April 30, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: Of blessed memory

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:35 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Of blessed memory

It is high time that our media understands that our society exists, reinvigorates itself and withstands world pressure only due to people like the recently-passed Rabbi Lichtenstein and Dr. Rosenne.

Two rather unique and even extraordinary people passed away during the past two weeks. Both were over 80 years old and both had impacted Israeli society in many different ways. One is Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, the rosh yeshiva of the Gush Etzion Hesder Yeshiva in Alon Shvut, who with the late Rav Yehuda Amital fashioned a special Torah learning atmosphere for Modern Orthodoxy.

The other is Dr. Meir Rosenne, lawyer, diplomat and ambassador, and a senior member of Israel’s Foreign Ministry staff.

We do not want to compare between the two, nor do we intend to even hint that one has contributed more or less than the other. They contributed to Israeli and Jewish life in totally different spheres. There is, though, one ground for comparison and that is how the Israeli media related to them, both in life and afterwards. And since our local media devoted too little coverage to their deaths, we wish to add some perspective.

Dr. Rosenne, in view of his background as Israeli ambassador to the United States and to France, was frequently interviewed by the media as an expert on foreign affairs. Rabbi Lichtenstein was a very modest person. Radio and television were very far from his milieu; his world was that of Torah. The media was introduced to him, four decades after his arrival in this country, only on the occasion of his being awarded the prestigious Israel Prize last year.

Journalists hardly ever spoke with him (barring the rare event of a journalist who was a former student of his yeshiva).

In contrast to many rabbinical leaders, Rabbi Lichtenstein was the embodiment of a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace.

His brief connection with the dovish Meimad religious-Zionist party was the exception as far as personal political involvement went, although he certainly commented on affairs of state such as the Gaza disengagement and the Temple Mount.

The Har Etzion Yeshiva which he led together with Rabbi Amital was not your characteristic “right wing” yeshiva.

Rabbi Amital was identified with the Oslo process, and served as a minister in Shimon Peres’ government for the six months following the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabbi Lichtenstein was not a leader of the settlement movement, living most of his life in Jerusalem. Yet, not only could he work together with Rabbi Amital, he also appointed Rabbi Yakov Medan as a rosh yeshiva in his place, on the basis of Rav Medan’s Torah knowledge and intellectual prowess. Rav Medan’s strong support of the settlement movement was just not relevant.

There are other aspects of Rabbi Lichtenstein’s life which are noteworthy.

Money did not interest him. A known story is his willingness to cut his salary for the sake of the yeshiva during financially hard times. He was a man of letters, with a PhD in English literature. This should be contrasted with, for example, the Har Hamor Yeshiva (which split off from the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva), where anything having to do with the humanities, especially in a university context, is considered to be strictly forbidden.

Indeed, how many heads of yeshivot in Israel can boast of a PhD? We know only one: Rabbi Dr. Nachum Rabinowitz, who heads the Hesder Yeshiva in Ma’ale Adumim.

One may have thought that such a personality would be used by our media as a model of Jewish life in it broadest sense. Rabbi Lichtenstein was a teacher of tens of thousands, who influenced generations of students, among them leading rabbis and academic figures. Yet, the media was not interested in him, and even when he died, Kol Israel did not think it worth mentioning. It took a plea from Israel’s Media Watch to convince the powers that be there to mention him briefly in the 9:30 a.m. news flash preceding the 10 a.m. funeral.

Dr. Rosenne was a secular Jew. He was born in Romania in 1931 and immigrated to Palestine in 1944. His legal education was at the Sorbonne, where he obtained his PhD in 1957, at the same time also working for the fledgling Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Rosenne was a model public servant.

He was the legal adviser at the Foreign Ministry from 1971 until 1979.

In this capacity, he took part in the truce negotiations between Israel and Egypt following the Yom Kippur war.

In 1978, Rosenne was a member of the Israeli delegation to the Camp David peace negotiations. He then served from 1979 to 1983 as Israel’s ambassador to France. From 1983 until 1987 he was ambassador to the United States.

This overlapped the premierships of both Yitzhak Shamir and Peres.

Rosenne was a public servant trusted by both Right and Left in Israel. This is especially noteworthy considering that recently too many Israeli diplomats abroad have made it a habit to publicly criticize the Israeli government they purportedly serve.

Since then he served in a number of roles: he was president of the Israel Bonds organization, a member of the board of IDB Holdings and, to our pride, served as president of Israel’s Media Watch since 2010.

Rosenne passed away on April 14. The sad news was broadcast on Kol Israel, including a short biography as well as the time and location of his funeral.

It is interesting to note that the Israel Hayom newspaper covered in some detail the funeral of Rabbi Lichtenstein, giving it substantially more space and depth than Dr. Rosenne’s obituary. However, the coverage of both personalities in the media was largely superficial. Both served as role models. Their biographies are very different but also very educational.

Dr. Rosenne entered Israel illegally, during the British Mandate. He was outstanding at the foreign office, understanding that the duty of a civil servant is to serve his government.

Rabbi Lichtenstein came from very different circumstances, having grown up and matured in the United States.

He could have followed in the footsteps of his father-in-law, Rabbi Dr. Joseph B.

Soloveichik, becoming the rabbinical leader and authority of Orthodox Jewry there. He chose the idealistic but hard way of coming to Israel, establishing a yeshiva and dedicating himself to his students in Israel.

It is high time that our media understands that our society exists, reinvigorates itself and withstands world pressure only due to people like Rabbi Lichtenstein and Dr. Rosenne. If we want to continue to exist and safeguard our culture, historical heritage and ethical legacy we must present the proper role models in the media.

Let us be optimistic and hope that our media will pick up the challenge.



April 16, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: Sometimes it’s satire, but sometimes it’s not

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:39 am by yisraelmedad

Sometimes it’s satire, but sometimes it’s not


The names of the programs changed, governments changed, and even sometimes the actors changed, but the messages and the writers remained the same: Israeli satire originated from the far Left.

Rogel Alpher made some insightful observations in his Haartez column of March 27. He clarified the local Israeli left-wing mindset as to who is permitted to broadcast satire. He bemoaned the lack of American-style satire shows in Israel, such as those hosted by Jon Stewart or John Oliver. He was not looking for mere entertainment, but for the presentation of “an opinionated, reasoned, unapologetic view, whose liberal agenda is obvious.” He is very much bothered that “Israeli television deliberately excludes” such programs.

For Alpher, Oliver and Stewart “are journalists with comic skills…to convey a researched, well-argued message.”

They expose their audiences to “satirical research” which “influences…[and] changes opinions.”

Satire has long been a staple of our television programming. Older folk will recall Nikui Rosh (Head Cleaning) and Zehu Zeh (That’s That) broadcast on TV Channel 1 in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, in the late nineties, influenced by the British Spitting Image program, TV Channel 2 gave us the Hebrew version, called the Chartzufim.

These were followed later by Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country) and Matzav HaUmmah (The State of the Nation) programs, among others.

The names of the programs changed, governments changed, and even sometimes the actors changed, but the messages and the writers remained the same: Israeli satire originated from the far Left. It was pro-secular, anti-religious, pro-cosmopolitan and anti-settler. It took satire to the extreme. Chartzufim for example included two outrageous skits, one portraying the Shas rabbinical council as a group of dancing ayatollahs and another with two Ashkenazi haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) sitting at an outdoor café being served the dismembered head of a secular Israeli on a plate of lettuce.

On February 17, 2009, Eretz Nehederet presented a clip portraying a “settler family.”

While the mother ironed clothes on the back of an Arab, the grandfather took out a gun and shoots another Arab (or an IDF soldier) and a daughter shouts “Nazi” and “Hitler” at anyone she does not like.

Complaints aplenty were made, but were all rebuffed by Giora Rozen who, at the time, was complaints commissioner for the Second Authority of TV and Radio (SATR).

His response was: “The materials used were brought to the forefront of the public discourse by the minority group who used them. This group is now surprised about the language and reality which the satire uses to present the lightheadedness, the price of extremism and their own strong language.”

The commissioner was not worried about the fact that such a clip could create hatred between Israelis and depicted Jews with Nazi-like imagery. Worse, he permitted a situation whereby all “settlers” are put under one roof as crazy Arab-hating Jews.

This type of pandering, racist satire is characteristic.

On June 4, 2012, Eretz Nehederet related to the support Likud MKs Miri Regev and Danny Danon gave to south Tel Aviv residents in their struggle against the illegal residents in their neighborhood. Both MKs were depicted as Nazis deporting innocent civilians. Danon was presented as Hitler.

Complaints were answered by Yehudit Levit from TV Channel 2, who responded: “The…program is satirical. The purpose of the clip was to present the public discourse over the issue of the infiltrators. Satirical programs are naturally characterized by going to the limit in the presentation of issues and deal with them so as to bring about criticism and thought. This can sometimes also sometimes hurt the feelings of viewers,” concluding, “The value of freedom of speech supersedes any feelings which are hurt by the program.”

This year, for the first time in the more than four decades of Israel’s broadcasting history, a satirical program which presented itself as Zionist and not extreme Left was permitted to be aired over the IBA’s Channel 1. It took over four years of negotiations before the director general of the IBA, Yona Wiesenthal, was brave enough to declare that satire is legitimate independent of which part of the political spectrum it comes from.

To be sure, the Hakol Shafit (We’ll Be the Judge) program was balanced by another show, HaYehudim Ba’im (The Jews Are Coming), which preceded it. This latter program’s main message was to make fun of anything and everything holy and honorable in our Jewish heritage. Of course, Hayehudim Ba’im hurt people’s feelings but, as already explained, this is what satire does and freedom of expression is a higher good.

Or is it? On April 2, Hakol Shafit’s show included a segment in which a young woman named Chloe relates how she fell in love with a Muslim boy named Amir. This eventually led to tragedy, as Amir forces her to convert to Islam and then murders her when she refuses to allow him to take a second wife.

The reactions from the Left and Arabs were sharp; the principle of freedom of speech was forgotten. MK Zuhair Bahloul (Labor) said that this was “horrifying and shocking…one must ask whether this is not the freedom of incitement. I demand from the IBA to exercise discretion and forbid the transmission of this skit. Otherwise we might lose our elementary sensitivity to a whole segment of the population.”

The same Bahloul, when presenting a radio program on the A-Shams radio station, did not hesitate to explain why he visited Mohammed Bakri, the producer of Jenin, the “documentary” that libeled IDF soldiers, saying: “I showed solidarity with a great artist and actor, in order to pour some cold water on the racist campaign against a personality who can only be admired.”

Bahloul had no sensitivity for the IDF soldiers. He did not consider that such libel only leads to further hatred and even provide justification for some hotheads to take the law into their own hands. In this case, freedom of speech was much more important.

MK Michal Rozin from Meretz described the clip as racist, misogynistic and inciting.

Channel 1 then censored it. Why is it that our self-proclaimed liberals know how to be liberal with other people’s feelings but not their own? Adam Gopnik, reviewing on January 26 in The New Yorker Michel Houellebecq’s new novel, Submission, whose theme is an Islamic takeover of France, wrote about the essence of satire: “He likes to take what’s happening now and imagine what would happen if it kept on happening. That’s what satirists do.” A “sincere satirist” is one who is “genuinely saddened by the absurdities of history and the madnesses of mankind. He doesn’t ‘delight in depicting our follies.’” What is good for Europe suddenly is unacceptable for our cultural elite here in Israel? Indeed, the response of Avishai Ivri, one of the writers of the We’ll Be The Judge program, to the Walla news site was along the same lines: “The skit deals with an English girl from London whose name is Chloe and the topic is the radical Islam in Europe, not necessarily in Israel.”

But he who laughs last laughs best. The act of censorship was the best advertising that the Hakol Shafit program could ask for.


April 8, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: Leaving Egypt behind

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:19 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Leaving Egypt behind

Israel’s media is driven and guided by American and European culture.
A central challenge our forefathers faced upon their exodus from Egypt was adapting to a new culture, one which no longer emulated the practices of the center of the civilization of that age, Egypt. The people of Israel succeeded and the ethics and morality they accepted strove for justice, empathy with the downtrodden, care for the poor and for the orphan. This was very different from their Egyptian experience and it is not surprising that along the journey to the Promised Land there were those that expressed their desire to return to the “old ways.”

Given the time of year, it is appropriate to apply that ancient model to today’s problem of Israel’s media identity.

Israel’s media is driven and guided by American and European culture. The reality shows, even with their high ratings, represent low culture. Other symptoms of sickness include the growing practice of replacing hard news with infotainment and creating media icons who are employed for their good looks and quick tongues. Our newspapers no longer separate between news and views, as the last election campaign amply demonstrated.

It does not have to be this way. The time has come for our media to make its own “exodus from Egypt,” from the superficiality and the emptiness too often purveyed abroad.

Israeli science is excellent because it does not emulate the United States. Basic science is valued in Israel. Our scientific community understands that fundamentals drive scientific progress. Our colleagues abroad look at us with envy. Increasingly, they are forced to turn toward applied science, otherwise they do not get funding.

Our Israeli media could also become a light unto the nations, if only the powers that run it were driven by Jewish culture and heritage, if only they were proud of their background.

Israeli television can and should reflect our national values. We have a rich, 3,000-year history which could be a limitless source of inspiration for historically based entertainment and education.

Jewish humor and especially the Yiddish and Sefardi humor of the past few centuries enabled our people to survive with a smile even under very difficult circumstances. It is very different from the slapstick humor of American sitcoms. Typically, it is biting, makes a point but at the same time is hilarious.

Oddly enough, Jewish comedians in the US seem to be very successful. Why has this genre disappeared here? Only last week, we were at the premiere of The Little Dictator, a 27-minute film created by Nurith and Emanuel Cohn. The Jerusalem Cinematheque hall was packed and the crowd was enthralled. Jewish humor at its best. Why can’t we have more of this on our screens? Are the biographies of people such as Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman or Baruch Spinoza boring? It is not difficult to think of a documentary series describing the rise of Jewry in the United States.

Colleagues our age bemoan the fact that their children and grandchildren are quite ignorant of their Jewish heritage. Too many of our youngsters no longer understand the Bible. The Jewish prayer book, which has helped generations of Jews, is a stranger to them. Religion should not be a “four-letter word.” High-quality TV programming could go a long way in educating us. Who among us knows the history of our prophets Elijah, Elisha or Jeremiah, to name a few? Bruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir, is an amazing example of female leadership in our history. Queen Shlomzion is not less an outstanding personality.

The Rabbinical Court, with all of its drawbacks, is a unique Jewish institution. How about a TV series depicting the dilemmas of people appearing before it? One would suspect that if the Jewish Israeli population had a better understanding of the deliberations of this court, it would also know how to stand on its rights and get more out of this court system. One film in 50 years (“Gett”) is just insufficient.

But not only history and Jewish culture should be at heart of our media. We live in a globally based business environment. Most of our parents had no knowledge about the financial markets, derivatives meant nothing to them, and they also had no money to worry about. The situation today is very different. Yet too many Israelis are not well educated in financial matters. The only reason that our pension system is so complex is that no one in the media has taken the political leadership to task and demanded a thorough revision, simplification and end to profit of financial institutions on account of the pension funds. These issues could be dealt with and even be entertaining.

One of the problems many of us face as we grow older is taking care of our aging parents.

Most do not have a clue how to face the various dilemmas arising from debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia or Parkinson’s disease, to name a few. Do we or don’t we urge our parents to enter old age homes? The same is true when taking care of children with disabilities. A media interested in helping could go a long way in providing answers. Our newspapers, instead of harping on murder and drugs, could send their reporters to provide information on these and many other issues which we face on a daily basis.

We pride ourselves as being a high-tech society and rightly so. But is this sustainable? Only if we create enthusiasm for science and technology in our younger generations. Our media should play here a central role. We grew up on the space race, in the aftermath of the immense success of science in World War II to help eliminate the German and Japanese dictatorships. As children, science was the “in” thing. Today, our best and brightest become lawyers and accountants. We do not denigrate these occupations, but wouldn’t it be better if more of our bright youngsters were excited by the inspiration and creativity to be found in the sciences? Where there is a will ,there’s a way. Admittedly, presenting original, inspirational and informative programming and newspapers is expensive. Much more expensive than the low-quality material we receive now. But, just as good science in the long run is a worthwhile investment, the same goes for the media. Original films can be sold all over the world. Not only do they lead to good economics, they also would go a long way in presenting Israel in a positive light to the world, something we are sorely lacking.

The Jewish community is not limited to Israel. The evangelical Christian community is huge and would be very interested in Jewish and Israeli documentaries. The Chinese interest in Israel and the Bible is huge. In South Korea, schools have adopted the Talmudic pilpul model whereas in Israel, secular state school pupils have no knowledge of the Talmud at all.

The Israeli media should exit Egypt. With leadership – we do need a Moses – and determination, it could be a light onto the nations.


April 1, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: Passover cleaning

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:34 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Passover cleaning


Much has been written concerning the required reckoning in the aftermath of the media’s fiasco during the four-month election campaign.

Much has been written concerning the required reckoning in the aftermath of the media’s fiasco during the four-month election campaign. The real question, though, is not what needs to be said, but what must be done. Our media needs to clean itself up thoroughly for there is too much chametz (leavened foods forbidden during Passover) lying around.

What could be done by government, the media itself and by media consumers? Let’s start with Channel 10 TV. This channel, as we have often written, has sullied Israel’s TV scene. It has cost the taxpayer over a billion shekels since its first broadcasts in January 2002. On March 22 it requested a broadcasting license for the next 15 years.

This request is now under deliberation by the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR).

But allow us to remind ourselves that prior to these elections, the channel was, as usual, in arrears in its payments, at that time to the tune of NIS 36 million. The government and the Knesset decided that this was not the appropriate time to close down the channel. The attorney general saved the day, allowing the channel to continue broadcasting until June 30, even though the law stipulated that under the circumstances the channel should be closed down.

The request to continue operating for the next 15 years under license, instead of the present concession system, came at the last moment. The law has set several conditions for granting a license. Among them are presenting guarantees for paying a NIS 67m. annual license fee. Another demand is to spend at least NIS 130m. annually on local programming. Thirdly, there is a NIS 3m. fee just to submit a license request. In addition, anyone who wants a license must convince the SATR that they are financially stable.

It is no wonder that Israel lacks good TV programming.

The government obviously considers the media a cow, to be milked at will, with the government controlling the milking schedule. If it so happens that the cow is sick, as Channel 10 is, the cowhand decides to forgo the milking for that day. When this repeats itself too many times and the cow stops giving milk altogether, it is sent out for slaughter.

Channel 10 has continued to pay its debts, albeit only after receiving generous reductions which were then promptly applied to the other channels.

Thus, last week, the SATR decided to reduce the license fee to NIS 45m. and to forgo the license request fee of NIS 3m. to anyone already owning a concession. This last step was clearly meant to enable Channel 10 to submit its request without paying the fee. Why should Channel 10 have any advantage over new players? The logic is beyond us.

The present socialist law is ridiculous. In a free economy, anyone should be allowed to request a broadcasting license.

Technology is such that the airwaves are essentially limitless.

There is no reason to impose unnecessary draconian rules and regulations on broadcasters.

There is an analogy between restaurants and the media. A restaurant has to prove that it can uphold minimal sanitation standards. A TV station must do the same. It must prove that it has the ability to uphold minimal broadcasting standards, both technological and content-wise. But that is all that it should be obliged by law to do. A profitable TV station pays the salaries of its employees and taxes on profits.

The government should content itself with the resulting income.

We have often demanded in this column that Channel 10 be closed down. Being realistic, we expect the government to be too weak to do the right thing, which is to stop violating its own laws by continuing to make concessions to the channel. Nevertheless, even our politicians could show some leadership and thoroughly revamp the law, allowing anyone to broadcast and stopping government meddling in the broadcasting business. This would lead to true pluralism, and would end the Channel 10 saga, since it would be only one of many and would have to stand on its own two feet or cease existing.

But let us not assume that this would heal all of Israel’s media woes. Part of the problem, which also appears in the Channel 10 saga, lies in the superiority complex of the media. Too many in the media feel that they are above the law. Consider our national broadcaster IBA’s TV Channel 1, which should be a model of good citizenship. It decided, on Election Day, that the present law forbidding any Israeli TV channel from broadcasting statements of politicians is archaic and promptly violated it. At Israel’s Media Watch, we submitted a formal complaint to Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, but do not expect any action to be taken.

There are other laws on the books that should be upheld.

One of them demands that all voices in Israeli society be heard. It has never been enforced, or to phrase it differently, people such as Ari Shavit of Channel 1’s Friday night Yoman show or Moshe Negbi, the IBA’s sole legal pundit, seemingly consider themselves to be the voice of everyone and so are not willing to allow themselves to be balanced by someone else sharing the studio with them on the same program.

This ridiculous state of affairs has been summarized aptly by Yaron Dekel, the present head of the army radio station Galatz, in a March 23 op-ed published in Globes: “The late minister Uri Orbach was a ground-breaker of the entry of right-wingers in to the mainstream media…there are not enough successors to Orbach.

Only a significant entry into the established mainstream media of journalists with kippot, residents from the periphery and those holding a rightwing line will change the situation and free it from its ‘in-a-bubble’ reality.”

In contrast to pundits such as ourselves, Dekel does not need to write; he can actually do. He can clean up the chametz in the Army Radio station.

The production of Hakol Shafit, a decidedly right-ofcenter satire series on Channel 1, shows that it is possible to provide good media content while remaining pluralistic.

Why cannot Dekel create real pluralism? We do not accept his claim that there are not enough successors to Orbach.

We can think of a half-dozen people at least who could be anchors of the news programs on the channel and do the job at least as well as people such as Yael Dan and Razi Barkai.

Public mass media should neither be dominated by an interfering government bureaucracy or by politicians who are members of various Knesset committees that seek their own airtime. It should not be the fiefdom of an elitist ideological and cultural clique behind the microphones and in front of the cameras. It is high time to discard the chametz.