Self-immolator Tel Aviv fire protester Moshe Silman 390.
(photo credit:Asaf Kliger)
Moshe Silman is a tragic figure. He is described by many as being a successful
businessman for a time, who became bankrupt due to the cruelty of bureaucrats.
His personal and business assets were all lost to his debtors. He claimed that
the National Insurance Institute caused his financial downfall and he did not
have enough money to demand what he felt was his in court. His repeated requests
for help, whether they involved a waiver of court fees, an increase of his
national insurance benefits due to illness or a request for housing aid, went
unheeded by the various agencies.
Every story has two sides and when one
delves deeper, it appears that a State Comptroller’s Office document does not
justify Silman’s claims against the National Insurance Institute. But whatever
his mistakes may have been, and there seem to have been many, this was a man in
anguish who with forethought decided upon a radical step – to immolate himself
in public in an apparent attempt to commit suicide. It appears he understood
that such an act would provide ample ammunition for his friends who were
attempting to demonstrate for social justice, and indeed this was the case. His
self-destructive and thus immoral act was political.
The letter he wrote
prior to his suicide attempt left no doubt as to his motivation.
pointed a finger specifically at the prime minister and the finance minister,
hurling at them the Hebrew epithet “nevelot” – despicable scoundrels.
the days following his act, the papers and broadcast media had a ball, all on
account of Mr. Silman. Instead of discussing the weather and the expected
electricity stoppages, they had a real issue on their hands. The headlines were
huge. “The tragedy” blared Israel HaYom. The Ma’ariv webpage had a special
“Moshe Silman” entry, which guided the user directly to all of the latest “hot
stories” about the man and his issues. Kol Yisrael’s Reshet Bet anchor Arieh
Golan used Silman’s tragedy to pitch in his two cents of criticism on Israeli
Rabbis for Human Rights activist Rabbi Idit Lev became a media
star, recounting Silman’s tragic affairs and how she tried in vain to help him
over the past few years.
The media also made sure everyone knew that in
the ensuing, rather small demonstrations, one of the chants was “We are all
Moshe Silman.” One of the harshest criticisms of the Left – and the media –
against nationalist camp protests during the intifada was that “settlers are
dancing on spilled blood,” by which they meant that the terror victims’ deaths
were being cynically exploited to further political aims. And now? They have
been dancing on Silman’s blood with tragic consequences.
people have already attempted to emulate him. We needed a courageous politician
– who also worked as a journalist in the past – opposition leader Shelly
Yechimovich, to remind us all that “suicide is an extreme and terrible act and
should not serve as an example and inspiration to young people and adults alike,
and must not be regarded as the symbol of social protest.” In fact, the
journalists’ ethics code instructs us that care and sensitivity are needed when
reporting on a suicide and that one should not publicize the method
The media is not always so diligent in reporting on politically
On Sunday, Israel HaYom said Silman’s case was “an
unprecedented act.” However, the paper’s own reporter, Emily Amrousi, took pains
the next day to remind us that this was certainly not unprecedented in Israel.
Yelena Bosinova, for one, also committed suicide for political reasons. She
thought that this was the appropriate expression of her deep dissatisfaction
with the uprooting of the Jewish presence in the Gaza strip and the northern
Shomron during the disengagement of 2005. Amrousi noted that Bosinova’s act had
no impact whatsoever, yet at the same time, Silman was already being compared in
the press with Mohamed Bouazizi, who ignited the Arab Spring by setting himself
alight in Tunisia. Yet even Amrousi seems to have forgotten that another person,
Baruch Ben- Menachem, committed the same suicidal act a short time after the
expulsion from Gaza –also to no avail and without serious media attention. It is
then not surprising that Natan Zehavi of FM 103 radio did not even know about
these two suicides.
Why the difference in relating to the two sets of
suicidal acts? Why is Silman’s suicide considered by many in the media as heroic
while that of Bosinova and Ben-Menachem are nonexistent? The Israel Broadcasting
Authority’s Oren Nahari, who did note on Channel 1 that the Gush Katif suicide
by fire drew far less attention from the media, suggested that the reason was
the political purpose of the act. But is he right? Is it only due to the
identification of the media with Silman’s cause and their well-documented
antipathy to settlers and their supporters that underlies the different
coverage? The media is not the sole actor in the public opinion square. One can
assume that the many organizations who have gotten behind the demonstrators,
such as Rabbis for Human Rights and others supported by the New Israel Fund,
were active in providing the journalists with lead stories, background color and
so on. Although they too paid lip service to the Jewish ethics that abhor
suicide, it would seem they did make good use of the case to further their
This was not the situation with Bosinova and Ben-Menachem. The
religious Zionist community has been taught that the end does not justify the
means. Its moral makeup forbids it to use the tragedy of others to further its
own causes, no matter how just that cause may be. There were no settler
organizations or other right-wing organizations that attempted to use these
tragic acts to further their cause.
At the end of the day, suicide is
suicide is suicide. Too many within the media aided and abetted Silman, albeit
after the act.
They are responsible for the fact that others are trying
to follow in his footsteps. But the media’s gurus, such as former Supreme Court
justice Dalia Dorner, who presides over the Israeli Press Council, did not take
the moral high road. Dorner did not call for an urgent meeting of her council to
discuss the media ethics in this case and provide moral and ethical guidelines
to prevent such coverage in the future. As we have stressed in this column time
and again, accountability is a foreign word when it comes to the
media.The authors are vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media
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