January 27, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: How ethical are legal commentators?

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:23 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: How ethical are legal commentators?



One wonders why our public airwaves are dominated by unbalanced, unethical legal commentary.

An accepted definition of the term “commentator” is “a broadcaster or writer who reports and analyzes events in the news on radio or television.” Moshe Negbi is a “commentator,” employed by the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) since 1969. His weekly radio program, “Din Udevarim” (Law Matters), has been on air since 1981. He is the IBA’s sole legal commentator.

Negbi has an impressive resume. He is the son of a Labor Court judge. He has an MA in law from the Hebrew University, and did his legal internship with Supreme Court justice (ret.) Mishael Cheshin. He is a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University’s department of journalism and communication. He also teaches at three other academic institutions and has authored books on the media. He also writes for Haaretz where, on November 17, he wrote that “the Defamation Law… threatens to deal a lethal blow to freedom of the press in general and freedom of the investigative press in particular.”

Negbi sounds quite authoritative on practically all major legal issues of importance in Israel, especially human rights concerns and democracy. One rarely finds anyone publicly refuting him. Negbi’s radio program, however, is not quite the model of ethical correctness.

Israel’s Media Watch recently analyzed his weekly program over the period of September- October, 2011. Women’s rights are an important topic on Negbi’s agenda. Negbi strongly supports equality for women, yet only 16 percent of those invited to participate in his program were women. 74 different topics were dealt with during the two-month period. Of these 40% were slanted or unbalanced.

Some examples bring to light the atmosphere and spirit of his radio program. This past Sunday, the first half hour was dedicated to various issues having to do with the ultra- Orthodox or haredi community, ranging from the Tal Law dealing with their army service to women’s rights, which the rabbinical establishment “ignores.”

Negbi, as well as all four panelists, agreed that the haredim are not contributing sufficiently to Israeli society. They only disagreed on the tactics needed to bring them into the fold. None of the panelists represented the haredi community, so there was no explanation of their viewpoint as the IBA’s media code on pluralism demands.

On October 30, Negbi severely criticized the Israeli court system. Anat Kam, who stole sensitive security documents while serving as a secretary in the army, was found guilty of theft and breach of trust and received a jail term. She passed documents to Haaretz’s Uri Blau, who then publicized them. Negbi thought Kam was unfairly demonized and that Blau’s role in the affair was purely “ethical,” not criminal, and that he should not even be indicted.

Contrast this with his antipathy toward right-wing activists who have not been convicted or even suspected of a crime. On September 11 a discussion on his program dealt with “price tag” activities. Three people were in the studio, Negbi and Professors Michael Corinaldi and Shlomo Avineri, but there was no balance to the anti-settler sentiment and the obligation for fairness was not upheld.

The program always begins with Negbi expressing his personal opinion for several minutes. Perhaps he feels that it is imperative that his audience know his biases in advance, so that they can discount them when he then interviews people on the same issues. Negbi’s known left-wing slant also seems to influence his choice of guests. The ratio of left-wing to right-wing guests in his program, during the period covered, was almost 2 to 1.

Negbi is frequently on IBA news magazine programs as a commentator on legal issues, both radio and television. When the medical interns submitted a collective resignation letter, the state petitioned the labor court to prevent their resignation. Negbi, in his “commentary,” ridiculed the Justice Ministry officials for even attempting to go to court, claiming that it was obvious that everyone has the right to resign. Yet the court upheld the state’s petition. Negbi did not even see fit to present conflicting views on the issues. In fact, Negbi’s commentary is all too often onesided and lacks the breadth expected from a true professional.

Negbi is a staunch supporter of an activist Supreme Court and its absolute independence. Likud MKs last year tabled several bills that would somewhat reduce the court’s powers. On November 21, in the morning radio news program anchored by Aryeh Golan, Negbi reacted, referring to the: “severe politicization of the Supreme Court,” “attempt to assassinate Israel’s democracy,” “legislative actions, which I would say are almost hallucinatory, blatantly anti-democratic.” All this is under the guise of “commentary.”

The army radio station Galatz also has a weekly legal program, “Crossfire,” edited and presented by Dr. David Tadmor, that deals with the past week’s legal events. Dr. Tadmor was Israel’s Anti-trust Commissioner from 1997-2001. He has a BA in law and interned with the former president of the Supreme Court, Justice Meir Shamgar. He has an MA and a PhD in law from New York University and is today a partner in his own legal firm.

Tadmor also uses his program to voice his opinions. Thus for example when the name of now Supreme Court Justice Noam Solberg, who fined Ms. Ilana Dayan NIS 300,000 for libeling Captain R was mentioned on October 27, he declared: “In the libel case of Ilana Dayan, he earned his public image [as a right-winger] honorably.”

On the issue of Channel 10’s unpaid debts to the government he said on November 3 that: “It [the government] wants another media organ which will broadcast only the news the government wants,” and “wants to assure that others will not broadcast things the government doesn’t want.” His opinion on the Knesset is that “this is the worst Knesset ever, or at least in my memory.” Tadmor also does not invite many women to his program – IMW’s check of eight programs came up with only 7%.

One wonders why our public airwaves are dominated by unbalanced, unethical legal commentary. One wonders why our legal commentators are not accountable for their errors. At one time, Negbi’s superiors, under pressure, were obliged to appoint a special editor for his program. But this has long been forgotten. Why doesn’t the public oversight committee at least balance Negbi’s perennial program by bringing in a second anchor, or by providing an additional program anchored by someone with conservative opinions? It is high time the public received legal commentary rather than opinion.



January 19, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: In media we trust?

Posted in Media at 1:22 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: In media we trust?


Even for ‘The New York Times,’ objectivity is no longer perceived as an ethical obligation.

The New York Times’ public editor, the in-house supervisor, stirred up the media this week by questioning whether the press has a responsibility to ensure that the truth is printed. Arthur Brisbane raised the issue, musing about whether or not it is appropriate for an objective journalist to “take sides” by noting that someone lied. He also suggested that a reporter who points out a falsehood is actually a “truth vigilante.”

In an appended note, Jill Abramson, the paper’s executive editor, was forced to note that the question Brisbane was addressing was actually “whether the Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut ‘facts’ that are offered by news-makers when those ‘facts’ are in question.” In other words, are newspapers or news broadcast really trustworthy? According to Abramson, “some voices crying out for ‘facts’ really only want to hear their own version of the facts.”

The conclusion, we suggest, is that even for such an elite news organ like The New York Times, objectivity is no longer perceived as an ethical obligation.

The NYT debate is likely to spill over to Israel, and some of our biased journalists will jump at the opportunity to “prove” that their behavior is now no longer considered as unethical or unprofessional.

Whereas the Times is a private newspaper, most electronic broadcasting outlets in Israel are regulated by law. Israel has a detailed code of ethics that clearly rejects the post-modernist and relativistic viewpoint expressed by Brisbane. The question in Israel is not one of principle but one of practice. Will Israel’s regulators and ombudsmen continue to act in their usual derelict manner as a new threat assumes major proportions?

The three major electronic broadcasters, the IBA, the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR) and Army Radio, which include three television networks and over 20 radio stations, are overseen by Elisha Shpiegelman (IBA), David Regev (SATR) who most recently replaced Giora Rozen, and Oded Levinson (Army Radio-Galatz). All three have backgrounds in journalism.

Levinson serves both as ombudsman and as an anchor for an economic program broadcast on Galatz, creating a conflict of interest. Rozen, for the past year, was working simultaneously as the executive director of an NGO and a part-time ombudsman of SATR, also creating a conflict of interest.

THE CENTRAL problem, though, is the ineffectiveness of these judges of media ethics. Their decisions are too often questionable. Even when they do find a complaint to be justified they either lack the means or the will to take action to right the wrongs. They are also, too often, notoriously slow in their responses.

Examples abound. Last week, Ohad Chemo of Channel 2 informed his audience that right-wing extremists had uploaded a photoshopped picture of a sleeping IDF officer with his head replaced by that of a dog. The outrage and disgust were palpable. But the picture was three years old and from a Facebook account portraying a Purim-themed album having nothing at all to do with “settlers.” Yonit Levy, the anchor, issued a “clarification,” not an apology. The ombudsman did not order an investigation of Mr. Chemo for poor journalism, nor has the authority publicly reprimanded him. Media accountability? No way!

On the night of the Fogel family massacre, Army Radio continued its regular programming, which included a light entertainment program. At the same time many people in Israel who do not listen to the news on Shabbat were being exposed to the tragic events for the first time. One might think that Galatz would show some sensitivity. A complaint made on March 13, the day after, was finally answered by Levinson, after repeated inquiries as to the delay, only three months later. To add fuel to the fire, Levinson’s answer justified the station’s decision, claiming that a poll made years previously showed that the public does not desire a change in programming.

Last year, a late-night Army Radio program for Tu Bishvat was full of references to “grass” and “consciousness-expanding aids.” Levinson rejected a complaint that the army radio station Galatz especially should not tolerate even the semblance of support for drug use. He claimed it was all “humorous,” but said the station was sorry if the joke was misunderstood.

When an ombudsman knows that a complaint is justified but for whatever reason does not want to admit it, the standard policy is to ignore the “inconvenient” parts. On November 11, Arieh Golan conducted a long interview with attorney Michael Sfard, the legal adviser of the post-Zionist Yesh Din organization. Sfard, in a lengthy monologue, explained that settler claims that their land does not belong to Palestinians are just “white noise.” Mr. Golan followed that up with an interview with Eitan Brosh, the Defense Ministry official responsible for uprooting settlements and outposts in Judea and Samaria. No representative of the settlers was given the opportunity to present his or her views, but a complaint about that fact was simply ignored.

Of course, not every complaint is accurate or justified. Viewers and listeners sometimes misunderstand what they observe and hear. But combining weak or even unwilling oversight and less-than-effective punishment with cross-ownership seriously erodes the quality of the news we consume. It is high time that the overseers do the job for which they are paid, media review, not media defense.

The authors are respectively the vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch, www.imw.org.il

January 12, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: Is Israel slipping towards ‘videocracy’?

Posted in Media at 1:28 am by yisraelmedad

Is Israel slipping towards ‘videocracy’?

By Yisrael Medad and Eli Pollak

Benjamin Barber wrote that television does not “enhance literacy [so much] as render it irrelevant.”

Media vocabulary was enriched in 2009 by an Italian documentary about that country’s 30- year descent into broadcast inanity. The film, entitled Videocracy, was directed by Erik Gandini and established a paradigm: image possesses power over society.

The film’s message was simple: controlling images is a key to power. Those who effectively use media tools and understand media codes, Gandini insinuated, become leaders of the new-fangled videocracy and take control of society. The subtext of the film was the understanding that “without television you can’t do anything.”

That is especially true in Israel, where the media has been exploited not for economic as for political gain.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, warned in October that people were becoming “vidiots” and that new media devices have resulted in “countless ill effects,” including social fragmentation stemming from “television-driven social atomization.” Politicians are now brand names, packaged like breakfast cereal and sold with catchy jingles.

Power passes through the TV channels. Some neuroscientists even believe extensive TV viewing could rewire the brain and impair cognitive capacities. In a recent research paper on the media and the politics of the symbolic construction of reality, Sandu Frunza argues that the mass media plays the same role in modern society that myth used to play in traditional societies.

All of which provides backdrop to President Shimon Peres’ statement last month that the “fight for Channel 10 is fight for democracy.” The closure of the channel, Peres said, would lead to “social and economic bankruptcy.” He was concerned that if domestic media is harmed, youth will “all go to the Internet, read foreign newspapers, and not know what’s happening in the country.”

Waxing philosophic, Peres continued, saying “democracy rests on two wings – government action and the critical action of the free press. It’s not possible to separate the two and remain democratic.” Haaretz added that Peres viewed Channel 10 as “imperative for the state, society and the strengthening of Israeli democracy.”

THE MEDIA has the ability to weaken democracy by permitting non-elected elites to become dominant.

In addition, even the Israeli Left can criticize the media for being an indentured servant of the government. For instance, on January 2 Merav Michaeli bemoaned Israel’s loss of what she called an opportunity to achieve a peaceful solution to our conflict with the Arab world.

“It is not only the regime that is displaying total disregard [for the 2002 Saudi Peace Initiative]. The Israeli media – frighteningly establishment as it has always been – also almost completely ignored the Saudi initiative.”

Left-wing media critics such as Keshev’s Yizhar Be’er say military reporters serve as uncritical publicists for the IDF spokesperson.

“The media’s coverage of the first days of the fighting [during Operation Cast Lead] was characterized by feelings of self-righteousness… along with support for the military action and few expressions of criticism,” wrote Be’er at the time.

In a Knesset committee meeting on January 4, Haim Yavin described current leftwing attitudes towards the media. “We are in a kind of siege, suffocating… [but] our freedom of speech will not be stifled,” he said.

Significantly, however Yavin failed to demand freedom of speech for non-media types. This is ironic because the media routinely blocks others’ freedom to express themselves. The most powerful weapon the media possesses is the ability to prevent a true plurality of voices from being heard, as per the law of the IBA. Studies published by the Second Authority consistently show that certain sectors of the population – hareidim, Arabs, immigrants, women – are essentially shut out of the “frame.”

PRESIDENT PERES’ remarks beg a fundamental question: Is democracy adequately served by Israel’s media? Could it be that the media undermines our democracy with unethical and unprofessional behavior?

At the Sokolov Prize for Outstanding Journalism ceremony in November, Raviv Drucker, channel 10’s investigative reporter, attacked Prime Minister Netanyahu, insisting “it is the job of the media to attack” the political regime in a given country. “This is not something personal. It is what the press is supposed to do,” said Drucker.

But Drucker and comrades have, however, developed a warped logical construction here – I am the media, and the media must criticize. Therefore, I must criticize. In doing so, they have placed a higher value on their criticism than on the intended result of their public oversight of elected officials: Good governance and a functioning society.

Benjamin Barber wrote in A Passion for Democracy that television does not really “enhance literacy [so much] as render it irrelevant.” Do Israel’s media consumers benefit from the programming they see and hear? Are media ethical standards of fairness, balance, lack of bias, etc. at work?

A new paradigm seems to have set in for Israeli media: Attack the corridors of power, regardless of the credibility of the attacks. Instead of objectively reporting the five “w’s” – who, what, where, when and why – the media has chosen to mix reportage and opinion. That establishes the media not as an aide to the citizen or as a neutral observer but as an opposing focus of power which seeks to force its own values, ideology, culture and economic view on the public. And it does so undemocratically.

Politicians can and will be notorious. But they are elected. The public has a voice and can turn them out. That is the basis of democracy. Yes, the media should seek out and publicize their foibles, inadequacies and crimes. Nevertheless, the public has little opportunity to affect the media, the motives and behavior of which are, at times, no more pure than those of politicians.

In addition, the media demands “rights” not afforded to politicians or any other sector of society. The media regularly demand the “right” of inviolability and the “right” to immunity. When media owners fail to repay their debts, they demand a consideration not afforded any other societal group. The media wish to be out of reach of normal boundaries.

What is at stake in this Israeli version of videocracy is the protection by media elite, as Dror Eydar phrased it recently, of “the immoral advantage that the Left has,” not only on our screens but also within the legal establishment.

This presents an additional danger to democracy, for while the Israeli electorate votes consistently for parties that form right-wing coalitions, the main power centers of the media, the judiciary and academia continue to lie outside the democratic will of the people, in the hands of a small group with a multitude of spokespeople.

In the democratic West, media criticism supports the people. In Israel, the media supports the elitist cliques and criticism of the media is a sin, one the media will never forgive.

The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch. www.imw.org.il

January 5, 2012

How Jabotinsky Was Distorted

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:18 pm by yisraelmedad

I had translated this article by Israel Eldad and found it here:

Jabotinsky Distorted

Dr. Israel Eldad,
The Jerusalem Quarterly,
No. 16, Summer 1980

The Jewish race is one of the primary races of mankind that has retained its integrity, in spite of the continual change of its climatic environment, and the Jewish type has conserved its purity through the centuries. The Jewish race, which was so pressed and almost destroyed by the many nations of antiquity, would have disappeared long ago in the sea of Indo-Germanic nations, had it not been endowed with the gift of retaining its peculiar type under all Jewish type in cases of intermarriage with members of Indo-Germanic race, I can quote and example from my own experience for the Jewish type is indestructible. Nay, more, the type is undeniable, even in its most beautiful representatives… My own race has played such an important role in the world history and is destined for a still greater one in the future. [Moses Hess, Rome and Jerusalem]

Who is the chauvinist or “integral nationalist” writing these racist lines? The reader may be surprised to learn that these were but a few of many similar observations in Moses Hess’ Rome and Jerusalem. This is not the young Hess prior to his turning to Socialism, but the later one, who assures us, moreover, that “the world-view, here outlined, [will be found] to be the underlying basis of all my works. I have never held any other since I became a writer. It is the soul of my aspirations.” [Moses Hess, Rome and Jerusalem]

Another writer claims that:
there are no superior nor inferior ones, for every race has its own qualities, features and its own combination of characteristics… In my eyes, all people are equal. Of course, I love my people above all but it isn’t “superior” to my mind.
[V. Jabotinsky, “An Exchange of Complaints” 1911 in Nation and Society (Hebrew), pp. 147, 158]

This statement of belief was composed by Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Admittedly, quotations can be taken out of context and selectively presented to the reader. There is no doubt that quotations can be representative of a writer’s central viewpoint. On the other hand, in the process of their extraction from the entire article they can be joined together with an essentially malicious intent of proving a certain thesis, a prejudice or worse, a willful bias.

Piece by piece, Avineri [“The Political Thought of Vladimir Jabotinsky,” The Jerusalem Quarterly, No. 16, Summer 1980] has assembled disparate quotations in order to prove his main theme: Jabotinsky was an ultra-fascist. This definition is never openly presented as such for Avineri prefers to compose an image rather than an essay. He relies on the “proof” that Jabotinsky upheld the theory of race – a more serious charge than fascism for in its original form fascism was not racist or anti-Semitic – that Jabotinsky supported “integral nationalism” (a “cleaner” word than totalitarianism) and militarism, considered the state as a supreme value, preferred the corporate economic system to socialism and even opposed liberalism in its relation to matters of leadership and discipline.

Objectivity and Subjectivity

After all these “charges” an explicit reference to fascism would be superfluous. This, too, following and enthusiastic reference to Jabotinsky’s rare and multiple qualities as if to emphasize the author’s objectivity. If Avineri’s image of Jabotinsky had been based on the main elements of Jabotinsky’s ideas, activities, and struggles and he had been related to the “shadows” as if they were fringe aspects (despite the distortions we will cite below), the description might have been acceptable; or in any case, within the bounds of the permissible for a political adversary. Avineri, however, commits the opposite by taking out of context what is agreeable to him and concealing or minimizing items disadvantageous to his approach.

Even a subjective historian, who was an admitted opponent of Jabotinsky but claimed to be intellectually honest, could not fail to see what were clearly Jabotinsky’s main ideas and concerns:

1. The renewal of Herzlian state-Zionism.

2. The advancement of the security aspect within Zionism, firstly defensive in character, then its Jewish Legion phase (in World War One) and then the fighting underground development (all this a result of the military idea conceived as a state attribute, a political asset and an educational value).

3. Agitation for the rescue of European Jewry through their large-scale evacuation, even utilizing the aid of interested, if anti-Semitic states (while Weizmann cooperated with the anti-Zionist British regime in a slow and selective immigration program).

4. The establishment of Betar as an outstanding youth movement especially in Eastern Europe, wholly Zionist and striving for Eretz Israel to the extent of initiating illegal immigration.

5. Opposition to the expanded Jewish Agency of 1929 as a selling-out of Zionism’s primacy to a Jewish non-political plutocracy.

6. Leaving the World Zionist Organization over its refusal to unreservedly define Zionist Endziel as a Jewish state.

It is as if in passing that Avineri mentions Jabotinsky’s political programs, leading today’s reader, certainly a youngster or someone older who is not familiar with the annals of Zionism, to believe those policies could never have been in dispute. These policies included the Jewish state as the goal of Zionism, the idea if a Jewish army, sound the alarm in the face of the approaching catastrophe and the need for the immediate transfer of millions of Jews. Avineri’s response to the foregoing is “philosophical,” i.e., a perspective of “raising a demand in its proper time.” Thus, in 1935, the time was not ripe to lay claim to a state and yet, in 1937 and subsequent to the Peel Commission, the time had come. The bringing of millions of Jews was a wild idea but at the Biltmore conference in 1942, when millions had already been destroyed, the correct moment had arrived after all.

The fundamentals of Jabotinsky’s ideology – a Zionism of rescuing millions, of statehood and an army – have become an inseparable part of the public domain. Consequently, they are of secondary importance for Avineri whose pivotal point alleged fascism, is achieved by the method of distorted, half-true quotation.

The Principle of Discipline

Let us now examine his proofs.

True enough, Jabotinsky deals at length with the topic of military education and instruction. For him it was not only a necessity for self-defense (a realistic view in light of Arab hostility) or a political asset (already during World War One, even Moshe Sharrett, an extreme moderate labored on behalf of a Jewish army during World War Two), but as pedagogic principle. We should not have to depend on gentile help out of a position of inferiority in terms of honor and political strength. He also considered training as an instrument to inculcate discipline. Again, it is true that Jabotinsky and the hero of his novel, Samson, are excited at the sight of a disciplined mass drawn up in order and answering to a single signal as one. “The fundamental of discipline changes individuals into a united force,” Avineri insinuates.

What, then, is wrong with all this? What is unacceptable here with regard to a people that lacked a sense of statehood and order? Why should a Jew in America or Poland become a disciplined soldier in those countries armies but not in a Jewish army? Why can everyone enjoy the sight of athletic displays performed by thousands in strict cadence, all moving as one, while we cannot? In our instance, anyone that demands such behavior as conforming to a “well known temperament” in Avineri’s careful phrase. The athletic base is dominant in Jabotinsky’s works but Avineri chooses to see it as suggesting Italian Futurism.

Italy fulfills a decisive function in Avineri’s analysis. To be sure, he can find abundant evidence in Jabotinsky’s writings if the fact that he as actually enamored with this country, its people and its culture. But this was the Italy on the threshold of the Twentieth Century, the ultra-liberal nation of Girabaldi, Mazzini and Cavour. It was this Italy that had a strong influence upon him. The futurism that was one of the roots of fascism made its appearance in Italy some twenty years after Jabotinsky’s period of university study in Italy. It was foreign to him, as was anything that broke up forms of harmony. Jabotinsky’s poetry is all coordinated rhythm, set rhyme, cautious imagery – where is the futuristic connection in this instance? Even the quotation Avineri presents as an example of the Jabotinsky view of Italy bears out clearly his preference for liberalism over the futurism that would lead to the worship of discipline and fascism.

This Italian instance provides us with an excellent illustration of the author’s method of selective quotation. Jabotinsky, in the article, had put words in Garibaldi’s mouth. These words, for Avineri, are the proof of nationalism that Jabotinsky had learnt in Italy (a nationalism of the latter development, Avineri constantly reminds us and connects it with the theory of race). Garibaldi states, then, a la Jabotinsky, that I was the knight of mankind but I taught my people to believe that there is no higher value than the nation and homeland and that there is no god in the world on whose behalf it is worthy to sacrifice these to precious jewels.

This, undoubtedly, is contained in the article Rebel of Light, but it is not all. There is additional material to be found there and which Avineri conceals form the reader or student who would no doubt the reliability of his teacher. For example:
While I did attempt to get Nice back to France, for it is ours, Prussian troops were then marching on France. I rallied all my veteran comrades to defend the freedom of French… I devoted my life to Italy but on the plains of South America they remember me for there, too, I fought tyrants in the ranks of the Brazilian revolution as well as in Argentina and Peru. I dedicated my life to Italy but during the quiet years I dreamt of buying a boat, a free nest floating on the water that would sail from land to land so that I might aid all peoples rising up against tyranny. I was the night of mankind [and here follows the section Avineri quotes, and in continuation]. It is my belief that in every corner of the world there is an oppressed people with a glorious past but a bitter-as-wormwood present, and the struggle will rage on to achieve my ideal.
[V. Jabotinsky, Rebel of Light, 1912, pp. 109-110]

This, then is, the entire selection, Professor Avineri. It contains the love of freedom for every oppressed people as an ideal.

Homo Homini Lupus

Again, it is true that Jabotinsky dismisses “childish humanism” for it ignores the reality of “man is a wolf to man”; all the more so as we are dealing with such sheep as the Jews among the gentiles. It is most certainly correct that Jabotinsky rejects the imagery of the poet Bialik who wrote “let my end be with the sheep” but who today does not? What is the connection between acknowledging cruel realty, the need to become strong in the face pf the wolves of fascism or other later “Italian” influences?

The accusation that Jabotinsky rejected all conscience and worshipped power, reveals Avineri’s ignorance of the fact that Jabotinsky’s followers were actually split over this issue. Jabotinsky demanded an army, demanded a policy of retaliation instead of self-restraint (but with limitations: not to injure women or children, not to shoot in the back, etc. which were matters of dispute between him and the Irgun), but, all the while, he never stopped claiming that there is a conscience in the world, that this is a world of judges and not robbers. At the World Convention of Betar in 1938, Jabotinsky told non other than Menachem Begin, “And if you do not believe in this, you can go drown yourself in the Vistula.” [Eldad, Israel, First Tithe (Hebrew), p. 23; see also Schectman, J., The Jabotinsky Story, Vol. Two (Yoseloff, N.Y., 1961), p. 381]

Jabotinsky refused to travel to Nazi Germany for the purpose of engaging in negotiations, unlike labor leader Chaim Arlosoroff who went there, concluded a deal and extricated thousands together with their property. Arlosoroff was right; Jabotinsky was not. For reasons of morality and pathos he did not ant any form of relations with Nazi Germany. He did not visit with Mussolini (as did other Zionist leaders: Weizmann four times), even when Betar was operating a naval training school in Italy where, by the way, some of Israel’s future naval commanders received training.

Jabotinsky recoiled without reservation, theoretically and practically, from all dictators and from totalitarianism. This is the fundamental historical truth regarding his character and teaching. He was an extreme individualist, almost a committed anarchist. “Every person is a king” Jabotinsky formulated and this meant an inner freedom, the freedom of choice. Even the acceptance of the discipline that Jabotinsky desired to be the result of a free decision by man as man.
In the beginning, G-d created the individual. Every individual is a king equal to his fellow. It is preferable that the individual sin against the society than the society sin against the individual. Society was created for the good for individuals, not the opposite. The messianic vision is one of a paradise for the individual, a glorious anarchic kingdom, a contest between personal abilities “society” has no rule but to help those who have fallen…
[Jabotinsky, V. in “My Story,” 1936 in Autobiography (Hebrew), p. 38]

And there is no contradiction between “In the beginning” and another similar aphorism of his, namely, “In the beginning, G-d created the nation.”
This I phrased in opposition to those who consider that “In the beginning there was mankind.” In the competition between the two, the nation comes first and yet the individual subjugates his entire life to the service of the nation – this, too is not a contradiction in my opinion. This is his wish, what he has been willed and not been forced to do.
[Jabotinsky, V. in “My Story,” 1936 in Autobiography (Hebrew), p. 38]

And what is liberation in the mind of one whom Avineri refers to as worshipping the state as supreme, a disciple of “integral nationalism,” etc.?

A revolution is what I call a liberating uprising but there is no liberation except in freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. There is no liberation without the right of every citizen to influence, to change the regime; no liberation without equality of rights for every citizen regardless of race, religion and class.

My outlook is in essence the negation of the totalistic state. The state system that is the most normal and healthy as well as the most pleasant is the “minimal state.” That state acts only in case of real necessity. There is no basis for limiting the right of self-expression in the area of ideas.

My “yes” does not prevent you from declaring “no.” Of course, there is a need for extra flexibility. In times of war and crisis (economic as well as political), there might arise the need to expand the scope of what is to be considered the minimum. The instinctive ideal of man is a serene anarchy. As long as this ideal cannot be realized, democracy must be recognized as the form closest to the ideal.

An individual – this is the supreme concept, the highest value, that which was created “in the image of G-d.” The doctrine of communo-fascism states that man is part of state societal mechanism. Our tradition has it that in the beginning, G-d created the individual. Man is intended to be free. Democracy’s meaning is freedom and the goal of democracy is to insure the influence of the minority.
[Jabotinsky, V., “Introduction to the Theory of Economy – Part Two,” 1934, in Nation and Society (Hebrew), pp. 218-219]

The pivotal point around which Avineri seeks to prove Jabotinsky a fascist (that is without mentioning the word) is his relation to the class struggle and his suggestion to establish a “parliament of professions.” The term “corporatism,” frequently used in Italian fascist thought as well as in the Portuguese variety, is not mentioned once in the selections Avineri has collected. Avineri ignores two significant themes in Jabotinsky’s thought: his proposal of “national arbitration” in matters of labor disputes in Mandatory Palestine, or more exactly the Jewish community of Zionist endeavor. And there is no mention in Avineri’s presentation – surely raising doubts about his intellectual honesty – of Jabotinsky’s argumentation against strikes and lockouts. Jabotinsky held that at the time there did not yet exist a normal political economy, but one that was in the process of being built. The crucial function of that economy was to allow the maximum number of Jews to enter Mandatory Palestine in the shortest possible time. This demanded financial investment, most of it private capital.

Industrial action on the part of both employees and employers during this critical period had to be prohibited. And note: Jabotinsky’s intent in the prohibition of strikes was to limit it to the pre-state years when the Yishuv was led by the World Zionist Organization, the Va’ad Leumi, etc. or in other words, when the structure was voluntary. It was in this framework that Jabotinsky called for national arbitration according to the needs of Zionism and the Yishuv.

Jabotinsky did demand “Yes, To Break!,” meaning, obviously, not the breaking of the Hebrew worker but the monopoly of the Histadrut labor federation. His call came against the background of the withholding of immigration certificates from member of the Betar in the Diaspora as well as the interference in their employment situation in Mandatory Palestine. He wanted to permit the establishment of additional trade unions; (do not all parties, including the religious, maintain separate trade unions in democratic France and Italy today?). When Jabotinsky expresses his support for the middle class (as in “The Storekeeper”), he does so, according to Avineri, because he is desirous of transplanting the Diaspora economic order in Mandatory Palestine. This is another example of Avineri’s twisting of substance. This was the first theme Avineri ignored in his treatment of Jabotinsky’s struggle against the socialist labor movement in Mandatory Palestine. The second is in Avineri’s portrayal of Jabotinsky’s view of the social vision of the state. “Jabotinsky’s alternative,” writes Avineri, “is not a liberal economy but an elitist corporative arrangement in the accepted sense of the 1920s and 1930s.”

In direct contradiction to this we find at the source, in all simplicity:
I dare think, not only in 1923 but also in 1950, that here quarters of the civilized world will yet cry out for the full realization of free bourgeois liberalism.
[Jabotinsky, V., “Dr. Herzl,” 1905, in Early Zionist Writings (Hebrew), p. 86]

And in 1932 he wrote that

Liberalism is bankrupt. Parliamentarianism’s exalted ideas have been shattered. Is it so? We will yet see if Grandpa Liberalism has been buried along with the concepts of freedom, equality and the people’s will. The fashion of the “now” will disappear simply because it is evil and because liberalism’s prescriptions for society are better and more practical.

True, these are not the remedies of a pharmacy or a hospital clinic. Occasionally, one falls sick and needs bitter medicine and maybe an operation, but one does not need to make hospital regimen into a way of life. Injections, bandages and diets make up the hospital routine, whereas life is eating what you want and going where you want. Today’s therapy and surgery may be successful. It is possible, too, that they will prove misguided. But this I do not comprehend: masses, hysterically saluting in a chloroformed state, a castor-oiled salute in deranged nightshirt dress, this crowd is a gathering of good-for-nothings. Grandpa Liberalism will yet dance at their funeral and the funeral of its “buriers” today.
[Jabotinsky, V., “Grandpa Liberalism,” Heint (Warsaw), October 14, 1932, quoted in Bela, op cit., pp. 274-275]

And yet this is not all, for Jabotinsky, in an attempt to coin an original Hebrew term for this idealized economic system, came up in the biblical Jubilee. In another concept, Pe’ah, Jabotinsky saw the forerunner of the income tax. Jabotinsky’s Jubilee principle was intended to be an attentiveness and a vigil over the individual, the family and the land that could never be sold for it belonged to the nation. This, he postulated, would be a permanent revolution and would prevent the formation of a landowning class. He further stipulated five elements as the foundations of the Jubilee state (today, we would label this the welfare state) as follows:
The “elementary needs” of a normal man, which he must struggle for, must find employment to attain, and if unemployed must agitate for, are but five: food, housing, clothing, education and health [and] are the obligation of the state according to my “prescription.” From where will the state derive means to provide them? They will taken from the nation just as taxes are collected and military service is compulsory.
[Jabotinsky, V., “Social Redemption,” Essays (Hebrew), pp. 297-298]

It is a vain search among Avineri’s selected quotations for any reference to these ultra-liberal social ideas. Instead, Avineri’s quite mendacious conclusion is that Jabotinsky was a proponent of an elitist regime. Every historian mentions the significant influence that Popper-Lynkeus had on Jabotinsky as regards the utopian society. It cannot be possible that Avineri is unaware of this. However, there is no allusion by Avineri to this end and in its place we find references to “corporatism” and “elitism.”

Jabotinsky’s Alternative

We now proceed to yet another example of Avineri’s questionable intellectual honesty. It is an issue that is very much in today’s news. It should be obvious that the themes dealt with above, i.e., the social regime, the fate of European Jewry, the state, army (“every one of us must dedicate three years of his youth for army service on behalf of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel”) that Jabotinsky’s outlook was proven correct beyond any “ism” which could be tacked onto his philosophy. In every instance, Jabotinsky led while others belatedly followed. But now we shall move on to the subject of the Arabs.
It would have been presumed [writes Avineri] that one such as Jabotinsky who considers nationalism, the uniqueness of the national element, the national will to separate from that which is foreign and national pride as the fulcrum of all historic and political development, would also be attentive to the yearnings of Arab nationalism. For one who was no stranger to Ukrainian nationalism, including its anti-Semitic expressions, it would have been though that in his analysis of the Middle East reality he would but try to take into consideration the appearance of Arab nationalism in Palestine and neighboring countries. But it is not so and anyone seeking in Jabotinsky a coming to terms with this topic will fail. This discussions regarding Arab nationalism are few and trifling. It would appear that anyone encountering this scanty material would be correct in his opinion that it reveals a certain amount of derision of the Arabs.
[Avineri, S., “The Political Thought of Vladimir Jabotinsky,” The Jerusalem Quarterly. No. 16, Summer 1980, p. 20]

This may well be the most blatant example of Avineri’s distortion and concealment of Jabotinsky’s teachings and thought. While Jabotinsky may not have filled volumes on this aspect of Zionism like other utopians in the Zionist movement, what he did write is first and foremost the very opposite of disparagement.
The writer of these lines is considered an enemy of the Arabs, one who wishes to banish the Arabs from the Land of Israel. There is no truth to any of this. It is my opinion that it would be impossible to do so. There will always remain two peoples here. Secondly, I am proud to be numbered among that group which formulated the Helsingfors Program. We formulated it, not only for Jews, but, for all peoples, and its basis is the equality of all nations. I am prepared to swear, for us and for our descendants, that we will never destroy this equality and we will never attempt to expel or oppress the Arabs. Our credo, as the reader can see, is completely peaceful. But it is absolutely another matter if it will be possible to achieve our peaceful aims through peaceful means. This however, is not dependent on our attitude to the Arabs, but on the Arabs’ relationship to us and to Zionism.
[Jabotinsky, V., “On the Iron Wall (We and the Arabs),” in On the Way to Statehood (Hebrew), p. 253]

The date of these words should be carefully noted: 1923. And furthermore:

I understand as well as anybody that we have got to find a modus vivendi with the Arabs; they will always live in the country, and all around the country, and we cannot afford a perpetuation of strife. But I do not believe that their reconciliation to the prospect of a Jewish Palestine can be brought either by the bribe of economic uplift, or by watered and obviously falsified interpretation of Zionist aims a la (Lord) Samuel (the British High Commissioner). I do not despise the Arabs as do those who think that they will ever sell to us the future of their country, so long as there is the slightest hope of getting rid of us by hook and crook. Only when the hope is lost will their moderates get the real upper hand and try to make the best of a bad bargain; and then I am prepared to let even Kalvarisky [A central leader of the Brit Shalom – I. Eldad] lead the orchestra. But until then, just because I want peace, the only task is to make them lose every vestige of hope: “neither by force, nor by constitutional methods, nor through G-d’s miracle can you prevent Palestine from gradually getting a Jewish majority” – that is what they must be made to realize, or else there will never be peace.
[Letter to Col. F.H. Kisch, July 4, 1925, Central Zionist Archives, S25/2073 (in the original English)]

It is difficult to compromise between two truths, between two beliefs. Our faith is deep, so is theirs.

There is no precedent in history of a native population accepting colonization by foreigners. In opposition to the colonization by one nation coming from abroad, the local people will fight; always, everywhere and without exception.
[Jabotinsky, V., “Parliament,” Ha’aretz, July 21, 1925, quoted in Bela, op. cit., p. 415]

Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say “no” and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall that the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.

Not only must this be so, it is so whether we admit it or not. What does the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate mean for us? It is the fact that a disinterested power committed itself to create such security conditions that the local population would be deterred from interfering with our efforts.

All of us, without exception, are constantly demanding that this power strictly fulfill its obligations. In this sense, there are no meaningful differences between our “militarists” and our “vegetarians.” One prefers an iron wall of Jewish bayonets, the other proposes an iron wall of British bayonets, the third proposes an agreement with Baghdad, and appears to be satisfied with Baghdad’s bayonets – a strange and somewhat risky taste – but we all applaud, day and night, the iron wall. We would destroy our cause if we proclaimed the necessity of an agreement and fill the minds of the Mandatory with the belief that we do not need an iron wall, but rather endless talks. Such a proclamation can only harm us. Therefore it is our sacred duty to expose such talk and prove that it is a snare and a delusion.

All this does not mean that any kind of agreement is impossible, only a voluntary agreement is impossible. As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a living people.
[Jabotinsky, V., “On the Iron Wall (We and the Arabs),” in On the Way to Statehood (Hebrew), pp. 258-259]

A Problem of National Contraposition

Taking all things into consideration, it is not to Avineri that I turn, but rather to the conscientious reader, whatever his view: is the above an indication of derision or of disrespect of the Arabs of Eretz Israel [the Land of Israel], or is it perhaps the complete opposite? Whoever hopes to succeed in deceiving the Arabs that we do not desire a state here or even a majority buying them persistently with the advantages that would accrue to them the fields of employment, culture, technology, health, socialism – it is he who mocks them, wanting to purchase their nationalism, their national aspirations, and not Jabotinsky. In this case, it is clear who was the realist and who was the mystic.

In this connection, I wish to cite the judgment of a young leftist Israeli historian, certainly no friend of Jabotinsky:

In praise of Jabotinsky, it must be said that he was practically the only one in the Zionist camp who preferred a courageous and exact formulation of the Arab problem, defining it as a problem of national contraposition. “I respect the Arabs,” said Jabotinsky in 1926, “and while we have an ancient culture, etc., they too possess proper feelings for our homeland and between these emotions a clash must exist.” These words brought him a compliment from the Arab side: “he is the sole Zionist who does not deceive us and who understands that the Arab is a patriot and not a prostitute.”

There was an element of honesty in Jabotinsky’s outlook in his refusal to accept convoluted and nebulous Zionist terminology in connection with the Arab question. He preferred, rather, to represent matters in a straightforward fashion. Ben-Gurion reached this stage years later.
[Elam, Y., An Introduction to Zionist History (Hebrew), pp. 60-61]

I leave it to the reader with some principles to decide where is the honesty, the understanding and where was the unwillingness to understand. For it was the same Jabotinsky who Avineri claims never saw or involved himself in regional affairs but was fully wrapped up in his Anglophobia, who in 1929 wrote the following:
Here in Palestine, either England gets along with us or get out. The future of the Arab countries is clear to us. Sooner or later, in negotiations or in blood and fire, they will liberate themselves, one after another, from European rule. This will be the destiny of Egypt and all her neighbors. England will be pushed out of Palestine as well.
[Jabotinsky, V., “A Duella Maana,” Dora Hayom (Tel Aviv), October 23, 1929, quoted in Bela, op. cit., pp. 55-56]

Like most Zionists, Jabotinsky surely considered Britain an ally because of shared interests. However, he did not hesitate (contrary to Avineri’s proposition that until his final days, Jabotinsky clung to his stand regarding the essential partnerships of interests between Zionism and Britain) to speak in terms of a rift with Britain, as early as 1929, in the aftermath of that year’s Arab riots against the Yishuv. There is ample proof for this although it was certainly with a heavy heart that he arrived at this position. He believed that there were elements in England – as there are in the United States today – who opposed the Arab orientation so inimical to Zionism (interestingly enough, Laborites like Wedgwood and Strabolgi). In addition, and here we face another example of Avineri’s portrayal of Jabotinsky as a totalitarianist, it is in fact Britain’s democratic and liberal tradition appealed to him tremendously. His very being was disgusted with the various suggestions of the extremists within his own party who proposed that contacts be made with totalitarian regimes. It should also be unnecessary to note that he agreed to the preparations for an anti-British revolt towards the end of his life, the seeds of which can be traced back to 1932. There were few other alternatives for Jabotinsky who addressed Britain: “if you are tired – go in peace. There are other great democracies.”

I have not covered all but if need be, I am willing to prove point by point that Avineri has committed an act of distortion against Jabotinsky’s image and outlook. His article is an act of malice aforethought. While he does cement brick to brick, quotation to quotation, it is all out of context, out of connotation and in contradistinction to Jabotinsky’s worldview. It is a true masterpiece of malevolence.

My concern in undertaking upon myself the task of replying to Avineri was to honor and respect the truth as well as Jabotinsky. Mine is a plaint against a man of science, not a plaudit of Jabotinsky’s vindication on every topic. To the contrary and almost paradoxically, one of the reasons for my breaking with Jabotinsky together with the other “radicals,” as Avineri phrases it, had nothing to do with anything he has “found.” Few were those in Zionism who were so correct in their prognosis was Jabotinsky. Zionism followed the lead of the essential Jabotinsky but with a ten year delay. That delay proved most costly. Yes, Jabotinsky’s attraction to England was a result of his admiration for Europe and its culture. He was fully opposed to those who called for an “integration” into the East we live in. Continuously, he reasoned that this “East” could not help us. We are Europeans only because of the fact that what is called European culture is largely an outgrowth of what we contributed to it. He did favor Nordau’s views that we must proudly expand Europe’s boundaries to the Middle East. This attitude, which approximates the truth, Avineri denigrates. I did not, however, in how bad a light Avineri viewed this principle. He himself, despite current fashion, seems to wish to liberate himself from this culture. But that is his prerogative.

MEDIA COMMENT: Making prizes transparent

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:39 pm by yisraelmedad

Making prizes transparent by Yisrael Medad and Eli Pollak

The Nobel committee failed to award the prize to deserving people, such as L. Meitner, A. Kramers and R. Franklin.

Prizes seem to be a staple of the human endeavor. Rare is the person who, when awarded a prize, refuses to accept it, especially when it comes with significant monetary gain. Perhaps the most famous prize of them all is the Nobel Prize. Israel is rightly proud of its laureates, yet very little has been discussed in the Israeli media or in the world media about the secretive processes that lead to the award.

It is no secret that the Nobel committee has failed dramatically at awarding the prize to deserving people. Lise Meitner, Hendrik A. Kramers and Rosalyn Franklin are but a few of the spectacular failures. Burton Feldman in his book The Nobel Prize notes: “Like monarchy, the Nobel Prize surrounds itself with mystery and extraordinary secretiveness. Indeed, the media have more easily breached the privacy of the British royal family than that of the Nobel Institution.”

This tradition has influenced most major prizes awarded in Israel and abroad. The Israel Prize committee does not provide the public with a protocol of its deliberations, although it does publish an announcement asking the public to nominate candidates. The Sokolov Prize for journalism is awarded by a committee which meets secretly. The public does not know anything about the process and has no say in the makeup of the awards committee. All we know is that once a year the Prize is awarded to some journalists.

The same is true for the citations handed out by the Movement for Quality Government. Their “Knights of Quality Government” title is conferred without a quality control process. The public has no input to the process and cannot nominate candidates.

Another organization which takes pride in its struggle against government corruption is Ometz. The “Ometz Medallion” is awarded to individuals who the committee believes have made significant contributions in preventing public corruption. But again – the prize committee is appointed by the organization’s board of directors. The public can nominate individuals for the award, but deliberations are held in secret, the list of nominees is not made public and the public has no way of knowing how the decisions were taken. Suffice it to say that Ometz has awarded a prize to a person who in the past was convicted for inappropriate public behavior.

ISRAEL’S MEDIA Watch also awards prizes. The Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism is awarded annually to two people who have made “an especially valiant, significant and qualitative contribution to media criticism in Israel.” The award includes a citation and $5,000 in prize money. Until last year, the award process was not very opaque. The public was asked for nominations, but the deliberations and the decision making process, as with the other awards mentioned above, was made by a committee, without a public protocol. More than one candidate has felt in the past that she or he had unfairly been left out.

There is, of course, a problem in making the whole process public. Candidates would be often upset if their names were known as those who did not receive the award. It happens that some information on candidates must be kept private, to prevent harm to their good name. Any reviewing committee would find it difficult to discuss the various candidates freely, and in depth, if they knew that every word they uttered would become public. It is no accident that the deliberations of prize committees are universally not open to the public. Yet one has the uncomfortable feeling that too often the decision making process is far from objective.

To attempt and provide a partial solution, Israel’s Media Watch last year decided to open the voting process to the public. One of the two prizes is the result of a public vote. First, the public is asked to present nominations. This year, over 20 people were nominated. Since it is not realistic to ask the public to choose from such a long list, the nominations are presented to the prize committee, which then creates a short list, based largely on the number of nominations received by the candidates. The short list is then put up on a website and the public is asked to vote.

To ensure fairness, anyone voting must supply their ID and e-mail address, and multiple votes by the same person are disallowed. The vote is open to Israelis only, via the website http://www.imw.org.il.

Last year, the award went to the Latma website led by The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick. The Latma website was cited for its reportage of media failures and especially for its satirical broadcast “The tribal update” which mocks the Israeli media. The runner up received only half as many votes.

This year there are six candidates. They include two past winners – Matti Golan of Globes and Ben-Dror Yemini from Ma’ariv. Both are publicists who have repeatedly expressed their criticism of the Israeli media in their articles and other forums.

Rabbanit Shulamit Melamed is the founder of Arutz 7, which runs a website and weekly newspaper in Hebrew (Besheva) which has made significant contributions to media criticism by presenting the Israeli public with a right-wing point of view which balances to some extent the liberal bias of most of Israel’s major media outlets.

Dr. Dror Eydar is an important columnist, who writes extensively on media wrongs in the Israel Hayom newspaper.

Ms. Ayalet Shaked established the Yisrael Sheli movement and website, which among others, broadcast a clip describing a left-wing post-Zionist bias on the Army radio station Galatz.

Last, but certainly not least, is Ms. Dvorit Shargal who edits one of the most influential media blogs in Israel – Velvetunderground, in which she frequently exposes media bias, inaccuracy and unethical behavior.

It is in the nature of our society to encourage those people who we feel are deserving. Providing a public award is one way of saying thank you. It is also part of an educational process. By pointing the spotlight at the achievements of those who receive the prize, we hope to inspire others to follow in their footsteps. The Abramowitz Israeli Media Criticism Prize has been awarded to some of the most outstanding journalists in Israel. We hope that the process will also set an example to be emulated by others. Prizes are to be cherished, not hidden.

The authors are vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch. Voting for the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism is currently underway at http://imw.org.il/hebrew/election_ 2012/index.html