Supreme Court justice Yitzhak Zamir.
(photo credit: JONATHAN KLINGER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
“The definition and sign of a true democracy is a free press,” said former Supreme Court justice Yitzhak Zamir when asked to comment on the current public broadcasting controversy. “The struggle against the media in Israel is a struggle against criticism.”
Zamir was speaking late on Monday night at a Bar Ilan University conference celebrating the publication of Unrobed. The book contains unprecedented interviews with former justices about behind-the-scenes activities and their views on major legal decisions.
“What is their anxiety about criticism for?” Zamir asked as part of a panel discussion. “A strong society does not worry about criticism. Fear of criticism shows we do not trust that our principles are solid,” he said in a thinly veiled critique of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent assault on the new public broadcasting corporation.
The move to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority was led a few years ago by then-communications minister Gilad Erdan. The goal of the effort, in part, was to gain influence over the direction of reported news.
However, when Netanyahu saw that some of his opponents could potentially head the new authority, he launched a series of attempts to eliminate it.
He eventually reached a compromise with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon that eliminated several news managers whom Netanyahu wanted removed.
Zamir and others on the panel criticized Netanyahu for attacking the authority and for concessions he negotiated in the deal with Kahlon.
Former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner said, “The media can only be defended by the public. But you can also incite the public against the media and against individual journalists.”
Netanyahu’s actions and the compromise with Kahlon made her “very worried,” Dorner said, and showed that Israeli “democracy is weak.”
“The prime minister complained that the media is not in touch with the public,” she added. “Every ruler does not like criticism. If the government loves the media then the media is not doing its job because the media is the gatekeeper.”
Former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel – a judge for 38 years, 10 of them on the Supreme Court – disagreed, saying he did not think Israeli democracy is in danger and that the media itself must do some soul-searching about the objectivity of its reporting.