Behind the Lines: This year's top 10 angels fallen from media grace

The recurring theme this year was the speed with which the media erected monuments only to tear them down shortly thereafter.

By ANSHEL PFEFFER
September 21, 2006 22:32
amir peretz 88

amir peretz 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Revisiting some of the columns I wrote this year, it struck me that the recurring theme was the speed with which we in the media erected monuments only to tear them down shortly thereafter. Each idea, personality or organization we heralded as a revolution - after which nothing would ever be the same again - we ended up eulogizing mere months later. In other words, as swift as we were to lionize, we were equally quick to bury. The following is a list of the top 10 media personalities of the year, whom the press tried to make and break - and about whom they could never make up their minds. Hassan Nasrallah It's a toss-up who has done more to boost his stardom, Al Jazeera or the Israeli media. Hizbullah has never given us an interview, but Nasrallah's still one of the most familiar faces on our screens. The decision to withdraw from the security zone in Lebanon six years ago was the result of election promises and public campaigning, but somehow the myth that Nasrallah had single-handedly kicked the IDF out was perpetuated - by the Israeli side as well. So, too, with the Tennenbaum deal - portrayed as another stroke of the master, instead of what it really was, plain and simple gangster tactics. The way Nasrallah was depicted not only made Hizbullah seem more powerful that it really was, but also convinced him that he could get away with anything against Israel. But a month after the end of the war, even if it wasn't a resounding success for Israel, Nasrallah still has to emerge from his bunker. He's lost at least a quarter of his fighting force; will find it much more difficult now to threaten Israel's border; and his Iranian bosses aren't very pleased with his timing. He's still a hero on the Arab street, though, for whatever that's worth. Ariel Sharon As the year began, he seemed indestructible. Nothing was able to touch him, not the enmity of the settlers, nor rivalry within a rebellious Likud, nor charges of corruption. The press, along with most of the public, was lost in a prolonged love-fest with the man who had gone from being the most reviled figure in Israeli politics to everyone's "Grandpa Arik." Leaving the Likud and founding Kadima was heralded as the ultimate master-stroke promising an unthinkable majority and a new government in which Sharon would be the all-powerful leader. His age was seen not as a liability, but rather as a guarantee of his wisdom and experience. Even his girth was regarded with affection. This lionizing may have contributed to Sharon's final downfall. After his first minor stroke, the public expectation that the superman would automatically spring back up again and resume business-as-usual had to be satisfied. So the great man's last lucid days had to be spent in a frantic effort to show everyone that he was indeed a superman. While any other grandfather with his condition would have been sent on a well-deserved leave, Sharon carried on chairing cabinet meetings, giving speeches and briefing journalists. How ironic that by the end of this year, Sharon is only barely alive, thanks to life-support machines; and the very people who reached the top of the ladder by clinging to his coattails are now quietly blaming him for the country's current predicament. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad The clownish Persian, who out of nowhere was elected last year as president of Iran, this year joined a long line of enemies who embody the eternal effort to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Every speech and interview given by Ahmadinejad was automatically hoisted to the main headlines, as if - out of masochism - we couldn't get enough of his Holocaust denials, plans to transplant us back to Europe and threats to continue with his deadly nuclear program. Instead of treating him with the ridicule he deserves and likening him to the other tinpot dictators he keeps company with, we have accorded Ahmadinejad power he doesn't enjoy. More serious experts who have said that he is little more than a titular figurehead with little control over Iranian policy have been marginalized. The fact is that the real power in Teheran rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei and the Guardians Council, who have already indicated their displeasure with Ahmadinejad's antics by forming a Strategic Council for Foreign Relations. That is where the real decisions on whether Iran will continue to develop a doomsday weapon - and whether it will ever be used - are to be taken. Until Israel and the world engage the threat seriously, we will continue wasting our time and attentions on the bogeyman. Amir Peretz Last Friday, there was a private screening of Nitzan Hen's documentary, Work, Bread and Agenda, in Tel Aviv. The film deals with the social agenda that briefly seemed to be dominating this year's election campaign, and that had already become anachronistic. It's main hero, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, got up onto the stage at the end and tried to convince us that "What you saw is the real Amir." But no one really cared anymore. After so many dashed hopes of finally having a leader with a different set of priorities - one who had risen from "the second Israel" - the question now isn't why Peretz failed, but how so many experienced observers and players had bought into the illusion. We were so fed up with "politics-as-usual," that we were willing to believe one man could prevail against the system. It's not just Peretz's personal shortcomings at the root of the speedy realization that nothing has changed, however. It's the ease with which the establishment could co-opt him by offering him a juicy job; it's our addiction to father-figures and generals; and it's another small war that unleashed a wave of public discontent. The same politicians and pundits who crowned Peretz as the great hope have now all but managed to destroy him. Ehud Olmert A year ago, he was looking at his options and considering retiring from politics to pursue a lucrative career in the private sector. In the last elections, he had barely made it into the Knesset, and had little chance of success this time around in the hostile Likud Central Committee. Sharon had rewarded his loyalty with central cabinet portfolios, and even given him the empty, titular post of vice premier, but few saw him as a serious future contender for the top job. He just didn't have the necessary popularity. Kadima - the new super-party in which only Sharon would decide who got what spot - was his lifeline. But even after the split with the Likud, there were other candidates for the role of heir-apparent who excited the public imagination. On the fateful night of Sharon's massive stroke and final incapacitation, the constitutional process, the widespread adoration for Sharon, the media's backing of Kadima and the public's yearning for a sense of stability provided Olmert with the support he needed for the masterful manner in which he took the reins. Boosted by Sharon's advisers and with the help of a willing media, he was suddenly portrayed as "the new Olmert," the natural successor whose controversial past and abrasive personality were suddenly brushed over with soft, consensual colors. But the makeover, ultimately, wasn't enough. The Sharon-addicted public wanted the real thing, and the air slowly escaped from the Kadima balloon, leaving the party with just enough support to win the elections by a margin. Nevertheless, Olmert was now the rightful prime minister with an ambitious agenda and a diplomatic plan of his own. And then fate struck again. Attacks in Gaza and Lebanon, three captured soldiers, a war and a cease-fire later, Olmert is back almost where he started at the beginning of the year. Prime minister at present, but few believe for very long - and once again near the bottom of the popularity sweepstakes. Committees and commissions will present reports, and partisans will continue to argue over his contribution to the war's failures and successes. In the meantime, we are all humbled by the vision of the nation's most calculating politician as a creature of fate - as well as one of image-builders and -wreckers. Dan Halutz The chief of General Staff went through three image phases this year. At first he was the shining knight of the skies, Sharon's hand-picked candidate to bring the IDF into the 21st century - and perhaps even make him his successor. Nor was he diminished after Sharon exited the stage. On the contrary, next to an inexperienced defense minister, he suddenly became an avuncular figure, the kind of experienced professional everyone wants to have around in a tight spot. This image only intensified after the capture of Gilad Shalit and in the opening stages of the war in Lebanon. Who else could we really trust at that point? But Halutz was being set up for a fall. Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin and others owed their political careers to their having been viewed as the embodiment of the glorious IDF. But this can be a double-edged sword. Now Halutz is the whipping boy for an angry public and a vindictive media, personifying the bumbling, ill-equipped and out-of-date organization. Suddenly, the brilliant officer is seen as an aloof and unsuitable sky-jockey, and the solution to the IDF's woes considered simple: Get rid of Halutz, and make sure that a pilot never again gets that job. Ilana Dayan There is much to admire about the woman, who is one of Israel's most powerful journalists. Aside from the quality of her interviews, scoops, investigative reporting and mini-documentaries on her weekly show, Uvda, that she's survived for 12 years in the chaotic world of Israeli commercial television is itself a major achievement. At the start of this year's season, Uvda was feted as "the most influential show in the country." But Dayan and Uvda received two major blows this year which raised some serious questions about the integrity and independence of the Israeli media as a whole. The first was the pressure brought by shareholders in Keshet, the company broadcasting Uvda, to suppress a piece dealing with the cover-up of a near-miss incident involving an Israir jetliner. The ensuing scandal eventually enabled Dayan to screen the segment, but it highlighted the fact that no journalist is immune to the limitations imposed by big business. The second was the acquittal of Captain R., after being accused of the unlawful killing of a Palestinian girl. Uvda had revealed recordings of the captain's radio report which seemed to indict him. He is now suing Dayan for manipulating the recordings. Whatever the outcome, the case will serve as a reminder of how easily the media reaches snap judgments and ruins reputations, sometimes to be proved wrong. Pini Gershon Whether you loved him or hated him, the Maccabi coach always seemed to personify the typical Israeli. Either the Sabra with irrepressible hutzpa, or the "ugly Israeli" who doesn't give a damn for anyone or anything. Gershon certainly appeared unstoppable. Even after giving a lecture in which he made racist remarks about black players, he was welcomed back to the basketball monopoly, Maccabi Tel Aviv, for which, as head coach, he had won three European Championships. Though a sore loser and ungracious in victory, he was always forgiven for everything, due to his almost magical ability to win every possible title, again and again. But this year, after trying to cap his career with a record-breaking fourth cup, Maccabi lost in the finals to CSKA Moscow, and for the first time Gershon was fair game. Suddenly, stories about his coaching practices and absences began coming out. Tension between him and Maccabi's shareholders came to the surface. And Gershon, who had promised that this was his last season as coach, signed up with rival team Olympiakos and disappeared to Greece. Jacko Eisenberg The Kohav Nolad (a star is born) concern has been accused of creating instant celebrities with scant artistic value, but it's hard to argue with success. In its fourth season, the TV show that plucks aspiring vocalists from around the country, and gradually narrows the field to a few contestants (the original was the UK show, Pop Idol), is still the perennial leader in the ratings, and its winners are superstar trendsetters for the nation's young generation. So what if it took Ninette Tayeb three years to bring out her first album after winning the first season? She is still Israel's ultimate teen idol, famous for being famous. The same happened in subsequent years. But this year's winner, Jacko Eisenberg, proved how quickly fame can transform into infamy. In just two weeks, he went from being the country's favorite rocker to public enemy number one. First, a song he had recorded two years ago, accusing the state of various sexual acts, was played on Army Radio; next came an interview in which he explained why army service and voting weren't for him; and finally, his generally negative attitude to other Israeli pop icons caught up with him. He lost his recording contract; various local councils vowed never to allow him to perform; and Ma'ariv's top columnist, Ben Caspit, likened him to the condition of the country. Are we really that bad? Ismail Haniyeh After a year with the colorless Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen), the Hamas victory in this year's Palestinian Authority elections at last provided us with a real hate figure. Haniyeh was an Islamist, had a beard and was Ahmed Yassin's prot g . Perhaps he could take the special place Arafat had in our hearts. The Arabists promised us a new charismatic leader who would drive hard bargains, but Haniyeh failed to deliver. It took him even longer to form a government than it took us. He didn't seem to be in control of much more than his local neighborhood. And he had no entertainment value, no firebrand speeches or wild gestures. Then, when things got really serious, he turned out to be even more impotent than he seemed at first. After Gilad Shalit was captured - in an operation by his Hamas colleagues about which he apparently wasn't informed in advance - it turned out that even the mob on the street had more power that the Palestinian prime minister, while Khaled Mashaal called the shots from Damascus. anshel@ejemm.com

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