June 27, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: The neglected minority

Posted in Media at 9:38 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The neglected minority


No, not the haredi community, but the Christian Arab community.

There are youngsters in Israel who want to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, but are prevented from doing so by the state and the media, which do their utmost to keep this from happening. No, not the haredi community, but the Christian Arab community.

According to Yishai Friedman, a reporter for the Makor Rishon and Ma’ariv newspapers, Christian Arab Israeli youths who want to serve in the army not only experience lack of cooperation from official governmental bodies, but are also subjected to ridicule and public pressure in the Israeli Arab media.

Friedman has done his best to bring this issue to the attention of the Israeli public, but his colleagues in the Jewish Israeli media do not seem that interested.

Can we imagine the storm that would erupt if the haredim were to do the same? Actually, they do – and our media icons relish it. They demand justice and blame the whole haredi world for the actions of a few, while some politicians further use the issue to swamp us with negative news about the haredi community.

But when it comes to Israeli Arabs, the situation is very different. The youths Israel’s Media Watch has spoken to are frightened. They do not want their identities revealed in this connection, as in their experience no one will defend them against the negative onslaught that would result.

On Wednesday of last week, the Knesset Economics Committee held a first session concerning the Arab-language media. Israel has only one daily newspaper in Arabic, along with three weeklies and various local newspapers. The Israeli Arab community – which makes up 20 percent of Israel’s population – has only one legal radio station, Ashams, whereas the haredim have two. But even this one radio station is extremely problematic – Radio Ashams has “starred” more than once in our column.

The drafting of Christian youths to the IDF was dealt with recently by the station in a program hosted by Makbula Nassar titled “drafting Christians to the occupation army.” Moreover, anyone who tried to put in a good word for those who served in the IDF was stopped by Nassar.

Only recently, the same radio station was fined NIS 20,000 by the Second Authority for TV and Radio for broadcasting on inappropriate conduct last year during Memorial Day. As reported by News One, Dr. Dalia Zelikovitch, chairperson of the SATR committee that dealt with the matter, noted that “the committee viewed with severity the usage of public resources of the State of Israel in a manner which hurt the feeling of many citizens of Israel…. Opening their broadcasts [on Memorial Day] with ‘Our best wishes to our valiant prisoners who are imprisoned in the occupation jails’ …hurts the feelings of large segments of the Israeli public.”

But the problem is even more serious for, as noted in the Knesset committee discussion, Israeli Arabs are discriminated against even with regard to such elementary issues as advertisement or ratings. For example, official Israeli advertising or public information campaigns dealing with topics such as drowning, employment opportunities for women or even the latest from the IDF’s Home Front Command were not broadcast in Arabic. It is no wonder that many in the Arab sector feel they are outsiders.

An Adalah 2006 report pointed to the fact that television news anchors are still almost exclusively secular Ashkenazi Jews, whereas America’s CNN and the British BBC expose their viewers to broadcasters reflecting minority groups. After all, Arabs are 20 percent of the general population. The situation has not changed dramatically since then.

It is well recognized that Jewish journalists tend not to be sufficiently conversant with the intricacies of the political, social and economic aspects of Israel’s Arabs, not to mention the internal dynamics, which are based on family ties, religion, ideology – as well as commitment to the State of Israel.

Can we honestly say the Arab sector is properly represented by such extremists as MKs Haneen Zoabi or Jamal Zahalka? Is the Islamist Movement-Northern Branch the norm? Even in this newspaper, the coverage of the Palestinian Authority would appear to be more thorough than that of events in the Galilee.

We can point to an initiative, jointly promoted through Channel 2’s Keshet, the Du-Et Fellowship Program, which facilitated appearances of Arabs in the mainstream television channels, even the inclusion of Arab participants in popular prime-time shows such as the Supernanny reality show and Kochav Nolad (A Star is Born), Israel’s American Idol.

But are the Israeli Arabs to be relegated solely to reality shows and sports? The fact that the Israeli Arab population is largely ignored by our media has two severe repercussions.

The first is that democracy is not served within the Arab community. The Israeli media knows how to hit hard at Jewish politicians who do not do their jobs, but the Arab population does not enjoy the same commitment to democratic governance.

The Israeli media does not pay serious attention to governance within Arab cities, towns and regional councils. Is the tax-paying Arab citizen receiving the same level of service as Jewish Israelis? The Israeli media also doesn’t look too hard at the educational system within the Arab community. Why is it that the scholastic level there is so much lower? Why is it that there are hardly any Arabs within the higher academic system? Even on issues such as traffic accidents, the media is not diligent. The percentage of fatalities within the Arab community is much higher than within the Israeli community. Does no one care? Why doesn’t our media highlight such facts and so force Arab leaders to do what is right, to take serious measures to assure positive driving habits? The everyday of Israeli Arabs could be much improved in many areas if our media would simply pay more attention.

But there is another side to this. The Jewish population, as a result of this under-reporting, is ignorant of what really goes on within Israeli Arab communities.

This leads to misunderstandings, discrimination and worse.

Israeli Jews are perhaps not sufficiently aware of the ideological struggle taking place within the Israeli Arab community. We do nothing to support those Arabs who are proud to be citizens of the State of Israel, who appreciate the fruits of Israeli democracy and know that of all the countries in the region, only in Israel can they live freely.

The media in a democracy has a special duty, and Israel’s media, unfortunately, is in dereliction of this duty when it comes to the Israeli Arab population.



June 19, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: The media and their icons

Posted in Media at 11:51 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The media and their icons


Through the use of media tools, the public is told who it should appreciate, who to admire and who it can ignore.

Media outlets report the news. They also serve as a platform for public debate and the exchange of views. Many critics see the media as also managing the news and setting agendas.

“The news” then morphs from being a collection of facts into an opinion-driven manipulation of events. A reporter and his/her editor, if biased, can alter reality.

The academic literature has long recognized that mass media possesses codes and conventions that shape its messages and so construct a sense of the world and how it works. This creativity is employed not only for politics and economics but culture as well. “Media creates culture,” it has been claimed.

In today’s media-saturated world, there really is no “blank canvas” anymore. Through the use of media tools, the public is told who it should appreciate, who to admire and who it can ignore in cultural activities such as art, literature and music. The media creates the icons – the people we are taught to recognize, who last in our collective memory and who we are persuaded have meaning as humans and as citizens of our country.

Last week, two famous authors died. One of them was a novelist and the other wrote religious tracts.

Both sold a large number of their books over a period of decades. Both were household names, albeit in their respective publics.

One of them, Yoram Kaniuk, was born in Tel Aviv, joined the Palmah, was a crew member of a clandestine immigrant ship, studied painting, left Israel in 1951 for Paris, became a sailor, resided in America for a decade, adventured in Mexico, Guatemala and Las Vegas and was twice married. The mother of his children is non-Jewish.

Two years ago, he succeeded in a legal move to change the religion clause on his Israeli identity card from “Jewish” to “no religion” out of solidarity with his non-Jewish grandson. Many of his novels were made into films.

The other was Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth. Born in Germany, he fled to Holland during World War II and stayed hidden with his family for three years. During that time he managed to conduct an Orthodox lifestyle despite the Nazi conquest.

He then immigrated to Mandatory Palestine clandestinely by boat.

Rabbi Neuwirth was a Torah scholar, taught in a leading Jerusalem yeshiva and became one of the foremost authorities on the complex laws of Shabbat. His three-volume opus can be found in the libraries of the vast majority of Orthodox Jews across the world irrespective of their religious identity as haredi, national Orthodox or modern Orthodox.

He was also very highly regarded as an expert in medical ethics. He was sought out as a consultant on the design of modern electronic appliances, with an aim to assuring their strict compliance with Jewish law, and many of which assisted the sick. Rabbi Neuwirth was a renowned leader in adapting modern technology for the practice of Torah Judaism.

The number of people attending Rabbi Neuwirth’s funeral vastly outnumbered the number of those attending the funeral of Kaniuk, attesting to the depth of his influence on his appreciative public.

Similarly, in the days following their deaths, the media’s treatment of the two convincingly demonstrated that the media had its cultural favorite.

Israel’s Media Watch reviewed the media during the 24-hour period following Rabbi Neuwirth’s death.

The review included the June 11 radio programs, covering the headlines and four news programs on Galei Tzahal and five central programs on Reshet Bet. No mention was made of his death. Neither the Mabat Channel 1 TV program nor Channel 10 news included an item on him.

The Internet was a bit broader in its coverage. Ma’ariv, Ynet, INN and various religiously-oriented sites mentioned the deaths of both Kaniuk and Neuwirth. To be fair, several of the sites included withering criticism of Kaniuk’s anti-religious attitude as the justification for noting his passing. Sites that ignored Neuwirth but reported on Kaniuk included Haaretz, Globes, Walla, Reshet Bet, Galatz and Calcalist.

This inability of too many of Israel’s media outlets to deal with topics not immediately connected to their own private world is not new. Much criticism has been voiced in studies and at conferences over what is perceived to be the blindness of the media to anything happening outside of Tel Aviv – and some even draw the line from Shenkin Street in north Tel Aviv to Yehudah HaYammit Street, where the Galatz station resides, in the south.

In the past, funerals and for that matter the lives of outstanding Orthodox personalities were completely ignored by mainstream media, as were, until recently, traditional Jewish musicians. Too often, only if a rabbi was involved in a sharp dispute with the secular public did that rabbi “merit” coverage.

Scores of left-wing demonstrators were assured coverage for the most trivial of issues, but tens of thousands visiting the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron are ignored or at most perfunctorily mentioned.

The problem is even more serious when some of the media stations are publicly funded as state-sponsored broadcasters who, by law, are obligated to faithfully represent the pluralism of Israel’s society. They should be providing programming that reflects Israel’s heritage, which does include religion.

In this connection, we are happy to learn that Galatz has made steps to change built-in prejudice.

Galatz’s chief, Yaron Dekel, speaking at the Yesha Council Conference on Public Diplomacy this week, announced that his instruction to alter the test on cultural recognition led to significant change in the social makeup of the incoming cadets. Of 30 recruits to the station, nine, that is, almost one-third, are from the religious sector of the population.

As policies of affirmative action are very much preferred by the liberal camp, we presume that this development will be welcomed by all.

Last year, on March 28, we pointed out that there are too many elements within Israel’s media that suffer from what we termed “cultural autism.” Their general knowledge and education is rather limited, their appreciation of others could use improvement. Rabbi Neuwirth was not only a courageous intellectual, he was a moral example to all.

It is sad that our media does not understand how important it is, especially for our youth, to be exposed to such people. Sadly, we all will pay for this ignorance.

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

Please note: In last week’s column, we wrote that a possible reason for the early retirement of senior Haaretz columnists was fear of not receiving pension funds. Ehud Ein-Gil of the Haaretz staff committee has informed us that Haaretz employees have an arrangement whereby their pension payments are held by an outside company, and that their money is fully insured for them upon their retirement, even if they voluntarily retire, in which case the law does permit the employer to seek the return of those payments, although Haaretz management never has done so.


June 12, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: The self-perception of ‘Haaretz’

Posted in Media at 10:57 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The self-perception of ‘Haaretz’


Its professional shortcomings, such as its publisher’s narrow focus and the clique-like character of the editorial staff, have turned Haaretz into an organ injurious to free, open and pluralistic thinking.

It is no secret that the printed media is in financial trouble across the globe; what is referred to as a probable “collapse of daily print journalism.” Newspapers are as much (if not more) an economic enterprise as sacred institutions defending and campaigning for freedom of expression and the public’s right to know. Is there a danger that a lack of money will severely curtail the ability of newspapers to continue to serve as platforms for honest reporting? The dire prophecies that appeared four years ago in The Atlantic magazine’s “End Times” piece by Michael Hirschorn, who wrote that “it’s certainly plausible” that The New York Times could go “out of business,” have proven very wrong. But other journals have fallen, filing for bankruptcy, and others have drastically altered their business models while trimming staff to reduce expenditures. And, of course, there is the “pay wall.”

Even journalists think of money; it’s their livelihood.

Haaretz, which presents itself as providing “extensive and in-depth coverage,” distributed a letter last week from its publisher Amos Schocken, who wrote: “We have maintained our commitment to provide our readers in Israel and abroad with the most relevant and professional news, opinion and analyses. We have enlisted top-notch reporters, editors and writers and have significantly expanded our unique, English-language coverage…. We have continued to serve, we believe, as an indispensable cornerstone of Israeli liberalism and democracy and to stand firm against shortsighted and often dangerous winds of the day.”

We have, in several of our previous columns, noted the dismal record of Haaretz with regard to professional standards of reporting and principles of media ethics. To claim to be providing relevant news, rather than, say, disproportionately highlighting supposed facts that bear on the far-left agenda of Schocken and his crew, is pure chutzpah.

Haaretz is not so much a newspaper as an ideological tract. Its professional shortcomings, such as its publisher’s narrow focus and the clique-like character of the editorial staff, have turned Haaretz into an organ injurious to free, open and pluralistic thinking.

Gideon Levy trumpets his non- Zionism. Amira Haas was quoted saying to The New Yorker “my tribe is leftists, not liberal Zionists.” Regular columnist and Israel Prize laureate Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell in 2001 wrote in Haaretz’s pages “There is no doubt about the legitimacy of [Palestinian] armed resisitance”.

The same is true of Haaretz’s former columnist Akiva Eldar, an uncritical propagandist for Peace Now, B’tselem and Yesh Din, the most egregious of pro-Palestinian Israeli NGOs. His pro- Palestinian stance led him into legal entanglements which compelled him to apologize.

Amir Oren’s columns on the military are colored by antipathy. The English-language edition of Haaretz literally misrepresents and corrupts news items appearing in the Hebrew version. If there is any shortsightedness and danger in Israel’s press today, it is in Haaretz.

Israel’s Media Watch, almost 20 years ago, began to include Haaretz in its media reviews and was the first to track its sinister alterations of news content and headlines from its Hebrew edition for publication in its English one. This practice has only worsened over the years, and includes simplistic translation errors, with no evidence of proofreading.

In the February 2011 New Yorker piece by David Remnick, Schocken was asked the possibility of Haaretz folding or having to be sold to someone with different principles.

He replied that his paper was being published “in the best interests of the country” and then said that “shouldering the burden of Haaretz is like carrying a cross.” No doubt there are many more Israelis who consider Haaretz an albatross around their necks.

Joshua Muravchik has now written in Commentary magazine of Haaretz’s “adversary culture,” by which he means the promotion of an outlook “that finds one’s own country to be the embodiment of all that is wrong and evil.”

A. J. Liebling once quipped, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

Unfortunately, not everyone has the chance to own a paper. Their only option is to hope those who do to adhere to professional ethical standards. And that is not the case here in Israel.

A few recent examples of the problem with Haaretz, as listed by CAMERA’s local agent Presspectiva, include: • In mid-May, for two consecutive days, the English edition of Haaretz falsely reported that Jewish prayer is permitted on the Temple Mount.

• On March 31, Gideon Levy falsified the number of Gazan Arab deaths during Operation Cast Lead, sourcing it to Amnesty International – which didn’t report it.

• On June 6, a teenage girl who had been raped by Arabs when she was 13 (and who was involved in the recent controversy involving Judge Yeshaya) was erroneously called a “Palestinian” in the English translation, although she is Israeli and Jewish.

• And lastly, the paper had to correct a grievous translation error: it mistakenly reported on April 23 that a judge in the trial of administrative detainee Samer Issawi agreed that the appearance of the prisoner could be compared to that of a Holocaust survivor.

What the judge was shocked about was Issawi’s own claim that he should be compared to a Holocaust survivor.

Despite gross inaccuracies such as these; basing editorial columns on misrepresented data; unreliability and political bias, the paper is still widely quoted by the state-funded public broadcasting radio and television outlets, especially the early morning programs. They in turn rarely, if at all, include the subsequent corrections, thus multiplying the damage to the media consumer.

The German investor group DuMont Schauberg purchased 25% of the paper’s ownership shares in 2006. Has this foreign involvement influenced the paper’s downplaying the issue of European funding for left-wing NGOs? Haaretz serves as a major platform for some of them, even though past experience has shown that too often their information is based on shoddy research and overzealous identification with the subject matter.

In 2011, the paper announced that the former Russian oligarch Leonid Nevzlin, who immigrated to Israel in 2003, had joined Haaretz as a partner, acquiring 20% of the company’s share capital. Is Haaretz still a local paper? In the past few months, Haaretz has experienced growing financial difficulties. Undoubtedly, Shocken’s letter is part of the effort to retain its subscriber base. Last September 23, The Jerusalem Post informed us that Haaretz employees had called a partial work stoppage which shut down the paper for around two hours. Employees were facing layoffs, and demanded answers about their scope.

Some senior staff has left recently, including Akiva Eldar and Doron Rosenblum. Could it be that they were thinking of receiving their pensions while there’s still money around to pay for it?

It is not unreasonable to guess that stricter adherence to professional journalistic ethics would contribute to a more solid future for Haaretz.


June 5, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: ‘Educating’ the public

Posted in Media at 11:18 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: ‘Educating’ the public


If there is any justification for the existence of a public broadcaster, it is the need to provide the public with high-quality information, culture and entertainment.

If there is any justification for the existence of a public broadcaster, it is the need to provide the public with high-quality information, culture and entertainment. The litmus test of the public network is whether it provides a product which the public cannot receive elsewhere, especially from the commercial networks. It is not an accident that Israel’s Knesset has repeatedly demanded, and also supplied funding to the Israel Broadcasting Authority earmarked for, authentic Israeli programming.

Years ago, the IBA supplied the goods. Competition was meager and the IBA’s news program was the major purveyor of news to the Israeli public.

IBA’s documentaries of that period have become classics; Pillar of Fire for example recounted 50 years of Jewish and Israeli history leading to the establishment of Israel in 1948.

However, the IBA’s productivity during the past 15 years has been disappointing. The 1998 documentary Tekuma, the sequel of Pillar of Fire, described the history of the state after 1948. It included one-sided descriptions of the Arab “resistance movement.” The present-day IBA documentary department, under the direction of Itai Landsberg, excels in purveying material which can be used by Israel’s detractors all over the world.

A classic case is the documentary The Gatekeepers, produced by Dror Moreh and screened all over the world as a candidate for an Oscar. As the film’s website has it, “for the first time ever, six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service agency, agree to share their insights and reflect publicly on their actions and decisions. Intimately interviewed, they shed light on the controversy surrounding the Occupation in the aftermath of the Six Day War.”

The TV version is a six-chapter series, funded in large part by the IBA and being aired currently on the IBA’s Channel 1 TV station. The first part appeared this past Sunday, under the title: The true story – the Gatekeepers.

As described on the IBA website the subtitle of this first part, “No strategy, only tactics,” is a citation from Avraham Shalom.

Shalom accuses Israel’s leaders at that time of not really knowing what to do with the territories regained by Israel in the 1967 war. It also deals with the failures of the security services to prevent terror attacks perpetrated by Israelis in the 1980s, known as the Jewish underground, as well as the murder of left-wing activist Emil Greenzweig.

The website does not remind us that Shalom was forced to resign his position as Shin Bet head due to his role in the infamous killing of two of the perpetrators of the 1984 terror attack on Egged bus No. 300.

Shalom lied in his testimony regarding this affair, accusing prime minister Yitzhak Shamir of authorizing the killing, an accusation Shamir vehemently denied. Shalom escaped trial as he received a presidential pardon.

One can summarize Shalom’s stint as head of the service as a colossal failure, which to this day hinders the actions of the service.

The decision to fund this series was made when the chairman of the IBA was Moshe Gavish and Mordechai Shaklar was its director. The present heads of the IBA, chairman Amir Gilat and director Yoni Ben-Menachem, decided that the series should be supplemented with an in-depth discussion of the contents after each chapter aired. The panel was balanced and included Yossi Beilin from the extreme Left of Israel’s ideological spectrum; Effie Eitam from the Right; Professor Ephraim Inbar, arguably right-of-center; Professor Yossi Shain, Left; and Chanan Gefen, a former commander of the IDF’s 8200 intelligence unit.

Moreh was unhappy with this development. As reported in Haaretz, Moreh stated: “I’m disgusted over the discussion and the people that Channel 1 put on after the program. I have no doubt the discussion was a political dictate from above. The people chosen to participate were also carefully selected. Instead of letting the program and the series and the Shin Bet chiefs speak their piece, they chose a foolish and populist discussion that we’ve heard thousands of times. I very much hope the viewers fled to another channel!” “In this film, six security services chiefs talk for the first time, so please, let every Israeli judge for himself. Why politicize this?” Moreh was allowed to voice his sharp criticism also on the IDF’s Galatz news radio program, without anyone asking him serious, probing questions.

Moreh wants us and the world to believe he is objective, providing the nonpolitical testimony of these six men. The truth is that all six are highly political, and have axes to grind. Two of them are serious failures. In addition to Shalom, Carmi Gillon was head of the services when prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated and in the aftermath was also forced to leave his position.

Ya’akov Peri is a left-wing politician and is presently a minister in the government, coming from the Yesh Atid party. Ami Ayalon was a member of the Labor party, and is well known for his left-wing political initiatives. Avi Dichter, arguably a centrist, is also a politician, who joined the failed Kadima party and served as the minister of internal security. The sixth, Yuval Diskin, also joined the political fray. After being forced to leave the service and prior to the recent elections he stated: “I don’t trust the prime minister or the defense minister. I don’t trust a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic impulses.”

But what about Moreh himself? Consider the following pearls of wisdom emanating from him: “I felt during my visit to the United States that the majority of Jews in the USA support Israel whatever the situation is.” He then adds: “In fact, this harms the State of Israel. They don’t understand that we are moving toward an apartheid state.”

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour he said: “This is the major problem in Israel. Those people, those extreme right-wing leaders and people in Israel are the biggest threat to the existence of the State of Israel because every time that you see there is a shift toward movement, slowly toward peace, they are – they come inside and they create the greatest havoc.”

The head of the Documentary Division of the IBA also was not happy with the panel format.

He agreed with Moreh that it was unnecessary and smacks of political intervention.

It would seem both Landsberg and Moreh are somewhat afraid someone may just pronounce publicly that the king is naked. A true professional would have congratulated the present heads of the IBA for being willing on the one hand to broadcast a biased and manipulative documentary, in the name of artistic freedom, while on the other hand assure the Authority’s duty to provide depth and balance. Landsberg’s opposition only proves he does not deserve his position at the IBA.

On a more personal note, Howard Grief passed away this past Sunday evening from complications of a blood infection.

In stark contrast to people of Moreh’s ilk, Howard was one of those modest but devoted persons to the state and people of Israel. His life’s work was a legal defense of Israel’s historic and international rights in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. In contrast to Moreh’s, his work was based on exhaustive, thorough analysis, documentation and diplomatic records. We extend to his family our sincere condolences on the loss of a husband and father and regret that his critical review of the media on legal issues has been halted. Who knows? Perhaps one day the IBA’s leadership will realize Howard’s life story deserves its own documentary, which will not only be interesting but will also truly support our beleaguered state.