September 26, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: Election aftermath

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:41 am by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Election aftermath
Reviewing the media and the reactions to it in the wake of the elections
Elections are over. Well, at this moment they seem to be over.

One way of passing judgment on the performance of some of the media during the last few months is to mull over an excerpt from a column penned by Tony Koch. It appeared in the May 9 issue of The Guardian, bemoaning Australian newspapers. If we substitute the Likud Party in place of the Labour Party in the piece, can we hear an echo of our own situation in Israel?

Here are some excerpts with the replacements made: “No editor I worked for would have put up with the biased anti-Likud rubbish that, shamefully, the papers now produce. Gone is the requirement for balance. One has only to look at the story selection and headlines on the front pages of the papers each day to see that an anti-Likud angle has been taken, however contorted had been the literary gymnastics required.

“How infantile is it of the management of these organizations to fool themselves into believing that what they are producing is being accepted by readers as quality product…. Probably the most blatant example of bias and low-grade coverage is the employment of most of the [weekly] columnists…. Their observations are, in the main, predictable, weak, un-researched and juvenile.”

Consider the reporting on the Likud claims of voter fraud in last April’s election. Haaretz headlined its coverage on September 8 by stating that only one out of 100 claims were legitimate. That would convince anyone who had thought the Likud had a strong case that it was, after all, all a fake. However, Kalman Liebskind of Maariv actually called 82 of the Likud’s polling station observers who had submitted complaints to the police and it turned out that only two had been contacted by the police.

So who was at fault? Did the Likud make false claims? Was there voter fraud? Did the police mishandle the investigation? More importantly to us, are our journalists professional? Did Haaretz send its journalists to actually check the facts?

Do too many in Israel’s media share the negative characteristic Victor Davis Hanson of CNN wrote in the National Review on September 17 that the station is broadcasting “everything but the news”?

Last Saturday afternoon, several outlets reported that the Joint List of four Arab parties will recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Benny Gantz of the Blue and White list be charged with the task of forming a government. The source was anonymous. Within two hours that item of “news” was discounted, then disavowed. Did the journalist who first reported it make it up? Did he know it was false but wanted a headline? Was it an internal leak of one Arab party trying to embarrass another? Was the item checked by a responsible editor? In the end, only 10 of the 13 MKs recommended Gantz.

An item with similar ethical and professional issues appeared on September 19, when the public learned that the state’s prosecution office was willing to entertain a plea deal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That had no basis. The next day, again, the public learned that there was a reach-out to the president to accept the idea of a pardon that was denied. That item was not sourced. The media consumer had no credible way to judge whether the news was true, floated or maliciously spread. Was it a case of media-ratings-promoting speculation? Can we trust what passes for news in so many of Israel’s media outlets?

ALREADY IN June 2018, and earlier, in January 2017, Netanyahu described the media as “Bolshevik” in character, “simply engaging in Soviet-style propaganda,” and recently uploaded a clip wherein he repeated the charge with a vengeance, accusing a reporter, Guy Peleg, personally, and naming Channel 12 senior editors and owners as systematically spreading fake news and false electioneering content. Could he have been correct?

David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey note in the September 3 edition of The Wall Street Journal that whereas advocacy organizations working against a political candidate are regulated by campaign-finance statutes, as they are engaged in electioneering speech, those laws do not apply to the media, unless they are owned by a political party or candidate. This favored treatment is justified by the powers that be who claim that the media have a “unique” role in public discourse and debate. But as the US Supreme Court observed in a 2010 opinion, “The line between the media and others who wish to comment on political and social issues becomes far more blurred.”

What if Netanyahu was correct and the people he charged were interested in him not being reelected? That supposition is not entirely outside the realm of possibility, for journalists indeed have their own political outlook and they can be biased.

Take the example of Menashe Raz who appeared on the Kalman and Segal Channel One television interview program two weeks before the day of elections. He was invited to talk about the petition he initiated to defend the above-mentioned Peleg. Liebskind did his homework. He spiritedly attacked him for not coming forth when two other reporters were actually physically assaulted in the past year. He asserted that Raz was playing a hypocritical game since his sympathy was with a fellow left-of-center colleague (the two attacked were right-wingers). Liebskind did not mention, though, that Raz had left the former state-sponsored Israel Broadcasting Authority to be spokesperson for the Central Party back in 1999 and then later, sought to be a candidate for Knesset on the Kadima list. Raz is a politician, not a journalist.

As Nathan Robinson wrote on September 10, also in The Guardian, “There can’t be such a thing as a neutral journalist. We all have moral instincts and points of view. Those points of view will color our interpretations of the facts. The best course of action is to acknowledge where we’re coming from. If we show an awareness of our own political leanings, it actually makes us more trustworthy than if we’re in denial about them… the public doesn’t trust us, and we need to think about how to slowly get people to see journalists as their allies instead of as duplicitous, faux-neutral propagandists.”

Another media-related issue was the camera surveillance legislation proposed by the Likud. We couldn’t find any commentator relating to the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network study on the matter, with its pros and cons and reviewing the practices in the seven countries where cameras are employed. What we did find strange was the argument that camera use would intimidate voters. Can you imagine politicians attempting to employ that excuse for banning news cameras from their meetings and conferences?

We are but a few days from Rosh Hashanah, and besides wishing our readers well over the coming year, we ourselves need to correct an error we committed. On August 15, we wrote that Tel Aviv University Professor Yossi Shain “consistently voted against anything having to do with Ariel University.” In fact, there were occasions when Shain did vote in favor of the university’s needs. We apologize for the use of the words “consistently” and “anything” and stand corrected.


September 20, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Getting the world to sign off

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:53 am by yisraelmedad

Book review: Getting the world to sign off
A masterful chronicling of the battle for global support for Israeli independence.
Continuing his previous trenchant and detailed history of the Palestine Mandate which covered the years 1933-1939 in his 2014 two-volume Palestine in Turmoil: The Struggle for Sovereignty, Monty Penkower – former professor of Jewish History at Rutgers University, Bard College, Touro College and New York University – now allows the reader again to be able to grasp the intertwined elements of the sub-history of that era. We are led along as the British Mandatory ruler, facing a post-Holocaust reality (the Holocaust period was covered in an earlier 1994 volume, The Holocaust and Israel Reborn), a determined and increasingly militant Jewish community in the Jewish Yishuv community and its need to maintain proper relations with the United States as well as balanced ones with the Arab world. Ultimately, it failed to maneuver itself to a successful conclusion of its administration of the territory the international community decided in 1922 would be the reconstituted Jewish national homeland and awarded it rule over Palestine.

Penkower’s trilogy has marshaled the facts from the documents, memos, diaries and newspaper reports of the time as well as providing an up-to-date collection of the historical research that has been published. We are presented with off-the-cuff remarks, protocols, speeches and the more cached away notations at the time.

This volume, as with the others, is tightly framed in a chronological procession. Month by month, week by week and day by day, Penkower has his reader delve into the at times frenetic and at times frustrating attempts by all the major actors to push their policies, most times in a competing and contradictory fashion. Penkower, to his credit, does not allow the reader to lose the greater picture and provides analysis in an objective style of relating history as it happens.

If there are major lessons to be derived for those wondering what is happening today, the book reveals the utter reversal of British policy from the League of Nations intent in that senior British officials not only reformulate their 1922 charge but express horrible anti-Jewish views in complete opposition to the events they were caught up in.

Here, for example, on April 28 1948, is UK foreign minister Ernest Bevin in the presence of Clement Atlee, the prime minister, telling US ambassador Lewis Douglas that “all this aggression came from the Jews” and “after all, Palestine was an Arab country.” Three years earlier, on October 22 1945, Bevin had declared himself “against a Jewish state” (p. 90) and shortly thereafter, cursed Harold Laski, Labour Party chairman, who retorted, “you hate me because I am Jewish” (p. 100-101). He couldn’t accept a “religious state” and Jewry is only a religion (p. 348). And to think Jeremy Corbyn is a new phenomenon in British socialism.

Another quotation that brings history to life are the words of General E. Barker, British army commander of Palestine, to his paramour Katy, widow of Arabist George Antonius, “your people do not appreciate their problems with a Western mind. A pity.” That situation has dramatically altered with the West having lost its linguistic mind.

AS THE theater of operations increasingly moved to America, what becomes obvious from Penkower’s account is that the Zionists faced a double challenge in their maneuvering. Besides antisemitism, Penkower writes that there were on the one hand many powerful anti-Zionist Jews, such as Joseph M. Proskauer and The New York Times’ A.H. Sulzberger, while on the other, the senior Nahum Goldmann consistently ran his own independent and, at times, seriously divergent diplomacy with the US administration leading to clashes with the Zionist camp.

Penkower does not skip over the “little people” such as Samuel Danziger who was killed by German police at the Stuttgart DP camp on March 29 1946. Danziger, his pregnant wife and two children all had spent four years at Auschwitz and other concentration camps. He also mentions Asher Itzkowitz, beaten to death after mistakenly entering the Temple Mount during Passover 1947 (p. 395).

The role of the pressure brought to bear, especially in the case of Eleanor Roosevelt, by the situation of the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust behind fences in Europe and the resulting heroic clandestine immigration-by-boat campaign are given proper treatment, which also buttresses the attention played by the Jewish armed resistance operation, whether by the Irgun and Lechi or by the United Movement which was joined by the Haganah and the Palmach.

Penkower’s crescendo is the careful following of the UN deliberations throughout 1947 and 1948. The visits to Palestine and the subsequent reports, the plenum debates, procedures, the committee meetings and the inevitable lobbying behind closed doors, of both sides, Jews and Arabs as well as the US State Department’s opposition, which US president Harry Truman eventually quashed.

What is clear from the presentation of the cumulative work of his years of research is that Jewish pressure, insistence and, despite all odds, a belief in the justness of the cause they were pursuing – that is, the reestablishment of a Jewish state among the nations – were the crucial elements that led to the May 14 proclamation of the state of Israel.

I should note that one more proofreading effort was needed to catch several unnecessary errors as an “is” instead of in (p. 102), or Gadi instead of Gidi (p. 244) and Kimchin in place of Kimchi (p. 326). In addition, I found “reigning in” instead of reining in (p. 565) as well as “commend” instead of command (p. 646). And I would take issue with terming the Acre prison break of May 1947 “greatly flawed” (p. 416).

In the end, Penkower’s retelling is the best account for those seeking to relive history as it was accomplished.

The writer is a research fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.


September 13, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: Why not positivism?

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:39 am by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Why not positivism?




Instead of throwing dirt, it would be far more useful to report on what has been done that is good. Of course, “good” may be in the eyes of the beholder.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the present election campaign for the 22nd Knesset is its negativism. Some political parties cannot refrain from sullying their competitors, presumably thinking voters will take this into consideration when casting their votes. In the media particularly, this negativism has reached a crescendo, with nary a positive word on any of the political parties. Is there nothing positive to report?

Some journalists would argue that they are just doing their job. We disagree. What is their job? Promoting negativism? Informing the electorate? Instead of throwing dirt, it would be far more useful to report on what has been done that is good. Of course, “good” may be in the eyes of the beholder. Nonetheless, we shall try, with elections mere days away, to present a positive example by providing an informative picture of the various parties.

The Arab parties have shown a measure of maturity. Instead of two or three parties running against each other, they have a unified list. This can only provide the Arab population with sorely needed representation. After all, in a democracy, if you do not have someone to represent you in the governing circles, your ability to defend your rights is diminished. One sees in the past few years an attempt by the Arab MKs to move away from the harsh political pro-Palestinian rhetoric toward a platform that defends the individual rights of their constituency. This is laudable.

Continuing to the Left side of the political spectrum is the Israel Democratic Party. Here is another example of willingness to overcome differences and pool resources, not only to bring in more voters, but also to provide its constituency with meaningful actions. Some of its MKs have excelled in initiating ideas such as the social justice caucus, caring for tenants’ rights, increasing governmental transparency, representing the disabled and more. The party is a staunch defender of the “two-state solution,” supports the Israeli judicial system and the Supreme Court. When you vote for the Israel Democratic Party, you know what you are getting.

ALSO ON the Left, but to the right of the Israel Democratic Party, one finds the Labor-Gesher alliance. Labor Party leader Amir Peretz had the guts to create a coalition with Gesher Party leader Orly Levy-Abecassis – who does not identify with the political Left – to present a social-oriented party that will do whatever it can against the prevalent capitalist policies. Peretz, a former leader of the Histadrut labor federation, has a track record as a defender of the poor and downtrodden. The Gesher Party’s positive statements are aimed at convincing those whose life is not all too good that the union with Labor will bring about change.

The Blue and White Party is characterized by an impressive expertise in military affairs. It is a broad home to many parts of Israeli society, bridging gaps between right-wing religious representatives and deep secularists. The party contains those who support a two-state solution and those who abhor it. Its faction includes socialists and capitalists. In contrast to the first three parties, it is very young. But here, too, its leaders managed to overcome differences, exemplifying its ability to bring rational compromise to Israel’s political scene and governing bodies.

The Likud has been the governing party for the past 10 years. It has led the country with a steady hand, creating a capitalist-oriented society that many feel has made Israel an affluent country where most of its citizens are happy to live. It has moved away from the two-state solution, as most of its members do not believe in it. Its right-wing policies have led to an increase in the population of Judea and Samaria. The Likud Party has found ways to bridge differences between secular, religious and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sectors of society. It has immeasurably increased government financial support for Arab cities and towns, improving infrastructure and education.

To its right one finds the Yamina Party. Its leaders have also found a way to compromise and create a larger right wing, without becoming an exclusively religious party. Its members have changed the Supreme Court and the justice system, bringing to them greater pluralism and cultural diversity. The party has shifted Israel’s education more toward STEM-oriented (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) training, while at the same time creating a deeper appreciation of Zionism to younger voters. In the same sphere, Yamina has enabled the establishment of a new medical school at Ariel University, providing many of our best youngsters with the chance to practice medicine without needing to study abroad.

UNITED TORAH Judaism and the Shas haredi parties have systematically represented their constituencies, providing funding for their school systems, defending the right of Torah scholars to continue their studies without the need to serve in the IDF, and defending both Ashkenazi and Sefardi haredi culture. They have done all this while at the same time partaking in important processes that are of great importance to the general public, such as health, immigration policies, social justice and more.

Our readers will note that there are a few parties we did not mention. This is not an oversight. We simply could not find it possible to present them in a positive light, as we are unaware of any positive contributions they have made in recent years

Some media outlets actually did, to some extent, provide the various parties with the ability to present themselves and their agendas. The right-wing Israel Hayom newspaper, in its recent weekend editions, published long interviews with some candidates, and not only those from the Right. However, the same newspaper, with elections a week away, used many pages to cover the brouhaha surrounding the proposed camera bill.

On Monday, though, following the government’s decision to allow photo coverage of the elections (nixed by Yisrael Beytenu), discussions on radio were largely limited to differences of opinion between Left and Right on this issue rather than anything substantive.

Another poorly handled media topic was how the various political parties are preparing their tactics for Election Day. One might think this is what concerns the Israeli public. If the polls are correct and close to 50% of voters are still undecided, the media should have risen to the challenge, providing information that would help people make up their minds, instead of merely explaining what the parties are doing in the polls.

But no, our media follow the general trend, providing little more than shallow coverage of the real issues. It is much more difficult to deal with these topics than it is to run catchy headlines.