Media Comment: The steamroller

The brouhaha raised by the media in view of Peretz’s statement on assimilation was but a minor precursor to the media steamroller on Peretz’s comments about the LGBT community.

By ELI POLLAK
July 17, 2019 21:19
Media Comment: The steamroller

Israel's Education minister Rafi Peretz arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / REUTERS)

In the satirical movie, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, the Ron Burgundy character has a new idea for producing news: “Why do we have to tell the people what they need to hear? Why can’t we just tell them what they want to hear?” In Israel, that would be “Why can’t we just tell them what we want them to hear?”
 
The steamroller was in full operation these past two weeks. Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz made the statement that “The scale of Jewish assimilation in North America is like a second Holocaust.” Peretz is not the only one who thinks this way. Prof. Ben Zion Netanyahu, the prime minister’s father, was a highly acclaimed historian, whose expertise focused on Spanish Jewry and the Spanish Inquisition. In a private conversation, he noted to one of us (Eli Pollak) that the Jewish people are the biggest failure of history. There were more than a million Jews over two thousand years ago. Had we been a normal people, there would be more Jews in the world today than Chinese. But we are small – not due to the Crusaders, the blood libels, the pogroms and the Nazis, but because of assimilation.
 
In his Haaretz op-ed last Friday titled “Israel’s Education Minister Just Said Most American Jews Are Dead to Him,” Anshel Pfeffer wrote that “Rafi Peretz can’t get why calling US Jewish assimilation a ‘second Holocaust’ is so offensive. It shows that Israel’s religious nationalists now have about as much in common with liberal US Jews as Pharisees and Jesus did”
 
It might surprise Pfeffer, that it was a Reform rabbi, Prof. Emile Fackenheim, who coined the “intermarriage is Shoah” analogy in 1968, writing that Jews need to believe that the Holocaust must be understood as an imperative requiring Jews to carry on Jewish existence and the survival of the State of Israel. For him, the continuance of Jewish life was the essence of denying Hitler a posthumous victory. He termed it the 614th mitzvah. Perhaps Pfeffer should have attacked Peretz, an Orthodox rabbi, for adopting the language of a Reform rabbi.
 
The brouhaha raised by the media in view of Peretz’s statement on assimilation was but a minor precursor to the media steamroller on Peretz’s comments about the LGBT community. Even this newspaper joined in with an op-ed on Monday titled “Peretz should go.”

Freedom of speech, a fair shake or any other idealistic democratic value was forgotten. Army Radio had on its 6:50 a.m. Monday morning discussion two guests: a gay, a lesbian and moderator Effi Trigger, who in the past has also not hidden his “progressive” views. Indeed, the barrage against Peretz came from all sides, even from the prime minister. For once, the media agreed with the right-wing politicians.
 
Politicians have a right to voice their opinions, but so does the rather large community that does not identify with LGBTs, their garish parades and their need to flaunt their lifestyle. No one in Israel dare point out that perhaps same-sex families are not really fair towards the mothers who give birth and then, due to financial straits, have to give away their child. Could it not be that the psychological price paid by these mothers is not less than that of the gay person who is mishandled by a psychologist trying to make them straight? But no, the steamroller will simply flatten anyone who even dares raise anything against this community.
 
It is just as surprising to find serious people, as in this newspaper, calling on Peretz to resign because his opinions “are offensive to large numbers of Israelis.” Did anyone demand that Ms. Shulamit Aloni or Prof. Yuli Tamir resign as education minister because their opinions on too many issues angered large swaths of Israeli society? Where are the liberals? Is an education minister allowed to have an agenda only when it does not conflict with the political correctness steamroller?
THE TRAGIC KILLING of Solomon Tekah is another striking example. MK Nir Barkat, former mayor of Jerusalem, issued a statement that the demonstrations were funded by the New Israel Fund (NIF). This was not an idle claim. The New Israel Fund stands behind an organization called “Standing Together.” Its website proudly presents their activities as an organization dedicated to interconnecting the struggles of segments of Israel’s society. In our understanding, this stands for sowing seeds of intercommunal conflict, as well as conflict with the government. Their members, wearing purple shirts, were quite visible at a good few of the demonstrations in the wake of the death of Tekah. They proudly call upon the American public to donate to them via… the New Israel Fund.
 
Mr. Avi Yalou, of Ethiopian descent, a central instigator behind the demos, has close ties to the NIF. He was a program fellow of the NIF-funded Shaharit organization in 2016-2017 (Shaharit received $140,000 from the NIF in 2017, as per the NIF website). He served as CEO of the Hila – For Equality in Education organization, and among its executive committee is Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the NIF. Today, Yalou manages the networking department (also known as “Graduates Forum”) at Olim Beyahad. This group received $30,000 from the NIF in 2017. Yalou is no innocent babe in the woods. Yet Effi Trigger of Army Radio invited him as a discussant without giving the public any inkling of his background.
 
When Barkat came out on July 3 with his exposure of the NIF, he was interviewed on KAN by Ran Binyamini. The latter, after Barkat was off-air, had the gall to ridicule Barkat, adding that he personally asked the NIF and they said they were not funding the Ethiopian demos. Of course, the NIF did not fund the demos directly. However any first year journalist could have, with a bit of research, found the fingerprint of the NIF everywhere in the organizations and people behind the violence.
 
It did not surprise us that Dr. Tehila Altshuler, who is a senior fellow at the left-wing Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI), in her op-ed in The Jerusalem Post on July 11, had nary a word to say about the funding of the demonstrations and the lack of media attention to this critical question. The IDI is part and parcel of the steamroller.
 
At the same time, we do not want to claim that the whole issue was a political bandwagon funded by the Left, taking advantage of the Ethiopian community. There is no doubt that this community suffers serious difficulties and it is the duty of Israeli society to help them out, which it does, by the way, in many different ways – scholarships for students of Ethiopian origin are but a small example. But the whole discussion never revolved about the love and warmth showered upon the community by many, many Israelis.
 
We can only dream of the day when the media steamroller runs out of steam and the discourse in Israel becomes truly open and multi-faceted.
 
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il)


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