December 30, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT: The named and the nameless

Posted in Media at 2:31 pm by yisraelmedad

The named and the nameless


Gender discrimination be exposed and dealt with, but it is unfair to put the whole onus on one community.

The last week of December typically lacks news events. The media have a tough time convincing us there’s really something interesting going on we can’t miss out on. But this past week the Israeli media had a ball. Some extreme people wearing haredi clothes kept news outlets busy outdoing each other at the game of “who’s the best haredi basher.”

What actually happened? A psychopath spat at a child. Yes, he had on the garb of a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jew, though his actions were a far cry from the haredi ethos. What else? Some hoodlums and a foolish policeman tried to move a woman from her seat in the front of a bus in Ashdod. The hoodlums prevented the bus from moving, the driver called the police, the police officer, instead of defending the woman, did what he had been taught to do, especially by our media, namely acquiesce to the hoodlums and try and convince Tanya Rosenblitt to move to the back of the bus. She refused, some of the hoodlums stayed off of the bus, the rest of the passengers entered normally and Ms. Rosenblitt stayed in her front seat. Again, the hoodlums had haredi garb on.

The action continued; there were demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, some of which turned violent, demonstrators in haredi clothes hurled epithets at policemen, such as “Nazis,” threw rocks and other debris, and some media people were lightly injured. It would seem as if Sodom and Gomorrah were upon us. The president and the prime minister announced that gender discrimination is intolerable, women politicians gathered together to defend their gender (and also attack each other) and the media continued having a ball.

A movement which calls itself Yisrael Hofshit (A Free Israel) together with a number of other NGOs organized a rally against gender discrimination in Beit Shemesh. It was announced that there would be hundreds of police officers at hand to prevent trouble.

The media advertised the event time and again prior to its taking place – the larger it is, the greater the chance there will be “action” and the media would be able to continue with their big haredi-bashing party.

Sadly(?) the event was rather peaceful! Is this all that happened during this past week? Consider some other events, surely not as dangerous or important to our society.

Some rockets were fired in the South, okay, that’s routine stuff, we all know about it, no need to get excited. Gunfire erupted at a Jewish traveler in Judea and Samaria. Again, who cares; the target was a settler, not an upright citizen from the Tel Aviv area. A Kadima MK was the target of fire bombs in Judea and Samaria, he received his two bits of prime-time news interviews, no need to further belabor the subject.

We all know that there is a double standard here. The media singles out certain communities, while at the same time, in the name of an unwritten code of political correctness, will not dare to mention others. The Arab sector is responsible for almost double its share of traffic fatalities. The previous week saw seven fatalities from road accidents. Did the media report how many came from the Arab sector?

The reckless and lawless driving in the Arab sector kills them and kills others. Yet this is a non-issue, one is not permitted to mention it. Certainly it is less interesting than the ultra-Orthodox community and less threatening (unless G-d forbid one becomes personally involved in such a tragedy).

“Family honor” is another issue with grave consequences in the Arab sector. Just this past week, a 45-year-old woman from the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in Gaza was killed by strangulation. Chief Ayman al- Batniji, spokesman of the Palestinian Police, reported that the perpetrator was the victim’s nephew, who admitted killing the woman to maintain the “family honor.”

One might think many women in the Arab sector would want such information to be put on the public table by the media, to help prevent them from becoming victims. But our media somehow thinks otherwise.

The prevalence of violence against women in the Jewish Ethiopian community is also not part of the “women defense week.” It is considered “racism” to mention that this community, whose skin is dark, has some serious problems, whose solution depends to a large extent on our society’s willingness to face and deal with them constructively.

Did we mention the settlers?

There’s no doubt all the “price tag” actions are the responsibility of the settler rabbis and their ongoing chutzpa in residing in the “occupied territories.” The fact that some misguided national-religious soldiers refused to attend an event in which women were singing was like a Godsend to the story-starved media. The issue has not died down to this day. Contrast this to the Anat Kam story and the fact that Haaretz “journalist” Uri Blau is permitted to continue with his “fact-finding” scoops.

A few months ago, we reported in this column that the Shas-dominated Kol Barama radio station does not permit women to speak on it. This past week, the Second Authority for Radio and Television convened to affirm that the station must – once a week, for a period of one hour – allow women to utter some sounds on air. If utterly necessary they will also interview a woman outside of the slot.

Dr. Dalia Zelikovitch, a member of the Authority, demonstrated against this decision by coming to the meeting with a face cover, but to no avail. Here we have a government institution blatantly upholding discrimination against women yet the media is largely silent.

Even the woman politicians do not dare address this issue. Is there any difference between not allowing a woman to sit in the front of a bus and not allowing her to talk on a radio station? Perhaps yes: even the lunatics allow women to sit in the back of the bus if space is available.

Israeli society is not perfect. It consists of various sectors, Arab, Druse, Tel Avivians, national-religious, reform, settlers, kibbutzniks, etc., each with its own problems. The media’s job is to uncover these. There is nothing wrong with identifying a haredi as such, but only if this is done without malice aforethought and equally for all sectors.

Gender discrimination, whether in the haredi, Arab, Tel Aviv or other communities is a serious issue and should be exposed and dealt with by our society. But to put the whole onus on one community has the odor of other black times in Jewish history in the Diaspora.


December 22, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT: The media boomerang effect

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:48 am by yisraelmedad

The media boomerang effect


The Media Effect: Israeli public aware that its press is too often a suppressor of democracy instead of its staunch supporter.

Boomerangs, as we know, go out and then, in theory, come all the way back. In marketing, it happens when, in making too strong a pitch, the subject’s attitude becomes negative and they decide not to purchase the product.

There is a “boomerang effect” with regard to the Israeli media, too. It occurs when local media exploit their connections with the foreign press to impact Israeli society.

Danna Weiss of Channel 2 TV traveled to Washington to be present at the Saban Center Conference. There, she conducted a panel discussion on US-Israel relations which included Tom Friedman of The New York Times, Martin Indyk of CNN and the Saban Center, and in-house commentator Ehud Yaari.

The event was broadcast in two parts, on December 10. Part one was the pre-recorded panel discussion. Ms. Weiss, through her questions and remarks, was indistinguishable from the panelists and involved herself most intensely in the anti- Netanyahu and anti-Israeli government rhetoric.

Next up was a live broadcast with Dr. Yoaz Hendel, head of the Prime Minister’s Office National Information Directorate. His presence provided some semblance of balance to the Washington panel, but he was simply outnumbered. Even in this discussion, Ms. Weiss took advantage of her position as moderator to pose anti-government questions.

The Saban conference was indeed a left-wing affair, but our media reported extensively on the conference, presenting it as if it was an objective intellectual exercise whose conlcusions supported the theme that the Netanyahu government is impeding the supposedly very necessary two-state solution.

THERE IS a darker aspect of Israeli media reporting on foreign events. It is the sound of silence. The media hides from the Israeli public events and news that do not fit in with the politically correct media agenda.

David Barnett and Professor Efraim Karsh, director of the Middle East Forum and a research professor at London’s King’s College, published an article in the Forum’s Middle East Quarterly magazine entitled “Azzam’s Genocidal Threat.” They had discovered the original source of the infamous declaration of Abdul Rahman Azzam, the Arab League’s first secretary-general, that the establishment of a Jewish state would lead to “a war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.”

Barnett and Karsh discovered that Azzam’s threat was made prior to the November 29, 1947 UN partition resolution.

This patently negates the notions of New Historians such as Tom Segev who claim that the Jews in Palestine were not really threatened at the time by the Arab world.

Dr. Segev found it necessary to publish an article in Hebrew and English in Haaretz, attempting to downplay the Barnett-Karsh discovery. This led to another article by Professor Karsh, entitled “Haaretz: The Paper for Thinking People?” In this last article, Karsh says he emailed a reply to Segev’s column within three days, but it took another six weeks of haggling until Aluf Benn, Haaretz’s editor, grudgingly agreed to publish an abridged version of the response, and then only in Hebrew.

Karsh’s criticism of Segev is harsh. He accuses him of distortion, besmirching those who brought the Azzam article to public attention, inverting the truth and failing to help “his country reclaim the historical truth after decades of relentless distortion.” He charges Haaretz with engaging “in the shoddy business of truth suppression and mouth shutting at a time when it self-righteously fights an alleged attempt by the Israeli government to do precisely that.”

IT WOULD be hard to overstate the ramifications of this important academic debate on Israel’s narrative of the 1948 war or its impact on our schoolbooks. Unfortunately, however, the issue did not even come close to becoming a media issue. The boomerang here operates in the other direction, abroad. If Haaretz locally suppresses historical fact, why shouldn’t the same history be distorted abroad?

Nor is the Karsh case an isolated incident. Has anyone in Israel heard about a US organization called ACT! for America? The founder, one Brigitte Gabriel, is a Lebanese immigrant to the US, an expert on terrorism and the author of two books. She describes herself as “a survivor of Islamic terror who lost her native country of Lebanon to the hegemony of radical Islam and vows to make sure her adopted country of America never falls to the same fate.”

In a recent speech she describes the self-hate being promoted on American campuses, especially by academics in the Social Sciences. She decries recent Islamic propaganda being taught in American public schools, which she claims is in blatant contradiction with the hallowed American principle of separation between church and state.

Sound familiar? It should. We seem to have similar problems here. Yet this type of American thinking is way off the radar for the Saban Conference, despite the direct ramifications it has on issues involving Israel. As such, it does not “deserve” coverage by Israel’s media. It just doesn’t fit the “acceptible” narrative.

Prof. Alan Dershowitz recently visited Israel, inter alia, to receive an honorary Menachem Begin Prize. In an interview with the editor-inchief of The Jerusalem Post, Steve Linde, the Harvard professor said “all sides [of the media] have engaged in hyperbole and overstatement about these issues….”

In an interview with Yaakov Ahimeir on Channel 1, Dershowitz later noted the disparaging remarks about Israel and Zionism made by Israeli media stars including Uri Avnery and a plethora of Haaretz columnists. He asserted that this type of strident rhetoric provides strong ammunition for those hostile to Israel and makes it most difficult for defenders of Israel even to highlight the simple facts.

But at the end of the day, the real boomerang effect hits back at the Israeli press. The Israeli public is well aware that its press is too often a suppressor of Israel’s democracy instead of its staunch supporter. Isn’t it time that we stop supporting those who undermine our Zionist existence?

The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.

December 8, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT: Journalists’ feast

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:51 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Journalists’ feast

December 8, 2011

Wintertime in Eilat might just be heaven on earth. Sunny days with clear skies and zero humidity, cool nights, a beautiful and colorful desert with a blue sea as backdrop. Perhaps the annual journalists meeting takes place in Eilat since this profession is rather far from heaven but it wants at least to “make believe” for a few days.

The tone of the 2011 Eilat Journalists’ Conference was evident upon arrival. Each participant was given a T-shirt with the slogan “We are all against the silencing law,” referring to Knesset legislation setting stricter rules to curb journalistic libel. At the Sunday night plenum, the introduction by Tel Aviv Journalists Union CEO and conference organizer Yossi Bar-Mocha was crystal clear.

“You see tonight a large, impressive meeting – very, very serious and professional. Professional panels which reflect that our struggle is over our freedom of expression and in favor of anything that promotes Israel’s democracy,” he said.

Bar-Mocha was followed by the president of the Israel Press Council, former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner. Her statements were surprisingly similar: “There is a war against freedom of expression and freedom of the press… the libel law is but a symptom. It freezes the media’s ability to act, at the same time that the media has already been weakened due to its dependence on media tycoons… the freedom of the press is not just an issue which is of interest to journalists but it is of importance to anyone who strives for a democratic state with a biting and critical press. It is important that we keep our solidarity in this war for the sake of freedom of the press.”

Perhaps, though, the underlying reasons for the proposed amendment to the libel laws clarified themselves that same evening. The Israel Broadcasting Authority did not officially participate in the meeting. IBA officials from both the public supervisory body and professional executives boycotted the event.

There is a well-documented power struggle going on between the current IBA management, appointed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and the previous leadership, appointed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert. The Tel Aviv journalists association has sided with the Olmert appointees and has fought tooth-and-nail to help them retain their jobs.

This struggle is perhaps legitimate. People who believe they have performed well at their jobs naturally want to stay in their leadership positions. But Bar-Mocha used the podium to publicly attack the present leadership of the IBA, stating that: “We have clearly and absolutely initiated the struggle against the happenings in public broadcasting. Crazy appointments are taking place and these appointments are hurting the IBA’s employees. People’s mouths are forcibly shut and this is actually a shutting of the mouths of public broadcasting in Israel… We are talking about a political mafia, under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, this is the fact, comrades, and one cannot deny it.

“And we will act. We will act to make sure that this does not [occur]. There are those who have an interest in promoting themselves at the expense of the public and at the expense of freedom of expression…. We will fight to the end to ensure that the public broadcasting does not become governmental broadcasting.”

Bar-Mocha did not mention the IBA’s leadership by name, however the no-holds barred attack was against people not present who could not defend their good name. Bar-Mocha and his supporters do not understand that it is precisely this kind of lack of professional standards that underlies the politicians’ concern over the freedom of the press to attack others without accountability.

FOR ALL the talk about democracy and the supposed threats, it should be noted that women speakers at the conference were a one-to-three minority. The central editors’ panel on Sunday evening did not include any Arab or Haredi editors, and concerns were raised during several panel sessions that legislation, as well as the financial hold of tycoons, weaken the ability of journalists to carry out biting and in-depth research on various topics, including improper financial actions of the billionaires or influence-peddling and the like by politicians.

However, as expressed by Dr. Dror Eydar of Israel HaYom, Ms. Ilana Dayan in her recent interview with Gilad Sharon did not even try to press him on issues such as the Greek island and other reported financial improprieties of the Sharon family. All this before any legislation has even passed!

Another panel discussed Israel’s international hasbara (public diplomacy) efforts. Professor Gadi Wolfsfeld from the Hebrew University claimed that it really does not matter what Israel says, only what it does, for it is our occupation of the West Bank which leads to our negative image.

The fact that Israel has overall a positive image in the United States did not faze him or journalist Ron Ben-Yishai. Facts are not really too important when journalists meet to discuss the issues of the day.

A public opinion poll commissioned by the meeting’s organizers showed that the Jewish Israeli public considers Channel 2 TV’s news to be the most left-wing TV broadcast in Israel. Yet the news director, Avi Weiss, repeatedly stated that he is proud of the pluralism of his channel and the fact that there are a few right-wing journalists working for him.

Interestingly, Channel 1 TV came out the best in the poll. Only 49 percent thought it was left-wing. Could this be another reason why the IBA has come under such strong attack by so many journalists? Was the meeting an important one? Will it bring about some positive change in our media scene? At least one aspect of the meeting was positive. There was more plurality of opinion than in any of the five previous meetings.

Not only was there much broader representation of the Israeli public among the panelists, the same may be said of the audience. Applause was heard more than once for right-wing speakers, not only for the Left. More importantly, the scenes of yesteryear in which right-wing panelists could not finish a sentence disappeared completely.

One can only hope this trend will continue; plurality is the lifeblood of a truly democratic press.


December 1, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT: Agenda’s agenda

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:25 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Agenda’s agenda


Agenda’s radical left-wing agenda is not hidden. It is part of the radical forum Shutafut-Sharakah, made up of extreme groups like The Citizens’ Accord Forum between Jews and Arabs in Israel, Keshev, Shatil and Sikkuy.

Next week, the Eilat Journalists Conference will convene once again.

For three days, the country’s best-known media stars and politicians, as well as a line-up of guests from abroad and others connected to the media will discuss and debate their profession in panel and general plenum sessions. The gathering is considered the top media conclave of the year.

Like last year, one of the bodies with “cooperative” status is an NGO named Agenda – the Israeli Center for Strategic Communication. The organization’s main outreach efforts are aimed at mutual engagement of the media industry with minority groups and the theme of democracy.

Its expenditure for these activities came to almost NIS 1.25 million in 2010.

Its nine-member staff works hard, with five individuals earning a combined salary of NIS 712,000, not excessive by any measure.

Information which is readily available on the internet reveals that Agenda is financed in part by the European Union – 206,262 Euros were granted during 2010- 11. Other sources are the Moriah Fund, part of the New Israel Fund, which provided some $150,000 during 2006-2010. At one point, the Ford Foundation was also providing Agenda with funding.

But what is Agenda’s agenda? According to the website, Agenda works “to reprioritize and reframe social change issues within the Israeli public debate and media.” This is to be achieved through “a strategic shift in the media’s approach to key social change issues, while providing strategic tools and consultation services to social change organizations to improve their work with the media.” Its overarching goal is to “shape public opinion and lead to social and conceptual change through the media, through full cooperation with the organizations for social change.”

Tikkun, the North American progressive journal, described Agenda as an organization that was “founded in 2003… to establish a new public discourse where voices outside of the established mainstream are heard and a central place is given within the media to issues of peace and social justice.”

The executive director of Agenda, Ms. Anat Saragusti, is an experienced media personality. She was an active journalist and documentary film director who previously worked for Israel’s Channel 2 news as a senior correspondent and as a producer/editor for its weekly magazine, “Ulpan Shishi.” She was a correspondent in Gaza and began her career at the Ha’olam Hazeh weekly magazine, founded and edited by radical anti-Zionist former MK Uri Avnery.

AGENDA’S LEFT-wing agenda is not hidden.

It is part of the radical progressive forum Shutafut-Sharakah, made up of groups from the extreme Left including the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, The Citizens’ Accord Forum between Jews and Arabs in Israel, Keshev, Shatil and Sikkuy, among others, which petitioned to fire Army Radio personality Avri Gilad who they accused of racism.

Why is Agenda on the agenda of the journalists’ Eilat conference? Agenda’s presence at last year’s Eilat Conference was controversial. Its financial support for the conference was sufficient to have its logo appear prominently on the conference program. Yet several journalists charged that Agenda had, with malice aforethought, organized an attack on reporters who are identified with the political Right during panel discussions. The ruckus raised from the floor simply prevented them fromvoicing their opinion coherently.

The topic of one of the panels was on how language is used to inject politics into journalism. Members of the panel agreed that Israel’s media did tend to the Left, selecting terms and buzz words to influence the discourse. Arutz 7 Executive Director Uzi Baruch attempted to comment from the floor but he was prevented from doing so, allegedly by journalists affiliated with Agenda.

In response, Baruch threatened to discontinue his membership in the Tel Aviv journalists’ association. It was claimed that members of the audience affiliated with Agenda directed insults of a political tone towards Ms. Emily Amrousi and Uzi Baruch accusing them of living in “occupied territory” and being “war criminals.”

Baruch even suggested that the Agenda representative on the panel had misleadingly quoted findings from a survey critical of Israel.

In response, Mr. Yossi Bar-Mocha, the executive director of the journalists’ organization and the main force behind the Eilat Conferences promised that this year right-wing journalists would be placed in the various panels of the Eilat conference.

This year’s conference, again sponsored partially by Agenda, will be held at Herod’s Palace Hotel from December 4-7.

Shalom Kittal, formerly a media consultant for the Labor Party and executive director of Channel 2 news, is chairman of the Program Committee. There will be 1,500 guests from Israel and abroad with 30 panel sessions. The new social media will be a central subject, a spin-off of this past spring and summer’s events in Israel and Arab countries. Peter Barron of Google Europe will be a guest of honor.

The conference isn’t cheap. For someone not a member of the journalists’ association, a room for the three nights at the conference hotel is between NIS 3,000 and NIS 4,000. At the Itonaim blog on December 2 last year, Yair Tarchitsky, who had worked at Haaretz and NRG, expressed unease at the hand-in-glove financial phenomenon behind the Conference of “you pay, you get your say.”

He felt that that the system permitted those with cash to muscle their way into the conference and on to the stage.

Dozens of participants though, had their expenses covered by Agenda and, as noted above, have been accused of silencing views that diverged from the Agenda agenda.

Over all, the conference appears to be more concerned with the political sphere rather than professional aspects of the media and its work. Media accountability for one does not seem to be a topic of great interest.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority is not participating in this year’s conference, casting an uneasy pall over it. On the positive side one notes that the organizers of the conference have made a conscious effort to provide more balance in the list of speakers and presenters than in the past few years. Who knows, but perhaps Agenda will not be setting the agenda next year and the meeting would truly become a professional one, independent of ideological color of any sort.

The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.