There is no public body that the Israeli media enjoy poking fun at more than the Likud central committee. The local political language is full of nasty terms referring to that much-derided institution: "monkey's speech," "sausage central," "night of the microphones," "building 28" and many more. All denote events at past committee meetings and are dredged up again and again by hostile journalists. The buffoonery of Uzi Cohen would never have made him a national celebrity if the press hadn't wanted to portray him as archetypical central committee member.
You don't have to be a Likudnik to be incensed by this condescending attitude.
The Likud central committee, with some 3,000 members, is the largest democratic-representative body in Israel, representing a wide variety of views, social classes and walks of life; perhaps even Israeli society as a whole.
The bustle of the central committee a typical Israeli balagan. It's a packed national park on Independence Day; it's the departures terminal of Ben-Gurion Airport right before the holidays; it's the Ayalon Mall at the end-of-season sales: Thousands of sweaty people, shouting, pushing, laughing, backslapping. That's the way we Israelis look. But the media, for years, have been portraying the central committee not only as a bizarre zoo populated by creatures disconnected from reality, but also as the real ruling body in the country.
This perspective was again in evidence this week in coverage of the central committee's meeting and vote on whether to bring forward the leadership primaries. This time it reached new levels of absurdity when the NRG Ma'ariv Web site even had a short video clip showing Likud leaders and members walking around the convention center in fast-forward looking ridiculous to the tune of one of the Likud's election jingles.
Mockery also found its way into the reports of serious analysts. When the polling closed on Monday evening and the high turnout 90 percent was reported, Kol Yisrael Radio's veteran political commentator Hanan Kristal said that "it's a sign of a sick movement, that they had to drag even the sick and elderly to vote, they've reached the bottle of the barrel." This is a preposterous idea. In any other situation, a high turnout is a sign of a movement's vitality. But saying something positive about the Likud central committee just isn't done.
Once again the advance opinion polls were way off. On Sunday morning, Ma'ariv's poll predicted that the motion calling for immediate primaries would be passed by a 55%-45% margin. This was only the last in a series of polls published in the press giving the Netanyahu camp a clear majority.
In the end, Sharon beat Netanyahu's camp by 3%. In this case, the disparity between the polls and the actual results are simple to explain. It had nothing to do with a surge of sympathy for Sharon following the sabotage of his microphone, as some observers tried to explain. Rather the polls were unreliable from the start. It's impossible to obtain a reliable sample for an opinion poll from such a small body.
Of course, the polling experts are well aware of this problem, but why blame them when newspaper editors are willing to pay them good money for more polls?
The producers of the television news shows were in a quandary over how to treat the video showing Sasson Nuriel, the Jewish Jerusalem resident kidnapped and murdered by Hamas last week. Although the film didn't show any violence, the sight of the frightened, bound captive was harrowing. In addition, the Nuriel family had asked that the footage not be broadcast. Channels 2 and 10 decided to show the video. News anchor Yonit Levi warned that it was difficult viewing, but of historical and journalistic importance. Channel 1 showed it but obscured Nuriel's terrified face.
This dilemma has no easy solution. In Israel and in most Western countries, for the last few years, the rule of thumb has been that close-up images of casualties of terror attacks are not shown, in consideration of the families involved and to accord victims final dignity. This week's film though is a different matter. It is not the work of professional photographers but a Hamas production. The question is: doesn't broadcasting such material provide a platform for the terrorists' propaganda and help achieve their aim of panicking the Israeli public.
For this reason, some US television channels had decided in the past not to show terrorist videos of abducted Westerners. But nowadays they are universally shown, with exception of the gruesome stabbings and beheadings. For those you still have to go to Al-Jazeera and sick Web sites.
The free world's media has arrived at the correct conclusion: broadcasting what the terrorists see as terrorizing propaganda can only help us gain a better understanding of what we are up against. For the same reason, despite the family's obvious anguish, it was vital for the Israeli public to see the Hamas video of Sasson Nuriel.