A bill was submitted to the Knesset this week banning foreign ownership of Hebrew-language newspapers. Specifically, it stipulates that individuals who are not citizens or residents will not be allowed to obtain the necessary licensing to own a newspaper, and that 51 percent of a newspaper's control must be in the hands of citizens or residents.
The most obvious victim of this bill is the popular, free daily, Yisrael Hayom, which is owned by billionaire American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. The paper has faced a lot of criticism for having a seemingly right-wing slant and excessively doting on Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud. Still, is that a reason to shut it down?
The sponsors of the bill, MKs Yoel Hasson (Kadima) and Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor), claim their main concern was to preserve Israeli democracy by forbidding foreign interests from manipulating the public through the media. This concern is not unique to Israel, as many countries have restricted, or altogether forbidden foreign ownership of media. In this case, however, there is an interesting twist, which if confirmed, renders the bill itself a transgression of democratic values.
Reports are circulating that one of the primary drafters of this bill is Ram Caspi, a lawyer and close associate of Ofer Nimrodi, publisher of Ma'ariv. Yisrael Hayom recently overtook Ma'ariv as the number two paper, just behind Yediot Aharonot. Calls to Hasson to clarify the matter were unreturned.
If the reports are found to be true, it wouldn't be the first time Nimrodi has been accused of trying to kill off the competition. Literally. In 1999 he was arrested on suspicion of hiring a hit man to murder Ha'aretz publisher Amos Schocken and Yediot publisher Arnon Mozes. The conspiracy to commit murder charges were dropped as part of a plea bargain, but Nimrodi was charged with fraud, wiretapping and breach of trust. He was sentenced to serve 25 months.
Professor Eytan Gilboa, chairman of the Communications Program and Bar-Ilan University, described having mixed feelings regarding the bill. "On the one hand we live in a free global market and prohibition like this is not compatible with free press and free standards of the marketplace of ideas. On the other hand, owners who buy newspapers and use them for political campaigns is an abuse of freedom of the press," he said.
Gilboa described three models of government regulation of the media in liberal democracies - the North-Atlantic model, which includes little government interference and high standards of journalism; the Mediterranean model, which includes ideological media and substantial levels of government in the media market; and the Democratic Corporatist model, which includes high standards of journalism with restricted government intervention. Israel, he believes, falls somewhere in the middle.
"Israel has come a long way from highly politicized media into more free media, and this is a step backward," Giloba said.
Settlers take to Facebook
Living in the age of information overload, how do you get your message out in the most effective and most efficient way? Well, if you're David Ha'ivri of the Samaria Regional Council, the answer is Facebook.
Ha'ivri is one of many passionate activists who have been taking to social networking sites like Facebook to mobilize like-minded individuals in support of their cause. Ha'ivri, who describes his cause as "self-explanatory by the name of the Facebook group," Friends of the Jewish Communities in Samaria, believes that Facebook is an incredibly effective tool for networking support for his cause.
The group's Facebook page is riddled with messages of support, links to relevant news articles and a discussion board where members can discuss how to maximize their efforts. Additionally, the group organizes different types of Internet-based action, like content writing and various other writing campaigns.
Boasting nearly 3,000 members, Ha'ivri explains that beyond the core communities in Samaria, a large number of the group's supporters come from the US, Europe, Australia, Russia, even central Africa. "Our members include students and older people. Jews and non-Jews. All types of people."
He also describes the appeal of a tool such as Facebook in its ability to let supporters choose their level of involvement. Some people choose to show their support by joining the group; others might comment and join the discussions; and still others take their involvement one step higher and organize demonstrations.
Specifically, in response to the government's recent decision to freeze construction in Judea and Samaria, Ha'ivri says that his Facebook community helped mobilize people to demonstrate as far away as New York, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Melbourne, Australia.
When asked about "fakers" posing as supporters only to gather information or post opposing views, Ha'ivri says, "My philosophy is to be totally open. I've got nothing to hide and I'm happy to share the information and the ideas. Whether they agree or not, through conversations, people who previously did not support our cause can at least understand where we're coming from."
How we're doing in the Arab world
This week a semi-remarkable thing happened. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon wrote "an open letter to the Arab world," and the Arab world published it.
A-Sharq al-Awsat, one of the largest and most respected pan-Arab daily newspapers, printed the op-ed, in Arabic, written by Ayalon, in which he calls on the Arab world to help Israel defeat the shared enemies of religious extremism and climate change, with specific emphasis on Iran and the terrorist groups it patronizes.
It definitely was not the "unprecedented" event that Ayalon's people have billed it, since Israeli officials have frequently appeared on Arabic news sources, like Al-Jazeera. The fact that an op-ed by an Israeli official in an Arab daily can be labeled "historic" isn't a great sign, but it is a small step in the right direction for hasbara in the Arab world.
The most important aspect of public relations is listening to your audience. Ayalon should focus closely on the reactions and responses that come out of the Arab world to this letter as that will be the greatest indicator of where Israel's PR efforts stand, and where they need to go.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, a new movie demonizing Israel has made its way to the silver screen. Amira Or-On, head of the Egypt desk at the Foreign Ministry, saw the movie Walad Alaam (Cousins) during a recent trip to Cairo, and describes it as depicting Israelis as "inhumane creatures, demons and torturers of Palestinians."
According to materials sent to The Jerusalem Post by Or-On, the film depicts an Egyptian father who takes his wife and two children out for a spin on a motorboat only to have it revealed that he is in fact a Mossad agent who organized the trip as a ruse to kidnap his family to Israel. The husband injects his wife with a sleeping agent and passes the family on to Mossad agents waiting for them in the middle of the sea.
The film, which is selling out screenings nightly, has already received praise throughout Egypt, and Or-On's concern is that aside from depicting Israelis in a bad light, the film attempts to portray Israel as Egypt's biggest enemy.
Or-On's report, aptly titled "Where's the peace between Israel and Egypt?" brings up one particularly important point - the makers of this film and the majority of its audience were born after Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement. What kind of impact this might have on the future of Israeli-Egyptian relations remains to be seen.