March 26, 2015
by YISRAEL MEDAD,ELI POLLAK, 03/25/2015
Ominously, the opinion polls seemed to reflect more the opinions of media personalities, executives and editors as well as the owners of media outlets than those of the man in the street.
In the wake of the collapse of the election- day exit polls, and the subsequent piranha-like mutual frenzy of media rivals following the Likud victory, James Taranto, writing in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, provided a bit of consolation, if not encouragement. He noted that American experts also flopped. For example, Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium had tweeted on Monday that “Netanyahu staying PM seems hard. I’ll stay w/ 3-1 odds against.” Paul Waldman of The Washington Post wrote, “There is a real possibility that Benjamin Netanyahu will lose.”
That American professionals are no better than their Israeli counterparts is nice to know, but the real problem is that those polls, ordered and paid for by central media outlets, developed a Golem-like aspect and, for all intents and purposes, took over the reporting platform. They were the story rather than being commentary. Almost all coverage began to revolve around the numbers and percentages.
Ominously, the opinion polls seemed to reflect more the opinions of media personalities, executives and editors as well as the owners of media outlets than those of the man in the street. Too many in the media were dancing around themselves in a closed circle. As Raviv Drucker of Channel 10, who did all he could to bring about the downfall of Netanyahu, freely admitted, “Maybe we live in la-la land.”
Amir Teig, writing in Haaretz on March 23, was even more critical, claiming that the country’s media outlets “have now come to understand the extent to which the public is hostile to them…the campaign revealed the one-dimensional character of the media and a sense that the media believe they know what’s best for their own audiences.”
The important issues facing the public, such as the local and international situation, analysis of economics and of defense matters, the relationship with the Palestinian Authority and more were shuffled to the background. Even some of the background of members of the new 20th Knesset, such as the Bulgarian hotel manager job held by the Likud’s Oren Hazan, a resort that also had a casino, was ignored. The media not only reflected its own biases but was shallow as well. It simply did not provide the information the public needed to make an informed decision on whom to vote for.
As Sir Alan Moses, chairman of England’s Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), declared three weeks ago, examples of media “abuse, intrusion, distortion, lies, cruelty and brutality” need to be addressed and regulatory rules need be fine-tuned.
Most importantly, wherever there is bias, the media cannot judge itself; oversight must include external partners.
In the week since the elections, Israel’s media, to its credit, is asking itself how it got the election results so wrong. As Nati Tucker described in The Marker, “Journalists misread the political landscape, newspapers were blatantly biased and polls proved to be utterly mistaken.” They engaged, he asserted, “in unethical and often ugly journalism.”
Drucker went even further: “There was a torrent of one-sided, biased reality. Netanyahu was smart enough to translate this revulsion into votes.”
But this preference for one-sidedness also carried over to the media’s introspection this week. For the most part, the discussions, interview panels and columns carried by the various networks, print, electronic and online, were staffed by media personnel.
The Tik Tikshoret program, which is supposed to deal with media infractions, brought to its panel discussions journalists Yaakov Ahimeir, Baruch Kra and Barak Ravid. Kalman Liebeskind, who dared to suggest in Maariv that journalists with a proven left-wing bias should be fired, drew sharp attacks from Channel 10 staff.
Drucker slugged it out with Channel 2 TV’s Amit Segal via tweets and Facebook posts following an op-ed Drucker published in Haaretz. Drucker asked in his op-ed, full of self-importance and unrepentant for his behavior: “Which model is better for the viewer: a reporter who wants the Right to win but conceals his views, or a reporter who acknowledges his preference and then reports on the facts?” Segal responded that the problem with journalists like Drucker was not mistakes in analyzing forecast data but in their total mobilization on behalf of the political Left.
Yediot Aharonot owner Arnon Mozes hasn’t apologized for the unprofessional behavior of his newspaper, nor has Amos Schocken, publisher of Haaretz. On the other side, Benjamin Netanyahu already has expressed contrition for his remarks regarding the busing of Arabs to the voting booths.
Yet, despite the across-the-spectrum admissions, and the clear evidence, we expect that nothing will change. Those responsible at the management and editorial levels in the Israeli media organs for overt media bias are unwilling to admit their professional errors, are not willing to reach personal conclusions and will not permit outsiders to participate in the post-performance debriefing.
This criticism should not detract from the value of the voices heard from within the media. To strengthen the charges of institutionalized bias, Arianna Melamed, herself a left-winger and a long-time member of the inner media elite who worked at Maariv and then moved to Ynet before resigning last year, published on her Facebook page this past Saturday that Yediot’s Mozes had personally spiked a column she penned critical of the Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni.
“Mozes,” she wrote, “turned journalists into circus dogs. Yediot is the exact mirror- image of Israel Hayom. In one, Bibi is a dog and in the other, he’s a king.” She added, “Yes, I can relate much about the anti-Bibi media.” Her harsh remarks were then also reported on Channel 10’s Mako news site.
Another aspect of the biased media is evidenced in the coverage of US President Barack Obama’s unprecedented dressing- down of Prime Minister Netanyahu for saying that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.” Kol Yisrael’s Arieh Golan broadcast his personal disgust with Netanyahu’s “racist” remarks.
Never mind that Netanyahu was merely stating the truth or that the money for these activities came, in part, from funds whose connection to Obama’s State Department is currently being investigated.
Haaretz’s Benny Ziffer wrote on March 19 that the “‘Arabs on buses’ comment was not racist.”
Not a single Israeli media commentator pointed out that there were other disparaging and even racist expressions directed at sections of Israel’s populace, that were not addressed by Obama. The divisive words, of course, came from left-wingers and we mentioned them in our column last week. Somehow, the White House was quite selective in the media sources that were passed on to the president.
Yair Garboz and Yehoshua Sobol, Meretz supporters, targeted traditional religious people who identify with the Right. Tzipi Livni had referred to Netanyahu as “garbage” to be taken out to the bin. Last Wednesday, columnist Yonatan Geffen told a club audience that those who voted for Netanyahu shouldn’t “cry when your kids die in the next military operation.” Truthfully, it is Obama that has opened himself to charges of racism; he only complained about comments referring to Arabs, but the words shaming Jews were considered by him to be kosher.
To improve, the media must realize that it is a servant of the public rather than its master.
March 22, 2015
From the new issue of Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Volume 9, Issue 1, 2015:
On Yehuda Bauer’s Letter to the Editor
While I may or may not have read Prof. Yehuda Bauer’s article “very carefully” as he surmises, I certainly perused his reply to my letter very studiously. Allow me to begin with his stupefying ending.
My mention of Bauer’s Palmach membership was not meant to label him as “terrible,” but rather to point to the major fault line in his polemical writings, as opposed to his scholarship: I am referring to his ideological mindset, which is hard left. Bauer’s anti-Bergson group stance, as exemplified by his writings in this journal, is one expression of this. His letter provides additional insight into his political thinking. Oddly, Bauer notes my domicile in Shiloh, which, I might point out, is not located in, as he calls it, the “West Bank,” which is an artificial geopolitical term that did not exist prior to April 1950, but in Samaria, as it was called by the United Nations in outlining the borders delineated in the 1947 Partition Plan. While graciously allowing me my views, Bauer then, irrationally, and for no possible purpose except to paint me politically outside the pale, identifies me in an intentional slur as being equivalent to a Jew in Brooklyn or Paris, in other words, in the Diaspora, except that I do not require a plane to reach my home. Why is that? Simply because the State of Israel has not applied its sovereignty to the area in which I reside. For the record, I was born in the Bronx and grew up in Queens, New York.
Bauer’s astounding implication is that I am in chutz la-aretz [outside the borders of the Jewish homeland], as if Shiloh—the location of the Tabernacle, where Joshua divided up the Land of Israel, where Samuel first ministered and where the Prophet Achiyah spoke the truly terrifying words about dogs and vultures—is not somehow fully Jewish and/or part of Eretz-Yisrael—the Land of Israel. This reveals an empty and detached approach to Jewish history and heritage. Given that Bauer came from Prague to this country in 1939, when it was not a state with any sovereign power, I hope he did not consider himself still in the Diaspora simply because the British ruled the land. That is, unless belonging to the Labor/Socialist faction of Zionism somehow bestowed upon him and his comrades a mantle of belonging that he now claims does not apply to me in Shiloh.
To return to the rest of Bauer’s letter, let me respond quite briefly to his complaints. No, he was not guilty of misdeeds in belonging to the Palmach unless he personally tortured Irgun members and handed them over to the British Criminal Investigation Department. Yes, prior to the October 1944 Saison sponsored by the official Yishuv [pre-State Jewish community] bodies, Lehi [Stern group] members were obliquely identified by Irgun intelligence officers to the British. However, Bauer absents conveniently the Palmach’s own pre-Saison operations against the Lehi in early 1942. And yes, and to his credit, he was the first historian to shed light on this episode.
As for Bauer’s supposing that I somehow attacked his Holocaust scholarship, I should have used the word “previous” rather than “past,” although I would characterize some of his conclusions, which I first heard in his lectures at Hebrew University during my 1978–79 academic year, as arguable. Regarding another semantic matter, I will admit to being unable to fathom the precise difference at least as far as the end result is concerned, between his suggestion that a coalition of Islamic states should mediate the Arab–Israeli conflict, as I described it, and his correction that his suggestion was actually that the major powers should act in that fashion.
The final point I wish to make is that Bauer insists that the 230-page Torat HaMelech tract (and I will not engage in a dispute over whether or not and to what extent it is “unabashedly racist and even potentially genocidal”) has had an impact. He is a scholar and, therefore, we can presume that he will eventually academically and empirically prove his charge of a direct link between disgusting acts of anti-Arab/Islam vandalism and that book, published in 2010. However, surely he realizes that violent acts against Arabs, justified or not, do not require esoteric Halachic, Midrashic, or Kabbalistic deliberations of the sort found in that book.
In the summer of 1943, the Palmach punished an Arab rapist of Jewish women in the Beit Shean Valley by surgically castrating him (although none of them was a surgeon or even a physician) and then celebrated the event for years with the campfire song “Sirasnucha Ya Muhammed.” That was not an isolated incident of retribution against Arab rapists. Moreover, there were the Palmachniks who killed some eighty Arabs, reportedly shot while their hands were rope-bound, at Ein Zeitoun on May 1, 1948, and who, in the attack at Sassa on February 15, 1948, blew up houses, killing over sixty Arabs, the majority of whom were women, children, and the aged. Another dozen civilians were killed when the Palmach’s Third Brigade blew up dwellings in Al-Khisas on December 18, 1947. Other Palmachniks had operated even prior to the November 30, 1947 beginning of Israel’s War of Independence against Arab forces at Yaquq and near Kfar Syrkin.
None of them, we can surmise, was a wild-eyed “hilltop youth” who delved into tomes of ancient Jewish literature. They were, rather, “the handsome young men with the forelock,” who, unlike the “terrorists” of the Irgun and “Stern Gang,” mythically behaved according to the principle of “purity of arms.”
March 19, 2015
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 03/18/2015
“The bottom line is that even with the considerable improvement in the media’s performance, the ‘old guard’ of post-Zionist media people is still entrenched in central positions.”
The media was a central player in these elections, for good and for bad. Some journalists, such as Yonit Levi, Amnon Abramovitch and Rina Mazliach of Channel 2 TV, truly believed the “Bibi must go” mantra; otherwise they would not have sacrificed their professionalism on the altar of propaganda.
It was only on Monday night that Abramovitch went overboard in citing the greatness of the Livni and Herzog in being able to agree to cancel the rotation between them.
Even after the results came out, Mazliach’s response was, “Well will Bibi now stop his vicious attacks on us?” A colleague of theirs, Amit Segal, tweeted: “elections 2015: The public against the elites and the media: that’s the whole story.” Erel Segal (no relation) wrote at the NRG website Tuesday, “These past three months we’ve witnessed a ‘Saison’ campaign of incitement and hunting, of unparalleled reviling… and my colleagues in the media preferred to close their eyes.”
An important element in the campaign was the reliance on pollsters. Their errors, however, were far beyond the accepted norm.
It would seem that the polling system has crashed and it can no longer be considered reliable. Too many people refuse to answer, and the polls get skewed by those who have an axe to grind. The media’s devout following of the polls should have been stopped years ago. But the polls this time around reflected the desire of the media to replace Netanyahu, so care and criticism were thrown to the wind.
In the past few months, we have documented time and again the various ethical breaches of our media, and undoubtedly, media bias typically favored the leftist, post-Zionist viewpoint. However, these past months have also witnessed some of the best of Israel’s media. All through the campaign, our radio and TV broadcasters made a noticeable effort to bring all views to the public. The morning radio shows were relatively balanced. Someone from the Right would be balanced from the Left and vice versa. The smaller parties, ranging from Meretz to Bayit Yehudi, Yesh Atid and the Joint Arab List, received ample representative air time.
The print media also fared well. On the one side there was Yediot Aharonot with its anti-Netanyahu bias, but it was balanced by Israel Hayom, which supported the prime minister. Haaretz was partially balanced by Makor Rishon.
The situation was vastly different 20 years ago. Back in 1996, the media, with one voice, supported Shimon Peres. Some TV shows were skewed 90 percent in his favor. The anchors were openly rooting for him. Israel Hayom did not exist and Yediot Aharonot had a monopoly on the Israeli media. The same occurred in the 1999 elections.
Something has happened during the past 20 years. Most notably, the call of the late journalist and Bayit Yehudi minister Uri Orbach, urging young people with a Zionist bent to join the media, has created a movement. Professional journalists such as Kalman Libeskind, Erel Segal, Amit Segal, Sivan Rahav-Meir and Emily Amrousy, all with kippot or scarves on their heads, do not hide their ideology. They do their jobs but do not bend over backwards to kowtow to the post-Zionist bon ton. Twenty years ago, Channel 2 TV proudly boasted that they had a national religious figurehead in Nissim Mishal, whose left-wing bias was well documented.
The media’s performance cannot be disassociated from the politicians. Some of them were very dissatisfied with the media. As reported by Globes, already back in July 2014, Netanyahu claimed that some television commentators “do not represent the people” and that “there is a monopoly on opinion.”
He also complained in January about the media’s coverage of his participation in the Paris gathering in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher deli terrorist attacks.
This continued throughout the campaign, reaching perhaps a crescendo with Netanyahu’s personal attack on Noni Mozes, publisher of Yediot, and the prime minister’s refusal to be interviewed by Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker, who has been pursuing the prime minister and his wife for quite some time.
Minister Naftali Bennett also joined the fray. Only a week ago, he commented on Channel 10 about the media’s strong desire to replace Netanyahu. When Makor Rishon was saved by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Bennett, who at that time was a subject of adulation by Yediot for his stand against Israel Hayom, was troubled, worrying that this would turn also Makor Rishon against him. On January 24, on Channel 10’s Hamate Hamerkazi TV program, Bennett responded to moderator Nadav Peri, saying: “You have crossed all borders, the media in general, and this channel… systematically only highlights my candidate in the 94th slot… show me once when you broadcast or attacked someone from the Left.”
It is easy to attack the media but much more difficult to do something about it. Consider the Bayit Yehudi Party and its predecessor the Mafdal – the National Religious Party.
Not once in these past years has it demanded the Communications Ministry portfolio as part of a coalition agreement. Last summer, Likud minister Gilad Erdan steamrolled a law through the Knesset which turns the Israel Broadcasting Authority into the “Public Broadcasting Corporation.” We tried to prevent his law from turning the authority into a post-Zionist one but only Minister Orbach assisted. The other Bayit Yehudi Knesset representatives were hardly present during the committee deliberations and attempts to convince them to take a more active role were not successful.
Both Bennett and the Likud complain about bias on Channel 10, but they had ample time to change Israel’s media map.
Channel 10 should have been closed down years ago due to its hefty debt of over a billion shekels to the Israeli public. But time and time again, it was the Likud that saved the channel. There are at least two TV channels that would jump at the chance to broadcast nationally in Israel: Channel I24 and Channel 20. The Second TV and Radio Authority was appointed by the Likud during these past six years.
Why hasn’t the authority increased pluralism in Israel and provided us with a few more channels? Channel 2’s News Corporation is public, supervised by a public commission. The open bias which leaves a political pundit such as Amnon Abramovitch on the job for years without end, without balancing him, should have been eliminated and could have been eliminated. The only thing missing was leadership and will. But neither the Likud nor Bennett and Bayit Yehudi would have anything to do with this.
The bottom line is that even with the considerable improvement in the media’s performance, specifically in allowing greater pluralism of voices to be heard, the “old guard” of post-Zionist media people is still entrenched in central positions. They create havoc with Israeli public opinion and the perception of Israel abroad. The Likud, and especially the Bayit Yehudi, should realize that defending Israel from its enemies starts at home. Use your empowerment to do away with the current unprofessional and damaging parts of the media.
March 11, 2015
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 03/11/2015
The media is constantly bucking the laws of the land which seek to assure fair and objective coverage of the ultimate political process.
A 1924 journalism ethics handbook edited by Kansas academic Nelson Crawford quotes the Detroit News press code, according to which the Friday prior to a Tuesday election day is the last time a “candidate or party should be permitted to print new charges or statements.” The principle behind this is that “no paper should print anything about anybody without allowing ample time for an answer.”
Almost a century later, here in Israel it would appear that any ethically- imposed restriction is ancient history.
The media is constantly bucking the laws of the land which seek to assure fair and objective coverage of the ultimate political process.
This 20th Knesset campaign was highlighted by many media stories which ignored Israel’s current Electioneering Law. This past Sunday, for example, Channel 1 television’s HaMusaf program hostess Geula Even had Avigdor Liberman, Aryeh Deri and Ofir Akunis in the studio for interviews that, for the most part, were election propaganda.
This format was repeated many times on the other two main television channels as well as the two national radio networks and over a dozen regional ones. The only thing lacking was a “vote for me” proclamation accompanied by party jingles.
Undoubtedly, though, it was Ari Shavit who, in a March 9 interview with Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog published in Haaretz, summed up this year’s election campaigns: “But the array of powers that work in Herzog’s favor is often reminiscent of the one that brought Netanyahu down in 1999… The anti-Sheldon Adelsons are generous in their financial support. The media is doing all it can to smear Netanyahu.”
A stark example of this anti-Netanyahu effort by the media in the service of a political ideology was the press conference conducted by the Likud’s Benny Begin and Yuli Edelstein last Sunday. This came in the wake of what was perceived as a devastating piece of investigative journalism by Israel Prize winner Nahum Barnea, senior columnist for the Yediot Aharonot media empire. Begin and Edelstein, known for their integrity, flatly claimed that Barnea was a liar.
In the Yediot weekend edition, Barnea, under a front-page headline, revealed a supposed August 2013 “document of concessions” to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he asserted, had agreed. It included basing talks with the Palestinians on pre-1967 lines with land swaps, and leaving Jewish communities under Palestinian Authority control. This was headlined with the trope “Netanyahu’s lack of credibility.” Barnea’s integrity, as noted many times in this column, is questionable. This was not a news item but a blunt attempt to convince the public that a certain political contender should not receive their vote.
The Likud spokesmen were also blunt, indeed scathing, in their response. Begin related how 20 years ago Barnea, presented with facts in connection to diplomatic issues, refused to publish them since they served the camp to which he did not belong. Barnea’s current piece, Begin said, as reported in this paper, served those who “want to blacken the name of and cause damage to the prime minister and Likud.” Barnea “fathered a lie,” he added. Edelstein also proclaimed that “the document is a lie.”
They further pointed out that Dennis Ross, a former adviser to three US presidents engaged in the American peace initiative, had declared that Netanyahu never agreed to pre-‘67 lines, dividing Jerusalem or giving the right of return to Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Why didn’t Barnea check his story with Ross? In a March 8 interview with i24 TV, Barnea offered this explanation: not everyone is aware of all the documents. In a second column, published on the Ynet website, Barnea wrote that Netanyahu’s reaction “was a panicked response in which he, unfortunately, did not tell the truth.”
Could this be just another case of Barnea suppressing information which does not fit his worldview? The media vs. Netanyahu has always been a subtext in Israel, but the eruption this year of spiteful attacks, most of them simply irrelevant to the political, security and social issues facing the electorate, has been astounding in breadth and depth of animosity. In this context, it is also illuminating that Channel 2’s election-evening program will be a normal, open-studio news show – but will also star the station’s left-wing satirical ensemble, Eretz Nehederet (It’s A Wonderful Country). In the eyes of Channel 2, the elections are entertainment. But only when colored appropriately.
No less pervasive is the ignorance of some of our reporters and interviewers.
On the afternoon of March 4, Yossi Sarid was interviewed by Benny Bashan on the Army radio station. This was a very interesting type of interview; Sarid not only answered but also asked most of the questions, while Bashan merely chuckled.
Sarid declared at one point that one reason he was critical Netanyahu’s speech before the US Congress in Washington was that “the word ‘peace’ was not mentioned once.” However, as we all heard, during the speech the prime minister said: “The difficult path [that]…will make all the difference for the future of my country, the security of the Middle East and the peace of the world, the peace we all desire”; and that we cannot “ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.” Bashan did not call Sarid to order. Was he too mesmerized by a fellow comrade in ideology? Was the program’s editor asleep? Was a correction offered the media consumers? Even when some of the media’s own icons are honest enough to note that the attack on Netanyahu is not always justified, they do not relent. Author David Grossman, who not only opposes Netanyahu’s reelection but also lambasted him for interfering with the process of awarding the Israel Prize, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica’s Fabio Scuto that, “The points raised in [Netanyahu’s speech]…are important and must be heard…Iran threatens the entire world; this time Netanyahu is right.”
He also characterized the American position as “clumsy” and one of “criminal naivete.” Is it surprising that these comments of Grossman were not the first item on the news? At times, one felt that they were a well-kept secret. After all, hadn’t Tzipi Livni clarified that the prime minister was sacrificing the future of Israel for his personal political gain? It was just not “right” to allow Grossman to spoil the party.
One speech that Central Elections Committee chairman Justice Salim Jubran did not subject to a delay was that of Yair Garboz, who appeared at last Saturday night’s anti-Netanyahu rally. He railed not only against the prime minister but against all those who supported the right-of-center political agenda in terms recalling Dudu Topaz’s 1981 “riff raff” speech that denied Shimon Peres an election victory.
The surreal aspect of his words, calling right-wingers ignorant, racist, piggish pleasure-seekers and destroyers of democracy, were in his summary: “So how is it that the handful rules us? How is it that… the handful has turned into a majority?” In truth, Garboz was just describing, and rather accurately, the reality of our media.
March 4, 2015
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 03/04/2015
Bias is unfair to the media consumer who by nature has limited sources of information.
In a normative reality, the media would be reporting on and following news stories, and columnists and pundits analyzing and commented on them from a variety of political and economic outlooks.
If the editors or publishers of a private or commercial media outlet have a specific policy they wish to promote or a candidate they seek to support, they are free to print or broadcast editorials. There is the news and there are the views. To mix them creates bias.
Bias is unfair to the media consumer who by nature has limited sources of information.
The consumer usually has no direct link to events, and thus blurring the line between news and opinion denies him or her the ability to make a reasoned judgment.
The responsibility of state-sponsored media networks to provide objective reporting as well as a plurality of opinion is even greater since, in essence, the public is the editorial board. The directors and editors have no right to unfairly influence the consumer through their broadcasts.
Two weeks ago, this critical observation was made regarding the media: “Nobody wants to associate with anybody who doesn’t agree with them politically… You can’t have a conversation, people won’t listen to each other, they listen to different media, and those different media [outlets] tell different stories about the very same thing… You cannot run a great country like that.”
Sound familiar? Probably it does. But this wasn’t said by an Israeli; those were the words of former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, spoken during the Conference for Women gathering in California last month. They do most certainly, however, touch on the problems media consumers here face in trying to be informed and to make their own decisions on what to do, how to vote and how to forge their own lives.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Washington to speak at the AIPAC convention and, at the invitation of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, to address a joint session of Congress has been one of the main media narratives of these Knesset elections. Is our media reporting the story objectively, with full background and with no agenda but to provide news and balanced commentary? In the fallout from the NBC news anchor Brian “I was there” Williams debacle, Nicole Hemmer, a visiting assistant professor at the universities of Miami and Sydney, wrote in a recent issue of The New Republic of an “evolution in the media bias argument” promoted by the Right. She claims that according to conservatives, mistakes made by journalists and which editors fail to correct are due to a “liberal worldview” that “kept them from questioning assumptions and double-checking information.”
But is that not true? For example, one of the main arguments against the Netanyahu speech is the supposed damage it will do to American-Israeli relations. But the annual Gallup World Affairs poll, conducted February 8-11, indicates this may not be the case. As reported, Netanyahu’s favorable rating has improved in the US, and nearly twice as many Americans view Israel’s leader favorably (45 percent) as unfavorably (24%). Moreover, his favorable score is up from 35% in 2012.
In other words, the stories based on a threat that Netanyahu is doing damage are inadequately reflecting an issue considerably more complex and quite undecided. The support could potentially affect how Americans vote for their representatives in Congress and therefore affect how those politicians, seeking reelection, will be reacting to Netanyahu’s arguments.
A different media line is: “Netanyahu has a credible case to make. Any nuclear agreement that allows Iran to maintain a native uranium enrichment capability… an empire-building, Assad-sponsoring, Yemen-conquering, Israel-loathing, theocratic terror regime is a dicey proposition. The deal that seems to be taking shape right now does not fill me – or many others who support a diplomatic solution to this crisis – with confidence.”
Those lines were from pundit Jeffrey Goldberg, and appeared in The Atlantic this past Sunday. Goldberg is the columnist that first reported the “chickensh**” slander of Netanyahu by a high Obama administration official. Goldberg himself is not favorably inclined to Israel’s prime minister. Indeed, he has not suddenly become a Netanyahu devotee, and still does not approve the prime minister appearing before the joint session of Congress.
But he does attempt, as a professional, to include multiple angles in his writing.
Unfortunately, that cannot be said of too many Israeli journos and pundits, who allow their “anyone but Bibi” ideology to override their professional responsibilities.
Last October, Gershom Gorenberg, quite an opponent of Netanyahu’s, upset about a lack of fact-checking in the media wrote in The American Prospect about his concern over the commitment of journalism to pursue truth. For him, “Putting the truth inside the news report, right after the quote, is the only way to be unbiased.” But that requires an intelligent reporter, a wise editor and a system which assures that lies or misrepresentations are caught before publication. If a news outlet is already prejudiced against its subject, no system can be effective.
Netanyahu’s speech to Congress is a litmus test case for the professionalism of Israel’s media. Sad to say, the result is not heartwarming.
The radio broadcasts (whether the IBA or Army Radio) were interspersed with comments by the anchors. Yonit Levy of TV Channel 2 News, as usual, could not let Netanyahu talk without contributing her two bits of personal opinion. The idea that the consumer should be allowed to first hear the speech, free of any outside influence, did not even occur to the editors of these outlets.
As usual, too much of the ensuing discussion revolved around the silly questions, such as counting ovations, who sat and who stood, how does this influence elections in Israel. The really tough questions, on all sides, just did not come to the fore. Netanyahu has been talking about the Iranian problem for the past six years, but can he show any positive results? The Iranians are amassing on the Golan Heights, what is Israel’s reaction to this? Is Israel prepared for an Iranian-supported attack from the Golan? How does the Iranian threat impact Israel’s budget? Will the various politicians from all parties be able to responsibly divert funds from the defense budget to important social issues? One might argue in their favor that the TV stations have all put pressure on the prime minister to participate in a televised debate with his opponent, Isaac Herzog. But instead of just calling upon them to debate, they should present the public with the questions they intend to ask. But it would seem that the main aim of the networks is not really providing the electorate with important information, but rather with gaining a few more shekels from advertising.
Our recommendation to the electorate is to ignore the commentaries, and try to get the news only. The rest is not worth the effort.
February 19, 2015
|Stymied, frustrated but seeking to campaign forcefully against the media’s bias and unethical practices, Israel’s Media Watch (IMW) was launched 20 years ago, in March 1995.
Two fundamentals guided the monitoring of the media from the outset. The first, to assure objectivity, was that precise quantitative analysis would be employed. Programs were recorded, names of politicians and personalities noted, transcripts were prepared, comparisons were analyzed and broadcast durations registered.
Day after day, program after program, the evidence was collected and reports were issued. The second aspect of IMW’s work was that the criteria used to ascertain the level of fairness and professionalism would be based on Knesset legislation and the professional codes of journalism ethics. These two principles would guarantee that the review would be objective and non-partisan.
Examples abound. One of the easiest aspects to review was gender balance. Twenty years ago, the main radio programs interviewed males 90 percent of the time, and females were usually asked questions about cooking or sexual abuse.
A woman expert in foreign affairs or security or economics was a rare event. The response of radio program host Dalia Yairi was not friendly. IMW was attacked, with Yairi claiming that she was a woman and that was sufficient. But times change, and today we note that gender balance is much improved, though not yet perfect.
A second example is political. In those early years, Israel had only two TV broadcast channels and the broadcasters felt they could do whatever they wanted.
The absolute majority of hosts and panelists of Channel 1 TV’s main talk show, Popolitica, sided with the Oslo accords.
Even a decision of Supreme Court Justice Theodore Or who was chairman of the Central Elections Committee ordering the program not to deal with political issues during the week prior to elections was publicly treated with disdain by the show’s Dan Margalit and Tommy Lapid.
Here, too, one notes today a much more pluralistic approach on talk shows, thanks to the increase of platforms and to the public’s awareness.
Perhaps the most frightening experience of those early years had to do with the events which led to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The Eyal organization run by Avishai Raviv was “allowed” to receive exhaustive TV reports on its activities, in which the group explicitly incited to violence. IMW complained, a month before the assassination, but the IBA responded with disdain. This was a clear example of hand washing hand.
Raviv, as we now know, was an agent of Israel’s Internal Security Agency, or Shin Bet. The program portraying a swearing-in ceremony in a cemetery was most certainly organized by Raviv’s manipulators, all in an attempt to discredit the substantial part of the population that were against the Oslo accords and used democratic means to express their misgivings. Such dictatorial manipulations would be much more difficult nowadays.
With time and experience, IMW’s activities branched out. The need for a media review organization became very clear when the ombudsman of the IBA, Victor Grayevsky, requested IMW’s help in assuring that Knesset legislation would not undermine his authority. IMW demanded in the Knesset education committee that the ombudsman’s mandate at the IBA would be no less than that of the public complaints commissioner in the Second TV and Radio Authority. This was accepted fully by the committee and its chairman, MK Immanuel Zisman.
This legislative experience was the first of many. IMW can take credit for quite a few laws and regulations which came into effect during these 20 years. Commercials directed at children were banned during the day. A law was passed by then Education Committee chairman MK Zevulun Orlev which imposed a content rating on TV programs. The Knesset finance committee forced the IBA to submit a full annual budget proposal and report. The Army Radio station was forced to follow the law and submit a report on its advertising. It was also coerced into appointing an ombudsman.
We reported quite a few times in the past few years about IMW’s successes in influencing the new public broadcasting law. IMW’s demand that the TV tax be abolished and be replaced by the annual car license tax was fully enacted. For the first time, everyone will participate in the tax, including the Arab sector and the haredim (ultra-Orthodox). The law-abiding citizen of yesteryear will be paying much less.
Arguably, the most important contribution of IMW is its complaints form page on its website. In the early years, complaints were treated very leisurely. The rules of the game changed the minute that the various authorities became aware that the complaints would be public and that attempting to ignore them would lead to further steps. Now, the answers are published and treated with much greater seriousness.
These complaints have led sometimes to dramatic changes. The regional Arab radio station “Shams” no longer runs a program of greeting to terrorists serving time in prison. Gender discrimination has been all but abolished at the Kol Barama haredi radio station.
As reported only last week, IMW has for the past 15 years awarded the Abramowitz Israeli Media Criticism Prize. The award ceremony has often led to headlines. Only this last Sunday, IMW presidium member Erez Bitton testified at the ceremony how as a member of the Israel Prize committee for literature he had to struggle against political intervention. Former IMW president Minister Yuval Steinitz reminded the audience that prime minister Rabin took away the Israel Prize from Professor Yeshayahu Leibovitz and no one at the time thought that this was “political intervention.”
Israel’s Media Watch broke the ground and in its wake, numerous other media review organizations were created. The extreme Left created the Keshev organization whose mandate was to show that the Israeli press is right-wing. The Israel Democracy Institute created the Internet-based Seventh Eye media review journal. Israel’s Education TV has a media review program, Tik Tikshoret, which incidentally has never found it necessary to interview IMW representatives (so much for the professional standards of that program). Israel’s Right created the Tazpit organization whose mandate was to expose left-wing bias in the media. Foreign media review organizations such Honest Reporting and CAMERA have also created daughter organizations in Israel.
IMW has not only worked from the outside. Its members often themselves became regulators, whether in the IBA plenum or the Second TV and Radio Authority.
IMW reps were members of national review boards, and have testified and presented numerous position papers to governmental committees on a wide spectrum of issues. The main theme has always been to increase pluralism, reduce governmental involvement and foremost, have an open ear for the needs and desires of the public, instead of dictating content to it.
Where will IMW be 20 years from now? Will it still be needed? The answer is yes, because without diligence, the old habits will return. Media bias must be balanced by the media consumers.
February 11, 2015
|The politician’s criticism of the press was harsh, biting and even threatening. As reported, he said: “Some of our national newspapers had sunk to depths of unethical and illegal behavior that disgraced the name of journalism… these weren’t just isolated incidents. They were habitual, and sometimes even matters of policy… a small group of media moguls, executives and senior journalists…enjoyed extraordinary power… They themselves, in my view, have become the power in this country. They have operated like a mafia, intimidating here, bribing there, terminating careers when it suits them and rewarding their most loyal toadies….
“For years, they could ‘fix’ any legislation that affected them, in a way that no other industry could. But it didn’t stop there. Their influence was so great that it became impossible to know who was really running the country… [media publishers are a] little group of greedy, cruel men. They don’t want fairness, they don’t want change. No catalogue of the wrongdoing they have overseen would be long enough to shame them….”
No, those were not the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They were spoken by Tom Watson, a Labour MP in Great Britain, during his speech at the second annual Leveson lecture on December 3, 2014.
Watson is the author of Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain, and in 2004 won the New Statesman New Media Award under the category of the use of an elected representative using his weblog to further the democratic process.
Here in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu this past Monday launched an all-out and direct attack on Arnon (Noni) Mozes, the publisher of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper and its affiliated news website Ynet. As reported in this newspaper, he published his thoughts on his Facebook page, writing: “In recent weeks, the attacks on me do not just appear once a day, in the morning, when Yediot Aharonot is distributed. They are published almost every hour and sometimes every half hour on Ynet. These two platforms initiate time and again ridiculous, false and biased slanders against me and my wife as part of a media campaign to replace the Likud government by a left-wing one and allow Noni Moses to take over the media market again.”
Many pundits claimed that this was the first time ever that the prime minister, in the midst of an election campaign, identified someone not running for office as his major target. In the past Netanyahu has attacked the media (as have many others), but did not name anyone specifically. This, according to people like IBA’s political commentator Yoav Krakowsky, was crossing a red line.
The post immediately received a response from Yediot’s most celebrated columnist, Nachum Barnea, an Israel Prize recipient. Defending his paper and place of employment, he was interviewed on IBA’s Reshet Bet 8 a.m. morning program and said, “I don’t understand the style, nor the tone nor why the prime minister has to trouble himself with this type of paranoia… he needs to be hospitalized… he is full of it… he has the ability to decide everything but is full of fears. This war is so strange; it belongs in the psychological ward.”
One notes that Barnea, as is usual for him, did not even attempt to answer Netanyahu’s accusations.
Facts are not important; he preferred to attack the prime minister, using language which certainly does not befit an Israel Prize recipient. Another irrational media view was Sefi Rachlevsky’s writing in Tuesday’sHaaretz that Netanyahu “took control of nearly all Israeli media outlets.”
Netanyahu’s post is part of a much deeper struggle, one between two media moguls, Arnon Mozes and Sheldon Adelson. Later in the day, a lawyer named Shachar Ben-Meir petitioned Judge Salim Jubran, who chairs the Central Elections Committee, demanding that the Israel Hayom newspaper be instructed “to refrain from and to stop publishing election propaganda.” The brief bases itself among other things on the opinion of Anat Balint, a former media reporter for Haaretz and a contributor to the Israel Democracy Institute’s Seventh Eye website.
Her message was that Israel Hayom’s “coverage of the prime minister is aimed foremost to glorify the politician Netanyahu, his family and his surroundings and to eliminate and blur any criticism of him.
As such, it is preferable to consider it as propaganda rather than journalistic reporting.”
She also appeared on Channel 1 TV’s HaMussaf program this past Monday and stated that Netanyahu is hostile to the media, does not defend freedom of the press and incites against the media, which is, to her mind, the basis for democracy. The next day she was interviewed by Ben Caspit on Channel 2, repeating her views. Former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, president of Israel’s Journalists Association, noted that any newspaper has a right to take a position and that this is part of the democratic process.
However, we cannot fathom what makes Justice Jubran tick. He did not hesitate to stop foreign minister Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party from handing out free copies of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, as this he deemed to constitute bribing the electorate, which is prohibited by law.
In previous election campaigns, the standard practice was the free distribution of propaganda material under the guise of a newspaper. Liberman has taken the case to the Supreme Court, which will consider it next week.
The truth is that Yisrael Hayom does support the prime minister. It is also true that Yediot Aharonot is out to get him, and there is nothing wrong with this per se. A privately-owned newspaper has the right to have a political line. For example, it is very clear that Haaretz is a post-Zionist newspaper while Makor Rishon, its main competitor, is Zionist in orientation.
Some claim that Israel Hayom is “different” because it is distributed freely. But so are many newspapers all over the world. Moreover, Ynet is also distributed freely. Does this make it any less newsworthy? The real issue is not the pulling of the wool over the eyes of the public. Yediot Aharonot has the audacity to call itself the “state’s newspaper.” 20 years ago it was a monopoly and could formally claim this.
Today, not only is it no longer a monopoly, Israel Hayom beats its circulation. Yediot is in truth a left-wing paper. It is not neutral; it is not “the state’s” newspaper. Its pretensions, however, tell us all that is wrong about it. The paper is not really interested in purveying the truth, least of all about itself. One thing positive which might result from all this brouhaha is that the public has been made more aware that Yediot does not live up to its self-made and false image.
February 5, 2015
|It is relatively easy to criticize, as we do in this column almost all year round, but more difficult to praise.
The beginning of our campaign to reward ethics in journalism was 15 years ago when Dr. Yuval Steinitz, first president of Israel’s Media Watch, established a prize for media criticism. The goal of the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism is to encourage journalists, pundits, public figures and organizations to contribute toward a critical review of the media.
Review and criticism are among the best ways to assure quality. A media which is given rein to exploit its power, without checks and balances, cannot truly serve the public. In fact, there is an inherent danger in such a press, especially during election campaigns but also when it comes to culture, social issues and even sports.
One of the topics that the Israeli media is loath to cover seriously is the Palestinian Authority. As has been documented all too often in this column, the Israeli media is dominated by those who believe that Israel’s future depends on the realization of the two-state vision. Our pundits describe PA President Mahmoud Abbas as a relative moderate, with whom one may cut a deal. This may be true or not, but the public deserves to know whether the facts support it.
Is Abbas a moderate? Is the PA under his rule a model of moderation whose only interest is to create a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 demarcation lines? The media’s job is to collect the necessary evidence and provide it to the public. One would think that this is at least as important as knowing the fate of empty bottles.
Unfortunately, our media has consistently shied away from this issue. We should never forget how difficult it was for then MK Benny Begin to have Israeli TV publicize the speech Arafat made 20 years ago in a mosque in South Africa. This same reticence continues to this very day. This is why Israel needs an organization such as Palestinian Media Watch. Its very existence is a stinging rebuke to Israel’s media.
The organization, founded in 1996 by Itamar Marcus, has during the past two decades reported on the PA. Its material is available to all, yet the Israeli media is very loath to bring to the fore some of the egregious hate incitement in the PA, condoned by Abbas.
This hate is not against the “occupation” per se, but is anti-Semitic. It encourages terrorism against Israelis and aggrandizes those who commit despicable crimes, such as killing infants in their beds, just because they were born to Israelis or “settlers.”
Why does the media ignore these warnings? One reason is that the idea of peace is so tantalizing that facts are not allowed to interfere. A more sinister motivation is racism – the Palestinians are not considered to be sufficiently civilized to be held to Western standards, and their behavior is discounted as that of primitives. Be it what it may, we at Israel’s Media Watch have found the Palestinian Media Watch and its founder and leader Marcus to be worthy of the media criticism prize this year.
PMW’s work both within Israel as well as in its presentations abroad, in the media, parliaments and other platforms not only provides the Israeli people and allies abroad with an essential service, but by its very existence constitutes a profound critique of the Israeli media. PMW’s work should have been carried out by the Israeli media.
Our talk shows, whether on radio or TV, are usually characterized by a lack of civility.
There are those, such as Oded Shachar of Channel 1 TV or Nissim Mish’al from Channel 2, who believe that a good discussion is one in which the participants shout at each other without being able to finish a sentence properly. They consider the medium in which they operate to resemble a boxing match than an educational presentation providin a public service, namely enabling the public to better understand different viewpoints on serious issues.
Very different is the approach of Ayala Hasson, who hosts radio shows as well as the Friday night news program on Channel 1 TV, the news division of which she is also the director of.
As Minister Uri Orbach has stressed many times, the best way to change the media is to bring good people to it. The best media criticism is actually to encourage those who do the job well. Hasson is a highly effective reporter who has brought to light many serious issues through her careful research. But in the present context, we note her civility, her willingness to listen, her understanding that her role is to bring to the fore the opinions of the people she interviews, while at the same time not letting them dodge tough questions. It is these traits for which Hasson was awarded the media criticism prize this year.
Good journalism should not be limited to political issues. Economics is the fuel that makes our society function, for Israel’s existence depends on its viable economy. But quality economic journalism is important on a personal level too. Nowadays, almost all of us have to make economic decisions.
We have pension funds, tax-free funds for “education” (known as Keren Hishtalmut in Hebrew), inheritances and what not. An educated public will tend to make educated economic decisions and this improves quality of life for us all. Quality economic journalism, which does not hesitate to tackle significant issues, even when they are not popular, is a resource which should be encouraged.
IMW’s economics prize committee, chaired by former Finance Ministry director general Shmuel Slavin, decided to award this year’s prize for quality economic journalism to Hezi Sternlicht, the economic correspondent for the Israel Hayom newspaper.
Sternlicht is one of the outstanding journalists who did not hesitate to criticize finance minister Yair Lapid’s zero-VAT program for housing for young couples. He exposed the fallacy of those who claimed that it is easier to finance life in Berlin than in Israel.
When various NGOs tried to convince us that our society treats its poor harshly, Sternlicht illustrated factually that the claims were wrong. Too often such claims are motivated by organizations that have an inherent conflict of interest; their survival depends on the existence of poverty.
In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Sternlicht’s reports are balanced and he always makes the effort to cover all sides of an issue, irrespective of his own opinion.
The prizes will be awarded in the presence of Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein on Sunday evening, February 15 at the Sokolov House in Tel Aviv. It is our hope that the number deserving journalists will increase to the point that the prizes themselves become obsolete.
January 28, 2015
The activities of certain Christian pro-Israel/Zionism groups, foremost among them HaYovel*, to assist the farmers of Judea and Samaria has caused quite a negative reaction among Jews opposed to Christian cooperative ventures, most recently here and here, and this event. The following is an expanded reworking of an article I published in Hebrew on the issue.
The remarkable historical development for the past several centuries has been that the Jewish people, while still being persecuted by Christians, are being, in a parallel development, assisted by Christians to realize the ancient dream of the ‘return to Zion’, a process they term as the “Restoration”, and thereby accomplish the establishment of the Jewish national home in Israel. This is true since the days of Sir Henry Finch who, 1621 wrote his “The World’s Great Restauration, or Calling of the Jews”, and Napoleon, Lord Shaftesbury and Laurence Oliphant (who wrote the Land of Gilead) including Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov and his conversations in 1827 with the convert Joseph Wolf to promote diplomacy with the British Consulate in Jerusalem on to Lord Balfour and his declaration and until the present day.
At the present, the help is being expressed at the highest levels in the corridors of governments, foreign ministries, Houses of Parliament and Congresses and on the ground, literally, in acts iof voluntary labor in the vineyards and orchards in the hills of Judea and Samaria, and, in the words of Rabbi Eliezer Melamed:
“In modern times, we have witnessed increased support for Israel among evangelical Christians…They see with their own eyes how the Jewish people is returning to its land after its awful, two-thousand-year-long exile, and is creating a prosperous country. They see new settlements and vineyards flowering in the very areas described by the Bible, and they are excited by our miraculous return to Zion. They are overwhelmed by the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies of the prophets of Israel… “Christians fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah”, September 18, 2013.
Are we at a crossroads that requires a new understanding of the period we are in, a reality that demands a new paradigm of cooperation, one based on Biblical sources?
“We’re not just talking about Christians wanting to help Jews out of solidarity or charity,” Hazony said. “We are talking about the dominant faith of Western civilization saying: ‘The Jews have something to give us, something that we need.’ This is not something that appears in the old playbook for Jewish-Christian dialogue.”
In relation to that, let’s recall that Maimonides in his Responsa, 148, permits teaching Torah to Bible-believing Christians because “they could return to the correct path”. As the verse in Isaiah 27: outlines the three stages, first in future days, Yaakov will take root, and then Israel will flourish and then the whole world will benefit from those blessings we enjoy. There is, however, another approach.
Coming Closer to Holiness
The new attitude to these Christians should not be shunning in its character, even if there is a justified suspicion that behind this phenomenon may be a desire to exploit our innocence as well as the historical experience of Church-generated anti-Semitism, the killing of Jews and forced conversions. That memory cannot be ignored. On the one hand, we must be wary of those whose intention is to attach themselves with the purpose of luring converts to Christianity. In my experience, volunteer agricultural activities in Yesha are not in that category, and certainly no Jewish residents were proselytized over the many years that these efforts have been conducted. On the other hand, we need to recognize that the source of their enthusiasm is to help in fulfilling our Biblical prophecies as regards the redemption process.
The foreign volunteers come to us, to the communities of Judea and Samaria, to our orchards. They engage in pruning and planting and harvesting. They are involved in many tasks of manual labor jobs instead of Ishmael, in place of Thais and also in the work places where Jews do not consider cultivating a worthy enough profession. They also contribute and help us in our diplomatic, political and information struggles. They are impressed with biblical truth and the contemporary reality of Yesha and feel they must be part of it.
Do our own Biblical, Talmudic and Rabbinic sources contain relevant material that we can consult to provide us insights? King Solomon was sympathetic and considerate:
Moreover concerning the stranger that is not of Thy people Israel, when he shall come out of a far country for Thy name’s sake– for they shall hear of Thy great name, and of Thy mighty hand, and of Thine outstretched arm–when he shall come and pray toward this house; hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place, and do according to all that the stranger called to Thee for; that all the peoples of the earth may know Thy name, to fear Thee, as doth Thy people Israel, and that they may know that Thy name is called upon this house which I have built. (I Kings 8:41-43)
The late 19th century commentator, the Malbim, Meïr Leibush Weiser, notes and his description echoes to our own day, that even though the foreigner is in an estranged place which is “unworthy” from a Jewish religious perspective, nevertheless, Solomon asks of God to listen and pay attention to him:
The reason for his ‘coming’ is because it has become known among them that God is great and provides and He draws up the battle lines [ … ] it is well worthwhile to listen to him despite his lack of doing t’shuvah [ … ] even though his supplication is for something unworthy of itself…”.
During our history, the non-Jew “came” and he was afforded a favorable treatment. Examples include Jethro (“And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness where he was encamped, at the mount of God; …And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt-offering and sacrifices for God; and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God” Exodus 18:5;12) , Naaman (“So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariots, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha” II Kings 5:8) and, at the time of redemption, many persons from all nations will come to Jerusalem (“And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established…and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD…and we will walk in His paths’”, Isaiah 2:2-3). Some may claim that a conversion process preceded this.
It is, however, worthy to note that Rav Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, in illustrating his two concepts of tzaddik, in his Kedushat Levi on the portion of Noah, describes the preferred one who “who worships the Creator and causes to wicked to return to also being worshippers of the Creator just as Avraham would engage in conversion”. Judaism began as a conversionary religion and we will probably reach to the future stage of Redemption that way but it is not clear that that is at all supported by the texts in all the examples I include.
The Foreigner is Part of Redemption
In Chapter 61 of Isaiah, verses 1-5, we read:
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me…to bring good tidings…To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion…And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall renew the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and foreigners shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers”.
It seems quite clear that the prophecy relating to the period when the Land of Israel is being reconstituted, from its towns to its fields, non-Jews will be involved, engaged in the labor of strengthening our hold on the land. The Malbim extends our interpretation by noting that the “stranger” will be called a ‘son of the city’ “even if he is from another nation” and that idol worshippers will provide the needs of the children of Israel. I find it difficult not to understand the meaning of this verse, as with others, that there surely will be a relationship of dependence on the work and labor of non-Jews. The verse is employed in the Talmud, Tractate Berachot 35B, by R. Simeon b. Yohai whose opinion is that is it possible for Israel to plough, sow and reap and yet still be able to study Torah and replies:
Is that possible?…No; but when Israel perform the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others
The establishment of Israel in 1948, and the return of Israel to the historic homeland of the Jewish people following the Six-Days War in 1967 including regions that were stolen, represents a cognitive challenge, as well as practical, ideological and theological one, for the Jewish people and not solely for Jews. The development and empowerment of the people residing in Zion, the victories in its wars and its economic, scientific and social achievements pose for the non-Jews not only the question “Who is the Jewish people” but also “Who are we?”.
According to the vision of our prophets as we have seen, the reality of redemption also includes the coming of the strangers, first to help us and support us and then to recognize the best way to a belief in God and His word. So prophesizes the Prophet: “And the nations shall see thy triumph, and all kings thy glory; and thou shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall mark out.” (Isaiah 62:2), as well as “And aliens shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee; for in My wrath I smote thee, but in My favor have I had compassion on thee…men may bring unto thee the wealth of the nations, and their kings in procession. For that nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.” (Isaiah 60:10-12)
Rabbi Zev Wolf of Zhitomir, the author of “The Light That Shines”, a student of the Maggid of Mezrich who immigrated to Eretz-Yisrael in 1798 (and in Haifa met Rabbi Nachman who was at that time in the country), interprets the verse in Zephaniah 3:9, “For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD” with the radical understanding that the Jewish people must strengthen itself and speak forthrightly in a voice full of holiness, and so bring even the non-Jews to the sacredness:
“We can call to all, even the nations of the world, to bring them closer to the sacred [ … ] to extract from out of them their holy sparks, to bring them closer to the holy and in particular in the future when the level of attainment ability increases in the world from the youngest to the oldest. Then I will turn to the nations to turn them from bad to good, as recalled in the verse [Genesis 49:10] “until Shiloh comes” and such a pure language causes “unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be” that is, to assemble the nations to bring them close to the sacred […] for If Israel has the clear and sacred language they then can collect the sacred sparks within them that sustain them.”
The Way to Those Who Accompany
I would like to suggest a new perspective for discussion based on the current reality on the ground today which would be a “Change of Matrix”. As we are advancing through the stages of salvation, we must prepare, practically and especially consciously, the duty to promote the realization of this proposed dual track development. As I understand it, despite objections and the recoiling of certain rabbis, it is possible to approach the drafting a memorandum of understanding and commitments so that the process of “the foreigner who comes” will not constitute a risk of missionary attempts but a prelude to the next level – “the foreigners who accompany”.
After all, the same prophecies that promise the Jewish people its actual redemption (“And the broad places of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the broad places thereof…the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase…”, Zechariah 8:5;12) are related to the phenomenon of “the foreigner who comes” (“Thus saith the LORD of hosts: there shall come peoples, and the inhabitants of many cities…many peoples and mighty nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the LORD”, Zechariah 8:20;22)
The second stage in this process is “the foreigner who accompanies” as it is said:
“Also the foreigners, that join themselves to the LORD, to minister unto Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants…Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon Mine altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah, 57:6;8)
According to the commentary “Metzudat Tzion”, composed by Rabbis David ben Aryeh Loeb and Yechiel Hillel Altschuel, father and son, who lived in Prague in the 17th century, the “foreigner” is not yet Jewish in this situation but is “fully equal to the citizen of Israel”, using the same Hebrew term as is found in Ezekiel 47:22, in Exodus 12:19 and Leviticus 16:29. He is in a process of approaching Judaism, of coming near. He is impressed with the strength of Israel and its revitalization in its land in all areas of endeavor and we are commanded to bring them closer so that they should eventually accompany us.
In addition, the Radak, Rav David Kimchi (1160–1235), of Provence, commenting on the declaration that the Temple will be a house of prayer “for all peoples”, that whereas the reference is to a stage when the nations adopt Judaism, nevertheless, he refers to the above mentioned verse in I Kings 48:
Moreover concerning the stranger that is not of Thy people Israel, when he shall come out of a far country for Thy name’s sake—
and notes that if Solomon realized that if the non-Jew’s prayer would be acceptable within the Temple, then surely when a process of the nations returning to the true faith at a later time is occurring that the convert definitely will pray in the rebuilt Temple.
What is evident is that the foreigner is not to be rejected outright but to be encouraged to come closer and that as the redemption proceeds, there are various stages and, to me, our task is to begin to realign ourselves and to understand that outright opposition to any and all relationships is wrong. Vigilance is still required.
For example, there are those who promote this illogical approach amongst Christians who purport to be pro-Israel:
We must come to fully understand that the following of Yeshua is the only true and proper extension of Israel spiritually, fulfilled through His life, sacrifice and resurrection, and that Christianity is Jewish. As hard as this maybe for Jewish people and even Christians to understand, if they do not accept Messiah, they like everyone else remain under the curse of sin; that current Judaism whether religious or reformed has no hope for Israel spiritually, except to keep them until their appointed time of awakening, which we know must come before Yeshua returns to us…God is not finished with Israel who must come into an awakening and that along with the church, Israel’s priesthood will be re-established when Yeshua returns.
Dangers exist but I still maintain that matters have altered and in fact, the true message of the Bible is being understood by Christians that delve into the realization of the essence of the Prophets in witnessing Israel’s successes today. Jews are not released from the need to be able to refute such illogical theology and I am amazed that many Rabbis opposed to the volunteers are uninterested in educating our youth in this sphere, unlike my own experience.
It is not also my wish to relate to the Halachic issue of whether charity or gifts can be accepted from non-Jews. The literature is not definitively clear-cut but is not totally prohibitive. Are we perhaps to define the assistance we merit as a “gift”? Is it possible to pay something symbolic to avoid any problems? If we use the non-Jew to replace an electric fuse on the Shabbat or the arrangement for the selling of chametz, perhaps the barrier to their work in the fields is not so complicated. As for the matter of idolatry, in principle, are citizens of Thailand who are Buddhists more “kosher”? Is it better to have Arabs working in our fields?
In this time of our developing redemption, a long-time process, we are being spiritually and materially strengthened. Israel’s position and status should be the one supported in the face of Muslim hostility, local and regional, to Judaism as well as Christianity. As we confront European anti-Zionism, resurgent world-wide anti-Semitism and, unfortunately, also America’s current diplomacy, we are required us to seek the assistance of friends and allies. Sometimes this aid can be purchased with money as part of the normal relationships between nations, or through mutual assistance in science and technology. There exist also friends who from out of a spiritual recognition based on the writings of the Bible will come to join us. This assistance should not be shunned but rather we need place it within a framework so that Jews should not be harmed in the Land of Israel. These initiatives, if non-proselytizing, are, in fact, to be welcomed as they also interconnect with the process of the ‘coming of the foreigner’, for their benefit as well as our welfare.
Of course, one could think that basing one’s paradigm on the words of the prophets has less of an authoritative weight than if it were anchored in the first Five Books of Moses, the actual Torah. Actually, there is reference in Deuteronomy to this concept of the “coming of the foreigner”. In Chapter 29, after Moses exhorts the children of Israel to refrain from idol worship and to preserve the special status of the nation predicated on the covenantal relationship as developed through the three patriarchs, verse 21 portrays the future when after the Jews did indeed stray from the commandments and the land of Israel suffered greatly and it reads
“in the last generation, your progeny who will rise out of you, and the foreigner who will come from a distant land, will see all the plagues dealt this land and the illnesses with which God caused it to suffer…”
Let us not ignore the attention paid to the nations of the world through acts for their own good. In the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Bamidbar 684) we learn that Rabbi Yehuda is quoted saying, “How foolish the nations are! They have lost, yet they know not what they have lost. When the Holy Temple stood, the Altar [with its seventy bulls] would bring them forgiveness. Now – who will bring them forgiveness?”
Even as we note that commentators point to the significance of the diminishing character as indicating a different level of spirituality, nevertheless, the bulls were sacrificed on behalf of the non-Jews. In the above-mentioned verse, Isaiah 56:7, non-Jews bring their own sacrifices, which are of a special category. So insists the Midrash Sifra 7 on the portion of Emor. That was in the past.
Indeed, the future redemption has many phenomena and one of them is that a process of the non-Jew being impressed by Israel’s accomplishments and then his ‘coming’, later to be followed, hopefully, by ‘accompanying’ God’s nation, is very much in the matrix.
In the Talmudic tractate Pesachim 68A, a discussion is recorded on the subject of resurrection of the dead in the times of the Messiah. Incidentally, it is there that Samuel expresses his opinion, repeated by Maimonides, that “This world differs from the Messianic age only in respect of the servitude to governments”. In any case, Rav Shmuel ben Nahmani, basing himself on Rav Yonatan, holds that the righteous are destined to resurrect the dead but ‘Ulla was opposed and made a distinction between Jews and non-Jews based on two verses in Isaiah, 25:8 and 65:20. Asked, “But what is the reason for heathens being mentioned in that circumstance?”, on the assumption that in the days of the Redemption there will be no more non-Jews, he notes a third verse, 61:5, in Isaiah: “And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and aliens shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers.” The last Lubavitcher Rebbe viewed this discussion as indicating that even in the end of days there shall exist non-Jews and they shall be assisting the Jews. The challenge for them, he wrote, is to deal with the verse in Zefaniah 3:9, “For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one consent.” The Hebrew for ‘consent’ there is shchem, shoulder, as if in the phrase shoulder-to-shoulder and, of course, recalls the city of Shchem, known by its Roman corrupted name, Nablus (Flavia Neapolis).
We should not summarily reject the “coming” and we should also avoid basing opposition solely on suspicions that cannot be proven and moreover, that there is no proof for the fears people are raising, but seek to categorize those who wish to be a part of Israel’s restoration for it is for their good as it is for that of Israel. Moreover, it is illogical to declare this past century that we are in an era of ‘the beginning of the flowering of our redemption’ but refuse to begin to prepare for it when it is clear from the quotations I have included that we are expected to be ready for the ‘coming of the foreigner’.
At th final stage in writing this, I came across an academic article, “The Canaanites who ‘trusted in God': an original interpretation of the fate of the Canaanites in rabbinic literature”, which includes a related aspect to my thesis written by Philo which intersects with my concept.
In his Hypothetica, Philo writes in 6.8 that the Israelites, upon entering the Land of Israel encountered the “the Syrians and Phoenicians…in that their land” and were
met with respectful treatment and honour from them
The author, from additional sections there, points out an approach by Philo that the Canaanites, as we refer to them, acknowledged the Israelites as “dearly beloved of God” who had “won the respect of their opponents who voluntarily surrendered their land to them”.
To me, this confirmed one of my fundamental perspectives: that in a process of redemption, the successes of the children of Israel will affect the non-Jew, and are intended to do so. Their reaction should be necessarily one of respect and honor at the least for this is evidence that the prophecies are becoming realized and at this current time, the next stages are the “coming” and then the “accompanying”. These are their challenges; our accomplishments are the catalysts.
True, as we witness, not all of the “foreigners”, the non-Jews, those among the pro-Zionist Christians, are of this frame of mind. There are those, perhaps, who are need be encouraged in their process if they so wish, while others, who seek to cause us to stray from our path, must be identified and kept at bay. What is to be recognized and dealt with is that there is the existence of those who ‘come’ which cannot be denied, or, indeed, ignored. And their volunteer work is part of the era of the redemption.
The results of the 2014 harvest labor of Hayovel volunteers was 438 tons of grapes which should produce at least 258,000 bottles of wine. Since 2004, they harvested over 2000 tons of grapes and olives which represents 156,000 work hours, saving labor costs of $1,100,000.
by YISRAEL MEDAD,ELI POLLAK, 01/28/2015
Democracy, as Aristotle wrote, “define[s] freedom badly… everyone lives as he wants and toward whatever end he happens to crave.”
Elections can bring out the best and the worst in politicians. They can also highlight the wisest and silliest of attitudes and actions. After all, democracy, as Aristotle wrote, “define[s] freedom badly… everyone lives as he wants and toward whatever end he happens to crave.” Perhaps it was in that spirit that Meretz party leader MK Zahava Gal-On appealed to the Central Election Committee at the beginning of this week.
Her request to Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran in his capacity as chairman of the Central Elections Committee was to prevent Israel’s television and radio stations from broadcasting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech to both houses of the US Congress in March. She claimed that the speech should be considered as election campaigning, which is prohibited on the airwaves 60 days prior to election day.
In her brief, she attempts to prove that the appearance of the prime minister is for election campaigning purposes only. She uses the argument that the speech was planned without coordinating with the White House and against protocol. She also notes that the original date, scheduled for February 11, was shifted to March 3, only two weeks prior to election day. She even invokes US President Barack Obama’s remark that he would not meet with the prime minister so as not to interfere with Israel’s election process.
(As an aside, we note that Obama’s reaction is a gross violation of the very principle he is invoking. He is directly criticizing Israel’s prime minister during an election campaign and knowingly playing into the hands of the prime minister’s competitors.) An equally interesting parallel story that seems not quite to have caught the curiosity of Israel’s mainstream broadcast media is that of the activities of an Obama-linked aide’s involvement, quite direct, in an anti-Netanyahu electoral campaign here in Israel.
“One Voice” is funding a V-2015 campaign to defeat Netanyahu that includes five American campaign experts, including Jeremy Bird, an Obama campaign national field director. Bird is currently working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
A partner of One Voice is the US State Department.
Gal-On is not alone in this attempt to suppress freedom of speech. As reported in the Algemeiner, former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, who was President Obama’s special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, called on Israel’s leaders “to stay out of America’s politics.” This did not prevent him, however, from noting on his Twitter account: “Why should Netanyahu be able to speak and Herzog not?” He further noted that “if [US House of Representatives speaker John] Boehner is placing Congress into the midst of the Israeli elections, why don’t the Democrats invite Herzog too?” Indyk obviously believes that Americans are allowed to interfere with Israeli politics – something he has been doing for too many years. Is this not hypocrisy? Israel held direct elections for the office of prime minister, on May 29, 1996. Then prime minister Shimon Peres orchestrated an international summit conference at Sharm a-Sheikh on March 13. One of those attending was US president Bill Clinton, who participated only to further the cause of peace, as it were. Peres then went on to organize for himself a trip to the US on April 30 to meet with president Clinton at the White House.
Of course, this too, was not considered by the media at that time to constitute involvement of the Americans in Israel’s elections. The visit, though, was already within the then 30-day period when direct broadcasting of candidates was prohibited.
Israel’s Media Watch appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent the broadcast of Peres’ visit to the White House. A young lawyer by the name of Tzipora Livni, a member of the Likud at that time, represented IMW.
We lost the case as Chief Justice Aharon Barak, who did not reject our reasoning, nevertheless decided on a technicality that we petitioned the court too late. Peres’ visit was broadcast live, but it did not help him. He lost the elections.
The law was subsequently revised and the paragraph prohibiting the broadcasting images of candidates within 30 days was abolished.
The limitation disallowing electioneering on the airwaves remains in effect. The major problem with the law is the definition of “electioneering.” Is it limited only to a direct call to the public to vote for someone, or can any candidate’s actions or words be considered electioneering? Back in 1999, IMW lobbied MKs to adopt a stricter interpretation of the law.
But in a conversation with then Meretz MK Dedi Zucker, he expressed the opinion that freedom of expression was paramount and that the law should be interpreted as leniently as possible. He was convinced that with a little more leeway and Netanyahu’s bashing by the media would result in a left-of-center electoral victory. He was correct. But today, the same Meretz party is attempting to turn the clock back and seek to bind a candidate into the straight-jacket they themselves rejected 15 years ago.
During the past decade, the Supreme Court judges chairing the Central Elections Committee adopted the lenient version of the law.
They preferred freedom of expression over the chance that the law would be violated. This interpretation, for example, allows the candidates to explain themselves, to present their positions on a variety of issues and defend themselves against criticism. The only thing it disallows is for a candidate to directly request that the public to vote for her or him.
With this in mind, it is of quite some interest to analyze Netanyahu’s appearance in Congress. Does Gal-On really believe that the prime minister will directly address that audience with a plea to vote for him? In fact, if he did so, Gal-On should implore the authorities to broadcast it, since it would show that Netanyahu is a fool, which he of course is not. As explained by the prime minister ad nauseam, he will go to Congress to lobby for stronger action against the Iranians. Does Gal-On really want this to be defined as electioneering? Consider the latest smear campaign against the prime minister. His opponents are using the testimony of former employees against his wife, Sarah Netanyahu. These employees have an ax to grind and their testimony, prior to court appearances, cannot be taken very seriously.
But is such negative campaigning considered to be electioneering? Of course not.
The public has a right to know if the prime minister is accused of a misdeed (which he is not in this case). Why then should the public not have the right to know if the prime minister is carrying out his job and doing it well, or not? The sad truth is that freedom of expression in the eyes of Gal-On and her Meretz cohorts is a selective right; it was Meretz leader Yossi Sarid who helped close down the Arutz 7 radio station while at the same time extolling the wonderful achievement of Abie Nathan and his illegal Voice of Peace radio station.
Hypocrisy seems to be a staple of the extreme Left in Israel, and it is media-assisted.