August 28, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT: The anti-Beck crusade

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:49 am by yisraelmedad

The anti-Beck crusade

Why have the local media given such a cool reception to the US television superstar?

The media, it has been asserted, are the main ally of the liberal-progressive elite. It permits insulated cultural and academic circles to extend their disconnected worldviews. Although often lacking true popular support, the media employ powerful tools – agenda-setting, framing and shaping policies and, perhaps not less important, influencing how those are packaged.

Thomas Sowell, in his 1996 book, The Vision of the Anointed, discusses what he perceives as the driving forces that promote the liberal agenda, which includes “the denigration and even demonizing” of persons “who present evidence that can be used in contemporary culture wars…. Opponents must be shown to be not merely mistaken but morally lacking.”

This approach was quite apparent in the coverage of the ongoing (as we write) trip of American broadcast personality Glenn Beck and his “Restoring Courage” campaign.

Ben Hartman, writing on the website of Atlantic Monthly, highlighted Beck’s analogy of the tent demonstrators in Tel Aviv to communists and his questioning whether or not they were being financed by some sort of international left-wing organization. Well, we know for sure that extreme socialists are involved.

A 12-year-old member of the “Socialist Struggle” grouplet became an overnight sensation due to his rhetorical skills and was even a star on the Channel 2 game show 1 vs. 100. It is a fact that the New Israel Fund – as far- Left as one can be in the Jewish world, except perhaps for J Street – actually did provide funds and training. In other words, Beck was basically correct – but who cares?

Hartman asserted, without supplied proof, that “Beck’s ‘mega-events’ did not look to be especially popular or anticipated in Israel.” He claimed that “the domestic attention received by Beck’s visit appeared to be largely negative,” quoting former Yasser Arafat aide MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al). He lamented that Beck didn’t fulfill the script dictated by the left wing at his first event of the “Restoring Courage” week, which took place on Monday evening in Caesarea: “Far more tent revival than political rally, Sunday’s event lacked the sort of red meat anti- Obama or Muslim-baiting rhetoric that had made Beck so popular among the American Christian right.”

In other words, the event was very respectable, and poor Hartman could not really justify his rantings.

Hartman was not alone. A member of the foreign press corps, Dan Ephron, under the headline “Beck’s Holy Land Crusade,” also aligned himself with the imposed “story line.” What was important was not Beck’s words, but that he had been “denounced by critics who regard the former Fox News host as anti- Semitic.” When you do not have facts to prove your assertion, you rely on unnamed “critics” who state certain views and turn these into “facts.” Ephron slips into the “help-your-Israel comrade” mode, quoting Haaretz’s Bradley Burston, who had ridiculed the idea that Beck would be “arriving from America to teach us the meaning of courage.”

This type of spiteful writing was prevalent in the Israeli press. Tal Schneider writes in Globes, perhaps picking up on a previous article with similar content and predictions of dire consequences by Natasha Mozgovaya from Haaretz: “It could be that he repels the Israeli public since he does not speak Hebrew, or because the Israelis and even the right-wingers among them are repelled by the extremist views of a foreigner and Christian who preaches hate and extreme racism.”

He then goes on to actually explain what these extremist views are: “Beck is vehemently opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian State and the division of Jerusalem, and he blames fundamentalist Islam for almost all the woes of the world.”

Schneider, of course, knows what the Israeli public thinks; after all, he is the Israeli public.

Interestingly MK Einat Wilf, who is not a Likudnik but a former Labor Party member and currently part of the Independence faction, made a point of coming to Beck’s Tuesday night dinner. In an eloquent speech and excellent English, she described herself as a liberal and an atheist. Yet she was “courageous enough” to be part of the event, since she firmly believes that “if people stand with Israel, we should stand with them.”

This should be contrasted with the opinions expressed at Ma’ariv’s NRG and Yediot Aharonot’s Ynet websites, where Beck is considered a serious danger to Israel. Ben Tyne warns that Israelis should not side with Beck, since this puts them on one side of the political divide in America. Jay Rosenberg calls upon his fellow Israelis not to become Beck’s suckers. He argues that Beck is using Israel as a springboard for his US comeback.

Dr. Michael Evans, a well-known writer and journalist in the United States as well as one of the founders of the Christian Zionist movement, who came especially for Beck’s “Restoring Courage” week, paints a somewhat different picture. He notes that “you have a man according to the Gallup polls last year who was more popular than the Pope, [former president] Bill Clinton and [evangelical preacher Rev.] Billy Graham. A man does not come to Israel to launch a network. There is hardly any media of this event in America. This is a very smart media man. If he wanted to do anything for his media enterprise, any man would have done it in America.”

“Restoring Courage” brought some “balance” to Israel’s media. For the first time in a long while, some leading rabbinical figures from Judea and Samaria were widely and approvingly quoted on the Walla website for their religiously motivated opposition to Beck’s visit.

Channel 2 actually had a three minute clip on the visit in its nightly news show. The anchor, Ms. Haimovitz, took pains in her introduction to remind the public that Beck had been fired from the right-wing Fox News network and that his visit perturbed quite a few people in Israel. Beck was called “ultra-right-wing” by reporter Ilan Lukacz, who made sure to publicize in advance that Peace Now, which was not even cited as a left-wing movement in the clip, would hold an anti-Beck demonstration. The report ended with Haimovitz raising her eyebrows, letting all know what she thought about the tour. One wonders whether Beck’s advisers did their homework before agreeing to the interview with Lukacz.

Not all of the local media were negative. The Yisrael Hayom daily covered the events, providing a factual description. Ya’acov Ahimeir largely defended Beck in an interview on the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Moreshet radio station. However, the media generally did not give Beck the opportunity to present himself as he is. It is thus only appropriate to end by allowing him to speak for himself.

The following are some excerpts from his speech at the Tuesday night dinner at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum:

“We have spent 2,000 years at each other’s throats, mainly us at your throat. It is time to stand and say, ‘Enough.’ It is time to return home to His throne and beg His forgiveness and tell him unequivocally we will knock it off, we will stand arm in arm. The times require it; it is not a human rights movement, it is a human responsibility movement. If we do not recognize our responsibilities, we have no rights. This is the beginning, there is no end until we all live in peace and we all respect the Jewish people and their rights to live here in peace.”

^

August 18, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT One-sided humor is not funny

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 1:46 pm by yisraelmedad

One-sided humor is not funny
By Yisrael Medad and Eli Pollak

“Satire is tragedy plus time,” wrote Lenny Bruce. Within the Israeli context, that should be reworded as: “no matter how much time has passed, the tragedy is that satire is the privilege of the Left”.

Jewish humor, anthropologists have informed us, has always been accompanied by a strong social comment character. Israeli humor takes that one step further: it is intensely political. For the past four decades, the televised satire has been, predominantly left-of-center and directed too often against the nationalist and religious camps.

The defense of Israeli satire that has always been voiced is that the ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘freedom of artistic creativity’ are sacred. Another excuse is that satire always attacks the government in power. We note though, that good satire attacks all those in power including politicians of all stripes, business moguls, the cultural elites, the powerful media, the judiciary as well as society in general. Israeli television has a long tradition of satirical programs. From Nikui Rosh of the 1970s to the Chartzufim in the 1990s and to Eretz Nehederet which debuted in late 2003, media consumers have never been at a loss for laughs. The targets, though, have made those shows one-dimensional. It was Jonathan Swift who wrote an incisive truth so relevant to Israel, “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.”

A skit-by-skit review over the years highlights another disturbing element. The viciousness of the humor can reach shocking depths. The imagery, more often than not, goes beyond the expected biting style literally as when a Chartzufim skit had two Haredim dining on the head of a secularist or a Hebron housewife uses a bent-over Arab as an ironing board.

What is the current state of affairs?

Israel’s Media Watch reviewed the Eretz Nehederet satirical program for the period of December 2010-May 2011, a total of 15 programs. The main personalities in the program are Prime Minster Netanyahu (9 appearances), Foreign Minster Lieberman (4) and Interior Minister Yishai (4). Lieberman is portrayed as a fascist including a Nazi-like hand salute. The Yesha Council spokeswoman character, Roichel, is depicted as a lesbian and a sadist and is seen in 11 of the 15 programs. Opposition politicians are missing as objects of scorn but Jonathan Pollard appeared twice.

Funny or not, this reflects an ideologically-driven agenda from the far left, the assumed fiefdom of Israel’s cultural and literary elite.

But there is a solution in sight. It is balance. And it exists.
Over the past few years, inroads have been made by satirists coming from a different political and social worldview, Haggai Segal, Uri Orbach as well as Erel Segal (no relation) have been publishing satirical columns in the printed media and have even achieved radio status.
Yedidyah Meir’s Eppes page, which challenged readers with its very Jewish content frame of reference, eventually had to leave Haaretz. Even the Besheva weekly as well as Makor Rishon’s Friday edition carry satirical columns. Television, however, is still the ‘property’ of the leftist elite.

For the past two years, first as a website and then in a video format, Latma has emerged as a remarkable example of fresh satire, if only because it simply is different. Gone is the monopoly. And it is popular. Its classic “We Con The World” clip, commenting on the 2010 flotilla effort to Gaza, had as of Monday morning, over 2.5 million hits at one of its YouTube locations (and at least another million at other sites). Latma criticizes the media, mocks politicians across the spectrum and includes social comment in its barbed humor. It comes from an admitted right-wing perspective. By its very existence it exemplifies the lie pushed by the cultural leftist elite in Israel: that culture is left and the right is dry.

With a proven track-record, Latma has been in negotiations with the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Channel One TV. At least one pilot was successfully produced. Caroline Glick, last April, had said, ”this will provide an opportunity for new talent to penetrate onto the national scene…our product is going to be introducing Israeli TV audiences to a lot of new faces.” Over 100 episodes of Latma’s “Tribal Update” are proof that the crew is professional. However, at present the IBA claims that it does not yet have the considerable funding necessary for going on air.

If any example were required to highlight the deep gap between left and right, one only need review last week’s sketches of Eretz Nehederet and of Latma vis a vis the tent protest camp at Rothschild Boulevard. The first attacks Benjamin Netanyahu, the tycoons and the settlers in Judea and Samaria. The last few minutes of the program were devoted to propaganda prepared by the tent protesters. Latma points to the unmistakable political socialist thrust of the leadership, with its New Israel Fund backing. Latma also dealt with the social terror exercised against anyone who does not toe the line of the demonstrators. They ridiculed the supposed deep concern of the left wing demonstrators for the well-being of the average Israeli citizen, noting that this concern was not evident during the disengagement from the Gaza strip. Two different views of the same events.

The Israeli public deserves variety, pluralism and balance. The laws that oversee the television networks lay down those very same principles. There is enough satire to go around for all. The creative effort can come from all sides.
Can we all not enjoy a good laugh?

Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)

August 11, 2011

Media Comment: Rachel is weeping

Posted in Media at 8:09 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Rachel is weeping

By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK

08/10/2011 22:36

The ‘Kol Barama’ radio station claims that its programs are based on listening to the public and creating a dialogue with it.

‘Thus says the Lord: A voice was heard in Rama… Rachel weeping for her children.” 

That verse, from Jeremiah 31:14, is one of the more powerfully poignant biblical images. The Matriarch Rachel cries as her descendants suffer exile after the Temple’s destruction. “Kol Barama,” the Hebrew for “a voice in Rama,” is the name of a radio station that began broadcasting on January 1, 2009, and whose concession is supervised by the Second Authority for Television and Radio. It advertises itself as the only haredi radio station broadcasting nationally.

Indeed, it uses three different frequencies, covering the North, Center and South. This occurs at a time when a major problem for the expansion of broadcasting, it has been claimed, is the limited number of bands available.  Another station, Kol Hai Radio, which is celebrating 10 years of broadcasting, is also haredi but identified as Ashkenazi in character. Its concession is limited to the central region of the country.

A plethora of radio stations, known as the “holy channels,” used the airwaves illegally for many years. They filled in the need for those segments of the population that were not interested in the more secular public and regional radio stations. As they were dominated by Sephardic figures, many viewed them as “belonging” to the Shas Party. Attempts at legalizing them failed. The public pressure to close them down increased, especially after the Supreme Court ruled that the national religious radio station, Arutz 7, was illegal, forcing it off the airwaves. Ultimately the illegal stations stopped broadcasting, and a well known anchor of the now defunct Kol Ha’emet Radio was sentenced to jail. The communications minister in the Sharon government, Shas senior member Ariel Attias, succeeded in establishing the legal national Sephardi-haredi radio concession that became Kol Barama, which is owned by Gabi Edri and and Zvi Amar.

Kol Barama’s website boasts that it is obligated to provide a social contribution to the community. It strives to assure the well-being of the “little people,” and to help the needy and the weak in the population. It claims that its programs are based on listening to the public and creating a dialogue with it. It characterizes itself as following the leadership and supervision of leading rabbis and public figures in the haredi community.

WHAT IT doesn’t advertise is that women are barred from its programming. While Kol Hai Radio does not have women singing, in accordance with the accepted custom in haredi circles, Kol Barama outdoes it. Women are not allowed to be program hosts or anchors, they cannot be interviewed, and they cannot call in to the station. They are allowed to work behind the scenes. This includes schoolchildren: Boys may express their responses on air, but girls are relegated to the fax machine or text messages.

Is this legal? Does the concession given Kol Barama include permission to ignore and silence half of the population? Of course not. The Second Authority law states that the authority will “foster good citizenship and will strengthen the values of democracy and humanism.” Israel has a law that forbids discriminatory practices in public services. Is this in accordance with Jewish law? It is sufficient to note that the Sephardi rabbinical leader Ovadia Yosef has been cited as saying there is no Jewish prohibition against women being heard on the airwaves. His daughter, Adina Bar-Shalom, appears on television.

What is the Second Authority’s response? Israel’s Media Watch petitioned it to impose equal rights for women on the station almost a year ago. The authority, however, is dragging its feet. After some pressure from the Attorney-General’s Office, the station grudgingly agreed to allow limited women’s broadcasts. It suggested one weekly program, in addition to allowing women to be heard in “special cases.” The chairman of the Second Authority, Dr. Ilan Avisar, noted that he “did not understand what the difference is between women not being allowed to recite the blessing over the Torah in the synagogue and women not being allowed to talk on the radio.”

Dalia Zelikovitch and Dr. Aliza Lavie, members of the authority’s executive board, were appalled by the comparison. They have been demanding equal rights, to no avail. The attorney-general has not found it necessary to intervene any further. One wonders why the owners of Kol Barama are so insistent on this issue. It would seem that thus far, society has shown a deep respect for haredi feelings, by accepting that women’s singing is considered by some rabbis to be halachically prohibited.

Society has not yet demanded equal rights for women singers on these stations. But if Kol Barama continues to insist that women do not participate fully in its vocal broadcasts, it will ultimately find itself facing a petition to the Supreme Court.

Such a petition will not necessarily limit itself to demanding that women speak; it may lead to the demand that women be allowed to sing. If the Supreme Court were to rule in favor of that demand, the Kol Hai station would be forced to comply as well. Extremism may well breed extremism, to the detriment of all. The last word goes to Rachel. What would she say if she knew that Kol Barama Radio forbade her to weep in public?

Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, chairman and vice-chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)

August 4, 2011

The new director-general of the IBA

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:53 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The new director-general of the IBA

By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK

03/08/2011

The recent appointment of Yoni Ben-Menachem has awakened a few demons from their slumber.

Arguably, the most influential job at the Israel Broadcasting Authority is that of the director-general. The director-general is not only an administrator, but also the chief editor of a public media organization whose annual budget is close to NIS 1 billion a year, almost all originating from the taxpayers’ pockets. The IBA empire includes two TV channels, numerous radio stations in multiple languages and an Internet website. It is one of the most important purveyors of news and often sets the national agenda.

No wonder the selection process for this desirable position may wake some demons from their slumber.

Now comes the news that Yoni Ben-Menachem is to be the new director-general after Mordechai Sklaar’s five-year term expired.

In previous years, the appointment process was straightforward. The minister responsible for the IBA would decide. Prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed Sklaar to his job. Prime minister Ariel Sharon appointed and also fired Yosef Barel.

This process raised two major critiques. The history of the IBA is one of ongoing conflict between the chairperson of its public board, and its directorgeneral. Both are appointed by the minister in charge, but the present IBA Law, adopted over 40 years ago, does not clarify who the real boss is. This has led to poor management, the outcome of which is clear to all. The IBA is bloated with manpower, but does not produce the quality expected of it.

A second issue is whether it is appropriate for politicians to appoint those in charge of the public media organ whose journalistic responsibility is to report those same politicians’ activities. MK Eitan Cabel (Labor), while serving as the minister in charge of the IBA, decided to change the procedure. His new IBA law, formulated with the assistance of left-wing lawyer Michael Sfard, had initially suggested that the director-general be appointed by an independent committee, headed by a retired judge and four other leading academic, journalistic and economic figures.

Although appointed by the government, the committee would be independent, setting some distance between the politicians and the professionals at the IBA. The IBA law has yet to be ratified. In its present version, the appointments committee is considerably less elitist, but the idea of distancing the politicians from the professionals has been kept. It also clarifies that if necessary, the public body governing the IBA can fire the director-general. The hierarchy is clear – the director-general reports to the chairperson. In the spirit of the suggested legislation, Amir Gilat, the present IBA chairman, formed an ad hoc appointments committee. Its members included himself as chairman; Yoav Horovitz of the IBA’s public executive directorate; attorney Moshe Dayan, head of the Civil Service Administration; actress Yona Elian; and Prof. Aviad Hacohen, dean of Sha’arei Mishpat Law College. The committee unanimously recommended to the prime minister, the acting minister in charge of the IBA, to appoint Ben-Menachem director-general.

Yoni, as he is known to all, has risen from the ranks of the IBA, having been an employee since 1983. Among his accomplishments is the first interview with Yasser Arafat by an Israeli journalist prior to the signing of the Oslo Accords. He edited and produced documentary films on political issues in Palestinian society and its attitude toward Israel. He served as a reporter and commentator, covering for many years, on Israel Radio, the diplomatic give and take between Israel and the Palestinians. He was appointed director of Israel Radio from 2003-2008, but was forced out by Sklaar.

Despite his formidable professional credentials, Ben-Menachem’s appointment has caused quite a storm. The Movement for Quality Government petitioned advocate Tanya Spanitz, who heads the governmental appointments oversight committee, to review Ben-Menachem’s ties with Netanyahu. Yossi Bar-Mocha, the executive director of the Tel Aviv Journalists Association, decried the politicization of the IBA and the loss of its freedom of expression. Nine members of the IBA plenum demanded a special plenum meeting to discuss the decision.

Interestingly, the speakers at the hastily convened meeting included MKs Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), Nachman Shai (Kadima), Cabel and Muhammad Barakei (Hadash), all of whom expressed their deep concern over the politicization of the IBA. Indeed, the IBA in past years has been deeply politicized. One cannot but note that independent research has documented the left-wing ideology of the main anchors of the country’s premiere radio station, Reshet Bet. Too many people with political and other ties are part of the IBA programming. Examples abound. Judy Shalom-Nir- Moses, former MK Geula Cohen and author Eli Amir have had a weekly radio program for years. The IBA’s legal commentator, Moshe Negbi, is known for his left-wing legal commentary, which has not been balanced by differing views.

Perhaps the central challenge facing Ben-Menachem is to turn the IBA into a truly public broadcasting corporation, in which, as stipulated by law, the IBA would represent all parts of Israeli society; in which the IBA professionals would view themselves as public servants whose job is to provide the public with information instead of setting the national agenda; and whose mandate is to provide quality programming to the Israeli public.

For example, will Ben-Menachem follow up on his predecessor’s initiative and air a satirical program from the Latma group? Haaretz also does not like the changes at the IBA. In its editorial of July 26, it was upset that its suggested demand that the IBA managers be “appointed by a public neutral authority untainted by political bias and removed from government control” was not implemented by the Likud-led government. Could it be that the outcry against Ben-Menachem’s appointment is a fear of true democracy?

Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, chairman and vice-chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (http://imw.org.il)