The news business is like a river.
This is one of the critical lessons I learned over the last year and a half as editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
Practically, it means this: Like a river, news flows constantly, at an even faster pace today than in the past. On the one hand, this is an advantage: If you miss something or get something wrong, there is always tomorrow. The river keeps moving.
On the other hand, this constant-flowing river makes a reporter’s job harder. Journalists want their work to have an impact, to make a difference. But when there is so much volume and splashing noise from so many news sources, it is harder to stand out and effect change.
This never-ending news river was evident during the recent hurricanes in America. Last week, everyone was focused on Hurricane Irma. But what about Harvey? Have we all forgotten what happened just a week earlier?
While the river presents a challenge, I like to look at it is an opportunity. Some media outlets have decided that to stand out they need to sensationalize the news, embrace yellow journalism and focus on clickbait. At the Post, we stick to our principles and bring you, our readers, stories that matter while ensuring that they are told as objectively as possible.
On this, we will not waver.
We don’t let the river drown us in fake news. Just because a headline might be forgotten the next day doesn’t mean we can take our jobs lightly. We have a responsibility to get the news right, to portray stories accurately, and to rely only on what can be proven as fact. That is how we do news.
This river though doesn’t exist just in the media industry. It is also found in our political system. There, too, politicians think that to stand out they sometimes need to go to the extreme, to take positions that seem beyond the pale, all for the sake of winning a headline or a TV sound bite.
But they also understand that everything moves on in the river’s current, so they can afford to say something radical one day because by the next day it will likely be forgotten.
Take the way our political leaders treat the Supreme Court. On the one hand, they have no problem attacking the court, slamming it for interfering in the legislative process and in initiating legislation and other measures that will restrict it.
I tend to believe that many of these same politicians wake up every day and thank God that there exists a Supreme Court in Israel that has adopted an activist approach. They know that if the court didn’t function this way, they, the politicians, would have to make tough decisions and do what they were elected to do: govern.
For example, take the ongoing crisis over the Western Wall.
The High Court recently told the government to reconsider its decision to freeze the Kotel compromise. Deep inside, Benjamin Netanyahu actually hopes that the court will force him to establish the pluralistic prayer plaza.
If this happens, he will be able to repair ties with the Diaspora and tell the haredi parties – which forced him to cancel the compromise – that it was the court’s fault. The haredim, in return, will be able to tell their constituents that it wasn’t their presence in the coalition that enabled the deal to go through; it was ordered by the court.
This reality applies to numerous other situations in Israel. The government doesn’t want to pass a law that creates equality in the IDF, the court will order them to do so; the government doesn’t want to decide to allow stores to remain open on Shabbat in Tel Aviv, the court will take care of it. It’s the way politics works here: On issues of religion and state, politicians don’t want to decide, because they know the court will do it for them. Instead of governing, politicians prefer to do nothing and instead blame the court.
This reality though is unsustainable. It is also possible to be better. Israel wasn’t established to be a passive state. Zionism is about having the ability to determine our own destiny. All we have to do is decide what we want.
Does the government really want to achieve a two-state solution with the Palestinians, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared for the last eight years? If so, then steps need to be taken to make that possible. Restrictions need to be lifted on Palestinians in the West Bank, economic opportunities need to be created, and concessions need to be made.
If the answer is no, then a whole new world of possibilities opens up for Israel: It can annex the West Bank, and remove all stops on settlement construction. There will a diplomatic price to pay, but at least Israel will have decided what it wants.
The same applies to Jerusalem: Do we want to keep the city united or not? If we do, then the eastern part of the city needs to look like the western part. Law and order needs to be enforced in Jbel Mukaber just as it is in Katamon. In Sheikh Jarrah, building violations need to be stopped, and parking tickets need to be issued just as they are in Beit Hakerem. If municipal workers can’t enter Shuafat without a police escort, then something is wrong. If Kafr Akab – located on the other side of a wall – is a place where 99% of Israelis have never visited, then maybe it is time to seriously consider whether the neighborhood really needs to remain within Jerusalem’s municipal borders.
The festival surrounding Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations is another example of the nation’s lack of focus. The Prime Minister’s Office dropped hints all week over what Netanyahu will say at the UN and what prop he will use. All of this though is meant to distract us from what is really important: action. There is no question that the prime minister is an amazing orator, but a speech is just a speech if it is not followed up by decisions.
It is time for the country to make some serious decisions on matters of religion and state. Seventy years after the establishment of the State of Israel, it is not fair or democratically right to hold the majority hostage to the whims of a minority just because they are needed for government coalitions.
If nearly 400,000 Israeli citizens – who serve in the IDF, pay taxes and fulfill their national obligations – cannot get married here, something is wrong. Living in a democracy means you have obligations, but you also have rights, and marriage is one of them. A country where such a large percentage of its people can’t do that has a serious problem.
The new year 5778 can be the year of change. It can be a year of decisions. We might be on a river, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t make the journey count.Shana Tova!