Media critics can be harsh, even a bit unfair. On August 30, 1888, writing to novelist Katharine Tynan, Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote, “I hate journalists.
There is nothing in them but tittering, jeering emptiness... they have given up their individuality....The shallowest people on the ridge of the earth.”
Despite perhaps unfair criticism, it is amazing that a group of professionals who engage in criticizing people, organizations, governments and policies and who delight in revealing the foibles, failings and flaws of their subjects, are themselves remarkably thin-skinned when they become the subjects of monitoring, analysis and criticism. They are also very intolerant of those who stray from their ideological-cultural line.
Ehud Ya’ari, the well-respected Arab affairs correspondent at Channel 2 news, recently suffered a peer-group put-down. He had been participating in a panel discussion with Amnon Avramovitz, Ronni Daniel and Dana Weiss on March 25 on Ulpan Shishi, the Friday-night weekly news wrap. The subject was Islamic terrorism in Europe and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that Israel and Europe were facing the same phenomenon. Ya’ari disagreed strenuously with Weiss.
Weiss declared, “I’m sure that now all the male panelists will gang up on me,” and Daniel protested her manipulative usage of gender discrimination. Ya’ari said, “Better you should delve more deeply into the sides... and also the data.”
She responded, “Why do you think I haven’t checked?” “Because that’s the way it sounds,” Ya’ari said.
When another participant began to talk, Weiss engaged Ya’ari in a side conversation that was caught on mic. Ya’ari was heard to say, “You’ve become a yachna.” The Yiddishism indicates a female gossip, busybody and even a shallow woman. Ya’ari was raked over the coals by his colleagues for his remark, which they considered insulting to women. Haaretz’s Tzippi Sa’ar termed Ya’ari himself a yachna, writing that the poor man doesn’t know where he is living and is harassing women.
It just so happened that six weeks previously, on the Channel 10 HaMateh HaMercazi program, Shimon Schiffer of Yediot Aharonot was on a panel discussing the subject of MK Anat Berko’s remark a few days earlier on the Arab use of “Palestine.” Berko had said, “There isn’t even a ‘P’ in Arabic, so it’s a borrowed term that’s worth analyzing... there is no ‘puh’ sound!” and indicated clearly that it was Latin word originating from the land’s Roman conquerors.
Schiffer, a sharp opponent of Netanyahu and Israel’s right wing, called Berko a “behema,” another Yiddishism, meaning uncouth and literally, a bovine animal. Surprisingly, there was no similar ganging up on Schiffer. His quite misogynistic insult, declared in a derogatory manner, was protested only by the Right.
Worse, Berko’s official complaint to Channel 10 about the insult was treated as an in-house media joke. The media clique knows well how to protect its own.
HOWEVER, THE case of Benny Ziffer marks the nadir of this phenomenon of media people destroying colleagues for espousing the wrong opinions. It is the very antithesis of the freedom of expression that the media leftists always use in their own defense.
Ziffer has become a red flag for the media elite.
Back in July, this paper’s Greer Fay Cashman observed, people were wondering if Haaretz, the bastion of left-wing opinion, was turning to the Right.
Ziffer was defending Sara Netanyahu. He admitted that he had come to her defense when she was being pilloried by the media.
Cashman thought he was even “fawning” in his writing and that “even the reporters at Israel Hayom could not do better.” An August column enraged the LGBT community. Ziffer’s fate was sealed and his colleagues waited for an opportunity.
It came when in his blog column on March 4, Ziffer wrote what was interpreted as a defense of statutory rape by artists of young girls as essential for art. His exact words were, “artists... are also required to feel with intensity those things that are considered the basest urges in life, like intercourse with young female admirers. Without this, there would be no creativity, for all the pain this is liable to cause these young women, whose lives might have been damaged.” Over 90 poets refused to appear at a poetry festival in Metullah because Ziffer was its artistic director.
Since one of the artists Ziffer mentioned was Eyal Golan, accused at the time of sleeping with underage girls, Ziffer was considered to be promoting abhorrent, criminal acts. That Golan was never charged with statutory rape seems not to have stemmed his critics. Kalman Liebskind in his March 12 column at Ma’ariv saw Ziffer as being the victim of “terror” perpetrated by those who usually hold themselves to be the champions of free speech but now, in Ziffer’s case, had decided to euthanize that freedom.
Ziffer, in an interview that week with Razi Barkai on Galatz, had virtually pleaded for understanding. He mentioned Woody Allen.
He could have mentioned a fellow Haaretz columnist, poet Yitzhak La’or, accused of multiple rapes but uninvestigated due to the statute of limitations. A darling of Israel’s cultural literary leftist elite, Dahn Ben-Amotz, was accused by Yudit Shachar, who was his housekeeper, of sleeping with underage girls, but he is still an icon. And, as Liebskind noted, the pages of Haaretz are well-known for the scandalous language of Gideon Levy, Rogel Alpher, Zev Sternhel and a host of others that we have documented over the years, including direct calls for murder and support for real violence.
Ziffer, however, was a marked man. He was considered a Netanyahu-backer, an unpardonable sin among our media elite.
On March 9, he succumbed to his critics and, as if in a resurrected version of a Stalinist-period trial, confessed and pleaded for mercy. In what was to be his last column, which was entitled, “A Heartfelt Apology,” he informed readers that he was “corrupt,” had been called at Haaretz’s Culture Conference “a disgusting person” and “had become a satanic clown.” He admitted, “I am crying.”
He finished by writing, “Even though I have no right to ask for mercy... my heart is now totally submissive.”
Almost noiselessly and unnoticed, the guillotine had fallen.The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).