February 14, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: A potent mix – Elections and the media

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:46 am by yisraelmedad

A potent mix: Elections and the media
How important is the media factor in an election campaign? One explanation can be found in Bernard Avishai’s article published in the latest issue of a liberal publication The New Yorker. [this is a correction]

Noting that “Now the only hope to mobilize a united opposition appears to be [Resilience Party head Benny] Gantz”, Avishai, author of The Tragedy of Zionism and the 2005 article “Saving Israel from Itself,” fears that Israel has succumbed to “religious-inflected nationalism”, and added, “alone among the leaders in the center, he looks like a head of state.”

If, indeed, Gantz makes an impressive showing in the elections on April 4, we can recall the words of Shakespeare’s Othello: “For she had eyes and chose me.” Our “seeing” the candidates and parties is facilitated by the media. Are we able to meet the challenge of the filtered view that is presented to us? Are our faculties of listening and viewing critical enough to be able to catch biases and distortions of the truth?

Let’s review an example from the United States, where the media can and did get a story very, very wrong, such as in the now infamous Covington Catholic schoolboys story last month. Andrew Sullivan, though unsympathetic to President Donald Trump’s assault on the media, nevertheless wrote in the New York Weekly on January 25:

“How did this grotesque inversion of the truth become the central narrative for what seemed to be the entire class of elite journalists on Twitter? That’s the somewhat terrifying question…This is the orthodoxy of elite media… increasingly the job of journalists [is] to fit the facts to the narrative and to avoid any facts that undermine it… Our mainstream press has been poisoned by tribalism,” he said.

Sullivan continued: “There’s a threat to liberal democracy and it is deepening, largely because its racial animus and rank tribalism… the raw imposition of power by one tribe over another.”

In Israel, is there a new tribalism promoting mutual hostility assisted by the media? Is the media seeking pure power? Is this period of elections being exploited in order to highlight and aggravate the gaps that exist between the various social and political camps?

Let us look at some examples.

Haaretz published an op-ed on February 10 under the headline, “The High Court of Justice’s Treason.” Ever since the onslaught on the national camp in 1995, where it was accused of being responsible for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s murder since in demonstrations it employed the word “traitor,” that term has been a red cape permitting the user to be pilloried to the utmost.

In this case, however, the writer is David Zonshine, who happens to be the B’Tselem board chairman, formerly a leader of the Courage to Refuse group that foments conscientious objectors in the IDF. In other words, someone from the heart of the hard Left progressive camp.

But the main problem is the judgment of whoever authorized publishing his column. Was the editor ideologically color-blind? Are only right-wingers using that term considered inciters? In this election campaign, words will fly. If only one side is held to a standard of ethics by the media – that is bias and interference in the democratic process.

Moshe Nussbaum, Channel 12’s police reporter, provided background on the horrendous murder of Ori Ansbacher, stated that the murderer left his home in Hebron with a knife, adding that this “does not necessarily mean it was a nationalist crime, perhaps every day he leaves his home with a knife.”

THE 1992 elections were decided, to a great extent, by the reactions of the public to the horrific stabbing of Helena Rapp by an Arab terrorist in Bat Yam. Rabin portrayed himself as Mr. Security. Mr. Nussbaum is supplying the public with commentary, which downplays the security concerns of Israelis. Is he doing this to prevent sympathy with the settlers, sympathy which might later translate into votes? Or is he trying to say that a certain party has a better approach to protecting the population? Not only is this subjective reporting, it reeks of interference in the elections.

A major playground of the media during the election campaign is public opinion polls. A multitude of polls appear, some that contradict each other within a period of a day or two. The electorate appears to be merely a crowd of onlookers at a tennis game, with the ball being hit back and forth at high speed. In the worst case scenario, it becomes the ball.

Polls are a media gimmick used to draw readers and viewers. In every election that we have been commenting on since 1996 in our columns, the vast majority of polls have been wrong and unreliable. We, in fact, pushed for legislation to halt the publishing of polls in the last few days of the election campaign. But the media is stronger than a few idealistic citizens and the polls continue to pile up. The least the media could do is educate the public and itself as to how polls work. The way things are now, they leave the public as the victims of complex statistics.

On February 5, Haaretz published a poll, headlined as “worrisome” for Benjamin Netanyahu. It indicated that only 47% of the public saw him as the next Prime Minister. However, in Israel since candidates are not chosen, rather political lists, Israel’s parliament has never seen a party gain 51% of the votes, even in David Ben-Gurion’s day. Actually, a level of 47% doesn’t seem so bad.

Former IDF Chief Benny Gantz, now head of the Israel Resilience Party, hardly said a word until last week but showed impressive numbers in the polls. Early this week, a poll conducted for the “Meet the Press” TV show found that if the elections were held on that day and Gantz’s party joined up with Yair Lapid’s party, and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi joins too, then they will win 36 Knesset seats, the most of any party. Besides the many “ifs,” as well as the element of “today,” the poll’s value is meaningless if not misleading. The least that the pollsters could do is compare the three “ifs” with another: if the Likud, Bayit Yehudi and the National Union parties joined forces, for example.

There is more to be said about the polls. A 4% margin of error for the polls is a much larger error when considering small parties. The various predictions of disappearing or reappearing parties should be taken with a grain of salt. The most meaningful statistic, namely the number of people polled and the number of people who actually participated remains a secret. Why? Because if the public knew the answer, it would realize how speculative the polls actually are.

For the media, however, elections are all about business and power. Truth, education, and supplying information without giving it a slant are not part of the game. Wouldn’t it be great to have elections every two years instead of four?



January 16, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: The true hackers

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:02 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The true hackers
This being Israel, the media attacked Netanyahu for exerting unethical and perhaps illegal pressure on the police and the attorney-general. Hackers interfering? No, the media, openly.

An issue that occupied the media last week was the warning by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Nadav Argaman, concerning a threat of foreign interference in Israel’s election campaign. As this newspaper reported on January 8, Argaman said a “foreign country is trying to use cyber abilities to interfere in Israel’s upcoming elections.”

The press had a ball. Cyber experts, political experts and pundits discussed the appalling repercussions from such an intervention. Everyone wanted to know what should be done to prevent it. After hours of discussion, it became evident that the threat is not really significant. Israel’s elections are not electronic, we all vote with envelopes and so the foreign hackers cannot change that. What then?

The Associated Press on January 9 quoted Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the left-wing Israel Democracy Institute, who noted a view shared by many pundits that Israel “could still be vulnerable to other types of pre-election intervention, like hacking into party databases, spreading disinformation through social media and leaking personal and embarrassing material on the candidates.”

We just do not understand. Who are these foreign hackers? What differentiates them from our local media that for decades have been doing just that: creating disinformation, leaking private information to further their own goals and ideology and publishing unreliable polls? Altshuler should have reminded the AP that the real danger to the democratic process is the manipulation of news and views by the local media. The threat of foreign hackers pales in contrast.

We have witnessed these past few weeks many examples of the danger from Israel’s media establishment. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu notified the press on January 7 that he would be making an important announcement later in the evening, and then, in a follow-up social media tweet, notched that up as “dramatic.”

After his appearance, the denizens of the world of media commentators decided his charge – that the police refused his requests to confront the witnesses who reportedly testified against him saying, indeed, he was to be suspected of taking bribes – was not dramatic. Not even his demand that his comments be broadcast live was honored fully. One network, Channel 10, cut off the live broadcast before the end.

THE NEXT DAY, this being Israel, the media attacked Netanyahu for exerting unethical and perhaps illegal pressure on the police and the attorney-general. Hackers interfering? No, the media, openly. In fact, some thought Netanyahu was threatening them and, at the least, brow-beating them. That viewpoint was dramatic enough to deserve discussions over radio, on television, in newspapers and on news websites. The media were battering him to and fro. They were engaged in creating a drama that was non-existent.

This is how Gideon Levy in his last Thursday’s Haaretz described the events: “The prime minister says he will make a dramatic announcement that evening. Media outlets are free to ignore it, but choose to highlight it. Discussions, guesses, live broadcasts, sky-high ratings. Netanyahu appears and offers pointed arguments: not the drama he promised, but arguments he has a right to make, and the chorus erupts in anger. How dare he? Look how he deceived us… Media that never hesitate to inflate incidents into mega-news… are shocked when a prime minister does the same thing for the same purpose: ratings.”

But our media weren’t finished. Some suggested that next time Netanyahu should not be permitted a live broadcast to begin with. Others mused that it all depends on what he is saying. From reporting the news to managing the news, and now, to censoring the news, Israel’s media are descending into professional anarchy while fulminating over the apparent fact that Netanyahu, despite their attempts and machinations, is still in office and seems to be destined to win the upcoming elections.
Israel was always considered as lagging behind the United States, but not recently. President Donald Trump is suffering from the same elitist media attitude. There, Trump’s addresses, CNN’s Don Lemon said on his program, need to be countered by drastic measures, like a broadcast delay, to enable the media to edit out what they consider as his “propaganda.”

So what have we? Yet again, Israel’s media assume a holier-than-thou attitude considering it as their right not only to select which news the media consumer gets to see and hear through questionable editing procedures, but even when something gets through that they did not want, their duty is to prevent it from turning into a dramatic development. The policy is not guided by professional decision-making. In this case it is the personal animosity of central media figures to Netanyahu.

AS LEVY, quoted above, added in his column, “The righteous anger against Netanyahu contains blood lust and an odd desire for vengeance, disproportionate to the seriousness of the allegations.” Could hackers do a more thorough job of manipulating news and the election campaign?

A meeting took place prior to the public announcement of the “New Right Party” of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Leading figures in the religious-Zionist media were invited to consult with them about the move. They included Haggai Segal, editor of Makor Rishon and Emmanuel Shiloh of the B’sheva weekly. Both came to the meeting knowing that it would be off the record, and both kept their commitment. Yet the general media, which of course were not in on the meeting, shouted “gevalt” when it became known.

Are we back to the days of political party newspapers where editors and politicians worked hand in hand? How could Shiloh and Segal do this? Segal was frightened and went into a winding explanation about how he was sorry and that he realized his error. Shiloh was different, noting that participating in off-the-record meetings is the bread and butter of the media, everyone does this, and rightly so. It helps the editor to present news and events in a more professional way.

This is but another example of how the media manipulate, exert pressure and distort a very innocent and positive event related to the coming elections. Public personalities – Shaked and Bennett – before acting, wanted to hear the response of supposedly serious editors, perhaps feeling that they are closer to the public and know its needs. Instead of respecting this, the media try to stop it. Segal is weak and accedes; Shiloh is proud and realizes the fallacy of the accusations.

In connection with Segal’s editorial decisions, last week his paper’s Shabbat supplement contained 11 pages, including the cover photograph, devoted to Amos Oz, not known for sympathy for the paper’s outlook nor for his intellectual honesty. This week, Segal’s political column contained 100 lines of text, half a page, discussing the legacy of the late Moshe Arens who, when he was an MK, turned down a ministerial appointment because he disagreed with Menachem Begin’s peace initiative. It would seem that the true hackers are our media “lights” who shape public opinion and try to mold it to conform to their personal needs. 

Israel does not have to worry about foreign hackers. It is the local ones who are the real danger.

January 2, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: Elections are upon us

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:38 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Elections are upon us
The ongoing, close relationship between the political elite and the media is problematic to say the least.
If we may paraphrase Delilah’s words, as recorded in Judges 16 and thrice repeated, “The elections are upon you, Israel.” And we would add, “once again.”

In just over three months, for the 21st time, Israel’s citizens will go to the polls. They will vote after being presented with the candidates and the platforms of perhaps more than two dozen lists representing veteran, long-standing parties, new parties, particularistic parties, split-off parties, blocs and also lists simply seeking a bit of free publicity before they pull out.

The issues will be presented to the electorate in a variety of fashions. There will be rallies in city streets and town squares and we’ll see television clips. There will be face-to-face parlor meetings and we’ll be reading newspaper ads. There will be banner ads on social media platforms and there will be press releases handed out to reporters. There will be punditry columns and interviews and profiles.

In addition, there will be leaks, and also misinformation. There will be unattributed background material and there will be quotations from unidentified “senior advisers,” “staff,” “diplomatic” as well as “security” sources. We will hear from “IDF officers” but we will not know if they are actually serving, or serving in the reserves. We will not know how senior they really are and will not even be informed whether these “IDF officers” are per chance also politicians such as members of Knesset.

As we noted prior to previous election campaigns, the relatively short time period within which the elections are conducted places a special responsibility on the media. The importance of free and open elections which create the legislative 120 member Knesset and associated executive ministerial government is acknowledged by all. The elected bodies are, at least potentially, awarded a four-year term of office by our simple act of placing a slip of paper into an envelope and inserting it into a ballot box. Yet, this simple act is influenced by the flow of information that the voters receive, especially during the short election campaign period. Every non-professional and unethical act of journalistic bias is magnified. Past experience shows that sometimes, especially when dramatic changes occur very close to Election Day, media manipulation by the politicians as well as the media itself can dramatically affect the results of the election and thus the future of our state and even our personal fate.

The ongoing, close relationship between the political elite and the media is problematic to say the least. The voter who is also the media consumer becomes a very valuable commodity, subject to intense pressure to act based too often on uncertain information. It is the media’s task to gain the trust of the voter which is essential in enabling a fair election. Based on past performance, the media’s record is dismal.

The 2018 Israeli Democracy Index, for example, accentuates the challenge. To the question, asked of Jewish respondents only for some reason, “Which state institutions do Israelis trust?” out of a list of 10, the media was third from last with only 33% trust. Somewhat better than last year’s 30% among the Jewish population, but not something to be proud of. When asked to consider corruption in state institutions, the media was positioned at 58%. Clearly the media has a problem.

Our media has long rejected the demand for objectivity and fairness. The state-sponsored KAN network encourages personal opinion views of their staff. Even at KAN, infotainment has replaced serious news programming. This has created a blurring of the distinction between news and comment. The ability of media consumers to distinguish between them is impaired. There is “fake news” and it doesn’t always originate with politicians.

One of the central items used by political parties, as well as the various mainstream media channels, is public opinion polls. Over the years, these have deteriorated significantly, for many reasons. There are too many and the number of people willing to participate is at an all-time low. If only one out of 10 people polled actually respond, how can the results be meaningful?

Moreover, there is an inherent bias in that those who do answer, typically, they do so with an ax to grind. Yet, the media and the pollsters do not report this critical piece of information, of how many refuse to respond to the questions, which would reveal another aspect of the trustworthiness of their result. How are the questions posed and in what order? Are the pollsters male or female? It is well known that psychological factors influence the answers. The typical poll has 500 respondents and claims an accuracy of plus or minus 4%. Yet, when considering small parties, whose share of the total is borderline, the error is much larger, but this fact is not presented. Just this past week, the number of MKs predicted for the new Bennett-Shaked right-wing party, the New Right, went from six to 14! Shouldn’t the media stop this unreliable type of reporting?

What influences the citizens’ perception of trust? Reviewing our columns over the years here at The Jerusalem Post as well as academic literature, a list would include the character of the relationship between politicians and dominant media personalities. Unfortunately, Israel does not have a trustworthy organization which monitors media records and provides the public information on the veracity, fairness and unbiased reporting of our media “stars.” A record of press manipulations does not exist. The private citizens are left only with the option of trusting their instincts and intelligence.

A functioning democracy needs a media which provides the necessary information, the insight and, most importantly, the facts rather than rumors, inherent to an election campaign. We, the citizens, must demand fair and balanced reporting. We should receive the information needed to be aware of what researchers call “the systematic differential treatment of… one side of an issue over an extended period of time.”

Sadly, though, we should realize that although they claim to be journalists, most of our media is made up of just another group of purveyors of political ideas and influence. We probably could be better off listening directly to the politicians, posing them with questions and criticism directly rather than most of what we obtain in the papers.

In the past, televised debates were critical. These times are over. Debates, if they do occur, are moderated by biased journalists and are highly orchestrated by media advisers. The experience in the United States in this regard was quite blatant in the last presidential campaign. Our best bet is the written media, the Internet and the direct access through it to the candidates. Their responses will be available through search engines for posterity and will force them to be just a bit more reliable in fulfilling their promises.

One would hope that some of our more trustworthy politicians will use the electronic media to respond to voters queries directly and by doing so, force this methodology on all the candidates and parties. If done wisely, we will have a much better educated public and the results of the election will be much more democratic.


December 20, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Media meddling

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:31 am by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Media meddling
Netanyahu’s bravado is admirable. Several of his close aides, including Filber, have been, as the British say, assisting the police in their inquiries.
It was on Sunday, December 1, just hours prior to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the lighting of the Hanukkah candle during a ceremony to mark the first day of the festival at Kfar Maccabiah, a traditional well-covered media event. Police announced their recommendation that the state prosecutor indict him in yet another of the cases of suspected bribery and illegal appointments, Case 4000 – referred to as the “Bezeq-Walla Affair.” That case itself is overloaded with media material.

The suspicions are that the firing of former Communications Ministry director-general Avi Berger was brought about by  Netanyahu and that he then instructed that Shlomo Filber, his former campaign manager be hired in his place. These moves, so went the accusations, were to assure that Shaul Elovitch, the owner of Bezeq, would gain unfair government favors. In addition, if there indeed was an over-favorable relationship with Bezeq, then Elovitch supposedly returned the favor and provided Netanyahu, and also his wife, Sara, through his Walla online news site, fawning coverage, perhaps to offset what Yediot Aharonot owner Noni Mozes didn’t do. If true, this would constitute bribery.

Netanyahu was quite blunt regarding the media aspect of this police construct and said, “Walla is a left-wing site that gave and continues to give me negative coverage for years now and especially negative coverage on the eve of elections.”

Netanyahu’s bravado is admirable. Several of his close aides, including Filber, have been, as the British say, assisting the police in their inquiries. What his chances are, legally and politically, to remain as prime minister until next November, or even after, is a tantalizing subject but not one for our column.

One matter that should be of interest is that only a few media outlets noted the obvious and purposeful intention of the police, or, perhaps, more specifically of the outgoing police commissioner Roni Alsheich, to drop a media bombshell on the last day at his job. Alsheich merited no extension of employment and had been at loggerheads in public spats with Netanyahu over the various investigations. And if they did, fewer recalled Alsheich’s extraordinary employment by special contract of Lior Chorev, a former Labor Party activist, and even fewer pundits still analyzed the implications of that employment not only politically but the implication that the Israel Police’s spokesperson’s unit was incapable of doing its job properly.

The media-related issues surrounding what we would call the Walla affair are not only whether the Walla company was and perhaps continues to be left-wing and whether its coverage of Netanyahu was and continues to be negative. The more general concern is that too much of Israel’s mainstream media are not only anti-establishment and anti-government but they seem incapable and unwilling to absorb and include within the normative public discourse items relating to the national camp, the religious, both of the crocheted kippot and the haredi communities, immigrants, Ethiopians and Arabs. To us the essential question is whether the media coverage was biased.

In the professional worldviews of the reporters and their editors, Israel’s media is more introspective rather than all-encompassing. Their filters and prisms are beclouded and dark. But that is not a phenomenon exclusive to Israel.

Writing in the November 1 online edition of the New York Review of Books, a bastion of hard-left literary, cultural and ideological progressivism, Michael Massing, former executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, took on America’s liberal mainstream media, terming their running battles with President Donald Trump, especially that of CNN a “case history of an unhealthy codependency.”

He noted that the bias revealed quite disproportionate time devoted to critics of the president, allowing unbalanced coverage, negative language employing clichés and tendentiousness, interview styles that allowed critics more time, less breaking-in to the conversation and complimentary remarks to them and the opposite to those supporting Trump. In short, he noted that “the network’s coverage seemed uninformative, repetitive, and nakedly partisan… it featured few in-depth reports on developments on the ground. Instead, it offered talking heads reciting familiar talking points.”

And he made one more observation worth quoting: “Journalists – heavily concentrated in cities and mixing mostly with other affluent, highly educated urbanites – face a natural barrier in getting to know… America… it remains mostly a foreign land. With the divisions in the country seeming to harden in the wake of the midterms, journalists need to do a better job of overcoming them”.

If that criticism sounds familiar, it is.

In Israel, the “concentration” of the mainstream journalists exists less in terms of geography (the previous “north of Shenkin,” Tel Aviv’s bohemian café-filled promenade delineation is a bit passé) and more in terms of a cultural milieu and an ideological orientation. In the past, the Ashkenazi/Mapai background of the vast majority of the journalists, as well as their almost exclusive secular character, although this has faded somewhat, would suggest that Netanyahu is not engaged in maniacal raving or exhibiting signs of extreme paranoia.

In the first week of December, the first of, so far, four Hezbollah attack tunnels was uncovered under the border with Lebanon. With the experience Israel had with similar tunnels leading in from Gaza, their potential danger was obvious. Netanyahu, who is serving as defense minister, would have been almost criminal to have ignored the direct danger as well as the indirect danger of the worthlessness of the UNIFIL unit stationed in Lebanon and whose responsibility it is to prevent such violations of UN resolutions.

And yet, voices in the media began to spin out that all this “discovery” was politically motivated. As Haaretz’s Yossi Verter wrote on December 7, “Netanyahu spins operation against Hezbollah tunnels into Armageddon-style mission. With an eye on the election and on his legal trouble, Netanyahu sows fear in the hearts of Israelis.” His voice was not the only one.

Earlier, a colleague of Verter at Haaretz, Anshel Pffefer, published this on December 4, “Has the IDF Become the latest prop in Netanyahu’s battle for survival? The media festival made out of what is just another stage in an operation suggests this may actually be Operation Netanyahu Shield.” There will additional “insights” from the media along this theme as if, by the click of a knob, a switch in transmission dictated that Netanyahu be portrayed in the most negative and scurrilous fashion possible.

Those in the media that took up this line of criticism were not analyzing but were meddling. They had no way to pass judgment except by presenting personal grudges and prejudices. This includes their editors and owners of their outlets who agreed to replace facts with fiction. Moreover, we did not see any leaks from within the IDF that would indicate the army’s commanders are feeling exploited for political advantages of the minister. And they are not shy of finding ways to pass on any critical observations they may have.

We are seeing today the negative results of decades of media bias. The media’s unreliability is the public’s loss. It has given credibility to Netanyahu’s claims that there was nothing there is nothing and there will nothing. 


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. 


October 24, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Weakening trust in democracy

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:06 pm by yisraelmedad

Weakening trust in democracy
Over the entire weekend, there was a war on our border – much more serious than a few months ago.
Israel’s public trusts the Israel Defense Forces and it is considered to be in the center of Israeli consensus. The last Israeli Democracy Index found that 88% of the Jewish public – and 41% of the Arab citizens – trusted the IDF. (Incidentally, from an all-time low of public trust in the media in 2016, the media had risen in 2017 by 4% reaching the “respectable” number of 28% last year.)

This past July, in the aftermath of the passage of the Nation-State Law and in response to voices within the army against it, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot called upon everyone to keep the IDF out of politics. Unfortunately, the events of this past week seem to indicate that it is the senior officers of the IDF who have embroiled the IDF in a very political issue namely, the correct response to the war on the Gaza border.

The rocket that destroyed a house and almost killed a mother and her three children in Beersheba created an outcry even within Israel’s Peace Now-promoting media. From the prime minister downward, the politicians were quoted as promising that Israel’s restraint has reached an end. After conferring with regional council leaders bordering on Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, “I have now concluded an assessment of the situation with the heads of the IDF and the top echelons of the security forces. Israel considers the attacks on the fence, on the Gaza perimeter, on Beersheba and everywhere with severity, and I said at the beginning of this week’s cabinet meeting that if these attacks do not stop we will stop them. To tell you today, Israel will act with great force.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, in an interview on Kol Chai radio said, “We must hit Hamas hard. This is the only way for reversing the situation and bringing the violence level down to almost zero.”

Eisenkot was quickly brought back from a visit to the States. The Cabinet met, and what happened? As reported in the media, last Friday approximately 10,000 demonstrators came to Gaza-Israel border and approximately 100 bombs, grenades and Molotov cocktails were hurled at the IDF forces and tires were burned. There were three attempts to infiltrate Israel. Some even succeeded, but the Gazans were forced to retreat after the IDF opened fire. Two Gazans were reportedly killed by the IDF, though the Hamas health authorities denied this and claimed that 150 people were injured. Dozens of fire balloons were sent and nine fires were initiated within Israel as a result.

Clearly, the border was “on fire.” Israel was again attacked with weapons of death and destruction and what was the media response? As reported in Israel Hayom, Reshet Bet and elsewhere, a “security source” claimed that “relative to the past half year, Friday was a day of reduced confrontations and perhaps the quietest one along the fence since the present round of confrontations was initiated.”

What was the governmental response? Liberman announced on Sunday that the Kerem Shalom and Erez border crossings would be re-opened and goods would be allowed in. As the demonstrations were mostly only at a distance of 500 meters from the fence, the army recommended leniency.

How did Israel’s media respond? Israel Hayom’s headline was “Gaza – the attempts to bring about an agreement are being renewed.” The sub-headline was “The Friday test of Hamas passed with relative quiet.”

This is a joke. Over the entire weekend, there was a war on our border – much more serious than a few months ago. For example, between August 12 and August 30, there were 29 fires caused by balloons and kites, an average of 1.5 per day, compared to the “relative quiet” of nine on this past Friday and Saturday. The level of the past weekend was perhaps the lowest during the month of October, but much higher than the previous months.

But our media swallowed the lie hook, line and sinker. No questions were asked and the veracity of the IDF proclamations was not questioned. The media did not do their job of seriously questioning all those responsible for their ongoing false proclamations. The media were allowing the IDF to get away with not merely providing the heads of state with alternatives but actually making sure that the IDF does not restore Israel’s deterrence.

There is nothing wrong with the IDF making recommendations. There is, however, something deeply disturbing when the IDF makes false statements aimed at promoting a certain policy. The worst part of this story is not the loss of deterrence vis a vis Hamas, but the loss of trust by the Israeli public. Eisenkot is not consistent in his call to keep the IDF out of politics. The media is not doing its job in calling the IDF to order here. It simply parroted the IDF uncritically.

The media’s role in weakening the public trust in important institutions is not limited to the IDF. Last week, three women journalists accused veteran senior journalist Dan Margalit of sexual harassment 30 years ago. We, of course, do not know the truth, and in spite of our severe criticism of Margalit as a journalist, at this point, we cannot accept public hearsay. The fact that Margalit, in the wake of the accusations, either left or was forced to leave his job in Haaretz is irrelevant here. He claims innocence and we must accept this until proof is provided.

There are good reasons why one cannot bring someone to court for crimes presumably perpetrated 30 years ago. A basic rule of law in a democracy asserts that one is innocent until proven guilty. Is it possible to have a fair trial 30 years after the fact? But Margalit is not the story here; rather it is the three women journalists who accused him as well as perhaps others.

The media deflect any criticism of their ethical performance or supposed bias by loudly claiming they are all professional. All are the best. They investigate and they report on what they find. They reveal the personal foibles and errors of judgment of politicians, business people and public figures. We are told we can, indeed, must trust them because they do their best.

Yet, if the claims against Margalit are true, indeed, as others against Ari Shavit were (by the way, also employed by Haaretz as is Yitzhak Laor who, in 2014, was accused of sexual harassment, causing Mifal Haypayis to reverse its decision to award him a prize), then are we to understand that strong, powerful women who take on the establishments – political, economic and military – women like Ayala Hasson or Yonit Levi, all of a sudden cannot quite call out a colleague for decades?

Or are other loyalties at work here, loyalties that also could influence, to the detriment of the truth and objectivity of the news, how they report political issues and diplomatic matters and which should cause the media consumer to question what is at work here?

In both cases, the public loses out and our trust in our democracy is weakened.


October 11, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Media consumer, be aware

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:50 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Media consumer, be aware
Let’s play a quiz, shall we?
If we asked you which political leader, which party and which country are the ones involved after you finish reading the following description, what would you answer?

The leader had spoken at a party conference and launched a direct attack on the media, criticizing it as “a free press [that] has far too often [used that] freedom to spread lies and half-truths.” He then called on his party’s activists to use social media networks to challenge the mainstream press’ “propaganda of privilege.”

One of his chief allies then suggested to fellow party members not to pay attention to the media and another senior party official, who also spoke at the conference, opened his remarks with an attack on “our friends in the media.”

If you are thinking, perhaps, that this was US President Donald Trump and the Republican Party in America or even that it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud here in Israel, you would be incorrect.

What we described above, including the words in quotation marks, actually occurred at the British Labour Party conference in Liverpool on September 25. The speakers were party leader Jeremy Corbyn and his chief ally John McDonnell and last time we looked, the two are quite decidedly hard-left socialists.

In fact, we noted in a previous column (on August 30) that Corbyn, at a different forum, the Alternative MacTaggart Lecture on August 23 in Edinburgh, was already gearing up an attack on the media in different words. A month had passed, but there has been no real media counter to his harsh words. We suspect that had the speaker belonged to a right-of-center party the response would have been much more vocal and strident.

In this period of the #MeToo movement and the spectacle of the Kavanaugh appointment hearings, the charges are that it is not only individuals who may be guilty of misdemeanors or worse, but there is a problem with the collective consciousness. We are witnessing investigations stemming not only from personal testimony concerning alleged sexual misconduct, but also arising from concerns about the working environment at certain companies and institutions.

One can only wonder why this atmosphere has not yet affected the media. Sexual misconduct is serious business, but so is fake news, especially when it hurts individuals. Unethical media behavior destroys the very fabric of democracy without which also the #MeToo movement would be powerless. Media infractions are not only due to an individual lapse of judgment, but are also fostered at certain networks and newsrooms. There is an atmosphere at work.

As a new study by Robin Blom indicates, one way to improve the ability of a media consumer to deal with biased and partisan news is “enhanced media literacy.” Blom, who teaches at Indiana’s Ball State University, is particularly concerned how biased perceptions about the news media disrupt public discourse and political learning. This contrasts with how assumed trustworthy news sources create the “trust” they foist on to their consumers and how, additionally, that “trust” contributes constructively to the public knowledge.

If the media are acting, some or most of the time, unethically and in a biased fashion, they are violating not only the element of trust between them and the public but are taking advantage of the right to broadcast the state awards to them.

How would this enhanced media literacy work?

Here is an example. Gavri Banai, one of the legendary “HaGashash HaChiver” entertainment troupe, appeared on Kobi Meidan’s culture review television program, broadcast over the KAN network as well as on a program at Galei Tzahal, the IDF radio (and other media outlets.) One of his main messages was that he refuses to appear in places that are to the east of the Green Line as these are “occupied territories.” He even will not visit Jerusalem’s Old City.

The media consumer should wonder why an entertainer is being asked to express ideological or political beliefs. Banai sings and performs. He is not running for office, is not a political scientist or an historian and his knowledge about political issues should have no more weight than any other citizen.

It is a fact that in Israel’s media, cultural artists – performers, authors, painters and dancers – are at least as important as university professors. Here too, enhanced media literacy would imply questioning this very fact. When an entertainer passes away, our radio stations go into mourning. When a known rabbi, priest or imam leaves this world, this is not newsworthy in the same manner.

But let us even accept the fact that artistic opinion is important to many people, one should still question such an interview. The interviewers should have questioned him about his adobe. If the “occupation” is so important to him, why is he himself living in a former Arab village, conquered and occupied by Israel?

Ayn Hawd, just south of Haifa, was attacked on the evening of April 11, 1948 and during fighting on July 17-19, the IDF overcame resistance and most of the 700-900 villagers resettled in a Jenin refugee camp. It was renamed Ein Hod and Banai maintains a residence there. It would also have been relevant to ask him why is a post-1967 so-called “occupation” different from an “occupation” that occurred in 1948? But such questions are not asked.

The vast majority of artists are left or even far left of center. That is why their opinion is so important to our media. They are not questioned, but used to promote a viewpoint that strengthens the liberal elite entrenched within the media. This is a phenomenon of self-growth, of the construction of an echo chamber. It is no secret that right-wing artists in Israel such as Ephraim Kishon and Naomi Shemer received quite a different treatment by the very same media.

Anyone who listens to KAN radio cannot but notice that their “star” anchor is an unprofessional propagandist who usurps the public microphone to purvey his version of liberalism. Aryeh Golan’s opening comments after the 7 a.m. news are always slanted towards the extreme left-wing. The intelligent listener, of whom there are many, understands that this kind of anchor cannot deal with any issue impartially and therefore the content of his program is rather meager and is there simply to support his personal outlook.

The option is that the listener leaves off listening to KAN’s radio station and going to the competitors. And today, unlike 20 years ago, there are very many. They are the true “public broadcasting” network today, not KAN. This is but one example of what we citizens should be doing.

Those who control the themes the media pushes, the personalities who relate to them, the number of times the theme is repeated and so on are what a true media literate consumer need study and of which he or she needs be aware. The more we are cognizant of how the media tries to pull the wool over our eyes, and to manage the news rather than report and discuss it, the less successful they will be.


September 28, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: The positive side

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:06 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The positive side

Nesrine Malik, a Sudanese-British columnist for The Guardian, was quite critical of the liberal media in her Sept. 13 column. Her points of contention were the supposedly hallowed principles and media values of wanting a “vibrant discussion, robust argument, not an echo chamber; ideas should be tested, a debate will expose bigotry and prejudice.” She was upset with the excessive attention the liberal media gave Steve Bannon, the short-lived aide of President Trump.

Her view was that the liberal media erred in inviting Bannon into their studios and onto their pages and airwaves. What concerns them is, “All that is relevant is that he is relevant, that he has become someone of consequence due to his brush with power and seems to be at the center of something.”

Indulging Bannon “is an egotistical misreading of freedom of speech. It is about boasting liberal commitment to the value, rather than engaging with the evils that hide behind it,” she wrote.

While we find it refreshing that someone to the Left of the political spectrum can criticize her own cabal, we find her attitude to be deeply questionable. Ms. Malik’s bottom line is that there are “ideas that need [not]… be ‘exposed.’ We just need to fight them.” Who makes that decision?

We in Israel are all too familiar with that overarching “we-in-the-media-know- what’s-best” approach. Israel’s media are as elitist as any other. It uses its power to set out what is and what is not acceptable behavior of interviewers. It alone knows what’s best for the citizenry, who should speak and for how long and with whom. It’s as if the Unetaneh Tokef prayer we recited over the High Holy Days had the line “Who shall be allowed to speak and who shall be silenced.”

For decades we have been clamoring that at least the public broadcasters should con- sult the public and provide information to the public about its various anchors and columnists, but to no avail. This is the point where liberalism sinks its head deep in the mud.

A biased media culture is not a myth nor a right-wing bogeyman. Anne Davies, a 20-year veteran of Australian media, has written of “a distinctive culture–tribal, aggressive and centered around powerful editors” that can and does exist in media corporations. In her September 20 Guardian column, she quotes Peter Fray, the former Sydney Morning Herald editor and former deputy editor at The Australian , who said he had “felt you were part of a particular tribe where the norms and values were set by the chief and their key lieutenants.”

She then quoted, anonymously, a former senior executive at that paper who said reporters and interviewers have at times, “a strange vision of what journalism is about,” and that is “pursuing editors’ own agendas.”

Israel’s media are still non-pluralistic and dominated by the progressive left-of-center views of its directors, editors and reporters. It continues to try to block attempts to assure its ethical professionalism and legal obligation through legislation. It does its best to subvert the regulations lawmakers put in place to assure a balanced, pluralistic and diverse representation of Israel’s society, its elected parliamentarians and the full panoply of the nation’s actions as well as its minorities.

These are harsh words, but backed by too many facts. Take for example the issue of BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. Is it getting the fair coverage it deserves? On the face of it, the media highlight BDS successes. A handful of entertainers decide to boycott Israel and thus gain a headline or two. But is this really covering the issue from all angles? Do the failures of the BDS movement receive equal treatment?

This paper has been publishing over the course of the past few months dispatches by Benjamin Weinthal on the situation in Germany. This past week we read that PayPal has shut down the account of a German NGO International Alliance, which maintains links to Palestinian terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Has this been headlined on Israel’s state-run radio and TV? Could it be that the media elite just don’t pay attention to what The Jerusalem Post is publishing? Or does bad news sell more papers and attract more viewers? To us it seems that media-promoted claustrophobia stands behind the lack of success stories in the BDS struggle. The very idea that Israel is internationally successful frightens the progressives. It implies that the present Netanyahu government is not regressive.

Last Friday, Haaretz posted a short news item on its website by Yotam Berger that must have alarmed and dismayed opponents of a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria. It was headlined “Settlers Establish West Bank Outpost in Response to Israeli-American’s Murder in Terror Attack.” Even worse, it noted that the “Civil Administration recognizes the establishment of the outpost and apparently there is no immediate intention of evacuating it.”

The paper did admit that the slain Ari Fuld z”l had resided in Efrat. What was missing was the fact, which may be verified on the web site of Peace Now, that the site, Givat Eitam, has been within the legally authorized zoning plan of Efrat since 2011. Was Haaretz stirring up international protests and pressure or was it innocently reporting? Were both the editor and reporter in cahoots in publishing the misleading item, or was at least one of them simply ignorant of the background of Givat Eitam, or both?

Another positive story Israel’s mainstream media missed was that of Rabbi Pesach Wolicki and Rabbi David Nekrutman of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) who are helping the Christian Arabs of Bethlehem. They’ve been engaged since 2016 in a “Blessing Bethlehem” campaign which they said helps “the persecuted Christians living in the city of Bethlehem and its surrounding areas.” Food and food vouchers are distributed to 120 Christian families in Bethlehem. Their work needs be accomplished discreetly to protect the recipients.

Bethlehem is a hotbed of anti-Israel media attacks based on the security wall and also Christian anti-Zionism conferences. Israel’s media have failed to highlight the simple fact that Arab Christians are an oppressed minority in Muslim-controlled areas of the region. Here is a case with all the positive elements needed for a “good story.” An oppressed minority, religious coercion, poverty and the “Good Samaritan.” Yet it gets quashed since it would put the PA in a bad light, thus undermining the hope for “peace” in the eyes of the progressives.

Other good stories exist, not only about economic successes but also about the moral high road that typifies the Jewish ethos. We should view these achievements with pride and our media should promote them.


September 16, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: New Year’s thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:45 pm by yisraelmedad

New Year’s thoughts
We have used this column time and again to commend journalists for their good work and defend them. There should be nothing special about this. This is normative practice.
This post-Rosh Hashanah column begins with some meanderings about teshuva – the process of considering the wrongs of the past and attempting to right them in the future.

At times, this column may have been too forceful, attacking people without giving them the right to defend themselves. Yet our criticism is meant to be constructive. Even the best of professionals profit when their activities are reviewed dispassionately.

It is no accident that journalism is not the preferred occupation of religious Jews. The Torah instructs us: “Don’t go about as a gossipmonger amidst your people” (Leviticus 19:16). On the other hand, modern society cannot sustain itself without news. The middle way is to strive to abide by the journalistic code of ethics. This we will try, to the best of our ability, to stay true to the lofty ideals of journalism.

We are grateful to The Jerusalem Post and the opinion page editors for their confidence and support of our column. We are also grateful to our readers and especially those who comment on our column on the website. Your critique is essential to us; please continue.

WORLDWIDE, THE media focused this past week on the anonymous New York Times op-ed in which a White House insider harshly criticized US President Donald Trump. We cannot judge what is true, who the writer is and so on. But this event had a very positive side to it. It brought to the fore the dilemma of citation of anonymous sources. Most professionals agree that the writer of the article should expose herself or himself and resign from the position they are holding in the White House. Anonymity on important issues in the public sphere is unacceptable.

Here in Israel, anonymity, too, is a problem. This past week, the Trump administration decided to stop all payments to UNRWA. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the decision. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman kept mum. Both were doing the right thing from their point of view. But too many news outlets cited anonymous Israeli military sources claiming that the decision was dangerous and would lead to serious unrest within the refugee community. The defense sources may be correct, although similar dire predictions regarding the US Embassy move to Jerusalem were wrong, but hiding behind anonymous sources is unacceptable. Our media did not press the issue, as was done with the New York Times. Why?

On Sunday, September 2, Monica Lewinsky appeared at the Influencers Conference of Channel 2 in Jerusalem. After a short presentation, she sat down to talk with Yonit Levy, the main television news presenter of the network. Levy opened with the question whether Lewinsky still expected a personal apology from former president Bill Clinton. She responded by leaving the stage, having been asked, she claimed, a question that violated the “clear parameters about what we would be discussing and what we would not.

In fact, the exact question she [Yonit] asked first, she had put to me when we met the day prior. I said that was off limits.” Lewinsky indicated what she was asked was “with blatant disregard for our agreement, [and] it became clear to me I had been misled.”
Alon Shani, the company spokesman, thought differently. His response was that “the question asked was legitimate, worthy and respectful, and in no way deviated from Ms. Lewinsky’s request.”

Was Shani or Lewinsky lying? But in this sad story, one voice was missing – that of Levy. Lewinsky claimed that in her discussion with Levy she made it clear that such questions were off limits. If this was not so, why didn’t Levy accuse her of being untruthful? Why is she hiding behind a spokesman? Veteran journalist Ya’akov Ahimeir took to Twitter to defend Levy’s right to ask the question (perhaps before Lewinsky’s clarification), writing, “what did [Lewinsky] think? That she’d be asked about climate warming? America’s space program? The Palestinians? She’s surprised? Nu, really.”

Ya’akov, we beg to differ. If there was an agreement, it should be honored. The public has a right to know what really went on between Levy and Lewinsky. This is not a question of gossip. Levy is a central figure in the Israeli media, anchoring Israel’s most popular TV news show. She should be a model of ethics and fairness, and as she well knows, one should not sacrifice fundamental ethics for the sake of a story.

Can things be different? Yes. Let’s look at Facebook.

Its founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, assured all in March 2017 that “if you want to have a company that is committed to diversity, you need to be committed to all kinds of diversity, including ideological diversity.” However, in the same above-mentioned New York Times, the public learned that Zuckerberg’s assurance is questionable.

On August 28, the paper informed readers that a missive written by Brian Amerige, a senior Facebook engineer, and headed “We Have a Problem With Political Diversity,” was making the rounds inside the social network. Amerige claimed that at Facebook, “We are a political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views…. We claim to welcome all perspectives, but are quick to attack – often in mobs – anyone who presents a view that appears to be in opposition to left-leaning ideology.” One hundred fellow employees expressed their identification with that content. Amerige did not hide his identity. Was he dismissed from Facebook? We think not, and perhaps that is a compliment to the company.

WE HAVE used this column time and again to commend journalists for their good work and defend them. There should be nothing special about this. This is normative practice. For example, these past two weeks the media highlighted the conviction of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in Myanmar who reported on the Rohingya killings, in an attempt to defend them. Are we doing the same here in Israel?

Khaled Abu Toameh published in the Gatestone Institute bulletin that Arab journalists working in the Palestinian Authority assert that their media are not free. Quoting the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, he wrote that both the PA and Hamas “silence their critics and deter Palestinian journalists from criticizing their leaders.” The center conducted a survey that revealed the thinking of over 300 PA journalists: 76% believe that Palestinian media laws do not promote freedom of the press; 91% said that Palestinian journalists are subjected to violations related to their work; 90% said they practice self-censorship and 83% believe that the Palestinian media is not independent.

We call upon the Israeli media to do what is right for the sake of their fellow journalists, for the sake of their own standing – as they often inform us – as paragons of democracy and morality and for the sake of any future peace: expose the PA’s abuse of the freedom of speech and defend your fellow colleagues!

Israel’s media have become more pluralistic this past year, due to the legalization of private channels such as TV Channel 20 and I24. We would hope that this would also reflect upon media ethics and solidarity.

Shana Tova!


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