November 27, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: The double whammy

Posted in Media at 12:46 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The double whammy


Too many in our media are post-Zionists to whom anything Jewish is considered dangerous, outdated, anti-democratic and other such slogans.

Our media, by large, does not like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During Operation Protective Edge, however, he was hailed as a moderate, a careful and thoughtful prime minister. This volte-face is easily explained by the fact that in not immediately reacting to Hamas’s war with full force, he fit the media’s perception of how the country should be run.

But when it comes to news, memory is short, and his “responsible” actions during the war have already been long forgotten. What is remembered is that he comes from the Likud, a right-wing party. Any action of Netanyahu’s which is deemed as promoting a right-wing cause is immediately described as kowtowing to the right wing, trying to gain their favor because elections are around the corner. Of course, any action which is perceived by Israel’s Right as moving to the Left is considered by pundits to be “wise,” “courageous leadership” and whatnot.

Too many in our media are post-Zionists to whom anything Jewish is considered dangerous, outdated, anti-democratic and other such slogans.

Especially when it comes to legislation, left-wing lawmaking such as attempting to dissociate the State of Israel from its Jewish roots is considered by these individuals to be serving Israel’s democracy, as forward- looking and exemplary. Legislation aimed at preserving the Jewish character of the state, on the other hand, is “reactionary,” “primitive,” “discriminatory” and so on.

This week, the media types described above have had a ball: Prime Minister Netanyahu was guilty of two outrageous acts. The first was his insisting that Israel should have a basic law establishing the Jewish character of the state. The second was that Netanyahu was promoting what they consider reactionary, right-wing legislation of extremists such as the chairman of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee, MK Ze’ev Elkin. That this specific legislation has both an overt Jewish character to it and is right-wing politically makes it a double whammy.

A leading left-wing progressive thinker is Professor Moshe Negbi, the legal guru of our public broadcaster, who, similar to some rabbis, has a pulpit. His weekly radio program is audaciously titled Law, Values, Democracy and Everything In Between.

Showing his respect for democratic ideals, Negbi invited three people to voice their opinions about the “Jewish Nation law.” All three – one of whom was himself – stated in no uncertain terms that the suggested legislation is anti-democratic and harmful to the Jewish character of the state. Who needs it, they asked, when our Declaration of Independence and the UN resolution of November 28, 1947, established the Jewish character of the state? Negbi, who spoke in the name of democracy, did not have the decency to air a single dissenting opinion, such as for example that such a law has become necessary due to the Supreme Court obligating state institutions to prefer the Basic Law of Equality over Jewish values precisely because there is no basic law establishing the proper position of Judaism in our state.

Neither Negbi nor his editor, Orit Barkai, allowed any other participant to note that this proposed law has come in response to the trend among too many to distinguish between being Israeli and being Jewish. It is asking too much to have someone note that by identifying Israel with its Jewish character, the prime minister was undermining those anti-Semites abroad who are only against Israel, not against the Jews.

Negbi’s alter ego, Keren Neubach, with her morning radio program broadcast on Kol Yisrael’s Reshet Bet, is of the same ilk. Her introduction and all that followed was one big hurrah for anyone who criticizes the “Jewish law.” Another member of this crowd is Arieh Golan, who knows how to ask all the “right” questions. When it came to MK Ofir Akunis, who was attempting to defend the legislation, the questions came thick and fast: Don’t you think that the law is discriminatory? Why do we need it at all when we have such a Jewish Declaration of Independence? And, most importantly, are we going to elections? In the summary following the 8 a.m. news on Monday morning, Akunis was quoted only on his point that any minister voting against would have to leave the government. His pointed comment that both Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid lead undemocratic parties and so have a little problem in arguing that a law is undemocratic was not included. But others, such as Health Minister Yael German, did have their points quoted, in German’s case that the proposed law would change the character of the state. This statement was so admired by the public broadcaster that is the only citation to appear on the website as headline.

Assaf Lieberman, the presenter of the Army Radio station’s morning news bulletin, is not much better.

On Tuesday, he interrogated Minister Bennett, who tried valiantly to explain why he supports the legislation.

Bennett noted that part of the coalition agreement was that the legislation would pass. But Lieberman would hardly let him finish a sentence.

We note that no one accused ministers Livni and Yair Lapid of violating a coalition agreement to which they were signatories.

Much of the media’s coverage of the proposed law is actual disinformation.

For example, the media charged that the law is discriminatory and would leave Israel’s non-Jewish population second-rate citizens. This is of course unadulterated nonsense. Even if the Elkin version of the law is passed, a non-Jewish person could become prime minister of Israel. The only discriminatory aspect of the law is that it stipulates that Israel cannot become, for example, a Christian state or an Islamic state. This is no more nor less discriminatory than the US Constitution which separates state from religion, but who cares about facts? Another accusation is that the legislation would undermine Arabic as a legitimate language in Israel.

Elkin’s suggestion was to include two paragraphs in the bill that state: (A) Hebrew is the official language of the state; (B) the Arabic language will have a special status, its speakers will have the right to access state services in Arabic, as will be detailed by law.

The pundits here succeeded, for this paragraph was deleted in the present version of the bill.

Our media, however, is not so much worried about the Arabic language, but much more about the English language.

One of the symptoms of post-Zionism is a need to systematically destroy the Hebrew language, by anglicizing it. This is because a basic law which preserves the special status of the Hebrew language might just make it more difficult to forget that Hebrew has its roots in the Bible, whose grammatical rules dictate how Hebrew is to be spoken.

At this point it would seem that the pundits will succeed. Either the Likud will back down (the preliminary vote has already been delayed by a week), or the vote will not pass and we will have new elections. A third scenario is that the vote will squeak by but then will languish in committee long enough for it to die naturally. The big loser will be the state.



November 13, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Freely a free press

Posted in Media tagged , at 2:52 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Freely a free press


Free newspapers are a fixture in our societies.

Since 1791, the democratic world has viewed the press as nearly sacrosanct, guided by the United States Constitution’s First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of…the press.” Eleven years earlier, the reasoning for this amendment was made clear by John Adams and others in Massachusetts when they wrote that, “The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a state: it ought not, therefore, to be restrained.”

On the other hand, there are probably many sympathetic to the character in Tom Stoppard’s play Night and Day, who supports a free press but says that “it’s the newspapers I can’t stand.”

Here in Israel, in 2014, we are witnessing one of the strangest parliamentary attacks on press freedom in the democratic world. A legislative initiative, titled in the best Orwellian fashion as “The Law for the Furtherance and Protection of the Press,” is making its way through the Knesset chambers.

The bill, proposed by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) together with other MKs from coalition parties Yisrael Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi, Hatnua and Yesh Atid as well as the opposition faction of Shas, seeks to “strengthen written journalism in Israel and ensure equal and fair conditions of competition between newspapers.” The goal is to be achieved on the basis of the Cabel Principle of Journalism which is that “Free newspapers hurt journalism as well as pluralism and democracy in Israel.”

The bill seeks to obligate the state to prevent the publication of a daily newspaper for free if it has a wide readership. Such a paper is defined as one that appears six days a week and possesses at least 30 pages (100 on weekends and holidays). Another test is that it must be one of the four top distributed newspapers. The proposal also has a supposed economic rationale, which the sponsors claim will protect fair competition in the market of printed journalism.

The bill obviously and blatantly targets one newspaper, Israel Hayom. It is a “personal law” directed against a specific entity rather than a general one. If passed, the actual result would be destroying competition, recreating the virtual monopoly of a rival newspaper and, as Professor Asa Kasher phrased it, an “unlawful attempt to inflict forfeiture of rights and/or property without judicial process.” In short, the legislation is quite undemocratic.

MK Cabel has a history of waging parliamentary wars against media outlets that do not share his political views, which are far left-of-center. His bias was obvious. On the one hand he succeeded in shutting down the Arutz 7 radio station’s broadcasting. On the other, he helped save the left-wing-dominated Channel 10 television station from being forced to fold due to its mismanagement, wastage of funds and lack of quality programming, not once but many times.

The internal contradiction of the present law is further compounded by the fact that it will mainly benefit Yediot Aharonot. This newspaper empire achieved its dominant role when, in the 1960s, it engaged in massive free distribution in order to successfully challenge its then leading competitor, the powerful Ma’ariv newspaper.

Why would parliamentarians act to recreate a media monopoly and why would right-wing MKs assist an anti-right-wing conglomerate to reestablish its rule over public opinion? What could be said in these politicians’ favor is that they are somewhat more imaginative than Tommy Morris. In early 2013, Morris, aide to Irish politician Derek Keating, sought to prevent the distribution of the free Lucan Gazette. His solution was straightforward and, unfortunately for him, caught on camera. He was observed entering a shop, picking up a pile of copies and dumping them in a garbage can and then repeating the maneuver.

Free newspapers are a fixture in our societies.

Checking the Wikipedia entry, we found almost 100 free newspapers being distributed and it is estimated that in Europe about one out of five newspapers read by the public is distributed free of charge.

So why are these politicians involved in such a law, when even former Haaretz editor Hanoch Mamari listed in The Seventh Eye 10 reasons not to vote for the law? The only possible reason is that despite the high-sounding words, this is just about low politics. It is no secret that Israel Hayom is strongly sympathetic to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The paper’s owner, Sheldon Adelson, is one of his outspoken backers.

It is also well known that parties such as Yisrael Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi present a very serious electoral challenge to Netanyahu.

Shas is also not applauding Netanyahu’s politics.

Israel Hayom, especially during the most recent election campaign, took meaningful steps to discredit all of these political parties.

Consider for example Naftali Bennett.

Already in December 2012, Israel Hayom’s political correspondent Matti Tuchfeld was pointing a finger at a developing relationship between Minister Bennett and Yediot, angering his supporters, who responded on Internet forum discussions at Aviv Horwitz, Mako’s media critic, writing in August 2013, detailed, and not for the first time, what he considered “favoritism” being displayed by Yediot towards Bennett.

He noted a Friday headline from May 31, 2013, accompanied by a picture of Bennett going off to spend time with army buddies – not a very political story – and then later that week, a story about Bennett celebrating Rabbi David Stav’s selection as the party’s candidate for the position of chief rabbi spread over several pages.

He continued with a list of items, noting headlines, captions, column inches, relatively insignificant actions, such as shooting-range results, items on minor party personalities in places like Beit Shemesh and more.

The sad conclusion is that the proposed law has little to do with lofty ideals such as freedom of the press, but everything to do with petty, small-minded and short-sighted thinking on the part of right-wing politicians. They have a fantastic record of destroying rightwing causes and furthering those of the Left.

This bill, if passed, will be another in a string of these “successes.”

Indeed, Likud Minister Gilad Erdan, who decided in the end to remain in Israel rather than accepting a diplomatic appointment abroad, can chalk up another such success – the decision of the Broadcasting Authority to air the Jews are Coming TV series, considered by its creators to be a satirical program.

Our impression, according to its promotional material, is that its “humor” is nothing but a very base and primitive portrayal of Jewish history and values, that debases the Jewish tradition. Queen Esther, they prefer, should be seen as a harlot.

If the law proceeds, will free websites be next? Is free distribution as a marketing strategy to become a crime? Why are the politicians pushing this law willing to become laughing stocks when the Supreme Court, as it presumably will, disqualifies the legislation? Do the politicians know something the public does not? Perhaps our Supreme Court judges, too, will act according to political motives and for the sake of headlines in Yediot Aharonot?


November 6, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Mounting the news

Posted in Temple Mount at 11:23 am by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Mounting the news


Israel’s media for the most part lacks perspective when it comes to the Temple Mount.

This past Monday morning, Barak Ravid of Haaretz provided his readers with a remarkable insight into the quirkiness of news reporting here in Israel when the platform, be it a newspaper, web site, radio or television station, is more interested in either spinning news or managing it, rather than fulfilling the first commandment of journalism: to tell it as it is.

In this case, the news was of the supposed, at the time, meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdallah II. Ravid wrote of the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida which was his source that it had “been used in recent years as a means for leaking and whitewashing information by sources in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.

More than once, the newspaper has published stories on goings on at Netanyahu’s bureau that later turned out to be true. However, in other instances, its reports about Netanyahu’s office were proved false.”

A reader would reasonably expect that with the source having an approximate 50% success rate, the headline for that story would have been something like “Unreliable Arab newspaper claims Netanyahu-Abdallah meeting.”

But no, it was ‘Report: Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah secretly meet… has not been confirmed by the Israeli or Jordanian governments.” This is but another instance of “reporting,” where the media is not a channel for providing reliable information and proven data but an instrument for the brainwashing of the media consumer.

The evolving stories of Jewish rights to and on the Temple Mount, diplomatic relations with Jordan, Israel’s not-quite-a-process of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority were all dramatically heightened by the recent attempt to assassinate Rabbi Yehuda Glick of the HaLiba project, an incident which provided insight into the workings of Israel’s media.

As we pointed out in our column of October 6, 2012, Israel’s media for the most part lacks perspective when it comes to the Temple Mount. At that time, reports on the increasing level of Muslim fabrications concerning the Jewish presence on the Mount were meager.

The Islamist campaign of incitement intended to deny Jewish rights and foment violence was somehow “understood” and “accepted” by the press. Israeli Arab leaders were not called upon to condemn the Arab incitement and violence as are Jewish leaders upon every so-called “price tag” incident.

Earlier that year, on August 15, we noted that the lack of Israeli media interest in the Temple Mount story consistently resulted in the relegation of the Jewish side of the story to “eccentricity status.” Too often, our media does not accept that in the national struggle between Jews and Arabs there even is a Jewish side.

The attempted assassination of Rabbi Glick by a Muslim fanatic did make waves, but was it enough to change the attitudes of the editors, reporters and columnists who set the media agenda? A November 1 Haaretz headline read: “Not your typical Temple Mount zealot.” In the story, author Roi Arad informed readers that “Glick is an exceptional right-wing activist, who also befriends secular Jews and left-wingers” and “views the [Temple Mount] matter as a question of freedom of worship for members of all religions… [and] he doesn’t arouse anger among the Left….” While appearing empathetic, this narrative again reinforces the view that the issue of freedom of religion on the Temple Mount is “not normal” and not readily accepted by Haaretz’s readership.

And it isn’t just our media establishment.

US spokespersons and even Secretary of State John Kerry have demanded that Israel preserve “the historic status quo.” Would Kerry demand that America’s Supreme Court seek to preserve a status quo that discriminated against the blacks? Not one reporter informed Israelis that Muslims are acting just like the Christian activists at the Cordoba Cathedral in Spain which had been turned into a mosque and was returned to its previous status as a Christian place of worship. Muslims have traveled to the Cathedral from as far away as Austria to conduct pray-ins, but Muslims will not tolerate similar actions by Jews in Jerusalem who want to pray at their holy site. Neither will they consider adopting the arrangement that exists in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs for the Temple Mount.

The media discourse on the issue is mostly shallow, and the media seems to find it extremely difficult to reflect Jewish values rather than seeking a non-partisan universalist framework.

The circumstances of the assassination attempt assured that Glick personally was treated (mostly) in a positive light, even in ideologically hard-left media platforms. Uri Misgav, who had published an article calling Temple Mount activists “abnormal nut-jobs” the very morning of the shooting felt the need to remove it – but only because right-wingers were “dancing on the blood” and exploiting it to further their cause.

The link between the “quiet intifada” in the capital, the attacks on Jerusalem’s light rail, the Jewish construction in the City of David neighborhood and the Temple Mount, together with a heavy-handed tone of condemnation emanating from the United States (not to mention outright slurs) clearly complicate the ability of reporters to deal with the theme professionally.

As it was when Ariel Sharon ascended Mount Moriah in 2000 and Gershon Solomon did in the 1990s, the media is more equipped to deal with a personal drama – currently Glick’s – than substantive issues, and in fact prefers that framework.

The media could review decades of decisions of Israel’s High Court of Justice to help media consumers understand the legal issues involved. It could include contextual information such as Middle East history and examinations of the “patronage” claim of the Hashemite kingdom over the holy sites in Jerusalem. Coverage should include diplomatic documents, deliberations in the Knesset plenum and its committees and those of Israel’s governments, as well as archaeological reports, Jewish history and more. The media should press Arab MKs, too, not just Jewish ones.

Editors need to be more informed, and real experts invited to serve as sources and panelists, rather than the usual boring public figures whose opinions are known in advance.

It would be better if the desk managers could direct their reporters to sources capable of providing varied angles on any given story.

The new TV Channel 20 treated viewers to a confrontational format coming from the nationalist viewpoint, which demonstrates that journalists can be better balanced and pluralistic and provide the media consumer with a better product. But if the atmosphere in the news rooms is uniform, it is difficult to go in another, more professional direction.