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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
A few days prior to the election, two top Israeli journalists - known for their rare combination of intelligence, courage and integrity - threw a veritable bombshell into the otherwise soporific electoral debate.
To preserve the large lead that Ariel Sharon gained for his newly formed Kadima, under the leadership of the less popular Ehud Olmert, party strategists decided to keep the election campaign on a low key. Though Israel faces some life-and-death choices that voters should understand and sort out, Kadima strategists refused to have Olmert debate his two chief rivals, the Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu and Labor's Amir Peretz. They also managed to have a very supportive media keep any serious issue out of the public's eye.
This is why the extraordinarily critical articles, one by senior Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, and the other by Guy Rolnik, Haaretz and theMarker economic editor, people from the Left, mind you, would have created a media firestorm in any normal country.
Shavit and Rolnik asserted that Netanyahu, whom the media marked as enemy of the poor and a peon of the rich, was actually the man who saved the Israeli economy from collapse and protected the poor; that he was the one who broke the major power of the rich, the bank monopoly; and that conversely, Kadima and its leader, the darlings of the media, may actually endanger Israel's security, and corrupt its democratic system and its economy.
In "The Country Is In Our Hands," an imaginary secret memo submitted to the 18 families that control most assets in Israel by their chief strategists, Shavit wrote: "It was impossible to buy Netanyahuâ€¦ when he dared threaten the banks, we suddenly understood that the man is not oursâ€¦ therefore we made a determined strategic decision: Bibi has outlived his usefulness, Bibi must goâ€¦."
"To face the danger [emanating from Netanyahu's reforms]â€¦ we had to form a political body that will serve us [the oligarchy] faithfully, and we had to head it by one of our ownâ€¦" "E.O. is A1... his door is always openâ€¦ there is not a deal that he won't cutâ€¦ we have gained access that is comparable only to what the rich have in Latin Americaâ€¦"
"The new ruling party will be a most useful instrument for gaining our objectivesâ€¦ it will enable us to have total control of the Israeli government, of the police, the state prosecutor's office, the treasury (and the various regulatory bodies)â€¦ Our 20th-century dysfunctional democracy will be replaced by a centralized oligarchyâ€¦"
ROLNIK MADE equally dramatic charges. In his piece "Kadima [onwards] - For The Benefit Of Our Rich Friends" he wrote: "Netanyahu was made to look as the elite's manâ€¦ Political, social and economic commentators tell us that he made the rich richer and the poor poorer. Nice story, but little relation to realityâ€¦ the rich hate Bibi, they are connected to Olmert and prefer even Peretzâ€¦ [Netanyahu] was the worst minister of finance the rich families controlling the economy ever got."
"Netanyahu totally backed the removal of the banks from their chief source of power - their control of financial marketsâ€¦" "[Netanyahu's] cuts [in government handouts] have saved the economy from collapse, [they have generated the brisk growth] that makes it possible for all the politicians to make promises for more handoutsâ€¦"
"We know Ehud Olmertâ€¦ he can be relied upon, Nochi [Dankner] relies on him, Mossie [Wertheimer] relies on him, Eitan [Raff] relies on him, they [the oligarchs] all rely on him - he will not disappoint themâ€¦"
In addition, Shavit, a fervent supporter of total withdrawal from the disputed territories, also charged that Olmert's promise to make unilateral withdrawals without securing international backing for the total demilitarization of these territories is so irresponsible and dangerous - because it will enable Hamas to establish on the doorstep of Israel a Jihadi regime supported by Iran and Syria - that he was unfit to be prime minister.
Both Shavit and Rolnik are politically close to Kadima's policy of total withdrawal from the disputed territories. However, unlike most of the media their integrity prevented them from joining the virulently anti-Netanyahu campaign which the pro-unconditional-withdrawal media exploited to advance their agenda; it has also prevented them from participating in the systematic cover-up of Kadima's and Labor's shortcomings.
But it did not matter, because they were a drop in an ocean of media manipulations and distortions.
THE MEDIA did not even report or comment on Shavit's and Rolnik's unusual criticism so most people were not aware of its existence.
Israel has three major TV channels, several radio stations plus a number of very competitive newspapers. Yet the very liberal (in its own eyes) Israeli media have a united political voice and a single agenda, the promotion of a Palestinian state no matter how jingoistic, oppressive or dictatorial it is. They make sure that no other voice is heard, and if heard, that it is discredited.
People in the media are entitled, of course, to their opinions. But it is questionable whether Israeli democracy can thrive when the media manage "to inject themselves as an actor in this campaign in a manner unprecedented in Israeli electoral history" as Yaron Dekel, senior commentator of Israel's "public" TV Channel 1 put it, and does it not only by manipulating the news but by outright fabrications.
In fact, it is likely that the media's success in squelching a vigorous public debate on the urgent issues facing Israel is also the reason for the worrisome and extremely low voter participation.