Ha’aretz newspaper, together with the New Israel Fund organized a conference in New York on December 13 to “address the pressing questions facing Israel today”. As might be expected from these two left wing organizations, this conference was not a model of pluralism. The keynote speakers were Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, MK Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat of the PLO, known for his false accusations that in 2004 Israel massacred over 500 Palestinians in Jenin.
Erekat demanded and Haaretz acceded to removal of the Israeli flag from the dais during his talk.
Some of the “stars” appearing at this conference were Gideon Levy, Haaretz’s extreme left wing columnist; advocate Michael Sfard who has been very successful in preventing Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria; Ms. Talia Sasson, known for her report on the communities in Yesha which has led to an almost complete standstill in the legal ability to allow new construction there; and Avner Gvaryahu from Breaking the Silence, the organization whose task is to defame the Israel Defense Forces. Indeed, except for President Rivlin, there was not a single person there who could be identified as belonging to Israel’s right wing.
As reported in the “Times of Israel” Rivlin used the podium to defend our defense forces, claiming among others that “No other army in the world is as moral as the IDF”.
Not surprisingly though, Rivlin was criticized for his participation. Ben Dror Yemini, a left wing columnist known for his firm stand against the BDS movement, wrote in his facebook page: “It would seem that Rivlin is not capable of distinguishing between legitimate criticism of Israel’s government and some of the stars of the conference who orchestrate a campaign of propaganda terror against the State or negate the right of Israel to exist. When Rivlin participates in a meeting where the Israeli flag is removed in acquiescence to Erekat’s demand and people rub shoulders with Roger Waters from the BDS movement there is a problem.
One would hope that Rivlin will do some soul searching.
He owes this to himself, he owes this to the citizens of the State of Israel.”
Yemini also noted that this is the same Rivlin who canceled an appearance of performer Amir Benayoun, due to the latter’s strong words against the Arabs.
Arguably though, the most sharply worded criticism of Rivlin came from Israel’s TV channel 20. This channel, also known as the Jewish channel, is identified with Israel’s national religious community and is considered to be oriented towards the Israeli right wing.
In its official facebook page, the channel wrote the following: “It is time to say that our Presidency has lost its shame. It is time to proclaim the truth loudly: Rivlin is preoccupied in representing himself, not the people of Israel. The people of Israel trust the IDF; believes that the IDF risks its life for our sake day and night; and believes that it is the job of the President to support the IDF. The presence of President Rivlin today in a meeting together with the despicable organization Breaking the Silence is a crossing of a red line and a disgrace to our Presidential Institution. It is Rivlin’s right to act as he wishes as a private person but as President he does not have the privilege of spitting in the face of the IDF’s soldiers, it is disgraceful, it is sad”.
Israel’s politically correct media was incensed. How dare anyone attack Israel’s most respected political office, the Presidency? Doesn’t channel 20 understand that the Presidency represents all of Israel and so should be immune from any criticism? Walla’s title to an article by Maya Mena was “Channel 20 against President Rivlin”. The subtitle was that “channel 20 has opened a slander and smear campaign against the President”.
TV channel 2’s Ofer Haddad’s report on the incident was headlined with “Channel 20 has lost its sense of shame”. A similar title “Is channel 20 inciting against the President” headlined TV channel 2’s Leeor Friedman’s report on the strong exchange of words between channel 20’s Sharon Gal and left wing politician Eldad Yaniv who claimed “this (channel 20) is not the channel of the patriots, it is the channel of the maniacs”.
TV channel 10 also took the high road, bringing among others the following citation from MK Livni: “The incitement against President Rivlin is part of the process of shutting mouths, delegitimizing opinions and the public who believes in them”.
The Justice Minister, although not as sacred as the Presidency, is still considered to be a position which should be above petty politics since the Minister’s job is to uphold Israel’s democracy and law and order.
Bayit Yehudi’s Ayelet Shaked is quite an active Minister who lately has passed a transparency law which forces NGO’s who receive over half of their income from foreign government sources to report this in their official proceedings. This law should ensure that the public as well as the politicians, know that they are dealing with an entity which is funded by foreign governments and therefore cannot be considered as neutral.
The reaction was quick, fierce and severe. A Dr.
Ofer Kassif from the Hebrew University wrote in his facebook page: “She is filth, a partner in crime against humanity”. He also termed the Minister as “Neo Nazi filth”. The response of the Hebrew University was “the university is not responsible to the expressions of its lecturers and it is not its job to relate to them as long as the academic platform is not used to promulgate them. If anyone thinks that one or other expression is incitement or violation of the law, she or he should go the law enforcement authorities.”
These comments did not go without any response.
Professor Aviad Hacohen, writing in the Israel Hayom newspaper noted how dangerous such inciting proclamations are especially when they emanate from academics who should be role models for their students.
Didi Harari, well known Israeli TV and radio personality warned on his 103 FM radio program that such words could lead to physical acts. He noted that if someone would have used similar words against a woman identified with the Israeli left, it would have raised a media storm.
But these were the exceptions, by and large, Israel’s media did not relate to the issue nor to the academics, not to Hebrew University’s President Ben Sasson. They were not ostracized. The message was clear, maybe the words were not nice, but freedom of speech defends the right to express them.
So, what have we? When Israel’s right wing severely criticizes the President it is accused of slandering and setting up a campaign against the President, But when someone from the left side does indeed slander our Justice Minister, that is acceptable. This is political correctness in present day Israel. The price our society pays for this is high, among others it convinces too many youngsters that democracy as we know it is immoral and dishonest. Isn’t it about time that we learn the lesson?
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il)