I am a strong believer in the concept that journalists are not the story. They are the means by which the story will hopefully get out.
However, for more than a year, the Israel Broadcasting Authority has become the story. For far longer than that, the English-language television and radio at the IBA have been the object of apathy on the part of management, and unfortunately by definition, that meant also the government, which has maintained a quasi-supervisory role in the running of public radio and television.
Somehow, the English-language programming had survived, but once former communications minister Gilad Erdan, with the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was able to push through a bill during the previous government that called for closing the IBA, in favor of a new public broadcasting body, the future of English programming appeared as bleak as ever.
Now, as the entire outgoing IBA has been trimmed down to the extent that even some Hebrew-language departments are having difficulty operating, the result has been that English television is off the air, and the radio station is hanging by a thread.
As expected, the government was not able to meet its self-imposed deadline of September 30 for closing the old IBA and opening a new authority. The Knesset amended the law to extend the old authority’s life to March 31. But frankly, in the meantime, many of the employees have been put through an emotional hell, as I told The Jerusalem Post’s Greer Fay Cashman in an article that appeared on October 11, over what the future will bring, both financially and professionally.
From the early 1980s, when I first started broadcasting on IBA’s Kol Yisrael Radio, many of my colleagues and I argued that we were not hasbara, a government informational arm. We were, however, a source of Israeli English-language news on a daily basis, trying to tell the full story. For the many people around the world who had complained that the foreign media were not reporting about Israel in its proper context, we saw ourselves as an alternative.
However, because senior officials at the IBA over the years commonly felt that they had to look over their shoulders at what government members thought about them, and because there has never been a strong English-language lobby with enough political clout, it was hard to advance the cause of English broadcasts.
Having said that, the English journalists were able to promote their product.
According to the department director at that time, English radio news faced the prospect in the early 1980s of becoming a 24-hour service.
For whatever reason, it never happened.
But that’s it. Anyone interested, can hear me give an hour’s lecture about how difficult it has been to try to have Israel’s voice heard around the world: the obstacles imposed by the very same people whose voices, opinions, and policies we have been trying to publicize, and how they have had the nerve to then complain that we don’t give voice to their side of the political spectrum.
However, I prefer to talk about what an adventure this has been. It has been a dream come true. Just weeks after finishing college in New York and moving to Israel, I was in the Knesset corridors. I still remember my first political interview with MK Moshe Arens, who was then chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Just a few months earlier, I knew very little about Israeli politics and diplomacy. But before long, I was interviewing Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. In fact, I have interviewed every prime minister since Shamir, and covered every national election since the 1980s. I sat privately with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in his office – just him, me, and a security guard before Rosh Hashana 1995 – never imagining that within a couple of months, I’d be covering an emergency cabinet meeting following his assassination.
There was the time that Ehud Barak – after stepping down as military chief of staff – revealed to me what Rabin had been willing to concede to the Syrians.
There was the private 2000 meeting with opposition leader Ariel Sharon for some 90 minutes, in which he urged me to use both The Jerusalem Post and Kol Yisrael’s English News to call upon the Jewish world to stop Barak – who was then prime minister – from making concessions on Jerusalem in talks with the Palestinians.
I will never forget my visit to a Gaza refugee camp, nor the time that an Italian tourist, seated just a few places away from me in the Knesset VIP gallery, proceeded to jump down into the plenum, in what was apparently no more than a prank by someone who might have had emotional problems, but was feared at the time to have been a terrorist attack.
I could go on forever, but my point is this. My dream was to be a journalist, and upon moving to Israel, it was to tell the world about the Jewish state in a language that so much of the world speaks. I have lived Israeli history, and have portrayed it to the listening public, hopefully in the best way I know how, despite the efforts of those who have felt that it is not important.
My hope is that my colleagues and I are not done.
But we are not the story. The future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people in a complicated world is the story. Where I continue doing my work is less important.
The most important objective is for the leaders to somehow figure out and implement a plan to put an end to violence, and bring peace and mutual understanding to our region and the world. And if I can be there to report about it, it would just make the dreamcome- true complete.
The writer has worked with Kol Yisrael’s English Radio of the Israel Broadcasting Authority since 1981.