Israel’s media prides itself as the watchdog and protector of democracy. The latest attack on democracy it seeks to highlight is the possibility Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might alter the Public Broadcasting Law, the “baby” of former communications minister Gilad Erdan.
In this column we pointed out many times that the new legislation was hasty, not well thought-out and far from accentuating the Zionist nature of the Jewish state.
We certainly would hope that the prime minister, together with current Communications Minister Ofir Akunis, does not heed the media’s cry of “wolf” regarding the government’s supposed undermining of democracy, but rather rethinks many aspects of the present law, not least the actual name of the corporation which we believe should be called The Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.
The present law is wanting. Not only does it not assure fair, balanced and ethical broadcasting on the public airwaves, nor provide a system to punish offenders for unethical behavior, but in practice achieves just the opposite. Consider the latest brouhaha over MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint List.
Ghattas flew to Athens to join the latest attempt at sending a boat to the Gaza Strip. When the story came out on Monday, Yossi Hadar, Kol Israel’s Reshet Bet anchor, asked the station’s legal expert, Professor Moshe Negbi, about the legality of Ghattas’s actions. Negbi, without blinking, claimed that there was nothing illegal about them and cited as “proof” the fact that the Supreme Court annulled the decision of Central Election Committee to ban the Balad Party from running in the elections. MK Haneen Zoabi, who partook in the Mavi Marmara flotilla, is a member of Balad, and so, Negbi concluded, her actions were legal and therefore the same applied to Ghattas.
The Ghattas story, we suggest, is one big cover-up aided by Israel’s media. Ghattas repeatedly stated that he was going on behalf of the 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip. A reliable census of the population of the Strip has not been taken for many years, yet not one Israeli anchor even questioned him as to the source of his information.
As for the legality of his actions, one should only ask advocate Nitzana Darshan- Leitner about this. Her organization, Shurat Hadin-Israel Law Center, demanded that the Swedish bank Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken stop its financial services to the Free Gaza organization. Her brief was based on what is obvious: the planned trip is an unlawful attempt to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the terrorist-controlled Gaza Strip. She noted further that “Israel’s naval blockade... is lawful,” referencing Sir George Palmer, who headed th Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Inquiry on the 31 May 2010 Flotilla Incident.
Aiding and abetting a terrorist organization is illegal in Israel, and even the act of publicly supporting a terrorist or acting in a way which encourages terrorists is also illegal. But not only did guru Negbi demonstrate his lack of knowledge, which can be tolerated (no one is perfect), or worse, his bias, but the IBA did not find it justified to provide the public with an opinion different from that offered by Negbi. It did not let the public know about Shurat Hadin’s actions. Was an editor hiding the facts of the case from the public? This incident is not an isolated one. Consider the latest OECD report. Our media feeds us stories regularly about how bad life is in Israel, how poorly we fare as compared to other OECD countries. It loves to accentuate the large disparity in Israel between rich and poor. Only the United States, Turkey and Chile are worse off. Israel’s poverty rate is the worst in the OECD. One might then think that we are a really miserable country.
But let us consider the following OECD statistics, which for some reason are kept mostly hidden from Israel’s populace. The gross salary of teachers in Israel is the third highest in the OECD, surpassed only by Poland and Estonia. Public spending on education is the third highest. Private spending on education is second highest.
Israel’s fertility rate (3.05) is the highest in the OECD. Israel is at ninth place with life expectancy at birth, with a median of 81.8.
Net pension wealth puts Israel at fifth place. Our government’s debt is smack in the middle of OECD countries. Israel leads the OECD with gross domestic spending on research and development (4.2% of GDP). The long-term unemployment rate in Israel is fifth lowest with only Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Mexico and Korea doing better. Is it then surprising that Israel is in fifth place in life satisfaction with only Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Denmark doing better? As a third example, let us consider the recent revelations of MK Michael Oren (Kulanu), our former ambassador to the United States. In his June 16 article in The Wall Street Journal he had this to say: “Nobody has a monopoly on making mistakes.
When I was Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2009 to the end of 2013, that was my standard response to reporters asking who bore the greatest responsibility – President Barack Obama or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – for the crisis in US-Israel relations. I never felt like I was lying when I said it. But, in truth, while neither leader monopolized mistakes, only one leader made them deliberately.”
Oren was roundly attacked by almost everyone in the Israeli media, as well as by his political adversaries. Barak Ravid of Haaretz
, echoing US administration spokespersons, wrote that Oren’s only aim was to sell his book. Mati Golan wrote in Globes
that “I presume that Oren’s goal was to garner popularity from the right, where he belongs.”
Of course, Oren is an outspoken supporter of the “two state solution” and claims that Israel’s construction in Judean and Samaria is harmful, but who cares about facts? Golan continues: “For this purpose, Oren is willing to sacrifice the relations between two countries and heads of state. I call this charlatanism.”
TV Channel 10 reported that “White House sources claimed that when he was ambassador, he said just the opposite... he was almost never present in the meetings.”
Yet it was only a few months ago, when Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted on appearing before the US Congress on the Iran issue, that our media was roundly attacking our present ambassador, Ron Dermer, for creating the worst atmosphere ever between Israel and the United States.
There are only two options: either the media is naïve or no matter what happens, will attack any ambassador who was appointed by the prime minister.
The truth is that our media does little investigative reporting regarding the performance of our ambassadors overseas and too many take the lead of American sources (remember the “chickensh*t” episode?).
The end result is that Israel’s media consumers are all too often kept in the dark.The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).