In September 2017, after a harsh conversation with Sara Netanyahu, Weiss admitted “any person can express themselves freely over what we say in the media. We should be ready for the response and that is fine.” Is it, Ms. Weiss?

Last week, the young Netanyahu retweeted another woman’s tweet that read: “Does anyone know how Dana Weiss came to a senior position on TV channel 12? Is she articulate? No. Is she wise? No. Interesting?”

It is said that pornography is in the eye of the beholder, and many interpreted that tweet in line with the old-style Hollywood casting couch job interview procedure. Others read that as intimating Weiss was hired less for her journalistic abilities than for other of her attributes. To Weiss, it was clear what the message was, and she publicly announced that she would sue Yair Netanyahu for libel.

Claiming that two of her female colleagues also suffered the same type of social platform attacks, Weiss is sure that she is a victim of sexual harassment. Her journalistic friends, such as Army Radio’s morning news anchor Efi Triger, were quick to come to her defense and demonstrate journalistic solidarity.

But was this newsworthy? Wasn’t there a double standard?

As advocate Kinneret Barashi recalled in an interview over 103FM radio with Ben Caspit and Arieh Eldad, there was no similar storm among the media clique when MK Orly Levy-Abecassis was referred to as a political whore and Yotam Navin photomontaged her as a back-alley prostitute on his Facebook page on April 12; or when the same Navin has Prime Minister Netanyahu with his arm around Ayala Hasson on April 14.

On May 11, Navin portrayed Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich as a poster girl in a slightly unbuttoned shirt. Not only is there a sexist element here, but Yankelevich, of the Blue and White Party, is haredi and resides in Beit Shemesh. Her elementary school studies were at Bais Yaakov, and she graduated from the elite Gateshead seminary although born into a secular family.

But no, there was silence. All of this was not newsworthy.

In an incident parallel to the Netanyahu-Weiss spat, in early November 2018, Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, speaking from the Knesset, seemed to suggest that then-culture minister Miri Regev had exchanged sexual favors for her promotions during her military service, saying, “I don’t want to talk about how you advanced in the army.”

Later, he expressed regret that his words had caused offense to other women, but not to Regev, saying, “Because I am aware of what is happening on social media and understand there were women who were hurt by my words, then to them, and only to these same women, do I express sorrow. Miri Regev is not one of [these women]. She wasn’t hurt by my words.”

Too many media celebs kept quiet during these fractious affairs.

AT THE United Kingdom’s Spiked news and comment website on May 26, an anonymous column by someone working for a national media outlet was published. It asserted: “as you know, we the media aren’t so hot right now… in fact, the media have almost become public enemy number one.”

He complained that at press conferences journalists, “instead of chasing genuine truth or exploring a story… go for the easier ‘gotcha’ question” designed to produce a quote to catch the public’s interest. He suggested that “the media need to go back to the original purpose of journalism” – discovery.

Had our media followed this sage advice, they would have brought the Hamad story to the forefront. It is news and affects the lives of many, especially Palestinian Arabs. It would have reminded all, especially the PA’s own residents, what to expect from a nondemocratic PA dominance.

The media would not have automatically come to Weiss’s defense. She was not libeled, only attacked, and that is what she does herself, day in and day out.

It is not an accident that the Israeli public does not trust its media. Why we continue spending huge sums on state-sponsored news channels, funded directly and indirectly by the government out of our taxes, remains a puzzle. If they are not purveyors of worthy news, who needs them?

^

MEDIA COMMENT: What is newsworthy?

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:58 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Why are some deaths and scandals considered more newsworthy than others?
The question is necessarily subjective but worth asking nonetheless.
By YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK MAY 20, 2020

The answer to the question “What is newsworthy?” is necessarily subjective. In contrast to the exact sciences, there are no quantitative measures by which one can answer it. One editor may consider a murder case to be important enough to fill up pages of the newspaper, while a different one might ignore it or at best put it on page 16 in a small column. Yet all of us do have some notions about it.

Certainly, something that affects the personal lives of many people if they know about it may be considered to be newsworthy. The COVID-19 pandemic is a clear example. The various governmental restrictions and their subsequent lifting are of interest to all of us and so are promptly reported.

Is the murder of a single soldier in the same category? Here in Israel, it is almost blasphemous to ask such a question, but the truth is that in many countries the answer is not unequivocal.

Why is it so newsworthy here? Perhaps it is due to the fact that many of our youngsters serve in the IDF and are in danger. Service in the IDF is mandatory. There is, as a result, a feeling of identity with the bereaved family, as it could happen to any one of us.

Some people feel that the large headlines and numerous interviews of family members in the media are a way to honor the fallen and keep memories of the fallen alive.

This does not happen as much when someone dies in a traffic accident or is killed due to criminal gang attacks, unless there is some very extraordinary aspect, including, unfortunately, not much other news that day. Nor is it the case when a soldier commits suicide. Why? Shouldn’t a life be honored?

The editors are not necessarily driven by the humanistic aspects. Undeniably, there is the political aspect. For some on the Left, it is another proof that we should get out of Judea and Samaria. The killing of our soldiers should help convince the population that our continued residence will only bring with it further grief. For some on the Right, it is but another example of the murderous intent of the Arabs and another reason we must continue to control their ability to fight us. Sadly, the victim and the family become a ball to play with in the hands of politically motivated editors.
When is the death of a public personality considered newsworthy? One would assume that a central element would be the question of whether the deceased touched the lives of many. What is many? Ten thousand people? One hundred thousand? Hard to answer, but in Israel the death of an Orthodox personality somehow has a newsworthiness threshold which is much higher than a singer, poet, media member or such.

We have noted in our previous columns outstanding rabbinical figures and religious assemblies that were quite underreported. The recently deceased Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch touched the lives of very many people. He was a remarkable educator, academic and role model, and possessed the personal courage to state his beliefs irrespective of whether they were politically correct. He had a revolutionary approach to the Halacha. Yet we suspect that had he not come under a falsely instigated investigation a quarter of a century ago, as though he incited the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, much of the coverage would not have been.

ON A more mundane level but not unimportant in the least, the question of newsworthiness is central to the latest revelations of journalist Ayala Hasson-Nesher, recipient of the Israeli Prize for Media Criticism in 2014 (sponsored by Israel’s Media Watch). In our op-ed article published in these pages on November 25, 2015, we brought the following citation from Hasson-Nesher’s acceptance speech upon receiving the prize:
“The true work of a journalist touches open nerves…. But there is something incredible: there are people who, when caught, accept the fact; they are not happy, but appreciate the rules of democracy. But there are those who do not accept this, and usually these are the people who are defended by your colleagues in the media.”

These past two weeks, Hasson-Nesher has been publicizing on Channel 13 excerpts of phone conversations and emails that indicate, if true, that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi acted with impropriety a decade ago.
The central piece of evidence was considered by the State Attorney’s Office private. Subsequently, the Justice Ministry – in clear contrast to the case of Efi Nave, the former Israel Bar Association head, whose cellphone was stolen – insisted that the law prevents its publication.

Hasson-Nesher’s revelations seem to be damning. If half of what she alludes to is true, then the Justice Ministry and its leaders could be tried as criminals and even summarily fired. By whom? That is a good question. As the system does not provide for an independent prosecution, there is a clear lacuna here.

Be that as it may, the story seems to be newsworthy. Certainly Channel 13 thought so, and gave it headline status on the main evening news program. But most other news editors at other networks and newspapers did not consider this to be as important as the resulting hate letters which were sent to Mandelblit and which the police are investigating. While these phone messages were reported on extensively in the news, Hasson-Nesher’s revelations did not make it into the official news on Army Radio or KAN. Yes, she was interviewed, but guess by whom? Yakov Bardugo on Galatz and Amir Ivgi on KAN. Both are identified with Israel’s Right. Others simply ignored her revelations; they were not considered newsworthy.

For once, Hasson-Nesher’s colleague, Channel 13 legal correspondent Aviad Glickman, who, as we have noted, is quite voluble, was remarkably silent during at least one panel discussion we watched.

This brings us back to our opening question. It would seem that it was wrongly posed. There is no such thing as newsworthy. As to when does a certain item find favor with the editor and when does it not, it depends on the personal consideration of the news editor.

Many editors are professional, but not all. Too many follow a certain pack trend, imitating rivals or simply falling in with a certain political or cultural outlook.

If you are a reporter, or an NGO, or just someone who has the urge to publish something that you think is “important,” remember, the news editor needs to agree with you. You need to package it as something close to the heart of the editor, to assure it is judged to be “newsworthy.” Or, better, don’t use the “newsworthy” concept as your criterion.

^

May 7, 2020

MEDIA COMMENT: Opinion must not be passed off as impartial news

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:21 pm by yisraelmedad

Opinion must not be passed off as impartial news

Original Title: The twitterings of journalists
“News consumers have a difficult time making a distinction between reporters and opinion journalists… because most of the time there is no difference.”
By YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK MAY 6, 2020

 

On March 6, Channel 13 diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid reacted to a tweet by Ariel Kahane of Israel Hayom by writing, “There is no basis for a unity government under Netanyahu. It will not happen. It is a shame to waste words on it. The reality must be acknowledged and it needs to be understood that the sole path forward that can be seen to prevent a fourth round of elections is the establishment of a good-riddance government.”

In Israel, as we know, rarely if ever do media personnel, and surely those of celebrity status, apologize for errors. In this case, however, an error is not what was committed. Ravid revealed his anti-Netanyahu bias and attempts at influencing and pressuring politicians. He is not the only one.

On May 1, Attila Somfalvi, Ynet’s political correspondent, tweeted in reference to Yair Netanyahu, “The clown from Balfour [Street, the Prime Minister’s Residence], the gnat whose existence you pay for, is dropping filth on Attorney-] General [Avichai] Mandelblit, spreading lies which are clearly immediate incitement, calling him a traitor. Now, tell me more about the temporary state prosecutor [Dan Eldad], the doll that was appointed in order to break up the state attorney and the criminal cases of the father of the clown… one could vomit.”

On Monday, May 4, Channel 10 law correspondent Aviad Glickman tweeted that a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Legal Forum for Israel NGO, seeking to prevent Attorney-General Mandelblit from taking over the state prosecutor’s job, was summarily rejected. To end the tweet he added, “and with full justice,” another typical off-the-cuff put-down.

This is the mindset of those who are supposed to bring us the news but too often substitute it for their subjective “insight” into why and how events happen and should happen.

As David Harsanyi wrote in an April 27 National Review article titled “A Rant Against the Media,” “Reporters don’t openly collude with [political parties], they merely share the same objectives and set of values…. It’s a problem that’s been festering for decades… there is no price paid for getting things wrong, there really is no financial incentive to be a grounded, straight-down-the-line, unbiased journalist these days.” Harsanyi also noted that the “biggest source of political bias isn’t necessarily the left-wing framing of stories and issues, but the focus and types of stories that editors assign writers.”

Indeed, as he summed up, “News consumers have a difficult time making a distinction between reporters and opinion journalists… because most of the time there is no difference.”

In Haaretz, Gidi Weitz published an “analysis” on May 1 that was headlined “Israel’s Attorney-General Knows Netanyahu is Dangerous and Still Gave Him a Green Light.” In it, Weitz asserted that had Mandelblit not become entangled in Netanyahu’s investigations, eventually indicting him, the attorney-general would have become the right-wing government’s darling and the prime minister’s closest confidant.

The prime minister was not asked to comment but he used his social media platforms, including Instagram (!), to provide one. In part it read, “I was horrifically shocked to read the column… after Roni Alsheikh lied and framed me… after Ronni Ritman framed me and my wife… Gidi Weitz relates today in Haaretz an additional false claim against me as if it came from the attorney-general. Unbelievable. If Mandelblit truly thinks that about me, how did he make objective decisions about me?… he is in a conflict of interest.”

 

WEITZ CONVENIENTLY ignores the criticism of Mandelblit voiced by many, especially in Israel Hayom, asking why Mandelblit needed to wait all these months to allow Netanyahu to be reelected prime minister. Was he interested in having the wound fester?

We, along with all other media consumers, have no real way of knowing who is telling the truth in this exchange. However, whereas in the past we raised the need for a more pluralistic media so that a true realization of the freedom to information and opinion be provided, it has become apparent that the mainstream media largely remains as it was. We and those attacked in the media are left seeking alternative platforms.

This sorry state is aggrieved by the total lack of any ethics demonstrated by too many journalists, some of whom have been cited above. In this context, it is very relevant to note an interview in Time magazine’s May 4th issue with Mariane Pearl, the widow of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl. She commented, “For a long time, journalists were happy asking everyone questions but themselves… now, journalism is only as good as the willingness of those who practice it to be honest when they ask themselves what they’re in it for.”

In a 2018 article by J. Brian Houston of the University of Missouri titled “The twitterization of journalism: User perceptions of news tweets” in the academic publication Journalism, it was noted that Twitter has been quickly incorporated into newsrooms. A 2013 survey of journalists in 14 countries revealed that 59% were using Twitter, and that was seven years ago.

Houston admits that norms are being challenged, and one of them is the value of objectivity. The credibility of a journalist depends on his or her impartiality, neutrality, objectivity and fairness. This column has brought numerous examples in the past few years showing that tweets most often result in what is called “opinionated news” but more accurately is nothing but personal opinion. Instead of reporting, we witness journalists descending into using in their tweets, irony and snarkiness to turn serious news into a new form of stand-up comedy. The journalist is often there to entertain us with wit rather than with knowledge or wisdom.

In this atmosphere, it is very difficult for journalists to hold themselves to ethical practices. It is even more difficult for people in the media business to seriously research an issue. The “stars” just need to express their opinions, which does not require much effort. An upstart journalist will never be able to compete, as there just isn’t enough time or resources for serious reportage.

Ethics aside, the issue is not only that journalists are drawn into a medium that encourages them to offer their own opinion about events or issues, but that this behavior can create, and already has in part, created a new elite class of narcissistic, smug managers of the news who coordinate their messaging.

They even become, at times, show-offs who perform the news instead of reporting it. Another academic article in the same issue of Journalism by Shannon McGregor and Logan Molyneux, postulates that journalists have always heavily featured elite perspectives in news stories, and Twitter simply amplifies that bias by affecting the news judgment value of journalists when they determine if and how an item is to be treated.

Perhaps it really is time to replace newspapers with “twits.”

^

April 22, 2020

MEDIA COMMENT: Coronavirus: Is professionalism in the media impossible?

Posted in Media at 10:16 pm by yisraelmedad

Coronavirus: Is professionalism in the media impossible? 
After almost two months of restrictions, the impression one gets from listening to the media is that Israel is a banana republic, nothing goes well and only the journalists know what is good for us.
By YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK APRIL 22, 2020

Slowly, but surely, we are seeing the COVID-19 pandemic losing steam, not only here in Israel but also abroad. Our media took pains to bring forth many serious problems and difficulties during this period, as they should.

There is no doubt that in many instances, the systems of management and administration that were in place, as well as those that should have been in place, failed too often, especially when it came to the intensive care units in homes for the elderly.

The selective imposition of the restrictions meant to safeguard us were also part of this story. Stupid arguments centering about prestige of politicians and government ministries were brought to fore. On the other hand, a pandemic of this magnitude is also a matter that should mitigate unnecessarily cynical criticism.

If the media is to truly do its job of improving our health services, it should be pushing for answers to questions such as: does the government have a well-defined exit path that will continue to safeguard us all? Are government agencies now working cooperatively or are there still snafus? Are private sector initiatives, as well as those from the health funds being coordinated for the greater good?

All these are serious issues and the media raised them all. Yes, the media was doing its job. But after almost two months of restrictions, the impression one gets from listening to the media is that Israel is a banana republic, nothing goes well and, only the journalists know what is good for us. This, we suggest, is too blatantly unprofessional and that hurts.

It is not for nothing that on April 12, the German weekly Der Spiegel published a list of the top 10 countries dealing with the crisis, using information from UK-based Deep Knowledge Group. The latter describes itself as “a consortium of commercial and nonprofit organizations active on many fronts in the realm of DeepTech and Frontier Technologies (AI, Longevity, FinTech, GovTech, InvestTech), ranging from scientific research to investment, entrepreneurship, analytics, media, philanthropy and more.”

Among the top 10 was Israel. To be more precise, Israel was first, beating Germany. The rankings were based on many criteria, but as described by DKG they also took into account “the crisis management of the government, including the functioning of the crisis staff or the mobilization of quick assistance.”

Simona Weinglass and the Times of Israel were quite worried, as was Channel 11, which conducted an interview with one of the directors, especially as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the DKG report on his website and cites it often. On April 19, Weinglass and the Times of Israel reported that it is “a rabbit hole of weirdness”. Is it?

Ronen Bergman in The New York Times on April 12, reported it this way: “Israel does not rank among the hardest-hit countries in the world.” This statement had nothing to do with the DKG report. Consider Wikipedia’s data, according to which the worldwide fatality rate is almost 7%, while in Israel it is less than 1.3%. In Germany it is 3.1%.
The number of deaths per million population in Israel (20) as reported on Wikipedia is less than in Iceland (26), Norway (30), Canada (42), Austria (50), Germany (55), Portugal (70), Switzerland (161) and so on. There are countries where the death rate is lower, notably Taiwan (0.3), Singapore (2) and South Korea (5). (We purposely brought figures from countries where the tally is trustworthy.) There are additional data sites that support this picture of an Israeli success such as Worldometers and the World Health Organization itself.

So, even if the Times of Israel is correct, the situation here seems not to be too bad. Why hide this? Doesn’t professionalism also imply to give credit where it is due, especially when there is also some valid criticism?

 

THIS UNPROFESSIONAL BEHAVIOR of course does not end here. During the past two weeks we have been informed about terrorist crimes carried out by Israelis against Arabs and against the IDF. While Ynet did report on April 16 that 100 cherry trees were uprooted in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, part of the ongoing Arab violence, nary a word about this is recorded at the KAN conglomerate site, which has the audacity to use as a promotional slogan the wordplay: “We are here (KAN), all the time“ .

The headlines on March 26, proclaiming that Molotov cocktails were thrown on an Israeli border patrol in Yitzhar, were quite prominent. They were presumed to have been thrown by Jews at Israeli security personnel and the news item was surely worthy of attention. Nevertheless, every day similar actions of violence are committed against Jewish civilians travelling the highways of Samaria and Judea but are simply not reported despite the press releases detailing the terror acts of Arabs. So, why the one-sidedness?

You might be thinking “how can we compare firebombing, which is life threatening with the mere uprooting of trees?” This, however, is symptomatic of the media’s unprofessional approach. As reported on Israel National News (Arutz Sheva), on April 14, “Bedouin attacked a farmer in the vicinity of the village of Rimonim.”

Carmel Dangor, the KAN reporter for Judea and Samaria, reported this on her Twitter account, but if you look for it on the KAN website, under her name, you will find many reports of many Jewish attacks but nary a word on this attack on a Jew. Even Ynet did not report the Rimonim attack.

Yet another aspect of the ongoing media coverage is the way some of the so-called “celebs,” in Hebrew pronunciation, presume to make their profession one of a personal confrontation with politicians. Rina Matsliah and her haredim (ultra-Orthodox) hang-up we have already noted, for which Channel 12 had to apologize. Last week, another clarification was necessary when Amnon Abramovitz on Friday evening commented, “jokingly,” he demurred, that Justice Minister Amir Ohana was part of the negotiating team for a new government coalition “to represent Yair Netanyahu.” Is he a comedian now?

Barak Ravid of Channel 13 was interviewed in Globes on April 15. We would not be exaggerating if we said that there is no love lost between Ravid and Netanyahu. If we are to believe him, Netanyahu has not spoken to him in a private off-the-record manner for over a decade.

Ravid then said, “If there is one thing I have learned from Netanyahu, it is that he appreciates power and understands power and that is how I act with him, with great success I think.” He said that is the way any journalist should act with any prime minister. We would claim that confrontational behavior ill serves the public.

Such an attitude may make for good stories, or not. But it does present a problem. If Carol Hanisch promoted the slogan, “the personal is political”, we have too many media people making “the political the personal.”

The media should be assertive, even aggressive. Yet, to frame the news too often in the negative and in a biased fashion is harming the profession.

^

April 7, 2020

MEDIA COMMENT: Media bias during the coronavirus outbreak

Posted in Media tagged at 10:07 pm by yisraelmedad

Media bias during the coronavirus outbreak
Media consumers presume, at the most basic level, that the media will inform them of the news using the most basic of tools, the four Ws: Who, What, When, Where and Why.

By YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK APRIL 7, 2020

The media are a many-headed phenomenon and expectations of their performance are high.

Media consumers presume, at the most basic level, that the media will inform them of the news using the most basic of tools, the four Ws: Who, What, When, Where and Why. They also know that they can expect investigative reporting when a long-term research project reveals root causes for failures. There are editorials and opinion pieces. And there is infotainment; content that is there basically to keep us tuned in by appealing to the more “be-happy” aspect of life.

All of the above represent a major responsibility resting on the media. An informed populace is one that can make decisions at elections, or participate in social actions or engage in demonstrations and protests. The media also can usurp certain functions by simply managing the news. It can frame what is happening to emphasize this or that element in disproportionate framing or endless repetitions or banner headlines.

On Friday evening, Channel 12 employee Rina Matsliah, participating in a panel on the coronavirus situation, brought up the matter of Bnei Brak. At the end of a long monologue, she announced that all she said was not out of causeless hatred but out of love and concern for the state. But what did she say?

She railed against demonstrations at Bar-Ilan Boulevard (from 25 years ago) and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) exemptions from military conscription, and demanded that the “arrangement” between the haredim and state institutions needs to change. She insisted “it cannot be that the haredim feel they are not obliged to the state.” It was only after prodding by fellow panelists Dana Weiss and Dany Cushmaro that Matsliah backed off and admitted she was nevertheless referring to “the majority” of haredim.

That too many rabbis from the haredi sector proved unable to grasp the looming tragedy, and that too many zealots sought to avoid the limitations on congregational prayer, including, allegedly, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman himself (which he denies), is true. Matsliah’s generalized framing was not only wrong but exposed her, and not for the first time, to charges of incitement.

The litmus test for this is not complicated. All we need to do is imagine a right-of-center prime minister castigating Arab politicians and having his words misinterpreted by the media to mean he was being derisively racist, someone promoting discrimination.

Actually, there is no need to imagine, for that has been the media message as regards Benjamin Netanyahu’s pronouncements about the Joint List.

More than that, though, as we pointed out briefly in our most recent column, one should also consider those stories shunted almost out of view and attention. The police have been quite active in enforcing isolation not only in Meah She’arim, Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh, but also in the Ben Shemen and Iron Forests, and beaches and other outdoor recreational areas where non-haredi Jews and even many Arabs have been dispersed or fined by the police. Even President Reuven Rivlin felt obliged to comment on Sunday, saying, “One public or another mustn’t be blamed.”

During the ceremony of his pre-Passover chametz (leavening) sale, Rivlin added, “Today, I want to speak out strongly against the voices I hear criticizing the ultra-Orthodox community: We are brothers and sisters and mutual responsibility is our guiding light. We must not make false accusations that one or another group is spreading the disease, and we must certainly not attack a whole community because of the bad deeds of individuals.”

He continued, “We must also not make generalizations about a whole community, the vast majority of which is carrying out the instructions of the Health Ministry in these difficult days.”

In a related matter, Baruch Kra of Channel 13 left a tweet on his feed on March 5 informing all that while he surely did agree that MK Ayman Odeh of the Joint List is anti-Zionist, he also asserted that United Torah MK and Health Minister Litzman is, and that his ideological base is anti-Zionist. “Both,” he wrote, “each in his own way, are seeking their complex place in Israel’s society.”

That such a leading reporter and commentator can present such a facile comparison is a major indicator that in significant sections of Israel’s media there has developed an inability to make objective assessments which, in turn, cloud their ability to be objective and serve the civic needs of Israel’s citizens.

IT WAS grating to listen to the main Lithuanian haredi Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky being told that “the medina” (the state) wants to close down the yeshivot. But unlike Odeh, the haredim want a more Jewish state, a more traditionally religious Jewish state.

For Odeh, if the state is Jewish then perforce it is racist and colonialist. His anti-Zionism is destructive, while that of the haredim is constructive. For Channel 13’s Kra to obfuscate the issue is to abandon his responsibility not only to be fair and objective but even to be intelligent.

Incidentally, let us not forget that it is the politically correct crowd that seeks to prevent haredim from obtaining college educations by demanding that they participate in co-ed studies.

Israel`s media emulate other media fashions, specifically when it comes to a drawing of the lines between power as represented by elected government officials and politicians and that of the media. Is it the media vs. politics or the politicians vs. the media?
Like in America, our media are in an echo-journalism mode which harms its credibility.

Rather than eliciting information, the media celebs seem to wish to score points. It is as if a press pandemic is raging without relief.

Echo-journalism seemed to be evident last Friday when a press photographer, working for a European news agency, after being confronted in Bnei Brak by a local, walked toward him and demonstratively coughed in his direction. Although masked, he obviously had seen the two or three instances highlighted by the media when a few ultra-Orthodox persons, in one prominent occasion a young boy, coughed at policemen.

That frame filtered over to this photographer with a regrettable result. It was an excellent example of how the media can take a minor non-representative event and blow it out of proportion, causing a supposedly enlightened member of the press corps to act dangerously. Was it necessary for the press to adopt military-related terms to describe the anti-corona measures taken in Bnei Brak?

A Government Press Office request on Friday that journalists refrain from reporting in ultra-Orthodox areas over Shabbat was taken to imply censorship, as if the GPO’s intention was to deny reporters their right to seek out stories, instead of suggesting how to do it without being overly intrusive or even antagonistic.

Was it professionally ethical for Ms. Inbar Toiser to pose as an employee of the Health Ministry and request someone to reveal that Health Minister Litzman had prayed in his apartment? If so, can the police use ambulances to capture terrorists? Where do we draw the line?

Corona is dangerous, it would appear, also for the working of the press.

On a personal note, we wish all our readers a Happy and Kosher Passover.

^

April 3, 2020

My Trip to Moscow 1976

Posted in Israel/Zionism tagged , , at 3:14 pm by yisraelmedad

In November 1976, the late George Evnine/Yevnin and I set off for Moscow from England.

We originally had been scheduled to fly out earlier but arrangements and bureaucracy stymied us. I had to get a new US passport as mine had Israel stamps all over it.

But let me step back.

I formerly became a part of the Soviet Jewry protest movement on May 1, 1964 when I joined 1500 or so other high school and university Jewish students called to action by the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry. It was at that demonstration that I made the decision to jon Betar after interacting with them while I was still a member of Mizrachi Hatzair (my madrichim were Yehuda and Chana Henkin andthey were not yet married I recall). What impressed me was the call of Miriam Haperin-to-be-Rosen, I think, to storm the building which held the offices of the Soviet UN Delegation and pray in them. Until I left for the Machon L`Madrichei Chutz LaAretz in September 1966, demos were taking place on the average of one every fortnight.

Redemption demonstration 1966A

Enter a caption

Geula March, New York, April 8, 1966, the Betarim carried the main banner

Goldman 1-1967

Protesting Nahum Goldman`s Soviet Policies, Jerusalem, January 1967

betar0005

A Third Seder 1970. My wife-to-be and I are on the far right

After returning to America, I met my future wife, Batya, at a 1967 Tisha Be’av “fast-in” for Soviet Jewry in Manhattan. Most of our dates were before, during and after the demos. Yasha Kazakov used my sleeping bag during his hunger strike in late March 1970,

After our Aliyah in September 1970 (it took 12 days to be exact as we were on the Queen Anna Marie), our involvement continued in Israel and then, in 1975, we began a two-year stint as Shlichim (educational emmisaries) to the newly-established Betar UK.

One of the main people I worked with was George Evnine (along with Eric Graus, Barbara Oberman, Joe Gellert and many more) who was the General-Secretary of Herut UK and with whom I shared a small basement room at 63 Compayne Gardens, London.

 

George is on the far left, with Eric Graus and Cecil Oberman

Refusednik 015

Rosaly Evnine/Yevnin is at left, with Barbara Oberman and I

We wrote letters together to the Jewish Chronicle, discussed British Zionist politics and much more. George`s parents were Russian and were married in Moscow. He was the first British-born Betari in the pre-World War II period. He had previously been in the fur trade and frequently visited Russia on the Leningrad-Moscow line.

George would speak on the phone with Herut-leaning Russian Zionist activists (the main contact person was Michael Sherbourne, but on him shortly)

memichael

Michael and I at Limmud 2013 not too long before his passing

He was involved with a trip in Janmuary 1975 of a founder of Betar UK, Eli Joseph, and a member of Betar America, Gilad Freund. He spoke with contacts in the late summer 1976 about a certain action they would be taking there and asked that a meeting be arranged with activists in England to coordinate. As I noted above, we couldn`t get there until late November. We spent two hours with Michael to receive a short concentrated seminar on How to Visit Soviet Jewry Activists and Refusedniks and How to Stay Away from the KGB. He also gave use kopecks for the public phones and asked us to bring back some to be passed on to other visitors.

With my new US Passport, we boarded the Aeroflight plane in the evening and arrived at Sheremetyevo International Airport. The plane was surrounded by Russian soldiers as we descended. We then went through Customs.

I had with me Chanukah candles, Hebrew books, siddurim, Tanach, jeans (for resale to support those in financial straits) as well as Osem soup packets and rock candy to make long-lasting food to be smuggled to prisoners. And razor blades to bribe the prison guards.

And also had tapes which were, without my knowledge, a major problem. The Rabbi from who I received them said they were the trop melodies of cantillation for the reading of the Torah and Haftara that he made but unbeknownst to me, he had sprinkled through them words of Jewish and Zionist encouragement. The agents who took them to inspect were gone a long time and as it happened, they discovered the `propaganda` and confiscated a lot of my stuff. George got through clean. But I still had in a shoulder-bag the most recent issue of the Friday Maariv newspaper I had purchased on Golders Green. One-hundred-and-twenty pages of the most modern Hebrew available.

After well over an hour, we emerged to join a dozen or so non-Jewish tourists who made up the rest of the group. Asked why we were so delayed but not willing to disclose our true purpose for touring, I blurted out `they discovered my Playboy`. Pornography was not permitted in Russia at that time and everyone had a good laugh and more importantly, distracted them from our real purpose on the tour.

It was by then after midnight. We were driven to the Ukraine Hotel, quite a magnificent hotel. The next day we spent touring in the morning.

DSCN2636

Me at Red Square, near the Tsar Bell

The afternoon we spent in the subway travelling to the apartment of Vladimir Slepak where we met with Ida Nudel, Yosef and Dina Beilin, Alexander Lerner and Natan Scharansky. The action that we were to be part of had already taken place, however. Natan had just come out of two weeks imprisonment. The group of refusedniks had demonstrated for the right to immigrate three days in a row, quite publicly in a city park, and after the third attempt, several were arrested. I asked Natan of his experiences and he was quite happy. Asked why, he replied that he had spent hours during the days lecturing Jewish and non-Jewish prisoners on Jewish history, culture and Zionism untill he was hoarse. We were given a photograph of the arrested group to take back to the West. I think this is it or one quite similar:

zt1

Natan is first on right in the middle.

Ida thanked use profusely for the food materials and said soon she would be travelling around the Gulag camps.

zt2

Ida is 3rd from left and next to her right is Dina Beilina and Zachar Tesker

All were delighted to be able to speak in Russian with George. At times they would point to the ceiling indicating listening devices and that certain topics were not to be spoken but written.

From there we returned to the hotel by subway and standing between two tall Russians and winter coats with the hats adorned with the Soviet star gave me both the feeling of dread and of being in a Hollywood movie. By the way, we bought a street map to bring back but were told by our friends there that it was not exact (purposefully innacurate to foil invading forces) and so walking distances could not be properly judged.

The following day we were driven to Zachar Tesker in Moscow`s southern district.

zt

Zachar is in the middle. Vladimar Slepak is in the back row, 2nd from left

All three photographs from Enid Wurtman here.

The next day we were driven to Zachar Tesker in a south Moscow district, as I recall. On the way to Tesker, we were followed by five KGB agents. Our driver, whose name I have forgotten, was quite happy telling us that the State was expending so much money on their surveillance of the activists. We stopped, parked, walked into the apartment building and in after us came the agents at a distance of about 30 meters or so. We walked up two flights and they followed, ascended to the third floor and then calmly leaned against the banister and stared at us as we entered.

We gave Zachar a Tanach but he apologized and said that as he was brought up as an atheist, the product of Soviet education as well as membership in the Comsomol, he really could not appreciate the gift. I then told him the book has an amazing ability. Intrigued, he asked what it was. I told him, literally, on the spur of the moment, that no matter what previous knowledge one had, at the end of reading one verse even, it would raise you just enough to continue to the next and so forth and so, ever upwards, ever increasing one`s knowledge and appreciation. Satisifed with that {Marxist determinst{ explanation, he relented and took it.

The flight back was a bit of a surprise as first, all my confiscated items were returned to me for which I was required to sign. Next, we landed for some reason at Leningrad Airport for a short stopover. As I had the a picture of the recently released group of prisoners hidden on my person, I was a bit anxious for some minutes as we were asked to disembark. But all was okay and we flew on back to London.

The last chapter in the adventure was when I approached the border check. As I had a new US Passport, my temporary residency stamp was missing. On top of that, the Intourist-arranged visa was on a separate piece of paper that, at the end of our stay, was retained by the Russians. The British official looked at me and said there was no record of me being anywhere nor any proof I could stay in Britain. It took another few minutes to arrange that.

And that is the end of that. Almost.

P.S. Four months later, Natan was arrested Natan was arrested on March 15, 1977. He would spend the next nine years imprisoned. We meant again in Jerusalem, here at the premiere of “Refusenik” produced by Laura Bialis in 2007

refusenik ny

^

March 25, 2020

MEDIA COMMENT: The COVID-19 Media

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:14 pm by yisraelmedad

Are we really better than other countries in fighting coronavirus?
Much is being spoken about solidarity nowadays. Does this include respecting those who are violating the medical instructions and putting all of us at risk?

By YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK MARCH 25, 2020

Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 plague is the story of this year, if not this decade. As someone aptly put it: “What a year this past week was.”

However, when thinking about it, especially from a Jewish point of view, there are two central issues. One is: How are we handling the situation? Are we doing the right thing or not? What, if anything, can be done better? The second one is: Remember that our Jewish tradition charges us that we must attempt doing as much as possible, and then some, to save lives.

We will argue that on both counts, our media has not lived up to our expectations. We are constantly told that the regulations concerning the virus are the best way to fight the plague and reduce its effects. Moreover, we are informed that Israel is a leader in what it is doing to combat the novel coronavirus as compared to other countries.

We do not doubt for a moment that isolation is the law of the day. But is that all? Is it impacting the statistics? Seemingly not. If one looks at the graph of Covid-19 cases in Israel, one sees an amazingly clear exponential plot. In other words, the number of cases is increasing as one would expect. Even if no restrictions were in place, epidemics, when uncontrolled, would initially spread exponentially.

Yet, in none of our newspapers will one find this kind of graph. The number of known Covid-19 patients is reported, but there is very little discussion as to what the numbers actually mean or what the potential ramifications of those numbers are, as well as the graphs curves and/or lines. Are we really doing better than Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, the United States or Canada?

One way of understanding all this is to compare the graphs of the number of known Covid-19 cases as a function of time and to pay special attention to the rate of the increase. For example, the plot of the present Italian data clearly shows that the rate of increase there is much larger than here.

SIMPLY PUT, we should know how many days pass for the infected population to double. In Israel, the number is approximately three. In Italy, it was close to two. In Singapore and Japan, it is close to ten. In South Korea it is nearing five days. So, are we doing well? The numbers alone do not tell the whole story. For example, the data and their ramifications depend on how many tests were taken. As we know here, as time passes the number of tests increase therefore leading to a further increase in the number of known patients.

But all this is moot. In this short article, our purpose is not to analyze the situation but rather to point out the failings of our media. Around Election Day, we are bombarded almost daily with public opinion polls which then undergo lengthy analysis by the self-proclaimed experts. But when it comes to Covid-19, the data is not presented nor discussed in any serious way and not only because the media people are not academically qualified experts.

Why is this lack of in-depth discussion important? No, it is not – as many journalists might think – another way to disprove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that Israel is doing a great job in handling the situation. Let us assume that the numbers convince us that something is wrong. This would have consequences, such as justifying the heavy-handed regulations. Perhaps it would indicate that too many sectors in the population are not heeding the instructions? This is what is important. We need reminding that Covid-19 is a killer!

It is precisely this threat which has convinced many rabbinical leaders to curtail religious practices such as praying with a minyan in synagogues, closing study halls, curtailing males going to the mikveh (ritual bath), limiting the number of people participating in circumcision ceremonies or funerals.

This is not a simple issue. For the Orthodox community, to miss going to synagogue on Shabbat hurts badly, certainly not less than preventing swimming enthusiasts from going to the beach. Yet we all accept it. By doing so, we will hopefully be able to live and keep many more Shabbatot as they should be kept, as well as go to the beach in the future.

CONTRAST THIS to the media outcry when the government decided to implement life-saving steps which encroach upon our privacy. It gave the General Security Service the legal right to follow cellphones to identify people who are at risk from contagion. Big Brother! screamed the headlines; it is as if it is 1984! shouted others. Various so-called human rights NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court in an attempt to annul the decision and the operation was upheld.

The argument, of course, is that our privacy is at stake, which it truly is. But, so what? If we are dead, our privacy is immaterial. What possible private reason could override the right of dozens – who may become infected and die – to know whether they are in danger? Yes, for those whose religion is human rights, this might seem like a terribly severe measure. But is it worse than cancelling going to the minyan on Shabbat? Or, as we shall soon see, preventing the traditional gathering of families at the Seder evening?

The media worked hard to provide the civil rights groups with a platform, but no one – yes, no one – asked these extremist ideologues if they are not ashamed of undermining public safety? No one has suggested that they should be ostracized due to their lack of caring for the life of their neighbors and only operating in the narrow sense of what they perceive as human rights.

Is not the right to life the most basic human right of all? The media, had it really cared for all of us, could have made it clear to these “Khomeinists,” that they are not quite humanists and that they are barking up the wrong tree or, at least, might challenge their thinking and priorities.

Much is being spoken about solidarity nowadays. Does this include respecting those who are violating the medical instructions and putting all of us at risk?

Is our media really reporting what is happening within the Arab and haredi sector? Are the Waqf and the various Islamist religious leaders at the forefront of the struggle to save people’s lives? The same questions should be addressed to the haredi communities, where some of the yeshivas remain open. Is the police doing what needs to be done to prevent this kind of life endangering practice? Are the authorities upholding the law, imposing fines on the health order-derelicts even in the Arab and haredi societies?

To sum it up, the media can and should do a better job in reporting and in analyzing, in educating the people and in criticizing governmental actions where they really need to be addressed.

Let us remember, Covid-19 is a life and death issue. This and only this should be the guiding fact in whatever we do in the next weeks and perhaps months.

^

March 12, 2020

MEDIA COMMENT: Attacks on Israeli media from within and without

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:25 pm by yisraelmedad

Attacks on Israeli media from within and without
Israel’s mainstream media have already quite a few journalists who do not toe the self-imposed line.
By YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK MARCH 12, 2020

 

A central change took place within Israel’s media that was clearly evident to readers and viewers in the weeks leading up to the elections: Core elitist elements in the media started to attack the non-left-leaning media.

In the past, review and criticism by the media of itself was a no-no, or assigned to far corners of the broadcast world, away from prime time. Journalistic solidarity and self-protection, and even self-preservation of an elite’s power, dictated that the dirty laundry was not to be washed in public. This was possible as long as the media elites were of one color – the self-proclaimed liberal, humanist, secular and post-modern category.

But the need for financial survival, the plethora of media organs that developed, and especially the pressure by the so-called “uneducated masses,” that is, the political and culturally conservative, religiously traditional, and those “uneducated” (in the Stalinist sense) are all leading to change. Our panels are a bit more balanced. We hear pundits with varying viewpoints. We even hear language that was learned in the schools of the state religious stream and we see kippot and even wigs.

Israel’s mainstream media have already quite a few journalists who do not toe the self-imposed line. The leadership of people such as Amnon Abramovitch – who showed the “right” way by keeping news away from the public regarding former prime minister Ariel Sharon – is being challenged. Ever since the Oslo Accords, the mainstream media, which have followed Abramovich’s example, did its best to safeguard their clique values at the expense of journalistic ethics and the need to keep the public informed.

Journalists such as Amit Segal of Channel 12 have shown that there is another way. They are guided by the public’s need to know, irrespective of whether that knowledge serves their ideology or not. This became rather evident in the week preceding Election Day. It was Segal who made headlines on prime time TV revealing the remarks of Yisrael Bachar, the (now fired) senior political adviser of Benny Gantz who was taped by Rabbi Guy Havura saying that “He [Gantz] is a danger to the people of Israel, is not brave enough to attack Iran. [Blue White Party] MK Omer Yankelevitch says that he is weak and stupid.” Quite damning, coming from someone who masterminded the Blue and White strategy from day one.

Abramovitch, Ilana Dayan and friends were in a bind. How can they still defend Gantz? Segal kept his sources to himself, but Ilana Dayan found out the source and brought a secret taping of her own showing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was seemingly involved with Rabbi Havura, which brought about Bachar’s downfall. Certainly, Dayan’s info was important enough to be aired, but it did not answer the central question: If a person so close to Gantz testified that Gantz is not made of prime ministerial material, then perhaps there is something that the electorate should be worried about?

Instead, the mainstream media, in an attempt to save their anti-Bibi campaign, turned the spotlight toward Netanyahu, even going to the lengths of bringing another “scoop” in the form of a statement by his aide Natan Eshel. Haaretz and Channel 12 reported on a conversation recorded prior to the September elections regarding someone he wanted to hire.

IN THE conversation, he said: “Let me tell you what happily happened to us in the last elections. Although [Attorney-General] Avichai [Mandelblit] proclaimed two weeks before the election that we are talking about a criminal, the situation is just like as for Evette [Avigdor Liberman], if you did not steal, who are you?… In other words they [the public] do not understand that you enter politics to help the people, you entered to steal and for that you must be a macho.”

He added, “This public, even call it the non- Ashkenazi one, what appeals to them?… they hate everything; it is hatred that unifies our camp.” Finally, he added his two bits on Likud Minister Miri Regev: “Regev does an excellent job. That means that she is an animal.”

There is here, too, no question that Eshel’s words were important information and shed light on one of the important people advising the prime minister. But there is a subtle difference between the racist and demeaning testimony of Eshel and that of Bachar. Eshel did not say a word about Netanyahu; Bachar did. This should have been accentuated in the analysis of the pundits but was not.

Instead, it was the bearer of the tidings, that is, Amit Segal, who was fiercely attacked. In something many journalists such as Michael Tuchfeld considered to be a violation of journalistic ethics, Channel 12’s Ilana Dayan revealed a colleague’s sources. In the United States, journalists have gone to jail to safeguard their sources, but not here. In fact, Dayan was not the first one to do so. Haaretz showed the way, by allowing Uri Blau to divulge that Anat Kam was his source. Kam went to jail for stealing army records, but in the end, a District Court judge found the paper and Blau guilty of divulging their sources and ordered them to pay Kam reparations to the tune of almost half a million shekels.

The change is not limited to Segal. The same Channel 12 has as its Haredi correspondent Yair Sherki, who is also identified as coming from a right-wing family. His father is Rabbi Uri Sherki, whose conservative right-wing ideology is well known.

Another prominent journalist is Erel Segal, who starred in our column two weeks ago, when we noted he was suspended by the KAN conglomerate for playing the guitar and singing with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and who KAN had to reinstate due to the public pressure of, among others, prominent journalist Kalman Liebskind.

The unprecedented proliferation of these media stars has affected the media in many ways. Any journalist knowns today that there are competitors who will bring to the public scoops that will not deal lightly with the left-wing ideology. If you have a scoop, it should be published irrespective of the results. It is not surprising then that Baruch Kra, the legal correspondent of Channel 10 TV, formerly of Haaretz, was the one who shortly before Election Day revealed some of the tapes showing that Blue and White leader and former chief of staff MK Gabi Ashkenazi was seemingly heavily involved in what is known as the Harpaz Affair. In that affair, a fake letter was used to torpedo the candidacy of then-general, and now Likud Minister Yoav Galant, for the chief-of-staff position.

We, as spectators, are now seeing the realization of the dream of the late Uri Orbach, who called upon National-Religious youth to go out into the media arena and make their presence known. This is the most effective way of ensuring a pluralistic and ethical media.

The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (imediaw.org.il).

 

^

Next page