The shooting last Thursday night at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva dominated the news this week, from the very first minutes of the outrage, which unfolded on camera almost in real time right after the first shots were fired. The local television news stations did an exemplary job of covering the terror attack, though the haste to get out information as fast as possible demonstrated some of the pitfalls involved in the live coverage of such events.
For example, Channel 2 initially described the shooting as being carried out by two, or even three, attackers - and then went even further, saying it was possible that one of the terrorists had fled the scene and that police were searching for him in the surrounding area.
None of that turned out to be true, and surely it would have been better for an experienced police reporter such as Moshe Nussbaum to receive official confirmation of such information before needlessly frightening the residents of the Kiryat Moshe and Romema neighborhoods.
The most contentious follow-up item was Channel 1's report this week that three alumni of Mercaz Harav had asked for and received the blessing of at least one of the yeshiva's rabbis to carry out a revenge attack on Arabs. After Public Security Minister Avi Dichter subsequently stated that neither the police nor the Shin Bet could confirm the story, Channel One was slammed by National Religious Party MK Zevulun Orlev, and threatened with a libel suit by Mercaz Harav.
Without knowing the source of Channel 1's item, it's impossible to assess how justified it was in going with this story. There have been other confirmed reports of such discussions taking place elsewhere in far-Right circles, and the violent reception given Education Minister Yuli Tamir when she tried to make a condolence call at Mercaz Harav on Sunday amply demonstrated the feelings of rage at the yeshiva.
Still, the report is reminiscent of many others that circulated at the time of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, and occasionally after other incidents of Jewish terrorism, yet I cannot recall even one instance of its having been proven that a specific act of violence received a rabbinical heter (approval) in advance - as opposed to more general inflammatory language by some rabbis.
This kind of talk always circulates in far-Right circles when there is a particularly bad terror attack in which the victims belong to the national-religious community, and journalists should regard such tips that come their way with a degree of skepticism. Unless a media outlet is sure enough of its source to name the specific rabbi(s) in question, its reports lack the degree of serious credibility they would normally deserve.
THE WORK of Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy is not normally the purview of this column, but he had a piece last week dealing with the media that merits reaction here.
Entitled "A great darkness has fallen in Gaza," Levy's article deplores both the official ban on entry by any Israeli citizens into the Strip - including journalists who are permitted to enter other areas under Palestinian control - that has been in effect since Hamas took control there, as well as what he sees as the apathy of his colleagues in objecting to this situation.
"The press bowed its head, submissive and obedient," wrote Levy, "as in the bad old days when it maintained other disgraceful silences, from Qibya to Kafr Qasem. Was it too much to expect some signs of protest on the part of the media regarding the ongoing closure, whose end is not in sight? Should it accept as self-evident the explanations of the defense establishment to the effect that it is 'dangerous' in Gaza and that there are warnings about journalists being kidnapped?"
To which my response is, "Are you kidding me?"
It is indeed an unfortunate situation that Israeli reporters are not currently able to work freely in Gaza - although I seriously question whether any journalist is able to do so, given the current conditions there. I know many local journalists who are dying to get into Gaza - not necessarily because, like Levy, they are filled with the fervor to add to what he seems to believe is a shortage of media accounts of Palestinian suffering, but simply from a professional desire to report the story from where it's happening, just like their foreign counterparts.
But to question whether they would really run risks there, or whether the government has a legitimate interest in avoiding Israeli citizens being taken prisoner by Islamic radicals, surely suggests a serious disconnect from reality. How anyone can even propose that after the kidnapping of the BBC's Alan Johnston last summer is beyond me.
What's more, Johnston did not simply walk free in the end; there was a price that had to be paid for his release, which is all I will say here. For an Israeli citizen, that price would certainly involve a prisoner release, as it does currently for Gilad Schalit.
Is Levy suggesting that if a Haaretz writer is taken captive in Gaza, the paper's management would make absolutely no demands on the government to obtain his or her release? If so, I'd like to hear them say that.
Or does he believe that he or any of his Haaretz colleagues would be exempt from such a threat - a thought that Johnston no doubt had prior to his snatching?
Let's be clear here. Even those journalists still reporting from Gaza are not allowed to operate freely there. Palestinian reporters and stringers with an attitude less than accommodating to its Hamas rulers have been subject to continual harassment, accounts of which abound, elsewhere than in Levy's columns. And foreign correspondents know they operate within certain restrictions: Notice the virtual absence of stories about the Dagmush clan that kidnapped Johnston since his release last year.
Levy writes about his colleagues in the Israeli media, "A rare coalition, almost wall-to-wall, seems to be very pleased with Gaza being closing off to coverage."
While many may indeed not share his views about the situation there - and while some of his other complaints about the shortcomings of the Israel media's coverage of Gaza are legitimate - that arrogant statement is simply false and insulting to journalists far better and more professional than he.