Media Comment: ‘Educating’ the public

If there is any justification for the existence of a public broadcaster, it is the need to provide the public with high-quality information, culture and entertainment.

June 5, 2013 21:31

YITZHAK SHAMIR 370. (photo credit: Courtesy: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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If there is any justification for the existence of a public broadcaster, it is the need to provide the public with high-quality information, culture and entertainment. The litmus test of the public network is whether it provides a product which the public cannot receive elsewhere, especially from the commercial networks. It is not an accident that Israel’s Knesset has repeatedly demanded, and also supplied funding to the Israel Broadcasting Authority earmarked for, authentic Israeli programming.

Years ago, the IBA supplied the goods. Competition was meager and the IBA’s news program was the major purveyor of news to the Israeli public.

IBA’s documentaries of that period have become classics; Pillar of Fire for example recounted 50 years of Jewish and Israeli history leading to the establishment of Israel in 1948.

However, the IBA’s productivity during the past 15 years has been disappointing. The 1998 documentary Tekuma, the sequel of Pillar of Fire, described the history of the state after 1948. It included one-sided descriptions of the Arab “resistance movement.” The present-day IBA documentary department, under the direction of Itai Landsberg, excels in purveying material which can be used by Israel’s detractors all over the world.

A classic case is the documentary The Gatekeepers, produced by Dror Moreh and screened all over the world as a candidate for an Oscar. As the film’s website has it, “for the first time ever, six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service agency, agree to share their insights and reflect publicly on their actions and decisions. Intimately interviewed, they shed light on the controversy surrounding the Occupation in the aftermath of the Six Day War.”

The TV version is a six-chapter series, funded in large part by the IBA and being aired currently on the IBA’s Channel 1 TV station. The first part appeared this past Sunday, under the title: The true story – the Gatekeepers.

As described on the IBA website the subtitle of this first part, “No strategy, only tactics,” is a citation from Avraham Shalom.

Shalom accuses Israel’s leaders at that time of not really knowing what to do with the territories regained by Israel in the 1967 war. It also deals with the failures of the security services to prevent terror attacks perpetrated by Israelis in the 1980s, known as the Jewish underground, as well as the murder of left-wing activist Emil Greenzweig.

The website does not remind us that Shalom was forced to resign his position as Shin Bet head due to his role in the infamous killing of two of the perpetrators of the 1984 terror attack on Egged bus No. 300.

Shalom lied in his testimony regarding this affair, accusing prime minister Yitzhak Shamir of authorizing the killing, an accusation Shamir vehemently denied. Shalom escaped trial as he received a presidential pardon.

One can summarize Shalom’s stint as head of the service as a colossal failure, which to this day hinders the actions of the service.

The decision to fund this series was made when the chairman of the IBA was Moshe Gavish and Mordechai Shaklar was its director. The present heads of the IBA, chairman Amir Gilat and director Yoni Ben-Menachem, decided that the series should be supplemented with an in-depth discussion of the contents after each chapter aired. The panel was balanced and included Yossi Beilin from the extreme Left of Israel’s ideological spectrum; Effie Eitam from the Right; Professor Ephraim Inbar, arguably right-of-center; Professor Yossi Shain, Left; and Chanan Gefen, a former commander of the IDF’s 8200 intelligence unit.

Moreh was unhappy with this development. As reported in Haaretz, Moreh stated: “I’m disgusted over the discussion and the people that Channel 1 put on after the program. I have no doubt the discussion was a political dictate from above. The people chosen to participate were also carefully selected. Instead of letting the program and the series and the Shin Bet chiefs speak their piece, they chose a foolish and populist discussion that we’ve heard thousands of times. I very much hope the viewers fled to another channel!” “In this film, six security services chiefs talk for the first time, so please, let every Israeli judge for himself. Why politicize this?” Moreh was allowed to voice his sharp criticism also on the IDF’s Galatz news radio program, without anyone asking him serious, probing questions.

Moreh wants us and the world to believe he is objective, providing the nonpolitical testimony of these six men. The truth is that all six are highly political, and have axes to grind. Two of them are serious failures. In addition to Shalom, Carmi Gillon was head of the services when prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated and in the aftermath was also forced to leave his position.

Ya’akov Peri is a left-wing politician and is presently a minister in the government, coming from the Yesh Atid party. Ami Ayalon was a member of the Labor party, and is well known for his left-wing political initiatives. Avi Dichter, arguably a centrist, is also a politician, who joined the failed Kadima party and served as the minister of internal security. The sixth, Yuval Diskin, also joined the political fray. After being forced to leave the service and prior to the recent elections he stated: “I don’t trust the prime minister or the defense minister. I don’t trust a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic impulses.”

But what about Moreh himself? Consider the following pearls of wisdom emanating from him: “I felt during my visit to the United States that the majority of Jews in the USA support Israel whatever the situation is.” He then adds: “In fact, this harms the State of Israel. They don’t understand that we are moving toward an apartheid state.”

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour he said: “This is the major problem in Israel. Those people, those extreme right-wing leaders and people in Israel are the biggest threat to the existence of the State of Israel because every time that you see there is a shift toward movement, slowly toward peace, they are – they come inside and they create the greatest havoc.”

The head of the Documentary Division of the IBA also was not happy with the panel format.

He agreed with Moreh that it was unnecessary and smacks of political intervention.

It would seem both Landsberg and Moreh are somewhat afraid someone may just pronounce publicly that the king is naked. A true professional would have congratulated the present heads of the IBA for being willing on the one hand to broadcast a biased and manipulative documentary, in the name of artistic freedom, while on the other hand assure the Authority’s duty to provide depth and balance. Landsberg’s opposition only proves he does not deserve his position at the IBA.

On a more personal note, Howard Grief passed away this past Sunday evening from complications of a blood infection.

In stark contrast to people of Moreh’s ilk, Howard was one of those modest but devoted persons to the state and people of Israel. His life’s work was a legal defense of Israel’s historic and international rights in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. In contrast to Moreh’s, his work was based on exhaustive, thorough analysis, documentation and diplomatic records. We extend to his family our sincere condolences on the loss of a husband and father and regret that his critical review of the media on legal issues has been halted. Who knows? Perhaps one day the IBA’s leadership will realize Howard’s life story deserves its own documentary, which will not only be interesting but will also truly support our beleaguered state.

The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (

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