March 14, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: Is it the media’s fault?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:48 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Is it the media’s fault?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often blames the media for treating him differently.
The present election campaign is one of the most complex that Israel ever experienced. The political scene has undergone dramatic and major changes. If one trusts the polls, the Labor Party – the inheritor of the state-building Mapai hegemonic movement – is no longer a dominant force. Close to half of the electorate will be voting for parties that did not exist in recent elections. Splits and breakaways abound. In this situation, it is no wonder that the media, whose job it is to report events, play a central role.
We do not know, and there are no reliable research results that can assure us what the media’s influence on the election results really is. For example, let us assume that the media are pro-left wing and actively support the left-wing parties. Does that help the Left wing?
Perhaps yes, perhaps no. The Israeli electorate is typically involved and discerning. Clear bias in one direction can boomerang and cause many to vote for the other side.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often blames the media for treating him differently. He is held under the microscope. His actions, whether true or only perceived, have received negative treatment when compared to those of other prime ministers like Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres or Ehud Barak. We all can recall the request of commentator Amnon Abramovitz that the media wrap Sharon as if he were a vulnerable-to-damage etrog. In contrast, it is claimed that the actions of his competitor Benny Gantz receive little or no attention. Even if his notable lack of success in the one civilian job he held is mentioned, there is no in-depth follow-up. The upshot of all this would seem to be a warning to the electorate: Beware! The left-wing media are once again taking sides.
But are they really?
There is no question that Gantz and his Blue and White Party are less than open about their future actions. Mr. Gantz does not allow reporters to question him freely. His scripts are carefully prepared. Does the media accept this? Not exactly. It is general consensus that Gantz and his party are hiding their personal views and objectives, and this has been mentioned by almost all political commentators many times.
Chaim Levinson wrote on March 7 in Haaretz after the publication of Blue and White’s platform: “Whether deliberate or not, the Blue-White platform… confirms the party as an eclectic collection of good people without a real direction.”
Galatz’s Efi Trigger, on the morning news, repeatedly points out that Gantz does not answer questions from reporters. The media would love to question him, if for no other reason than that questioning him would enhance ratings.
At the same time and for the same reason, the media are also unhappy with Netanyahu. For the past 10 years, Netanyahu has rarely given interviews. Yet, the stress is more on Gantz’s refusal rather than Netanyahu, and perhaps justifiably so. Netanyahu’s views are well known. Those of Gantz are not and need clarification, or better, propagation. But it would not be justified on this issue to claim the media are anti-Netanyahu.
It is perhaps surprising that one of the most important sources of criticism against Gantz comes from the radical left-wing newspaper Haaretz. As reported by Dr. Aaron Lerner on March 6 on the Israel National News website: “Haaretz pulled no punches, starting with details of how Gantz screwed up on his year-long assignment to prepare for then-PM Ehud Barak’s chaotic retreat for Lebanon and concluding with his fiasco in failing to prepare the IDF, as chief of staff, to deal with the Hamas assault tunnels reaching across from the Gaza Strip.”
OF COURSE, Haaretz supports anyone who could threaten Netanyahu’s reelection, just as the Israel Hayom newspaper supports Netanyahu. There is nothing wrong with that. The point is that even Haaretz could voice criticism of Gantz. This is not unique. Amiram Barkat wrotes in Globes on February 25: “Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz’s party abounds in promises, but is unclear on how to implement and pay for them.” He then adds: “So far, no representative of Blue and White has put forward any serious suggestion how even a fraction of the welter of promises can be financed without busting the budget framework.”
And now back to Netanyahu. In many ways, he gets off the hook rather easily on certain issues. Hardly anyone in the mainstream media is attacking him for not removing the illegal Bedouin settlement of Khan al-Ahmar. His actions, or rather his lack thereof, concerning the forceful occupation of the Mercy Gate on the Temple Mount by the Wakf Islamic religious trust are mainly reported but not criticized. The facts are that the Wakf has illegally occupied the place, violated the status quo, created a new mosque, and the government is trying to “solve the problem by peaceful means.”
Again, they are giving the Jordanians a veto against Israel upholding the law by throwing out the Wakf. The situation is similar to the collapse of Netanyahu’s 2015 plan to place surveillance cameras at the Temple Mount compound.
Another complaint coming from the Likud has to do with Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and the State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. Here, too, the media are easy on the prime minister. He had 10 years in which to legislate a separation of powers that would safeguard against excesses of the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Court. He was presented a plan by the Kohelet think tank, and he had a right-wing minister of justice in place, but has done nothing.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has been roundly criticized for the latest budget deficits, which clearly will impact the next government. But Netanyahu is prime minister, and in the words of Harry Truman, “The buck stops here.” The excesses are partially a result of the present government decision to update the pensions of police officers. They are related to the unsuccessful and expensive Kahlon initiatives meant to significantly reduce apartment prices. Netanyahu, who understands economics, could have stopped the fiscal recklessness but did not. None of this comes through clearly in the media. One could argue, in all fairness, that the media are derelict in their job of criticizing the prime minister.
One problem the media have created for itself, which contributes to their lack of acceptance by major sections of the population, is its visceral and quite personal hatred of Netanyahu as a person. We have made this point in previous columns. Once the media’s approach is seen and perceived as hostile to Netanyahu for what he is rather than for what he does, as indeed it is, the public is easily, and mostly rightfully, persuaded, that the media are biased and unfair in their coverage of him and his government.
But the bottom line is that many of the complaints voiced by the prime minister are double-edged swords. If the media would really doing its job, he might have to pay a hefty price.

February 28, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: Who should be called an ‘extremist?’

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:48 am by yisraelmedad

Who should be called an ‘extremist?’
It is a basic part of media theory that news and views should be separate.
‘Extremism” is the political buzzword of the current election campaign. Meretz chairwoman MK Tamar Zandberg repeatedly accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud for joining up with Kahanists, racists and what not. Zandberg’s headline after the union of the religious parties as a technical bloc, including the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) Party, was: “Netanyahu is bringing representatives of terror into the Knesset.”

That Zandberg’s intellectual honesty is questionable is obvious. Her party was part and parcel of the second Rabin government whose majority was based on, among others, the outside support of Azmi Bishara, then a pan-Arab nationalist and, it turned out later, a Hezbollah spy. In 2015, the Meretz list included Prof. Naomi Chazan who, as head of the New Israel Fund, funded the “We are all Haneen Zoabi” advertisement published in Haaretz in the wake of Zoabi’s participation in the MV Marmara attack on IDF soldiers.

Moreover, any coalition of the Left today cannot survive without support of the Arab parties. Some, like Ahmed Tibi, have actually worked for Israel’s enemies, and whom some could call traitors. Has Zandberg called upon her left-wing camp to disavow any relation with them? No. Arabs are not “extreme.”

Our column, however, deals with the media, not with politics per se. Our media, which always assert that they speak for justice, is found to be reporting in a very one-sided fashion on the use of the expression “extremism.” We have documented time and again in this column how Haaretz used Nazi discourse in its attacks on Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

Is Bennett an extremist? Yes, according to Haaretz, but Otzma is worse. How does one characterize something more extreme than extreme? You call it “Kahanist.” Haaretz’s caricaturist parroted Zandberg’s accusations on February 23, displaying a picture of the entrance to the Knesset decorated by flags of the “Kahana Party,” with Netanyahu leading members of the Otzma Party by the hand into it.

A caricature is legitimate in itself. The problem is that such caricatures should be exposed as what they really are by a responsible media: nothing but part of a campaign whose main goal is to delegitimize the prime minister. Otzma is just a pawn in this struggle between Left and Right in Israel.

HAVE WE ever seen similar venom in the past 20 years, even in the right-wing media in Israel, in a concerted effort against left-wing parties that aid, defend and take pains to make sure that Arab parties under Palestinian Authority dictator Mahmoud Abbas’s influence? Are any left-of-center MKs acknowledged by the media as “extremist”? Is that term ever used?

As media observers, we note that it is not surprising that the Gantz-Lapid coalition party Blue and White keeps its distance from Meretz and the Labor Party. They know that the Israeli public does not want to be part of extremism, from either side. So their tactic is not to be part of this discourse. And in an aside, how would the media describe a right-wing party composed of three former IDF commanders-in-chief? Would the term “junta” perhaps be used? Or even “putsch”? But a center-left party gets a break.

Even Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay refused to form a coalition party with Meretz, realizing that he should distance himself from Zandberg and her friends. He does not want to have the “extremist” label attached to the Labor Party. But the media does not present people such as Zandberg with a challenge to the character of her politics.

THE MEDIA’S one-sided relation to the concept of extremism is but one part of how it colors our election campaigns. Another side is its flagrant contempt for ethics. It was back in 1918 that Henry Ford purchased a newspaper, renamed it the Dearborn Independent and had it make its first appearance in January 1919. With circulation lagging and Ford losing millions of dollar, Journalist Joseph J. O’Neil suggested to the editor, “Find an evil to attack” and added in caps “LET’S FIND SOME SENSATIONALISM” (caps in original).

At that time, the Jews were seen as “evil” in Ford’s eyes. Today, within the media clique, the “evil” includes Netanyahu, right-wing nationalists, the religious and almost everyone who doesn’t follow their agenda, including attacks on fellow journalist Amit Segal.

Recently, Oshrat Kotler ended her Channel 13 Magazine report on the Netzah Yehuda Brigade soldiers accused of improper conduct toward prisoners, with a denunciation including the phrase “human beasts.”

Of course, her language could be considered intemperate, but not actually out of order in today’s political discourse. Personal opinion statements such as hers are prohibited by the ethics codes.

It is a basic part of media theory that news and views should be separate. Views are important but should not mix with news. The historical Nakdi Document, the old Israel Broadcasting Authority’s ethics guide, long ago phrased it as: “The Authority has no voice, policy and outlook of its own. It does not broadcast op-eds. The task of the Authority and its employees is to allow the various voices to speak for themselves.”

THE PUBLIC longs for the old order. The Second Authority’s complaints officer issued a press release shortly after that by Saturday evening, after Kotler’s denunciation, receiving over 1,400 complaints. Moreover, Kotler’s “explanation,” broadcast later, was still problematic professionally. She said at the end of her clip: “We are sending them [the soldiers] to this impossible reality. Okay for you? We will meet next week and I will continue to express my opinion on this program and you will not succeed to shut me up.”

Israel’s Media Watch struggled for many years to prevent the slippery downhill road. On the positive side, we do note that KAN’s Arieh Golan no longer opens his 7 a.m. Reshet Bet news program with his personal rantings. Yet people such as Kotler and her editors abuse the public by supporting her venom under the guise of free speech. The truth is probably closer to the “Let’s find sensationalism” slogan aimed at increasing advertising revenue.

In this context, consider Lara Logan, foreign correspondent for CBS’s 60 Minutes, and her comments in an interview with independent podcaster Mike Ritland on February 15. Logan, who suffered that horrific mass crowd rape in Egypt in 2011, agreed with the right-winger that US news media are “absurdly left-leaning,” adding that “most journalists are left… the media everywhere is mostly liberal, not just [in] the US.”

She continued, stating that, “One ideological perspective on everything never leads to an open, free, diverse, tolerant society. The more opinions and views… of everything that you have, the better off we all are… we’ve abandoned our pretense – or at least the effort – to be objective… We’ve become political activists, and some could argue propagandists – and there’s some merit to that.”

It is time to stop using divisive slogans. Otzma Yehudit can and should be questioned as to its policies and actions. The same is true for Meretz, and actually, for all political parties. The democratic process is predicated on an informed public. This is what we need – not more, not less.


February 14, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: A potent mix – Elections and the media

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:46 am by yisraelmedad

A potent mix: Elections and the media
How important is the media factor in an election campaign? One explanation can be found in Bernard Avishai’s article published in the latest issue of a liberal publication The New Yorker. [this is a correction]

Noting that “Now the only hope to mobilize a united opposition appears to be [Resilience Party head Benny] Gantz”, Avishai, author of The Tragedy of Zionism and the 2005 article “Saving Israel from Itself,” fears that Israel has succumbed to “religious-inflected nationalism”, and added, “alone among the leaders in the center, he looks like a head of state.”

If, indeed, Gantz makes an impressive showing in the elections on April 4, we can recall the words of Shakespeare’s Othello: “For she had eyes and chose me.” Our “seeing” the candidates and parties is facilitated by the media. Are we able to meet the challenge of the filtered view that is presented to us? Are our faculties of listening and viewing critical enough to be able to catch biases and distortions of the truth?

Let’s review an example from the United States, where the media can and did get a story very, very wrong, such as in the now infamous Covington Catholic schoolboys story last month. Andrew Sullivan, though unsympathetic to President Donald Trump’s assault on the media, nevertheless wrote in the New York Weekly on January 25:

“How did this grotesque inversion of the truth become the central narrative for what seemed to be the entire class of elite journalists on Twitter? That’s the somewhat terrifying question…This is the orthodoxy of elite media… increasingly the job of journalists [is] to fit the facts to the narrative and to avoid any facts that undermine it… Our mainstream press has been poisoned by tribalism,” he said.

Sullivan continued: “There’s a threat to liberal democracy and it is deepening, largely because its racial animus and rank tribalism… the raw imposition of power by one tribe over another.”

In Israel, is there a new tribalism promoting mutual hostility assisted by the media? Is the media seeking pure power? Is this period of elections being exploited in order to highlight and aggravate the gaps that exist between the various social and political camps?

Let us look at some examples.

Haaretz published an op-ed on February 10 under the headline, “The High Court of Justice’s Treason.” Ever since the onslaught on the national camp in 1995, where it was accused of being responsible for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s murder since in demonstrations it employed the word “traitor,” that term has been a red cape permitting the user to be pilloried to the utmost.

In this case, however, the writer is David Zonshine, who happens to be the B’Tselem board chairman, formerly a leader of the Courage to Refuse group that foments conscientious objectors in the IDF. In other words, someone from the heart of the hard Left progressive camp.

But the main problem is the judgment of whoever authorized publishing his column. Was the editor ideologically color-blind? Are only right-wingers using that term considered inciters? In this election campaign, words will fly. If only one side is held to a standard of ethics by the media – that is bias and interference in the democratic process.

Moshe Nussbaum, Channel 12’s police reporter, provided background on the horrendous murder of Ori Ansbacher, stated that the murderer left his home in Hebron with a knife, adding that this “does not necessarily mean it was a nationalist crime, perhaps every day he leaves his home with a knife.”

THE 1992 elections were decided, to a great extent, by the reactions of the public to the horrific stabbing of Helena Rapp by an Arab terrorist in Bat Yam. Rabin portrayed himself as Mr. Security. Mr. Nussbaum is supplying the public with commentary, which downplays the security concerns of Israelis. Is he doing this to prevent sympathy with the settlers, sympathy which might later translate into votes? Or is he trying to say that a certain party has a better approach to protecting the population? Not only is this subjective reporting, it reeks of interference in the elections.

A major playground of the media during the election campaign is public opinion polls. A multitude of polls appear, some that contradict each other within a period of a day or two. The electorate appears to be merely a crowd of onlookers at a tennis game, with the ball being hit back and forth at high speed. In the worst case scenario, it becomes the ball.

Polls are a media gimmick used to draw readers and viewers. In every election that we have been commenting on since 1996 in our columns, the vast majority of polls have been wrong and unreliable. We, in fact, pushed for legislation to halt the publishing of polls in the last few days of the election campaign. But the media is stronger than a few idealistic citizens and the polls continue to pile up. The least the media could do is educate the public and itself as to how polls work. The way things are now, they leave the public as the victims of complex statistics.

On February 5, Haaretz published a poll, headlined as “worrisome” for Benjamin Netanyahu. It indicated that only 47% of the public saw him as the next Prime Minister. However, in Israel since candidates are not chosen, rather political lists, Israel’s parliament has never seen a party gain 51% of the votes, even in David Ben-Gurion’s day. Actually, a level of 47% doesn’t seem so bad.

Former IDF Chief Benny Gantz, now head of the Israel Resilience Party, hardly said a word until last week but showed impressive numbers in the polls. Early this week, a poll conducted for the “Meet the Press” TV show found that if the elections were held on that day and Gantz’s party joined up with Yair Lapid’s party, and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi joins too, then they will win 36 Knesset seats, the most of any party. Besides the many “ifs,” as well as the element of “today,” the poll’s value is meaningless if not misleading. The least that the pollsters could do is compare the three “ifs” with another: if the Likud, Bayit Yehudi and the National Union parties joined forces, for example.

There is more to be said about the polls. A 4% margin of error for the polls is a much larger error when considering small parties. The various predictions of disappearing or reappearing parties should be taken with a grain of salt. The most meaningful statistic, namely the number of people polled and the number of people who actually participated remains a secret. Why? Because if the public knew the answer, it would realize how speculative the polls actually are.

For the media, however, elections are all about business and power. Truth, education, and supplying information without giving it a slant are not part of the game. Wouldn’t it be great to have elections every two years instead of four?


January 31, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: The end does not justify the means

Posted in Media tagged , , at 11:24 am by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: The end does not justify the means
We can only presume that for Haaretz, Shaked is to be pilloried, shamed and despised in its pages, or what Galtung calls negative journalism.
Johan Galtung wrote the seminal 1965 paper, together with M.H. Ruge, about the way news media filtered events of the day, and the standards which determined what coverage was given to which stories in the news. He now thinks the media have become far too negative, sensational and adversarial. In a January 18 interview published in The Guardian, Galtung claimed, “If news continued to reflect the world in this antagonistic way, it would generate extreme negativity.”
Of course, negativity, raw emotions, confrontational situations and even violence are very often efficient ways to publicize the news. But is this positive? Not according to a recent academic study by Denise Baden of the University of Southampton titled “The Impact of Constructive News on Affective and Behavioral Responses.” Baden found that framing a story negatively “evoked [among media consumers] negative emotions, reduced intentions to take positive action to address issues, and resulted in negative affect.” In other words, audiences receiving sensational negative news feel helpless and less likely to engage in solving problems.
On January 17, a female politician appeared on a televised interview program. Her experience, she claimed, was one in which “a hostile atmosphere was whipped up, propped up by reports of inappropriate and sexist commentary in the audience warm-up session.” She then complained that “a public broadcaster… should be expected to be a model of impartiality and equality,” and that “the media must stop legitimizing mistreatment, bias and abuse against… a… woman in public life.” She was, she added, “jeered at and interrupted more times than any other panelist, including by the chair herself.”
The incident happened not in Israel but in Britain. And the aggrieved party was not Ayelet Shaked or Miri Regev, but Diane Abbott, a black woman and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, the shadow home secretary for Labour. One need not be an Israeli right-winger to recognize media bias and complain about it. Not every media outlet or employee is a paragon of professional and ethical journalistic behavior.
These last two weeks in Israel, in the wake of the Effie Naveh story, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has been happily targeted by the media and portrayed as aiding and abetting criminal actions or, at the very least, facilitating unethical judicial appointments. The fact that sex was involved only seemed to drive some journalists’ emotions harder than their brains.
HAARETZ ONCE published an art work that portrayed Ms. Shaked naked. And on January 17, Amos Biderman’s caricature positioned her in her office, dressed, waiting for Naveh’s latest candidate. Only this time, it was the candidate who was drawn naked, wrapped in a sheet, arriving straight from Naveh’s bed to be appointed as a judge by Shaked, who smilingly approves of her. Why the other female member of the appointments committee, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, was not selected remains a mystery. We can only presume that for Haaretz, Shaked is to be pilloried, shamed and despised in its pages, or what Galtung calls negative journalism.
There is another female who most likely did commit a crime in this matter, but she is not an object of derision. That is Army Radio correspondent Hadas Shtaif. Her history is colored. She has been involved quite often in stories where sex was the central motif. In a Yediot Ahronot report dated November 18, 2017, she claimed not only that former prime minister Ehud Olmert sexually harassed her, but that during her career she was molested by 40 different men. However, it appears that despite her journalistic power, she did nothing to halt these unnamed persons. How many women could she have saved if she had used her position then to complain and prevent that molestation from happening again?
This time, she received stolen property – a cellphone. It belongs, still, to the above-mentioned Effie Naveh, who was the head of the Israel Bar Association. Ms. Shtaif’s retrievals from his phone’s memory led to his arrest. The entire system for appointing of judges in Israel is in greater disarray than the bedsheets at the locations for some of Naveh’s alleged interviews.
Whatever the political outcome of this affair, what particularly drew our attention was the simple fact that the cell phone was stolen property. In law, tainted evidence is information obtained by illegal means and is called “fruit of the poisonous tree.” Such evidence is not admissible in court. Shtaif could have handed over the phone to the police immediately, expressing suspicions. Indeed, her editors covered themselves by telling her to do just that, but they did not have the moral fortitude to prevent her from broadcasting the contents over the Army Radio network.
True, the police stated that their investigative work had followed proper procedures, and that “every step taken during the investigation was done so lawfully.” We will only really know after Naveh’s complaint is adjudicated. In a letter to Army Radio, Naveh threatened to sue its criminal affairs reporter and the station for the alleged invasion of his privacy. He also is demanding that Shtaif and the station apologize for their actions and compensate him in the amount of NIS 5 million, or he will consider filing a claim. On January 24, Shtaif tweeted, “Instead of Effie Naveh dealing with his truth, he should make an accounting and a mea culpa [but] he’s searching for other guilty parties.”
THERE IS another troubling aspect to this story. Allegedly, the Justice Department promised Shtaif immunity. This is the same department that day in and day out prevents people from putting themselves in situations involving conflicts of interest, real or imagined. But in this story there is no greater conflict of interest. The number of senior Justice Department officials who sit today on the bench of the Supreme Court is much too large. The officials there had an intense interest in getting rid of Naveh and smearing Shaked. They were clearly in a situation that involved a conflict of interest.
Another item that stirred up the media recently was a Likud election sign. Displaying the photographs of four anti-Netanyahu journalists – Amnon Abramovich, Ben Caspit, Raviv Drucker and Guy Peleg – the caption reads, “They won’t decide.” The cry of “incitement” was hurled at the Likud and its head by the Israel Press Council and opposition Knesset members. The message was, “This will end in murder.” Why incitement? Again, we can only presume it is because they are anti-Netanyahu. Indeed, it is true that only the voters decide.
In fact, Israel Prize winner Nahum Barnea agrees. In his Yediot Ahronot column on January 21, he wrote, “The text is not offensive or inciting. It sets a fact: It won’t be [they] who decide who will be the prime minister of Israel. It won’t be the media outlets they work for, either. That is the truth, and that is the desired and proper situation in a democracy.” In fact, he opined, “I imagine the four journalists who appear on the billboard are secretly pleased by the honor bestowed upon them.”
Thank you, Nahum Barnea. Indeed, the end does not justify the means.

January 16, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: The true hackers

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:02 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The true hackers
This being Israel, the media attacked Netanyahu for exerting unethical and perhaps illegal pressure on the police and the attorney-general. Hackers interfering? No, the media, openly.

An issue that occupied the media last week was the warning by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Nadav Argaman, concerning a threat of foreign interference in Israel’s election campaign. As this newspaper reported on January 8, Argaman said a “foreign country is trying to use cyber abilities to interfere in Israel’s upcoming elections.”

The press had a ball. Cyber experts, political experts and pundits discussed the appalling repercussions from such an intervention. Everyone wanted to know what should be done to prevent it. After hours of discussion, it became evident that the threat is not really significant. Israel’s elections are not electronic, we all vote with envelopes and so the foreign hackers cannot change that. What then?

The Associated Press on January 9 quoted Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the left-wing Israel Democracy Institute, who noted a view shared by many pundits that Israel “could still be vulnerable to other types of pre-election intervention, like hacking into party databases, spreading disinformation through social media and leaking personal and embarrassing material on the candidates.”

We just do not understand. Who are these foreign hackers? What differentiates them from our local media that for decades have been doing just that: creating disinformation, leaking private information to further their own goals and ideology and publishing unreliable polls? Altshuler should have reminded the AP that the real danger to the democratic process is the manipulation of news and views by the local media. The threat of foreign hackers pales in contrast.

We have witnessed these past few weeks many examples of the danger from Israel’s media establishment. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu notified the press on January 7 that he would be making an important announcement later in the evening, and then, in a follow-up social media tweet, notched that up as “dramatic.”

After his appearance, the denizens of the world of media commentators decided his charge – that the police refused his requests to confront the witnesses who reportedly testified against him saying, indeed, he was to be suspected of taking bribes – was not dramatic. Not even his demand that his comments be broadcast live was honored fully. One network, Channel 10, cut off the live broadcast before the end.

THE NEXT DAY, this being Israel, the media attacked Netanyahu for exerting unethical and perhaps illegal pressure on the police and the attorney-general. Hackers interfering? No, the media, openly. In fact, some thought Netanyahu was threatening them and, at the least, brow-beating them. That viewpoint was dramatic enough to deserve discussions over radio, on television, in newspapers and on news websites. The media were battering him to and fro. They were engaged in creating a drama that was non-existent.

This is how Gideon Levy in his last Thursday’s Haaretz described the events: “The prime minister says he will make a dramatic announcement that evening. Media outlets are free to ignore it, but choose to highlight it. Discussions, guesses, live broadcasts, sky-high ratings. Netanyahu appears and offers pointed arguments: not the drama he promised, but arguments he has a right to make, and the chorus erupts in anger. How dare he? Look how he deceived us… Media that never hesitate to inflate incidents into mega-news… are shocked when a prime minister does the same thing for the same purpose: ratings.”

But our media weren’t finished. Some suggested that next time Netanyahu should not be permitted a live broadcast to begin with. Others mused that it all depends on what he is saying. From reporting the news to managing the news, and now, to censoring the news, Israel’s media are descending into professional anarchy while fulminating over the apparent fact that Netanyahu, despite their attempts and machinations, is still in office and seems to be destined to win the upcoming elections.
Israel was always considered as lagging behind the United States, but not recently. President Donald Trump is suffering from the same elitist media attitude. There, Trump’s addresses, CNN’s Don Lemon said on his program, need to be countered by drastic measures, like a broadcast delay, to enable the media to edit out what they consider as his “propaganda.”

So what have we? Yet again, Israel’s media assume a holier-than-thou attitude considering it as their right not only to select which news the media consumer gets to see and hear through questionable editing procedures, but even when something gets through that they did not want, their duty is to prevent it from turning into a dramatic development. The policy is not guided by professional decision-making. In this case it is the personal animosity of central media figures to Netanyahu.

AS LEVY, quoted above, added in his column, “The righteous anger against Netanyahu contains blood lust and an odd desire for vengeance, disproportionate to the seriousness of the allegations.” Could hackers do a more thorough job of manipulating news and the election campaign?

A meeting took place prior to the public announcement of the “New Right Party” of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Leading figures in the religious-Zionist media were invited to consult with them about the move. They included Haggai Segal, editor of Makor Rishon and Emmanuel Shiloh of the B’sheva weekly. Both came to the meeting knowing that it would be off the record, and both kept their commitment. Yet the general media, which of course were not in on the meeting, shouted “gevalt” when it became known.

Are we back to the days of political party newspapers where editors and politicians worked hand in hand? How could Shiloh and Segal do this? Segal was frightened and went into a winding explanation about how he was sorry and that he realized his error. Shiloh was different, noting that participating in off-the-record meetings is the bread and butter of the media, everyone does this, and rightly so. It helps the editor to present news and events in a more professional way.

This is but another example of how the media manipulate, exert pressure and distort a very innocent and positive event related to the coming elections. Public personalities – Shaked and Bennett – before acting, wanted to hear the response of supposedly serious editors, perhaps feeling that they are closer to the public and know its needs. Instead of respecting this, the media try to stop it. Segal is weak and accedes; Shiloh is proud and realizes the fallacy of the accusations.

In connection with Segal’s editorial decisions, last week his paper’s Shabbat supplement contained 11 pages, including the cover photograph, devoted to Amos Oz, not known for sympathy for the paper’s outlook nor for his intellectual honesty. This week, Segal’s political column contained 100 lines of text, half a page, discussing the legacy of the late Moshe Arens who, when he was an MK, turned down a ministerial appointment because he disagreed with Menachem Begin’s peace initiative. It would seem that the true hackers are our media “lights” who shape public opinion and try to mold it to conform to their personal needs. 

Israel does not have to worry about foreign hackers. It is the local ones who are the real danger.

January 2, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: Elections are upon us

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:38 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Elections are upon us
The ongoing, close relationship between the political elite and the media is problematic to say the least.
If we may paraphrase Delilah’s words, as recorded in Judges 16 and thrice repeated, “The elections are upon you, Israel.” And we would add, “once again.”

In just over three months, for the 21st time, Israel’s citizens will go to the polls. They will vote after being presented with the candidates and the platforms of perhaps more than two dozen lists representing veteran, long-standing parties, new parties, particularistic parties, split-off parties, blocs and also lists simply seeking a bit of free publicity before they pull out.

The issues will be presented to the electorate in a variety of fashions. There will be rallies in city streets and town squares and we’ll see television clips. There will be face-to-face parlor meetings and we’ll be reading newspaper ads. There will be banner ads on social media platforms and there will be press releases handed out to reporters. There will be punditry columns and interviews and profiles.

In addition, there will be leaks, and also misinformation. There will be unattributed background material and there will be quotations from unidentified “senior advisers,” “staff,” “diplomatic” as well as “security” sources. We will hear from “IDF officers” but we will not know if they are actually serving, or serving in the reserves. We will not know how senior they really are and will not even be informed whether these “IDF officers” are per chance also politicians such as members of Knesset.

As we noted prior to previous election campaigns, the relatively short time period within which the elections are conducted places a special responsibility on the media. The importance of free and open elections which create the legislative 120 member Knesset and associated executive ministerial government is acknowledged by all. The elected bodies are, at least potentially, awarded a four-year term of office by our simple act of placing a slip of paper into an envelope and inserting it into a ballot box. Yet, this simple act is influenced by the flow of information that the voters receive, especially during the short election campaign period. Every non-professional and unethical act of journalistic bias is magnified. Past experience shows that sometimes, especially when dramatic changes occur very close to Election Day, media manipulation by the politicians as well as the media itself can dramatically affect the results of the election and thus the future of our state and even our personal fate.

The ongoing, close relationship between the political elite and the media is problematic to say the least. The voter who is also the media consumer becomes a very valuable commodity, subject to intense pressure to act based too often on uncertain information. It is the media’s task to gain the trust of the voter which is essential in enabling a fair election. Based on past performance, the media’s record is dismal.

The 2018 Israeli Democracy Index, for example, accentuates the challenge. To the question, asked of Jewish respondents only for some reason, “Which state institutions do Israelis trust?” out of a list of 10, the media was third from last with only 33% trust. Somewhat better than last year’s 30% among the Jewish population, but not something to be proud of. When asked to consider corruption in state institutions, the media was positioned at 58%. Clearly the media has a problem.

Our media has long rejected the demand for objectivity and fairness. The state-sponsored KAN network encourages personal opinion views of their staff. Even at KAN, infotainment has replaced serious news programming. This has created a blurring of the distinction between news and comment. The ability of media consumers to distinguish between them is impaired. There is “fake news” and it doesn’t always originate with politicians.

One of the central items used by political parties, as well as the various mainstream media channels, is public opinion polls. Over the years, these have deteriorated significantly, for many reasons. There are too many and the number of people willing to participate is at an all-time low. If only one out of 10 people polled actually respond, how can the results be meaningful?

Moreover, there is an inherent bias in that those who do answer, typically, they do so with an ax to grind. Yet, the media and the pollsters do not report this critical piece of information, of how many refuse to respond to the questions, which would reveal another aspect of the trustworthiness of their result. How are the questions posed and in what order? Are the pollsters male or female? It is well known that psychological factors influence the answers. The typical poll has 500 respondents and claims an accuracy of plus or minus 4%. Yet, when considering small parties, whose share of the total is borderline, the error is much larger, but this fact is not presented. Just this past week, the number of MKs predicted for the new Bennett-Shaked right-wing party, the New Right, went from six to 14! Shouldn’t the media stop this unreliable type of reporting?

What influences the citizens’ perception of trust? Reviewing our columns over the years here at The Jerusalem Post as well as academic literature, a list would include the character of the relationship between politicians and dominant media personalities. Unfortunately, Israel does not have a trustworthy organization which monitors media records and provides the public information on the veracity, fairness and unbiased reporting of our media “stars.” A record of press manipulations does not exist. The private citizens are left only with the option of trusting their instincts and intelligence.

A functioning democracy needs a media which provides the necessary information, the insight and, most importantly, the facts rather than rumors, inherent to an election campaign. We, the citizens, must demand fair and balanced reporting. We should receive the information needed to be aware of what researchers call “the systematic differential treatment of… one side of an issue over an extended period of time.”

Sadly, though, we should realize that although they claim to be journalists, most of our media is made up of just another group of purveyors of political ideas and influence. We probably could be better off listening directly to the politicians, posing them with questions and criticism directly rather than most of what we obtain in the papers.

In the past, televised debates were critical. These times are over. Debates, if they do occur, are moderated by biased journalists and are highly orchestrated by media advisers. The experience in the United States in this regard was quite blatant in the last presidential campaign. Our best bet is the written media, the Internet and the direct access through it to the candidates. Their responses will be available through search engines for posterity and will force them to be just a bit more reliable in fulfilling their promises.

One would hope that some of our more trustworthy politicians will use the electronic media to respond to voters queries directly and by doing so, force this methodology on all the candidates and parties. If done wisely, we will have a much better educated public and the results of the election will be much more democratic.


December 20, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Media meddling

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:31 am by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Media meddling
Netanyahu’s bravado is admirable. Several of his close aides, including Filber, have been, as the British say, assisting the police in their inquiries.
It was on Sunday, December 1, just hours prior to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the lighting of the Hanukkah candle during a ceremony to mark the first day of the festival at Kfar Maccabiah, a traditional well-covered media event. Police announced their recommendation that the state prosecutor indict him in yet another of the cases of suspected bribery and illegal appointments, Case 4000 – referred to as the “Bezeq-Walla Affair.” That case itself is overloaded with media material.

The suspicions are that the firing of former Communications Ministry director-general Avi Berger was brought about by  Netanyahu and that he then instructed that Shlomo Filber, his former campaign manager be hired in his place. These moves, so went the accusations, were to assure that Shaul Elovitch, the owner of Bezeq, would gain unfair government favors. In addition, if there indeed was an over-favorable relationship with Bezeq, then Elovitch supposedly returned the favor and provided Netanyahu, and also his wife, Sara, through his Walla online news site, fawning coverage, perhaps to offset what Yediot Aharonot owner Noni Mozes didn’t do. If true, this would constitute bribery.

Netanyahu was quite blunt regarding the media aspect of this police construct and said, “Walla is a left-wing site that gave and continues to give me negative coverage for years now and especially negative coverage on the eve of elections.”

Netanyahu’s bravado is admirable. Several of his close aides, including Filber, have been, as the British say, assisting the police in their inquiries. What his chances are, legally and politically, to remain as prime minister until next November, or even after, is a tantalizing subject but not one for our column.

One matter that should be of interest is that only a few media outlets noted the obvious and purposeful intention of the police, or, perhaps, more specifically of the outgoing police commissioner Roni Alsheich, to drop a media bombshell on the last day at his job. Alsheich merited no extension of employment and had been at loggerheads in public spats with Netanyahu over the various investigations. And if they did, fewer recalled Alsheich’s extraordinary employment by special contract of Lior Chorev, a former Labor Party activist, and even fewer pundits still analyzed the implications of that employment not only politically but the implication that the Israel Police’s spokesperson’s unit was incapable of doing its job properly.

The media-related issues surrounding what we would call the Walla affair are not only whether the Walla company was and perhaps continues to be left-wing and whether its coverage of Netanyahu was and continues to be negative. The more general concern is that too much of Israel’s mainstream media are not only anti-establishment and anti-government but they seem incapable and unwilling to absorb and include within the normative public discourse items relating to the national camp, the religious, both of the crocheted kippot and the haredi communities, immigrants, Ethiopians and Arabs. To us the essential question is whether the media coverage was biased.

In the professional worldviews of the reporters and their editors, Israel’s media is more introspective rather than all-encompassing. Their filters and prisms are beclouded and dark. But that is not a phenomenon exclusive to Israel.

Writing in the November 1 online edition of the New York Review of Books, a bastion of hard-left literary, cultural and ideological progressivism, Michael Massing, former executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, took on America’s liberal mainstream media, terming their running battles with President Donald Trump, especially that of CNN a “case history of an unhealthy codependency.”

He noted that the bias revealed quite disproportionate time devoted to critics of the president, allowing unbalanced coverage, negative language employing clichés and tendentiousness, interview styles that allowed critics more time, less breaking-in to the conversation and complimentary remarks to them and the opposite to those supporting Trump. In short, he noted that “the network’s coverage seemed uninformative, repetitive, and nakedly partisan… it featured few in-depth reports on developments on the ground. Instead, it offered talking heads reciting familiar talking points.”

And he made one more observation worth quoting: “Journalists – heavily concentrated in cities and mixing mostly with other affluent, highly educated urbanites – face a natural barrier in getting to know… America… it remains mostly a foreign land. With the divisions in the country seeming to harden in the wake of the midterms, journalists need to do a better job of overcoming them”.

If that criticism sounds familiar, it is.

In Israel, the “concentration” of the mainstream journalists exists less in terms of geography (the previous “north of Shenkin,” Tel Aviv’s bohemian café-filled promenade delineation is a bit passé) and more in terms of a cultural milieu and an ideological orientation. In the past, the Ashkenazi/Mapai background of the vast majority of the journalists, as well as their almost exclusive secular character, although this has faded somewhat, would suggest that Netanyahu is not engaged in maniacal raving or exhibiting signs of extreme paranoia.

In the first week of December, the first of, so far, four Hezbollah attack tunnels was uncovered under the border with Lebanon. With the experience Israel had with similar tunnels leading in from Gaza, their potential danger was obvious. Netanyahu, who is serving as defense minister, would have been almost criminal to have ignored the direct danger as well as the indirect danger of the worthlessness of the UNIFIL unit stationed in Lebanon and whose responsibility it is to prevent such violations of UN resolutions.

And yet, voices in the media began to spin out that all this “discovery” was politically motivated. As Haaretz’s Yossi Verter wrote on December 7, “Netanyahu spins operation against Hezbollah tunnels into Armageddon-style mission. With an eye on the election and on his legal trouble, Netanyahu sows fear in the hearts of Israelis.” His voice was not the only one.

Earlier, a colleague of Verter at Haaretz, Anshel Pffefer, published this on December 4, “Has the IDF Become the latest prop in Netanyahu’s battle for survival? The media festival made out of what is just another stage in an operation suggests this may actually be Operation Netanyahu Shield.” There will additional “insights” from the media along this theme as if, by the click of a knob, a switch in transmission dictated that Netanyahu be portrayed in the most negative and scurrilous fashion possible.

Those in the media that took up this line of criticism were not analyzing but were meddling. They had no way to pass judgment except by presenting personal grudges and prejudices. This includes their editors and owners of their outlets who agreed to replace facts with fiction. Moreover, we did not see any leaks from within the IDF that would indicate the army’s commanders are feeling exploited for political advantages of the minister. And they are not shy of finding ways to pass on any critical observations they may have.

We are seeing today the negative results of decades of media bias. The media’s unreliability is the public’s loss. It has given credibility to Netanyahu’s claims that there was nothing there is nothing and there will nothing. 


November 21, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: The hidden and the fake

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:29 pm by yisraelmedad

The hidden and the fake
For the past 12 years, this organization has been producing reports on the achievements of Israeli ministers and Knesset members in the national camp.
The NGO Mattot Arim describes itself on its website as an authentic grassroots Israeli organization that promotes the national interests of the residents of central Israel and the large cities within the former “Green Line.” It provides critical information on existential topics, information that often is not made available to the public by any other means. It aims to empower the citizenship and enable it to express itself in an informed manner so as to have positive influence on the Knesset, primary elections, the government and other centers of political power.

For the past 12 years, this organization has been producing reports on the achievements of Israeli ministers and Knesset members in the national camp. Their definition of an achievement is helping to bring about an outcome that the national camp electorate supports as well as preventing an outcome that the national camp electorate opposes. As the actors are elected parliamentarians and appointed ministers, “achievements” range from initiating legislation, voting in the Knesset, policy promotions, public pronouncements and so on.

Its 2018 report, published in October, noted that “almost 70% of the National Camp’s elected leaders had 10 or fewer achievements”. Their report is detailed, listing the number of achievements of each coalition party MK separately. For example, Bayit Yehudi Minister Ayelet Shaked was found to be the top performer, with 78 achievements in which she furthered the interests of the national camp. This is to be contrasted with Yisrael Beytenu’s former minister Sofia Landwer with not a single achievement for the national camp to her credit.

Especially with primaries and national elections in the near future, one would think that its report would raise interest, at least within the national camp and its media outlets. Indeed, Arutz 7 published their results, as did the religious website Srugim, but that was it. Nothing in the mainstream media or Makor Rishon and Israel Hayom. The right-wing media does not support its NGOs, as does, for example, Haaretz.

Contrast this with a very different NGO, Mashrokit (in English, the Whistleblower). It describes itself innocuously as an organization that “deals with public statements made by public figures in order to provide the news consumers with an essential tool for their informed and critical examination. Through a quick, comprehensive, balanced, and real-time examination of statements regarding the day’s issues, the Mashrokit seeks to lead a more credible, accurate and factual public and media discourse in Israel.” Furthermore, “the principles that guide the work of Mashrokit are precision, accuracy in facts and details, and the use of reliable sources, regardless of the speaker’s identity or the position presented.“ That sounds good and presumably, that is what Israel’s mainstream media also thinks.

As reported on November 14 on the ICE website, in the Haaretz newspaper, at the national Eilat Journalists Conference and on Kan Reshet Bet, this organization reached the conclusion that 74% of public statements made by Israeli politicians are fake news. Certainly, if true, that is quite worthy of publicity, not less and not more than Mattot Arim’s conclusion that “almost 70% of the National Camp’s elected leaders had 10 or fewer achievements.” Why, then, the striking difference in the media attention given to the two different reports?

As published on September 20 on The Marker’s website, a study of the Mashrokit organization’s website leads to the conclusion that mostly right-wing politicians are under scrutiny, an allegation vehemently denied by Michal Sela, one of their employees, who says, “We all have opinions, but we are apolitical…. It does not matter if you are left or right. It is important that politicians do not lie to you.” Indeed, we would agree. But it is also important that NGOs do not misrepresent themselves. Mattot Arim openly describes itself as belonging to the national camp. Mashrokit, on the other hand, is afraid to present its true identity, and no wonder.

In 2016 its largest donor was guess who? The New Israel Fund. Are they neutral? Not exactly.

Mashrokit’s concept of fake news is a very relative one. For example, Yehuda Glick, Likud MK, stated on September 14 that two million Palestinians live in Judea and Samaria. This was deemed fake news by Mashrokit. But of course, the number of residents is hotly debated – neither Glick, nor Mashrokit nor anyone else knows the correct number, since the Palestinian Authority refuses to hold a scientifically controlled census.

Likud MK and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely criticized the Supreme Court for ordering the destruction of homes in Netiv Ha’avot in the Gush Etzion area. She states that this was “despite the fact that there was no Palestinian who had a claim on the land.” The Mashrokit goes into a long harangue to try to prove that this is false and that there are Palestinians who have a claim. However, in truth, that is a claim some Arabs made, but it was never proven in any court of justice. To assume that the Palestinians are truthful and Hotovely is not, is perhaps not surprising for an organization whose budget comes from the New Israel Fund.

Journalists today seem to be dissatisfied with the traditional roles of the press, which were to truthfully and objectively report on events. A journalist was a “committed observer,” as Gil Thelen, former publisher of The Tampa Tribune, wrote. But new norms have been developing, as we see above.

In the most recent issue of Journalism, published by Sage, three academics, Karen McIntyre, Nicole Smith Dahmen and Jesse Abdenour, report on a survey of more than 1,300 journalists concerning “contextual reporting.” What that means are stories that “go beyond the immediacy of the news and contribute to societal well-being.” Their analyses showed that younger journalists and female journalists highly valued three genres of contextual reporting: constructive journalism, solutions journalism, and restorative narrative. Moreover, the more favorable view of those genres stemmed from the journalist’s belief in activist values such as setting the political agenda and pointing to possible solutions.

In short, the media is becoming less of an observer and more of a player. The media has involved itself in the news. A monograph we published more than 20 years ago asked if Israel’s media was reporting or managing the news. We concluded that we found an increasing influence of the broadcast media on the political life of the State of Israel. Additionally, the bias in its reporting of public affairs deliberations was interfering with Israel’s democracy.

Mashrokit’s treatment by Israel’s media and the virtual non-existent treatment of Mattot Arim, we suggest, are further proof of our observation.

The bottom line is that Mashrokit – The Whistleblower – should first blow its whistle on itself, admit its ideology and stop trying to present the public with the fake news that it is objective in its judgments. And our mainstream media should do the same. The fact that an organization such as Mashrokit is provided uncritical publicity support by Israel’s mainstream media while Mattot Arim is not, gives further insight into how and why our media is not trusted by the public. 


November 7, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Sowing hatred

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:45 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Sowing hatred
The Jewish people are, on a global scale, small in numbers. But with all the differences between us, there is a fundamental solidarity.
The horrific murder in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue touched almost every Jewish soul, as well those of non-Jews. The outpouring of grief and consternation was felt everywhere – in the United States, Israel, Europe and elsewhere. In such times, the Jewish people gather in solidarity. Although one cannot equate it exactly with the anxiety and identification with Jews in Israel that occurs when Israel is attacked or goes to war, something of the same “can do” spirit was there.

The Jewish people are, on a global scale, small in numbers. But with all the differences between us, there is a fundamental solidarity perhaps most eloquently stated by our sages close to 2,000 years ago: “All of Israel are responsible for each other.” Ecclesiastes taught us that there is a time for everything, a time to cry and a time to love.

This was the spirit – except among too many of Israel’s leading journalists.

The opening salvo came from Arieh Golan. On Sunday morning, in the aftermath of the massacre when the shock was greatest, he had nothing to say after the 7 a.m. news but that the solidarity with the congregation in Pittsburgh was essentially fake, since these are Jews of Judaism’s Conservative stream, which, he declared, Israel has forsaken.

Next was Arad Nir, Channel 2 TV news editor. Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett was fittingly sent to Pittsburgh to represent the government and express Israel’s solidarity with the community in Pittsburgh. Nir was sent there ostensibly to cover the events. Appropriately enough, he interviewed Bennett. In his two-minute “interview,” these were his questions:

• Was Israel mistaken in the manner in which it related to the voices heard here and should Israel start toning down its proclamations?

• Regarding the friends of Israel who have an antisemitic background, perhaps Israel errs here?

In response to Bennett’s admonition that this is not the time for divisiveness, Nir lectured, “We should learn a lesson from this that would prevent such occurrences in the future.”

Bennett continued with his message of solidarity, but Nir would not be swayed, asking, or perhaps more accurately, stating, “But Conservative and Reform communities here feel estranged from Israel.”

Bennett noted that no one that he met had raised these issues, but rather that everyone was thankful for the presence of Israel’s representative at that time. In response, Haredi journalist Yossi Elituv summarized on his Twitter account: “When Arad Nir is in a state of post-trauma, no one can help with first aid. Bennett tried, but Nir insisted on evading reality.”

PERHAPS THE most outrageous act came from that icon of thinking people, the Ha’aretz newspaper, which seemed to be attempting to sow hatred, one of its strong points. It blatantly misquoted Chief Rabbi David Lau in an interview. No less a personality than Andrew Silow-Carroll, the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, an organization not noted for Orthodox or right-wing leanings, took Ha’aretz to task.

The interview was picked up by the American media and in the Washington Post. The headline was, “Pittsburgh shooting was widely reported in Israel, but not all media noted it took place in a synagogue.” As quoted by Silow-Carroll, the article itself stated: “In an interview with Makor Rishon, a newspaper aimed at the modern Orthodox community, the country’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau, referred to Tree of Life synagogue as ‘a place with a profound Jewish flavor.’” Both Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the Post posited, “stopped short of recognizing that it took place in a synagogue.” Even The Jerusalem Post’s Susan Hattis-Rolef in an op-ed article this Monday fell for the fake news.

Silow-Carroll was outraged and did his homework. In the interview, Rabbi Lau stated: “There is nothing to discuss about their affiliation. They were killed because they were Jews! Does it matter in which synagogue they pray in or what text they use?” In other words, Ha’aretz, on whom the Washington Post based itself, used the Pittsburgh massacre to portray the chief rabbi as a person who cannot overcome his biases in the face of grief, while the truth is that it was Ha’aretz that did its best – and succeeded – to present the rabbi in a negative light. This was then circulated by no less a newspaper than The Washington Post.

THE TRUTH is that this is not news. It so happens that one week later, left-wing Israelis celebrated the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin with their festival of hatred. The assassination was a tragedy, for all Jews, all around the world, irrespective of their political leanings. The Rabin memorial day should be respected by all of us. The central message should be that we cannot afford again to forget the terrible aftermath of the assassination of Gedalyahu ben Achikam almost 2,000 years ago. The only real answer to the act is and should be solidarity.

But no, this is not to be. Veteran left-wing commentator and branja (in-crowd) priest, Amnon Abramovitch, penned an op-ed for Yediot Ahronot. Its subtitle was rather positive: “For the purpose of union and peace, we should all make an effort to tolerate the other and stand together against Rabin’s murder – not for his legacy.” But of course, he could not leave it there. In describing the processes in Israel society, he claimed, “Religious Zionism, which was in shock following Rabin’s murder, held a national emergency conference under the title “preventing the radicalization process among youth” and since then, the group changed its strategy from a defensive one to offensive, and its youth members became more extreme.”

The bottom line of Abramovitch is that indeed we should unite – but only if the right wing beats its breast and takes all the blame for the assassination and all the ills of Israeli society, such as the “occupation.”

Unfortunately, conservatives in Israel know that when the Rabin Assassination Festival Season sets in, they have to bury their heads deep in the sand and just wait until it blows over. No matter how much they wish that this day could be a symbol of Israeli solidarity, it is not to be. Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein refused to participate in the hate festival, knowing well that it would not lead to anything positive. Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi barely managed to finish his speech; the crowd’s attempt to drown him out nearly succeeded.

Had our media been doing its job, it would have centered its energy this week in making sure that next year’s memorial day for Rabin would be what we all wish for, a day of mutual respect and reconciliation. Had the media been more attuned to the needs of the Jewish people here and in the Diaspora, and less willing to play along with extremist “progressive” groups in America who sought not to fight antisemitism but rather attack President Donald Trump politically, unity and mutual recognition could have been achieved.

But no, too many in our media prefer to sow hatred, not love. 


October 24, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Weakening trust in democracy

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:06 pm by yisraelmedad

Weakening trust in democracy
Over the entire weekend, there was a war on our border – much more serious than a few months ago.
Israel’s public trusts the Israel Defense Forces and it is considered to be in the center of Israeli consensus. The last Israeli Democracy Index found that 88% of the Jewish public – and 41% of the Arab citizens – trusted the IDF. (Incidentally, from an all-time low of public trust in the media in 2016, the media had risen in 2017 by 4% reaching the “respectable” number of 28% last year.)

This past July, in the aftermath of the passage of the Nation-State Law and in response to voices within the army against it, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot called upon everyone to keep the IDF out of politics. Unfortunately, the events of this past week seem to indicate that it is the senior officers of the IDF who have embroiled the IDF in a very political issue namely, the correct response to the war on the Gaza border.

The rocket that destroyed a house and almost killed a mother and her three children in Beersheba created an outcry even within Israel’s Peace Now-promoting media. From the prime minister downward, the politicians were quoted as promising that Israel’s restraint has reached an end. After conferring with regional council leaders bordering on Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, “I have now concluded an assessment of the situation with the heads of the IDF and the top echelons of the security forces. Israel considers the attacks on the fence, on the Gaza perimeter, on Beersheba and everywhere with severity, and I said at the beginning of this week’s cabinet meeting that if these attacks do not stop we will stop them. To tell you today, Israel will act with great force.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, in an interview on Kol Chai radio said, “We must hit Hamas hard. This is the only way for reversing the situation and bringing the violence level down to almost zero.”

Eisenkot was quickly brought back from a visit to the States. The Cabinet met, and what happened? As reported in the media, last Friday approximately 10,000 demonstrators came to Gaza-Israel border and approximately 100 bombs, grenades and Molotov cocktails were hurled at the IDF forces and tires were burned. There were three attempts to infiltrate Israel. Some even succeeded, but the Gazans were forced to retreat after the IDF opened fire. Two Gazans were reportedly killed by the IDF, though the Hamas health authorities denied this and claimed that 150 people were injured. Dozens of fire balloons were sent and nine fires were initiated within Israel as a result.

Clearly, the border was “on fire.” Israel was again attacked with weapons of death and destruction and what was the media response? As reported in Israel Hayom, Reshet Bet and elsewhere, a “security source” claimed that “relative to the past half year, Friday was a day of reduced confrontations and perhaps the quietest one along the fence since the present round of confrontations was initiated.”

What was the governmental response? Liberman announced on Sunday that the Kerem Shalom and Erez border crossings would be re-opened and goods would be allowed in. As the demonstrations were mostly only at a distance of 500 meters from the fence, the army recommended leniency.

How did Israel’s media respond? Israel Hayom’s headline was “Gaza – the attempts to bring about an agreement are being renewed.” The sub-headline was “The Friday test of Hamas passed with relative quiet.”

This is a joke. Over the entire weekend, there was a war on our border – much more serious than a few months ago. For example, between August 12 and August 30, there were 29 fires caused by balloons and kites, an average of 1.5 per day, compared to the “relative quiet” of nine on this past Friday and Saturday. The level of the past weekend was perhaps the lowest during the month of October, but much higher than the previous months.

But our media swallowed the lie hook, line and sinker. No questions were asked and the veracity of the IDF proclamations was not questioned. The media did not do their job of seriously questioning all those responsible for their ongoing false proclamations. The media were allowing the IDF to get away with not merely providing the heads of state with alternatives but actually making sure that the IDF does not restore Israel’s deterrence.

There is nothing wrong with the IDF making recommendations. There is, however, something deeply disturbing when the IDF makes false statements aimed at promoting a certain policy. The worst part of this story is not the loss of deterrence vis a vis Hamas, but the loss of trust by the Israeli public. Eisenkot is not consistent in his call to keep the IDF out of politics. The media is not doing its job in calling the IDF to order here. It simply parroted the IDF uncritically.

The media’s role in weakening the public trust in important institutions is not limited to the IDF. Last week, three women journalists accused veteran senior journalist Dan Margalit of sexual harassment 30 years ago. We, of course, do not know the truth, and in spite of our severe criticism of Margalit as a journalist, at this point, we cannot accept public hearsay. The fact that Margalit, in the wake of the accusations, either left or was forced to leave his job in Haaretz is irrelevant here. He claims innocence and we must accept this until proof is provided.

There are good reasons why one cannot bring someone to court for crimes presumably perpetrated 30 years ago. A basic rule of law in a democracy asserts that one is innocent until proven guilty. Is it possible to have a fair trial 30 years after the fact? But Margalit is not the story here; rather it is the three women journalists who accused him as well as perhaps others.

The media deflect any criticism of their ethical performance or supposed bias by loudly claiming they are all professional. All are the best. They investigate and they report on what they find. They reveal the personal foibles and errors of judgment of politicians, business people and public figures. We are told we can, indeed, must trust them because they do their best.

Yet, if the claims against Margalit are true, indeed, as others against Ari Shavit were (by the way, also employed by Haaretz as is Yitzhak Laor who, in 2014, was accused of sexual harassment, causing Mifal Haypayis to reverse its decision to award him a prize), then are we to understand that strong, powerful women who take on the establishments – political, economic and military – women like Ayala Hasson or Yonit Levi, all of a sudden cannot quite call out a colleague for decades?

Or are other loyalties at work here, loyalties that also could influence, to the detriment of the truth and objectivity of the news, how they report political issues and diplomatic matters and which should cause the media consumer to question what is at work here?

In both cases, the public loses out and our trust in our democracy is weakened.


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