November 21, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: The hidden and the fake

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:29 pm by yisraelmedad

The hidden and the fake
For the past 12 years, this organization has been producing reports on the achievements of Israeli ministers and Knesset members in the national camp.
The NGO Mattot Arim describes itself on its website as an authentic grassroots Israeli organization that promotes the national interests of the residents of central Israel and the large cities within the former “Green Line.” It provides critical information on existential topics, information that often is not made available to the public by any other means. It aims to empower the citizenship and enable it to express itself in an informed manner so as to have positive influence on the Knesset, primary elections, the government and other centers of political power.

For the past 12 years, this organization has been producing reports on the achievements of Israeli ministers and Knesset members in the national camp. Their definition of an achievement is helping to bring about an outcome that the national camp electorate supports as well as preventing an outcome that the national camp electorate opposes. As the actors are elected parliamentarians and appointed ministers, “achievements” range from initiating legislation, voting in the Knesset, policy promotions, public pronouncements and so on.

Its 2018 report, published in October, noted that “almost 70% of the National Camp’s elected leaders had 10 or fewer achievements”. Their report is detailed, listing the number of achievements of each coalition party MK separately. For example, Bayit Yehudi Minister Ayelet Shaked was found to be the top performer, with 78 achievements in which she furthered the interests of the national camp. This is to be contrasted with Yisrael Beytenu’s former minister Sofia Landwer with not a single achievement for the national camp to her credit.

Especially with primaries and national elections in the near future, one would think that its report would raise interest, at least within the national camp and its media outlets. Indeed, Arutz 7 published their results, as did the religious website Srugim, but that was it. Nothing in the mainstream media or Makor Rishon and Israel Hayom. The right-wing media does not support its NGOs, as does, for example, Haaretz.

Contrast this with a very different NGO, Mashrokit (in English, the Whistleblower). It describes itself innocuously as an organization that “deals with public statements made by public figures in order to provide the news consumers with an essential tool for their informed and critical examination. Through a quick, comprehensive, balanced, and real-time examination of statements regarding the day’s issues, the Mashrokit seeks to lead a more credible, accurate and factual public and media discourse in Israel.” Furthermore, “the principles that guide the work of Mashrokit are precision, accuracy in facts and details, and the use of reliable sources, regardless of the speaker’s identity or the position presented.“ That sounds good and presumably, that is what Israel’s mainstream media also thinks.

As reported on November 14 on the ICE website, in the Haaretz newspaper, at the national Eilat Journalists Conference and on Kan Reshet Bet, this organization reached the conclusion that 74% of public statements made by Israeli politicians are fake news. Certainly, if true, that is quite worthy of publicity, not less and not more than Mattot Arim’s conclusion that “almost 70% of the National Camp’s elected leaders had 10 or fewer achievements.” Why, then, the striking difference in the media attention given to the two different reports?

As published on September 20 on The Marker’s website, a study of the Mashrokit organization’s website leads to the conclusion that mostly right-wing politicians are under scrutiny, an allegation vehemently denied by Michal Sela, one of their employees, who says, “We all have opinions, but we are apolitical…. It does not matter if you are left or right. It is important that politicians do not lie to you.” Indeed, we would agree. But it is also important that NGOs do not misrepresent themselves. Mattot Arim openly describes itself as belonging to the national camp. Mashrokit, on the other hand, is afraid to present its true identity, and no wonder.

In 2016 its largest donor was guess who? The New Israel Fund. Are they neutral? Not exactly.

Mashrokit’s concept of fake news is a very relative one. For example, Yehuda Glick, Likud MK, stated on September 14 that two million Palestinians live in Judea and Samaria. This was deemed fake news by Mashrokit. But of course, the number of residents is hotly debated – neither Glick, nor Mashrokit nor anyone else knows the correct number, since the Palestinian Authority refuses to hold a scientifically controlled census.

Likud MK and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely criticized the Supreme Court for ordering the destruction of homes in Netiv Ha’avot in the Gush Etzion area. She states that this was “despite the fact that there was no Palestinian who had a claim on the land.” The Mashrokit goes into a long harangue to try to prove that this is false and that there are Palestinians who have a claim. However, in truth, that is a claim some Arabs made, but it was never proven in any court of justice. To assume that the Palestinians are truthful and Hotovely is not, is perhaps not surprising for an organization whose budget comes from the New Israel Fund.

Journalists today seem to be dissatisfied with the traditional roles of the press, which were to truthfully and objectively report on events. A journalist was a “committed observer,” as Gil Thelen, former publisher of The Tampa Tribune, wrote. But new norms have been developing, as we see above.

In the most recent issue of Journalism, published by Sage, three academics, Karen McIntyre, Nicole Smith Dahmen and Jesse Abdenour, report on a survey of more than 1,300 journalists concerning “contextual reporting.” What that means are stories that “go beyond the immediacy of the news and contribute to societal well-being.” Their analyses showed that younger journalists and female journalists highly valued three genres of contextual reporting: constructive journalism, solutions journalism, and restorative narrative. Moreover, the more favorable view of those genres stemmed from the journalist’s belief in activist values such as setting the political agenda and pointing to possible solutions.

In short, the media is becoming less of an observer and more of a player. The media has involved itself in the news. A monograph we published more than 20 years ago asked if Israel’s media was reporting or managing the news. We concluded that we found an increasing influence of the broadcast media on the political life of the State of Israel. Additionally, the bias in its reporting of public affairs deliberations was interfering with Israel’s democracy.

Mashrokit’s treatment by Israel’s media and the virtual non-existent treatment of Mattot Arim, we suggest, are further proof of our observation.

The bottom line is that Mashrokit – The Whistleblower – should first blow its whistle on itself, admit its ideology and stop trying to present the public with the fake news that it is objective in its judgments. And our mainstream media should do the same. The fact that an organization such as Mashrokit is provided uncritical publicity support by Israel’s mainstream media while Mattot Arim is not, gives further insight into how and why our media is not trusted by the public. 


November 7, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Sowing hatred

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:45 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Sowing hatred
The Jewish people are, on a global scale, small in numbers. But with all the differences between us, there is a fundamental solidarity.
The horrific murder in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue touched almost every Jewish soul, as well those of non-Jews. The outpouring of grief and consternation was felt everywhere – in the United States, Israel, Europe and elsewhere. In such times, the Jewish people gather in solidarity. Although one cannot equate it exactly with the anxiety and identification with Jews in Israel that occurs when Israel is attacked or goes to war, something of the same “can do” spirit was there.

The Jewish people are, on a global scale, small in numbers. But with all the differences between us, there is a fundamental solidarity perhaps most eloquently stated by our sages close to 2,000 years ago: “All of Israel are responsible for each other.” Ecclesiastes taught us that there is a time for everything, a time to cry and a time to love.

This was the spirit – except among too many of Israel’s leading journalists.

The opening salvo came from Arieh Golan. On Sunday morning, in the aftermath of the massacre when the shock was greatest, he had nothing to say after the 7 a.m. news but that the solidarity with the congregation in Pittsburgh was essentially fake, since these are Jews of Judaism’s Conservative stream, which, he declared, Israel has forsaken.

Next was Arad Nir, Channel 2 TV news editor. Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett was fittingly sent to Pittsburgh to represent the government and express Israel’s solidarity with the community in Pittsburgh. Nir was sent there ostensibly to cover the events. Appropriately enough, he interviewed Bennett. In his two-minute “interview,” these were his questions:

• Was Israel mistaken in the manner in which it related to the voices heard here and should Israel start toning down its proclamations?

• Regarding the friends of Israel who have an antisemitic background, perhaps Israel errs here?

In response to Bennett’s admonition that this is not the time for divisiveness, Nir lectured, “We should learn a lesson from this that would prevent such occurrences in the future.”

Bennett continued with his message of solidarity, but Nir would not be swayed, asking, or perhaps more accurately, stating, “But Conservative and Reform communities here feel estranged from Israel.”

Bennett noted that no one that he met had raised these issues, but rather that everyone was thankful for the presence of Israel’s representative at that time. In response, Haredi journalist Yossi Elituv summarized on his Twitter account: “When Arad Nir is in a state of post-trauma, no one can help with first aid. Bennett tried, but Nir insisted on evading reality.”

PERHAPS THE most outrageous act came from that icon of thinking people, the Ha’aretz newspaper, which seemed to be attempting to sow hatred, one of its strong points. It blatantly misquoted Chief Rabbi David Lau in an interview. No less a personality than Andrew Silow-Carroll, the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, an organization not noted for Orthodox or right-wing leanings, took Ha’aretz to task.

The interview was picked up by the American media and in the Washington Post. The headline was, “Pittsburgh shooting was widely reported in Israel, but not all media noted it took place in a synagogue.” As quoted by Silow-Carroll, the article itself stated: “In an interview with Makor Rishon, a newspaper aimed at the modern Orthodox community, the country’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau, referred to Tree of Life synagogue as ‘a place with a profound Jewish flavor.’” Both Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the Post posited, “stopped short of recognizing that it took place in a synagogue.” Even The Jerusalem Post’s Susan Hattis-Rolef in an op-ed article this Monday fell for the fake news.

Silow-Carroll was outraged and did his homework. In the interview, Rabbi Lau stated: “There is nothing to discuss about their affiliation. They were killed because they were Jews! Does it matter in which synagogue they pray in or what text they use?” In other words, Ha’aretz, on whom the Washington Post based itself, used the Pittsburgh massacre to portray the chief rabbi as a person who cannot overcome his biases in the face of grief, while the truth is that it was Ha’aretz that did its best – and succeeded – to present the rabbi in a negative light. This was then circulated by no less a newspaper than The Washington Post.

THE TRUTH is that this is not news. It so happens that one week later, left-wing Israelis celebrated the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin with their festival of hatred. The assassination was a tragedy, for all Jews, all around the world, irrespective of their political leanings. The Rabin memorial day should be respected by all of us. The central message should be that we cannot afford again to forget the terrible aftermath of the assassination of Gedalyahu ben Achikam almost 2,000 years ago. The only real answer to the act is and should be solidarity.

But no, this is not to be. Veteran left-wing commentator and branja (in-crowd) priest, Amnon Abramovitch, penned an op-ed for Yediot Ahronot. Its subtitle was rather positive: “For the purpose of union and peace, we should all make an effort to tolerate the other and stand together against Rabin’s murder – not for his legacy.” But of course, he could not leave it there. In describing the processes in Israel society, he claimed, “Religious Zionism, which was in shock following Rabin’s murder, held a national emergency conference under the title “preventing the radicalization process among youth” and since then, the group changed its strategy from a defensive one to offensive, and its youth members became more extreme.”

The bottom line of Abramovitch is that indeed we should unite – but only if the right wing beats its breast and takes all the blame for the assassination and all the ills of Israeli society, such as the “occupation.”

Unfortunately, conservatives in Israel know that when the Rabin Assassination Festival Season sets in, they have to bury their heads deep in the sand and just wait until it blows over. No matter how much they wish that this day could be a symbol of Israeli solidarity, it is not to be. Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein refused to participate in the hate festival, knowing well that it would not lead to anything positive. Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi barely managed to finish his speech; the crowd’s attempt to drown him out nearly succeeded.

Had our media been doing its job, it would have centered its energy this week in making sure that next year’s memorial day for Rabin would be what we all wish for, a day of mutual respect and reconciliation. Had the media been more attuned to the needs of the Jewish people here and in the Diaspora, and less willing to play along with extremist “progressive” groups in America who sought not to fight antisemitism but rather attack President Donald Trump politically, unity and mutual recognition could have been achieved.

But no, too many in our media prefer to sow hatred, not love.