June 20, 2018


Posted in Uncategorized at 10:37 pm by yisraelmedad

Israel’s Media Watch, under the Freedom of Information Act, requested specific information from the PBC. We wanted to know the answers to our questions
Public funds, collected from taxes in one form or another, seem always to be treated in a cavalier fashion, almost contemptuously, and without regard to their real value by government officials or the government institutions that benefit from the collections in the public coffer.

There is a Jewish joke that highlights this unfortunate attitude in a particular fashion.

The shtetl’s “fallen woman” had passed away and donated her inheritance to the local synagogue to support the study of the Talmud. The gabbai arranged for a commemorative plaque and invited the congregants for a kiddush in her memory and to honor this considerable monetary windfall. The rabbi was aghast and, quoting the verse at Deuteronomy 23:18, that the earnings of a prostitute should not be brought into God’s House, attempted to halt the proceedings. The gabbai quickly whispered in his ear, “but, Rebbe, it’s really all our own money.”

The details of the finances of the Defense Ministry expenditures for Galei Tzahal radio are not public knowledge, especially the salaries paid to its civilian employees; that is, the media celebrities it hires. It’s as if “it’s all our own money,” not the public’s. There is no official accounting known to the public, detailing income from advertisements and certainly not the price per ad that the station gets for its air time.

The same holds true – even more so – for the Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBC). It took Israel’s Media Watch years to obtain even minimal transparency for the budget of the old Israel Broadcasting Authority. Israeli law, under the Freedom of Information Act, demands that public entities such as the PBC or Galei Tzahal provide the necessary information to anyone who asks for it.

Interestingly, during the seven and a half months of operation in 2017, the PBC’s income from ads stood at NIS 46m., which is less than NIS 75m. on an annual basis. In 2015, the reported income of the old IBA was more than NIS 110 million on an annual basis. What happened? Why the drop? Will the PBC explain the shortfall?

We know that the time allotted to ads on the PBC has, if anything, increased relative to the IBA, so the only possible explanation is that the price per ad has hit rock bottom. If true, this would imply that the PBC is taking unfair advantage of its public funding to undermine the commercial media stations. Of course, the other possibility is that the department in charge of ad revenues is a failure at its job and should be fired.

Israel’s Media Watch, under the Freedom of Information Act, requested specific information from the PBC. We wanted to know the answers to our questions. How much of the income comes from governmental sources? How much from private? What was the separate income of the different stations held by the PBC?

Why is this information important?

The PBC claims that media pluralism is essential for Israel’s democracy and has blamed the prime minister for undermining it. Well, to open a new radio station, one needs a business model. If the pricing of the PBC is kept secret, it becomes virtually impossible to do this. It is not surprising that we do not have national private radio stations. The PBC refuses to divulge the information, claiming that this is a trade secret. Trade secret? The PBC is not a business, it is a publicly funded corporation. By refusing to be open, the PBC is undermining anyone who would try to compete.

Yet this is the same station that claims that it is the bastion of Israel’s democratic values and their protector and any attempt to really oversee its activities – or worse, close it down – they describe as a fatal danger to our democracy. The truth is that this is all hypocrisy. The major interest of the PBC is to increase its funding so that its “stars” can take home fatter paychecks. Israel’s Media Watch does not accepting that answer and will in the near future take the PBC to court.

This rather minor issue pales when compared to the big news: the merging of TV Channel 10 and the Reshet TV station. Our memory is not short; it was only a short while ago that the Israeli government contemplated closing down TV Channel 10 due to its various delinquencies. At that time, the pronouncements made by officials were scary.

For example, as reported in Haaretz on August 29, 2012, President Reuven Rivlin, who then was only a member of Knesset, said, “The channel is an existing fact. Its closure will endanger the freedom of speech in Israel. The fate of the channel is not only an economic issue but concerns the conduct of the media market in a democracy. I had the privilege of initiating the channel as Minister of Communications and already then felt that the conditions of the concession were impossible. It is true that one has to keep commitments, but the damage to the foundations of democracy and the Israeli media market take precedence.”

The present merging of the two TV channels, which is nothing less than the actual closing down of TV Channel 10, received no such powerful words from President Rivlin. He did not exhort the owners to prevent this serious danger to Israel’s democracy. Why? Because it really is not serious. It is high time that one of these channels disappears, since both have little to offer which is not offered by the Keshet TV station.

But what about the employees? At the time, when the government wanted to close TV 10 down, their hue and cry reached a crescendo. The union shut down the station’s broadcasting for a few hours to express their disapproval with the government’s initiative. Matan Chodorov, head of TV 10’s employee union, was explicit: “The exceptional step of blackening the screen is a result of the ongoing disregard of Benjamin Netanyahu from the most serious crisis in the history of commercial TV in Israel. We hope that the appropriate way will be found to preserve the freedom of the press in Israel and bring Channel 10 to its safe haven.” No more, no less.

Democracy and all its hallowed principles would have been violated had the government closed the channel down. And today? The channel is disappearing for commercial reasons, not political ones, and what happened to the hue and cry? It disappeared. That which is permitted to the rich and financially powerful is not permitted to the people and their public representatives. This is our media and its players. The hype against the closure of TV Channel 10 at the time had nothing to do with democracy and values, it was just another attempt to bring the Netanyahu government to its knees.



June 11, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: There are tweets and there are twits

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:03 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: There are tweets and there are twits
The public has a much more informed opinion as to the political and ideological identity of the media stars.
Being anonymous, the Benjamite who, according to I Samuel 4, ran from the Even HaEzer battlefield to Shiloh to inform Eli the High Priest at the Tabernacle of the results could have been even a war correspondent. As verse 17 has it, his task was to be a mevaser, one who brings the news. Verse 13 informs us that when he entered the town to report what had happened, “the whole town sent up a cry”. Could that mean people did not like the media, even then?

The bad news that Eli received a few moments later, causing his death, took hours to be relayed. Since then, we have had the Pony Express, telegraph, telephone… and now, via the Internet, news is conveyed within seconds.

Moreover, the purveying of news is no longer exclusively controlled by the media industry. If in the past, reporters complained that politicians were scheduling their appearances to force the networks to carry their words live at prime time, thereby talking over the heads of the press, we witness today a virtual sidelining of the press.

Wesley Yang, a New Yorker contributing editor, highlights in a piece in the Tablet on May 28 the example of Jordan Peterson, whom Yang informs us “does not rely on the gatekeepers of the progressive consensus for his livelihood; indeed he prospers precisely by flouting it.” Yang traces how a narrative is generated on social media, fed back into the mainstream press, which, in turn, is fed back into Twitter.

Along the way, those who disseminate the narrative can be rewarded as well as sanctioned by “mob-style attacks and ostracism.” What is also evident is “confirmation bias,” whereby our threshold to demand proof for claims is lowered and we tend to conform to what we are already primed by habit, familiarity, and the desire to believe.”

In other words, citizen A reads Haaretz, while citizen B reads Arutz 7. Each one becomes a resident of a separate foxhole, believing and disbelieving ‘facts’ she or he cannot independently confirm.

Yang calls the people who make up this new tweet-driven media phenomenon “digi-journalists and social-media mobs”. And we ask: are the tweeters twits or what?

Further, what is the role of professional, and paid, journalists in all this?

An academic article authored by Zhaoxi Liu of Trinity University in Texas and Dan Berkowitz of the University of Iowa appeared last month in the Journalism journal. They suggest that journalists have “contradicting views on whether or not to accept tweets [as] a legitimate journalism artifact, leading to the blurring” of boundaries of “the journalism craft and its core mission of informing the public.”

If they are uncertain, what of we the media consumers? Samantha Bee tweets, outrageous, apologizes and continues to appear on American television. Roseanne Barr does the same thing and is fired. Was there a “mob-style attack” on her?

Twitter, though, allows us, the media consumers also some room.

ON MAY 11, Haaretz published an item by Hilo Glazer asking coyly, “Did US Ambassador David Friedman indirectly support pro-Kahanist groups?” He named one such organization only, “Kommemiyut.” JTA picked it up incredibly fast, and Ron Kampeas’ report in the JTA went from there to the Times of Israel and further afield, spread by journalists via Twitter, from leftist colleague to leftist colleague.

The story was a case of misidentification that any involved political reporter could have, and should have, spotted. One of us (YM) began tweeting the problematic character of the “facts” and urged those with inside information to contact the journos involved. Eventually, the truth came out (there were two distinct groups with the same name, one Kahanist, one not). However, even with an addition of an “editor’s note,” the damage was done. An ignorant reporter with an anti-Friedman agenda, assisted by the same in a news agency, caused ripples that reached the top echelons of the State Department, Congress and the American Jewish establishment. By the way, a check this past Sunday shows the original article still at the Haaretz on-line website.

Before print and then going to Twitter, there was a failure all along the chain of distribution. The reporter, his editor, and the JTA failed. Twitter introduced not only speed but also extensive reach, crossing continents and languages (tweets carry their own translation capability).

Not only was there a lack of professional confirmation of the item, at play was also the frame of enforced “correct-think” that pervades the media as well as academia and the world of entertainment.
The media does play a magnifying role. It may take a tweet and turn it into “news.” This is the case with President Trump. His tweets are publicized and usually also mocked. The recent tweets from Roseanne Barr, Samantha Bee and Joy Reid in America fall into the same category. Somehow there are glaring exceptions. There are political leaders who tweet and yet their outrageous comments are ignored.

A.J. Caschetta highlighted one case in a Middle East Forum piece. The leader in questions is quite well known here in Israel. No, he is not Benjamin Netanyahu but another “belligerent world leader who uses social media to bully enemies and feed his narcissistic delusions of grandeur” – Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Caschetta convincingly illustrates that Khamenei “beats President Donald Trump any day.” In Iran, he has no rivals; most Iranians are barred from using Twitter’s social media platform.

Do journalists, news program hosts or even comedians pay attention to him? Of course not. It is not the intrinsic negative value of the tweeting politician but rather how the media decide to relate to him.  It is their biased outlook that leaves the public in the lurch.

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the Hay literary festival in Wales Sunday that with invasive modern media, the public gets sick of politicians more quickly and, with the 24-hour news format, long political leaderships which usually have contributed to stable governments have come to an end!

The Liu and Berkowitz study mentioned above found that while some journalists saw tweets as a means to an end – marketing their own stories and driving traffic to their newspaper’s website – others just tweeted for the sake of tweeting, turning their tweets into a journalistic product in their own right.

Twitter can also be a battlefield. After Haaretz’s Uri Blau published on May 25 a story on a “confidential dossier” on the American Muslim activist Linda Sarsour compiled by a “secretive Israeli firm” for an “Adelson-funded US group,” Middle East Forum pushed back via tweets that the material originated with the MEF going back a decade, all collected from open sources. Blau’s story was “sloppy and false reporting.”

One consequence of the tweets is that today the public has a much more informed opinion as to the political and ideological identity of the media stars. Another is they can engage the journalist in real time. This is a very positive result, because these tweeters, more often than not, turn themselves into twits and the public knows.


May 28, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: The European bias

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:39 am by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: The European bias
The media consumer is left with yet another bias: morality and the question of who decides what is or is not moral.
In the mid-1980s, journalism studies academics began to push the idea that non-biased reporting is untenable and therefore, bias as a measuring tool of a media outlet’s output should be rejected. This was promoted by R. A. Hackett, a professor at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University School of Communication. Robert P. Vallone and coworkers of Stanford University’s School of Journalism, in a highly cited paper which studied media performance during the First Lebanon War, suggested another mechanism was at work, one of social perception, and their paradigm was termed the “hostile media phenomenon.”

The idea postulated was that in viewing the same media reports, opposing groups will register more negative references to their side than positive ones, and each would claim that the coverage would sway nonpartisans in a hostile direction. Within both partisan groups, furthermore, greater knowledge of the crisis was associated with stronger perceptions of media bias.

Their research did admit though that this is not the whole story. They recognized that journalists do indeed possess personal, cultural and political biases, which they insert into their reporting, interviewing and moderating of panels.

They did not acknowledge that such bias significantly skews the coverage, replacing the quest for truth with the quest for influence.

Barbie Zelizer, another well-known media academic who is professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, has now published What Journalism Could Be, a collection of her articles over the past two-anda- half decades. She expresses a wish in the volume that we get beyond “depressed lamentations” and instead focus on journalism’s relevance. For her, the essence of journalism is “creating an imagined engagement with events beyond the public’s reach,” adding (p.6) that “imaginative thinking consists of moral considerations.”

But, again, the media consumer is left with yet another bias: morality and the question of who decides what is or is not moral.

These obstacles were very much in view with regard to the central news issues of the past few weeks: the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Iran agreement, the media’s coverage of the dedication of the US embassy in Jerusalem location and the events at the Gaza border.

What Walter Williams, who taught at America’s first journalism school at the University of Missouri, called a “creed,” which he promoted in his 1911 book The Practice of Journalism, was the view that journalists should be “stoutly independent,” “self-controlled,” “patient” and “indignant of injustice.”

This, though, is not the case, especially in Europe. Much too often, to quote Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at London’s City University, former Daily Mirror editor and contributor to The Guardian, one finds that “news and comment have been conflated in our mainstream media outlets… No one reading newspapers down the years can have been in any doubt how their political stance has influenced their content.”

The new norm of bias is “spin,” whereby “heavily angled stories and headlines are the norm.” No one in the media is embarrassed “about omission, about failing to inform readers about news that, for one reason or another, fails to fit the editorial agenda.”

Consider the US decision to reject the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, the “Iran agreement”). As we know well in Israel, most of the Middle East, especially those countries that are “moderate” in the eyes of the Western media, cheered President Trump’s action. However, this fact was somewhat hidden by the media, especially the mainstream European media.

On May 8, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, the Washington correspondent of the prestigious Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, known as FAZ, had this to say in his commentary on Trump’s decision, titled “Trump’s destructive act”: “That his decision for sanctions against Iran has fatal consequences seems not to disturb Trump. The main issue is that Obama’s legacy is wiped out. And what does the North Korean dictator learn from this?” In plain words, the Iran decision was a frivolous act by a frivolous president whose main goal in life is to annul the actions of his predecessor. Not a word about the interests of the people living in the region.

This was not a unique event. FAZ’s reporting and commentaries were one continuous expression of disgust with the American president. Two days later, Nora Mueller added her two bits, writing, “Donald Trump’s decision to annul the nuclear treaty with Iran is fatal. It increases the danger of instability and new military warfare and this at the doorstep of Europe.” In Spain the situation was no better. The leading El Pais newspaper seemingly parroted the FAZ. On May 10, Javier Solana, under the headline “Trump’s exit from Iran nuclear deal: an epic mistake,” continued with: “What the US president cares about the most is the fact that the deal was signed under Obama.”

The Swiss Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ) was more of the same. The headline of Daniel Steinvorth’s commentary on May 10 was: “Trump abandons the Iranians,” but the content was the same: Trump is motivated by Obama. Not a word about the support for his decision coming from the Saudis or other Middle Eastern countries.

The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of Trump’s decision was similar: “Trump’s trashing of the Iran deal is really about one word: Obama.”

Is it then surprising that Europe as a whole is not backing Trump? The situation is so out of hand that one of us received a letter from a colleague in which he expressed sincere worry about the situation in the Middle East and the danger to Israel.

The relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem was not better received.

Jochen Stahnke of FAZ reported on May 12: “A delicate day in Jerusalem.” Historic? Joyous? Of course not. The subtitle was: “The opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem is first and foremost a symbolic act. But also symbols can catch fire.”

The Guardian’s May 14 headline for the article by Simon Tisdall on the event was much less guarded: “Death, division and denial as US embassy opens in Jerusalem.” The content was the old stuff: “The pompous grandiosity of this tacky ceremony conveyed the essence of Trump-ism: all sound and symbolic fury, lacking substance or sense.”

Space is lacking here to review the many other important European news outlets and their anti-Trump bias, which is quite similar to the knee-jerk anti-Netanyahu responses of Haaretz.

But the breadth of it all suggests that it is not Israel’s lack of public relations, or antisemitism, which lies at the heart of Europe’s journalism. It is rather a byproduct of an ingrained liberalism which cannot dissociate wishful thinking from fact.

The anti-American and anti-Israel bias that it has created is very real, and is something which we must face and counter. It may be fatal to us, again.


May 9, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Misdirecting the news

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:59 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Misdirecting the news
Iran lied; OK but precisely about what?
In the liberal Politico magazine, on April 26, Tim Alberta observed of the 30-year effort by American conservatives to prove media bias that, “It’s no secret that the majority of journalists working in national newsrooms are left-ofcenter, at least culturally. Few of them own guns, for instance, or attend church every Sunday.”

Nevertheless, he couldn’t restrain himself, pompously adding, “But most of the reporters at respected, mainstream outlets check their worldviews at the door when covering the news and strive for impartiality.”

That remains to be proven.

For example, consider the reaction both here in Israel as well as abroad to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation of the Iranian files coup. Whether analyzing media reports or how the media is directing and managing the reactions of persons being interviewed, one finds an obvious effort to minimize and basically pooh-pooh what Israel revealed. The story’s focus was moved from Iran’s duplicity to the persona of Netanyahu.

Ma’ariv’s Kalman Liebskind quipped, “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Israel’s media have a shared enemy: Netanyahu.”

One especially blatant example was evident at US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s in-flight press conference as he was leaving Israel.

Pompeo pointed out that “we now know that they continued to store this material in an orderly fashion for some purpose – right? They kept the documents for a reason, and one can speculate as to why… [they] chose to store in secret and hide these documents.”

So what does a reporter ask? The unnamed journalist, according to the transcript, suggested, “Historical record?” and added, “you’re not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t want to destroy their history.”

Pompeo cut him off: “The world can decide if this was for the Iranian museum that they – that they decided to hang onto it. (Laughter).”

The former American diplomat Aaron David Miller “went dark” to influence the story line, tweeting: “my head’s still exploding re: Bibi’s pitch which makes the Roadrunner cartoon bomb shtick pale in comparison.

Iran lied; OK but precisely about what? Who’s gonna read 100,000 files to find out?” He then added, conspiratorially, “How long has Israel been sitting on this?,” ignoring Netanyahu saying in his presentation that “the information was obtained within the past 10 days.”

Outlandish views were being echo-chambered, such as those of Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution, who was quoted saying “nothing that Netanyahu has said undercuts the rationale for the [Iran deal].”

The beating of media tom-toms to get the masses dancing in a trance was obvious in Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer’s reference to the story. He wrote in The London Times the day after: “What Mr. Netanyahu delivered…was less than earth-shattering.”

And in Haaretz, Pfeffer claimed that what Netanyahu presented “wasn’t a smoking gun but a photograph of a smoking gun taken years ago,” ignoring what Netanyahu actually explained.

Barak Ravid from Israel’s TV Channel 10 also downplayed the event, tweeting “…the data wasn’t new and interesting but for those who appreciate the [spy] genre…

Begin bombed Iraq and Olmert bombed Syria. Netanyahu continues bombing with speeches.”

Ravid, in his old age, might have an impaired memory, but we note that Netanyahu’s government has more than once, even openly, ordered bombings in Syria to prevent weapons from reaching the Hezbollah, or lately, to counter Iranian presence in Syria.

Orit Galili-Zucker, a far-left former media adviser to Netanyahu, tweeted that he’s “one of the biggest liers [sic] in the world who’s saying Iran is lying and that’s a macabre joke on brainwashed uneducated citizens.”

Raoul Wootliff of The Times of Israel characterized Netanyahu’s speech as preceded by a “hyperbolic and fear-mongering build up.” Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev spun it this way: “The prime minister risks casting himself as pushing for a U.S.-Iranian confrontation just as he did with Saddam Hussein in 2002.” In other words, since there were no nuclear armaments then, there are none now.

The media message: Netanyahu Lied.

Shalev added that the operation was “a blatant play to domestic public opinion.”

The media message: Netanyahu is a Megalomaniac.

Amir Oren, now at Walla after leaving Haaretz, described the event as “Netanyahu’s Show of Illusions” during which he revealed “old and dusty documents… nothing new.”

He added that “the only thing that interests him [Netanyahu] is delaying the criminal probe against him.”

We are reminded of the media accusing Menachem Begin over the bombing of Osirak in 1982 of possibly sacrificing IAF pilots’ lives just to win the election that month.

Humor also served the media to depreciate what the Mossad had accomplished.

Amy Spiro, writing in this newspaper on May 1, noted that Amichai Stern, the tech and foreign affairs correspondent of Kan, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, posted a photoshopped image of Netanyahu hawking goods on Israel’s shopping network. Jokes quickly spread. The police were opening yet another criminal probe against Netanyahu, this time for the theft of Iranian files. Another was that Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev had decided to submit the film recording to the Academy Awards in the category of Short Documentary.

Indeed, many reports highlighted the aspect of a “good show,” one that was “dramatic.” Content was quickly relegated to second place and claims that Iran was actually fulfilling the terms of the deal US President Barack Obama had negotiated were given prominence.

Incidentally, and worthy of more extensive treatment, is the phenomenon of journalists expressing themselves quite freely and without normative ethical restraints on Twitter and Telegram. The practice clearly demonstrates that there is a major problem when it comes to the ability of the public to obtain professional-quality media content.

Almost none of the senior pundits we reviewed raised the point that the total lack of on-site inspections of Iranian installations dovetails with Israel’s claim that Iran was lying or that, as Caroline Glick noted lasted Friday, the storing of the materials was a breach of Article T82 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the “Iran deal” Dr. Haim Shine observed in Israel Hayom that “Mockery backfires on the media” and that a for ”group of well-known Israeli broadcasters, media pundits and political figures… their hatred of Netanyahu, the ‘Bibiphobia Syndrome,’ throws off their judgment, overpowering their love of country and their concern for its future and security.”

To be fair to Haaretz, last Friday, IMW awardee for excellence in economic reporting Nehemia Strassler wrote: “Might it be that Netanyahu is right? A new accord is needed, one that will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons forever. Our survival depends on it.”

This inserting of journalists, themselves as well as their biased opinions, into their reporting, is part of what Kelly Jane Torrance published in the conservative Weekly Standard on April 27: “There’s nothing the media love more than a story about themselves and if it isn’t about them, they’ll make it so.”

Using disparaging terms, casting doubt where there is none, quoting interested parties and providing less-than-necessary information to prevent media consumers from making informed decisions is not only unethical, but should be criminal.


April 25, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Newsworthy?

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:54 pm by yisraelmedad

If we go back a few years to when Israel Hayom was in its infancy, it, too, was ignored by the mainstream media.


On March 11, a slew of Lebanese news agencies and online portals reported that the “Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestinian Territories,” Mohammad Ahmad Hussein, had arrived in Beirut to participate in the 4th International Forum of Solidarity with Palestine, organized by the Global Campaign to Return to Palestine. At the meeting, Hussein presented a special citation to the Forum coordinator, Sheikh Yusuf Abbas, for his efforts on behalf of Palestine.

This same Abbas, in his speech at the convention noted that the slogan of the Forum is “Jerusalem is the capital of all Palestine without borders.

Another participant was deputy secretary general of Hezbollah Sheikh Naim Qassem. He is a terrorist. The former chief Hamas terrorist, Ismail Haniyeh, addressed the meeting via satellite.

Sheikh Hussein is no babe in the woods. Last July, in the wake of the terrorist shooting on the Temple Mount in which two Israeli policemen were murdered, he was arrested.

As reported by the Galatz army radio station, “in his sermon, Hussein called on Arabs and Palestinians to gather en masse for the sake of Jerusalem, and against the closure of the compound.” The Kan news network, the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, also referred to his arrest, saying that Hussein had been delivering his Friday sermon outside the Old City’s Lion’s Gate when he was detained.

The story of Hussein’s visit to Lebanon was aired on TV Channel 20 news on April 10.

The news item brought with it responses from advocate Yotam Eyal, a member of the Legal Forum for Eretz Yisrael, who noted that the actions of Hussein are “criminal and serious.”

He further stated that “for years the mufti incites against Israel and its citizens and in this case even met with heads of terrorist organizations who work night and day to destroy Israel.”

On the face of it, Hussein violated Israeli law on a number of counts, such as entering an enemy state, contact with foreign agents and aiding and abetting terrorists. One can be assured that the Israeli security services knew about his trip, yet Hussein was not arrested upon returning to Israel.

Being that our main interest is the media, we note that the press and networks as well as almost every other outlet quashed the story completely.

This is known in the journalism world as “spiking a story.”

Israel’s mainstream TV channels, radio stations and websites reported nothing about it.

It was, we can only surmise, not “newsworthy.” Even the conservative newspapers Makor Rishon and Israel Hayom did not report it. Why? Was it indeed not newsworthy? Are we, perhaps, wrong in our estimation of what happened in Beirut last month? Compare to some of the “important stories” that surfaced on Israel’s Remembrance Day and Independence Day. A female soldier was not allowed to participate in an official army singing event and graffiti appeared in Samaria against the local army commander.

These events were reported on rather extensively.

Consider what would happen if a member of the Israel’s far Right participated in a neo-Fascist, not to mention Nazi, support rally in Europe.

Would such an issue remain quiet? So, what happened here? We can only guess.

Our first surmise has to do with the status of TV Channel 20 news. It is a threat to the other TV channels, 11, 12 and 13. Indeed, thus far the ratings of Channel 20 news are on par with those of TV Channel 11, which belongs to the Kan Israel Broadcasting Corporation. The left-wing media is afraid that Channel 20 will become Israel’s Fox News and outperform all the others. The last thing it would want to do then is to provide a platform for a news scoop which comes from the channel.

But this would not explain why Makor Rishon or Israel Hayom remained silent. Perhaps the mufti was on a secret mission for Israel’s security services? Hard to believe, yet who knows? There is, perhaps, a simpler explanation, more logical: lack of solidarity among the media.

Why should anyone give credit to Channel 20 when in fact, all the information concerning Hussein’s visit to Lebanon is freely available on the Internet and Israel’s media should have reported about it in March, not a month later in April? The idea that it is in the interest of Israel’s media to enhance plurality and give credit to an infant news organization seems to have eluded even parts of the conservative media.

There are other aspects that could have played a role in the story being ignored. One is that in March, when Hussein’s visit took place, too many other internal Israeli stories were on the agenda of the news outlets, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s investigations, political infighting or other items. A second is that anything to do with the Temple Mount, the Wakf officials and their activities is usually seen through the prism of “Jews.” More specifically, Jewish “fanatics” or “extremists.”

To step back and see the nefarious machinations of the Muslims there seems to be outside the scope of how reporters and editors view that situation.

Arabs there, invariably, are simply reacting to Jewish moves. They are considered to be the legitimate occupiers of the Temple Mount. They are under threat from the Jewish “fanatics” and therefore the actions of Sheikh Hussein were perhaps not nice, but easy to accept and overlook.

Yet, this is not enough.

Channel 20 has reported other stories, not less interesting.

For example, this past Sunday, it related that senior defense officials have recommended that Israel persuade the United States to delay the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem. According to the report, these officials relate the increased violence of the past few months, including Hamas’s attacks on the border with Gaza, to the American move. It would be better according to their assessment if a more opportune time were found for the move. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, member of the Cabinet, was asked to respond. He made it clear that he would not accept such an assessment and that furthermore such decisions are political ones and are not in the realm of the armed forces.

This too, we would think is an interesting story which should have been picked up, at least by a newspaper such as Israel Hayom. But it wasn’t.

If we go back a few years to when Israel Hayom was in its infancy, it, too, was ignored by the mainstream media. So much so that we in Israel’s Media Watch had to pressure the various state-funded media (whose budgets come from the taxpayers’ pockets) to make sure that the paper’s editorials, journalists and content would be treated on an equal footing to those of Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot when headlines were read out or media people were invited to panels being broadcast.

The bottom line is that journalistic solidarity is sorely needed. It is a fundamental component of a truly pluralistic media scene in Israel.


April 13, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Media-assisted legal irresponsibility

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:42 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Media-assisted legal irresponsibility
We need remind ourselves that all instruments of power, governmental and non-governmental, are never totally free of weaknesses.
Democracy has become a slogan bandied about by our media too often and too frivolously.

Especially today, Holocaust Remembrance Day, we recall that Hitler’s dictatorship was installed with the aid of the democratic process.

We need remind ourselves that all instruments of power, governmental and non-governmental, are never totally free of weaknesses.

Israel’s democracy is strong and vibrant, even if too many journominous signs suggest that strong forces exist which seek to usurp the democratic process for their own purposes. A free and irreverent media should play a critical role in rooting out and exposing these ugly forces. A free media must stand up to power of all types: political, economic and ideological. Sadly, the Alon Hassan affair is an example of the exact opposite.

Hassan was the all-powerful boss of the employees’ union at the Ashdod Port. He did not hide his use and love of power, leading strikes and assuring that the median salary at the port is among the highest in Israel – NIS 28,000 a month in 2014, the year he had to step down. Hassan was not a particularly endearing person – especially if were not part of his union. He made enemies and his actions led to considerable monetary losses for Israel’s economy. According to his March 2016 indictment, some NIS 22 million in bribes were related to Hassan’s actions. On January 22, 2016, Haaretz wrote that Hassan “has come to symbolize corruption and inefficiency in the public sector.”

Yet Hassan, it turns out, was innocent.

Not being lovable is not sufficient reason for the police and state attorneys to step in. But this is precisely what they did.

With great fanfare, the accusations against Hassan were publicized.

As a result, he lost his earnings, his companies and his freedom.

The police and the state attorneys concluded he was guilty of bribery, blackmail, whitewashing finances and more. Serious stuff, enough to break even strong people.

However, last week, some four years later, the truth came out: Beersheba District Court Justice Joel Eden fully exonerated Hassan.

In his words: “After all the checks, there was no evidence of his cheating and a conflict of interest was not proven. Actions taken as part of a job are not equivalent to fraud and breach of trust. Hassan’s actions were necessary for defending the workers. There is no evidence that Alon Hassan carried out directly or indirectly actions meant to encourage contacts with a company owned by his relatives.”

The response of the prosecutor’s office at the Justice Ministry to Hassan’s accusations, as published on Friday in Israel Hayom, was: “The claims that he was personally persecuted and prosecuted are false and misguided. The indictment was presented to the court after passing the scrutiny of many, including the highest echelons of the State Attorney’s office. They all thought that the evidentiary material was sufficient for [a high chance] of conviction.”

Hassan was an elected official.

He had to step down because some police and Justice Ministry officials used their power, and public funds, to crucify him. Who are these officials? How much money did they waste in terms of salaries, research and other legal necessities, not to mention the court employees, at the expense of the taxpayer? We do not assume for a moment that these officials were settling personal scores, but it is very clear that their professional judgment was and is impaired, to say the least.

In the United States, prosecutors are elected officials and any prosecutor leading such a complex, costly and lengthy case and losing would certainly have to step down. That is true democracy. But here, these same officials will be able to continue using their power frivolously, without any accounting.

The media reported the case broadly, especially due to its implications with regard to the ongoing investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family. However it did not pose the necessary questions to nor did it demand personal responsibility from the police, the attorney-general’s office and others. The reaction was quite different from what should be expected.

When Teva announced widespread layoffs recently, the media was in an uproar, especially against the company directors, who refused to accept personal responsibility for the mistakes or return their remuneration to the company. Yet in the Hassan case, although we do not know the exact figures – and this too should be supplied by the State Attorney’s office – there is no doubt that the expense was many millions of shekels. Years of manpower which could have been used to pursue true criminals were wasted. But the worst of it all was that unelected officials used their power to remove an elected one – Hassan.

This is far from being the first time such an event has occurred in Israel. In 1996, former justice minister Yaakov Neeman was just two months in power when he was indicted for giving false testimony and providing illegal consultation to a witness in the Arye Deri case. He was exonerated fully and became Netanyahu’s finance minister. But at that time no one demanded that heads roll in the prosecutor’s office for this unwarranted and unprofessional interference in the democratic process. The lack of media attention gave the police and the Justice Ministry officials the clear message that they were immune from being held personally responsibility for erroneous or misguided actions.

Israeli democracy paid dearly for this media “lapse.” Yom Kippur War hero and former police minister Avigdor Kahalani was another victim. In the year 2000, he was investigated for supposedly obtaining illegal benefits from Ma’ariv publisher Ofer Nimrodi.

He was indicted for exposing secret information concerning the investigation of Nimrodi, as well as breach of trust and obstruction of justice. It took two years, but he too was fully exonerated. Did anyone take responsibility? Did the media demand it? No, they did not.

Perhaps the most egregious example is that of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. He was investigated for a period of over 10 years, with the various allegations changing over time. Not one of them held water and he, too, was fully exonerated. The media, for sure, was responsible for churning up a negative characterization of Liberman but again, with no proof. He was unsavory ideologically to many members of the press – but that is their crime, not his.

He paid not only a personal price but also a public one, and this is frightening. Due to the indictment against him concerning his role in appointing Israel’s ambassador to Belarus, he had to resign his post as foreign minister. The indictment was submitted in December 2012 and on November 6, 2013, he was unanimously acquitted.

The ease with which unelected officials behind closed doors can determinate the fate of innocent people cannot be allowed to continue.

It is high time that even in the hallowed corridors of the Justice Ministry accountability and responsibility become the norm rather than the exception.


March 28, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Let’s clean it up

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:15 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Let’s clean it up
So now we know that there is too much chametz at the army radio station, why don’t we just clean up? Let’s stop listening to them until they get their act together.
Although she was referring to an incident in which her posterior was groped by an interviewee on live television, what BBC1’s television presenter Helen Skelton said about her reaction could be applied to other ethically problematic facets of the media. She declared, “I felt really awkward… It’s intimidating and you don’t want to be the person who is being difficult… that’s just the culture that television breeds. No one wants to be difficult. You want to bring solutions, not problems.”

In Israel, this is definitely not the case. Our media is urged to bring problems to the fore, but it depends whose problems.

In Skelton’s case, the interviewee would have been immediately hung by the media – provided that he belonged to the “right” camp. Tamar Zandberg, newly elected head of the Meretz Party, was subject to media pressure over her outright lies regarding consultations with right-wing PR adviser Moshe Klughaft for only a short period. Zandberg had denied consulting with him but Klughaft went on record publicly stating that she did.

Zandberg was indeed attacked, and there may still be a legal question, but after 72 hours the issue appears to have died down as far as the media are concerned. Haaretz allowed Alit Karp space to demand she “Go Home!” as she “betrayed voters.” But despite the harsh criticism from Avi Gabbay, head of the Zionist Union, it seems to have ended there.

We are in the midst of the Passover preparations.

Eliminating the chametz from our homes is not only a literal task but a moral one. It implies we should look into ourselves and try to change our habits for the better. For example, our media could try to show more generosity.

Sunday night was a historic evening on the Israeli media scene. A fourth news channel was initiated. TV Channel 20, after years of struggling, finally received the legal go-head to broadcast news. The road was not easy and we reported on the obstacles multiple times in this column. It was only through legislation, aided and supported significantly by Israel’s Media Watch, that the channel received the permit.

One would think that such an event deserved media attention, but on the news of Galei Tzahal or Reshet Bet radio there was no mention. Only the right-wing media – Israel Hayom, Arutz 7, Makor Rishon and a few others – reported on it. The mainstream media kept thunderously silent.

Indeed, the most important comment Arieh Golan gave on Sunday morning was fake news about the Council for Higher Education. Golan claimed that the council had decided to muzzle Israeli college lecturers, preventing them from letting their students know their opinions on current events. The truth is that the council has not decided on anything. It formulated a position paper, which would forbid lecturers from using their lectures as a forum for pressuring students to conform with their personal political beliefs, so as to protect the academic freedom of students to think differently from their teachers.

Golan, had he been a generous, well-meaning person, could have used his radio pulpit to congratulate Channel 20 and note how important it is for Israeli democracy that there exist an additional news channel, one whose point of view differs from all the others, and point out that it will provide sorely needed diversity to our media scene. But Golan only knows how to criticize others. The fact that he usurps the public airwaves for his own political agenda is by now sickening.

So, let us do away with the chametz, for it is our choice to stop listening to Golan. If we want news, not propaganda, there are other, better stations.

Nor is Liat Regev any better. This past Friday on the prime noon news show of Reshet Bet, she had nothing to say about the appointment of John Bolton as the new US national security advisor other than “let’s just see what problems this appointment brings with it.”

Galei Tzahal has been undertaking a special kind of elimination of chametz. It accepted the resignation of journalist Erel Segal. Il’il Schachar, head of news broadcasting, claimed in an interview with Makor Rishon that the reason was Segal’s “insatiable appetite for money” and high salary demands. Unfortunately for her, journalist Kalman Liebskind, Segal’s friend, asked Shimon Alkavetz, the commander of the station, and he denied the allegation, stating that never a word was exchanged with Segal about money. The truth is obviously elsewhere.

Segal is known for his right-wing opinions, of which he makes no secret. In his programs he would attack anything he thought worthy of attacking. His ratings were high, but that was all the more reason to get rid of him – why give a right-winger a position of influence?

Schachar is not new to us. On October 3, 2012, in this column, we reported on Schachar’s blatant unethical behavior.

On November 23, 2011, she provided Galatz’s listeners with a report from Switzerland on a conference of the “Geneva Initiative” which was taking place that week. Her trip was paid for by the Swiss government, a major funder of the Geneva Conference. She knew that a reporter should never receive funding from anyone with interests and especially someone it is her task to report on. But Schachar withheld that information for half a year and divulged it only after being forced to.

Not only was nothing ever done about this, a few months ago she was promoted to heading the news section of Galatz.

So now we know that there is too much chametz at the army radio station, why don’t we just clean up? Let’s stop listening to them until they get their act together.

In a Calcalistech website interview on March 15 on the occasion of their Mind the Teach conference in New York, Randi Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, said, “We need to encourage and support journalism sites that go deep, that are focusing on telling stories, that don’t have clickbait headlines, and that are really doing good investigative journalism.

I think also as consumers we need to be a little more responsible in what we post and what we click on.” That, of course, is advice all journalists should follow from day one in Journalism 101 (that is, if Israel’s media people had actually been required to learn journalism to be able to work).

Zuckerberg’s suggestions are more than just a nice idea. Consider the case of Cambridge Analytica, now in the news for mining Facebook members’ data. It seems that the group was engaged in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance,” a set of techniques that includes rumor, disinformation and fake news. What is now termed “psychographic messaging.” Are certain media elites, whether owners of newspapers, directors of companies or senior-level employees working in media outlets, also, in their own way, engaged in similar activities out of an ideological, political or cultural agendas?

Isn’t this, to borrow a simile, the chametz that media consumers need to burn?


March 15, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Netanyahu and the press

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:00 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Netanyahu and the press
It is this one-sidedness and lack of truth that is helping Netanyahu. Israel, though, is losing.
As more reports originate from the Israel Police appear, some leaked, regarding the investigation into several alleged cases of embezzlement, bribery and government corruption, the contest for the public’s trust between the media and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is both accelerating and increasing in pitch.

Yardena Schwartz, a freelance journalist and Emmy-nominated producer based in Tel Aviv, formerly with NBC News, called Netanyahu a “media puppeteer” in the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review (February 21).

In his public appearances during his visit this month to the United States, Netanyahu avoided any reference to the legal situation he is embroiled in. It was only mentioned through impromptu remarks to the press, such as “we are attacked all the time – every hour, every minute… I won’t keep silent, I will tell the truth.”

It was but a year ago that he declared, “There is no country in the world where the press is freer [than Israel]. There is no country in the world that attacks its leader more than the Israeli press attacks me. That’s fine. It’s their choice. They are free press and they can say anything they want.” It would seem that even Netanyahu is feeling the pressure.

Some pundits have sought to compare his media wars with those of US President Donald Trump, doing so in a negative, even sneering fashion. But there is more to that comparison.

Andrew Klavan, an award winning mystery novelist whose books have been made into films, wrote on February 4 in New York’s City Journal, an urban-policy magazine, that “a press that has shown itself willing to publish anonymous anti-Trump leaks that sometimes turned out to be false – has made it clear that they do not want you to know what they do not want to know themselves.”

Taking a similar position, The Wall Street Journal editorialized on February 7 that “Some of our media friends are so invested in the Steele dossier, or in protecting their Fusion pals, or in Donald Trump’s perfidy, that they want to ignore all this [the FBI’s wiretap application based on a source working at the direction of the Clinton campaign]. But journalists ought to tell the complete story.”

In quality journalism, a good story is a balanced one, with input from all sides and a “fair” representation of facts and opinions. Are we in Israel receiving professional, impartial, objective, ethical journalism? Or does our press attempt to use its power to forbid us to even think that our editors, reporters and analysts could be, like their American counterparts, less than fair, objective and even knowledgeable?

Robert Lacey is one person whose approach should put television viewers on the alert. He is the historical consultant for The Crown, the Netflix television period drama, and author of many popular histories and biographies. In her December 18, 2017 Town & Country interview with him, Caroline Hallerman observed, “For Lacey, there can be truth without fact.”

In his own words, Lacey said, “I say, ‘I don’t like the word “false.”’ I’d rather say is it true or is it invented? …History is a truth, but there are other truths that are conveyed in the drama.”

While the specific context is docudrama, this type of thinking has infiltrated “straight” journalism. It is standard practice for “expert analysts” who appear on hard news programs. The framework setting attempts to convince the viewer or listener that the speaker is objective and disengaged from the subject she or he is spouting off on. Moreover, these observers always seem to tell us media consumers what the future will be. Not only are the results unimpressive, but the media never seems to check up on how good their “experts” really are. Never has there been a case of a commentator being laid off as a result of false perceptions or predictions.

There is another problematic aspect to modern media, related to how the public engages with the news.

According to the UK Trinity Mirror’s digital editor-in-chief at its regional titles, Alison Gow, many online readers scan headlines and then go to the comments thread without bothering to read the copy (the facts). “People,” she said, “will actively not read a story because they will have a view… If the news pages are full of the personal opinion of reporters, why are they any better than my opinion?”

The Netanyahu case is a classic example. The Israeli press is stumped: after two years of Netanyahu bashing, with one story after another, public opinion polls show, consistently, that the public is not impressed. If one believes the polls, Netanyahu is electorally stronger than ever. Why?

One answer has to do with the perception that too many people in the media have an agenda and therefore cannot be trusted.
In Israel, the public knows there are certain politicians who are protected by the media. Israelis know that MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) did not divulge his information about the 1999 election campaign funding (the “Amutot” affair), yet the media did not attack the police nor the attorney general for not following through. Herzog went on to become the chairman of the Zionist Union.

Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, has been caught repeatedly “misrepresenting” facts. In the latest case, Lapid appeared in front of a camera with a person disguised as a haredi (ultra-Orthodox). Lapid did not divulge this information. True, nothing illegal, but has the media asked itself whether this is a person who can be trusted?

The media after but a scant few days closed the story about the possible criminal implications of the behavior of judges Esther Hayut and Hila Gerstel. Gerstel claimed she had been asked by a Netanyahu crony whether she would be willing to assure, if she became attorney general, that she would work in favor of the Netanyahu family. She also claimed she had mentioned the matter to Hayut who did not even report the matter to the police. Are justices immune from press criticism? Or are only certain judges, with certain political opinions, liable to be victims of a press onslaught?

Former president and prime minister Shimon Peres was the crony of many millionaires, aggrandized himself while still alive, yet no one clamored for his relationships with financial moguls to be investigated. Many Israeli politicians worked hard to get the daily newspaper Israel Hayom removed from our newsstands, pushing legislation and receiving positive coverage in Yediot Aharanot, yet hardly any of them were called to task.

The Israeli public is wise enough to understand that even if Netanyahu has broken the law, what is demanded from him is unique. Others under these circumstances would go scot-free, especially if, like prime minister Ariel Sharon, they bribe the press with an expulsion of Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria.

It is this one-sidedness and lack of truth that is helping Netanyahu. Israel, though, is losing.


March 1, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: To film or not to film?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:53 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: To film or not to film?
Israel is on the receiving end of too many negative portrayals.
An important part of the media scene in Israel is the weekend brochures distributed freely in the synagogues. Originally, they were supposed to be a source of commentary on the weekly Torah portion, but rapidly became a money-making machine, attracting advertising as well as providing political news to synagogue goers. Various organizations use this medium to give their viewpoint on current events.

One of these leaflets is titled “Yesha Shelanu” (“Our Judea, Samaria and Gaza”). It is funded and distributed by the Yesha Council. This past week’s brochure was dedicated in part to the issue of social media and the immediate broadcasting of terrorist attacks.

There had been a meeting of the Yesha Council with the IDF Brig.-Gen. Eran Niv, commander of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division, and leaks of security camera footage of terrorist attacks on social media were discussed. According to the report, Niv claimed such clips harm the families of the victim, who are exposed to them before the tragic information can be provided through official channels. Moreover, he said, the clips are a source of inspiration and even instruction for potential terrorists. The recommendation the council accepted was to call for a halt in spreading these clips.

But there is another side to this issue.

As we well know, Israel is on the receiving end of too many negative portrayals. Our enemies do not hesitate to providing negative pictures of events as soon as they happen. Sometimes their clips are fabricated, in the best “Pallywood” tradition, sometimes they are truthful – but only ever half truthful. Rarely do they provide reasonably objective documentation of events. When such clips go viral, Israel is immediately attacked and our armed forces more often than not blamed for wanton murder of innocents. The world is not sufficiently aware of what our enemies really carry out.

Partly in response to the fake news emanating from Israel, Amotz Eyal founded TPS, Tazpit News Services, which has been providing news in real time to major media outlets about what’s really happening in the field. This has not stopped the flow of fake news but at least it has given our friends and supporters a basis on which to refute the false allegations of our enemies.

But this is not enough. Too often, the IDF itself has reacted too slowly to events, allowing the foreign media much leeway to give Israel a black eye. By the time the IDF gives its official version, it is too late. Lately, the IDF has seemingly understood the potential for damage and is making efforts to provide real-time coverage. The case of the downing of the Iranian drone a few weeks ago is one example.

It is true that often, the information in amateur video footage can be harmful and terribly hurtful to the loved ones of the victim. We also accept that some terrorists might be inspired by or learn from these clips, though especially in the case of the murder of Rabbi Ben-Gal there is not much to learn. We also note that many clips from the period of car-ramming terrorist attacks in Jerusalem were released to the public by the police relatively shortly after the events happened.

But one should also think about the victim and potential future victims. One may guess that if anything, the victim would want his or her tragedy to be the last and so would do everything possible to use it to defend others against the terrorists. Such defense is also part of these clips. For example, the very fact that these clips exist carries with it a lesson that not only should one always be alert to one’s surroundings, but also serves as a warning to terrorists – you are being observed. Such videos could be crucial in preventing a future tragedy. Additionally, by showing the world what actually happened, one undermines the very effect that these terrorists seek to achieve.

Indeed, such clips also lead to negative situations, such as in the Elor Azaria case, where video footage showed the death of a terrorist after he had been arrested by IDF forces. On the other hand, if a crime is committed by a soldier, that fact should emerge – a crime is a crime, and should not be left unpunished.

If Brig.-Gen. Niv is correct, that video clips can motivate future acts of terrorism, one might question why there were no copycat extra-judicial killings of wounded Arabs after the Azaria footage was aired. Is it possible that it’s not the videos that are the problem, but the mindset of our enemies?

In most cases it is the IDF which is on the receiving end. Organizations such as B’Tselem have provided the media with clips that they edited, manipulating thereby IDF actions, showing them in the worst possible light.

The cellphone and its built-in camera is a weapon. It can be – and is – used for offensive purposes by interested parties who wish us ill. It should also be used as a defensive weapon.

Yes, people do get hurt, but that always happens in war. The defense of Israel is more important than the harm along the way. We urge everyone: always have your cellphones ready. Use them – if you don’t, someone else, seeking our harm, will. Use them responsibly, of course. You, the person on the spot, are all too often our best defense.


February 14, 2018

Media Comment: Breaking the silence

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:33 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Breaking the silence
The past few weeks have demonstrated the wisdom of our Sages.
Silence was venerated by our sages. Proverbs 17:28 teaches us: “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” The Talmud elaborates on this in Tractate Pesachim, concluding that “silence is becoming for the wise.” A deep connection exists in rabbinic literature between wisdom and the ability to hold one’s tongue. Thus the sage Avtalion warned in the Mishna of Avot 1:11: “Wise people, be careful with your words.” He especially was concerned that lack of care would result in misinterpretation which would cause the desecration of the name of the Lord.

The past few weeks have not only demonstrated the wisdom of our Sages, but perhaps also raised the possibility that, in reality, those some of us think are wise, or rather who want us to think they are wise, are not precisely so.

Let us begin with Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich. He started his tenure two years ago on the right foot. He announced that there would be no more leaks from the Police and for a year actually succeeded in keeping his deputies, and especially the most senior police officers, rather quiet. The media was very angry. So much so that veteran journalist Matti Golan, recipient of the Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, praised Alsheich in the Globes newspaper on January 4, 2016: “Alsheich is bad for the media since it needs talk. Not necessarily information, but talk. It needs people who manage to pass the time between advertisements. Talk which enables journalists to express their thoughts, to give the impression that they are wise and knowledgeable.”

Alsheich at that time did not deliver. The police during that first year managed to keep themselves out of the limelight.

But at some point, for an unknown reason, Alsheich decided to switch gears. He appointed a strategic media adviser, Lior Horev, known as a political adviser to party candidates, especially during elections. Past clients included Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Nir Barkat and Shaul Mofaz. Horev started working for the police in February 2016, and the change came soon after.

During the past year we, that is the public, have been fed outrageous information directly from police investigations. This has included transcripts, rumors and what have you. Reporters tell us when the police next expect to interview a suspect, usually a high-profile figure, and how many more interviews are required.

Horev was doing his job: the Israel Police was almost daily in the news. The media was ecstatic, the public perhaps less so.

Horev left his job in November 2017, due to harsh criticism from Likud circles over his appointment. The Israel Police, it was felt, does not need an adviser with political connections, not to mention to politicians suspected of crimes.

Seemingly, though, Horev was eventually very influential. During his tenure, Alsheich himself largely kept mum. This changed, drastically, during the past few months. So much so that Alsheich, in perhaps a frivolous decision, allowed himself to be interviewed by Ilana Dayan, Channel 2 television celebrity. Dayan, a highly experienced interviewer and often too easygoing with regard to ethics, was not a good choice.

Dayan admitted in a radio interview that she was quite well aware that this was a critical time, given the imminent recommendations of the police regarding the suspicions against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She purposely aired the interview now since her selfish goal was to maximize her own ratings.

The viewing audience heard Alsheich criticizing those in power, who were, according to him, using their power to pursue senior police officers. The prime minister and his people happily pounced on this, demanding that Alsheich, instead of talking post facto, should have initiated an investigation into such severe allegations immediately.

Of course, this would imply at best a bias in the police investigation of the prime minister – they have recommended he be indicted – and at worst, false accusation by Alsheich against the prime minister. There is no question that the police, the public and everyone involved would have been better off had Alsheich known to bite his tongue and keep quiet, all the more so if he has no proof.

He is not alone. For many years, the unwritten code of ethics of the Supreme Court was that justices do not express their opinion on political issues in public. This includes both those on the bench and those retired. Former justice Menachem Elon, for example, who was very concerned in 2000 about the dangers of having Jerusalem divided by then prime minister Ehud Barak, refused a request from one of us to make his opinion known publicly.

This unwritten code is wise. Justices are supposed to be impartial and sufficiently ethical to be able to disassociate their personal opinion from their decisions. By making their personal opinions public they call into question their legal rulings and diminish the public trust in the court. Former chief justice Aharon Barak was extremely controversial during his tenure. Many have criticized him for usurping power from the Knesset and the government and turning the Supreme Court into the center of power in Israel. For many years, Barak kept mum.

But either age or a need for publicity have finally caught up with him. As reported in Makor Rishon on January 6 by Yehuda Yifrach and as widely reported in the media, Barak spoke at an event honoring the late IDF chief of staff and minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. Barak considered limitations on the Knesset even when it legislates fundamental laws. His conclusion was that the Knesset is restricted by the Declaration of Independence.

In other words, not only are some of the recent laws of the Knesset not legal, since they do not abide by Barak’s version of democracy, but in the future, for example, a law annexing Judea and Samaria would be annulled by the Supreme Court since some people, including Supreme Court justices, may presume it violates the human rights of the Palestinians. Did Barak increase the public’s trust of the court?

A final case is that of Rabbi Yosef Kalner from the Eli pre-military yeshiva. His words of wisdom concerning women were: “they [women] would sit and crochet, until their brains were poisoned… They are weak-minded. They just babble… Yes, there are some CEOs here and there, ‘girlillas.’” Of course, his rantings were recorded, came out in the media and Avtalion’s fears materialized. The media furor against the Eli Yeshiva was not pleasant. One can only wonder why none of the boys who heard Kalner stood up to him on the spot and put him in his place.

There is a fine thread that connects Alsheich, Barak and Kalner. All three men did not heed the wisdom of our sages. Are there no wise men among us? Breaking silence is not good strategy.


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