We've heard time and again that the Internet and its social sites are changing the nature of politics. People seeking change post their ideas, observations, and schemes without editorial monitoring, including the barbarians who use videos of beheadings to expand recruitment.
Currently we are seeing that Facebook postings are tripping an aspiring nominee as Israel's chief of information, or "explanation" as in euphemistic Hebrew.
Dr. Ran Baratz received the Prime Minister's nod for a good job, but then came revelations of what he had posted over the years.
First in our headlines was a note where he wondered why President Rivlin required a bodyguard, insofar as no one took him seriously.
Then was a response to Barack Obama's rather placid comments about Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech in Congress, in which Baratz described the President as a modern variety of anti-Semite.
And a comment that Secretary of State John Kerry had the intelligence of a 12 year old.
The first item brought a rebuke from President Rivlin, calling it unsuitable and insulting, and urging the Prime Minister to rethink the appointment.
Baratz himself described that comment as meant to be humorous.
Comments about Obama and Kerry reached the news a few days prior to the Prime Minister's trip to Washington, described as an opportunity for Bibi and Barack to mend fences after a tough time about Iran. Revelations about the new head of Israeli information produced responses from officials in Washington saying that the Prime Minister should reconsider the appointment, that the US did not intend to influence Israeli government appointments, and that it was expected that officials of America's closest ally would speak about senior US officials with accuracy and respect.
Israeli and American cynics might wonder if it is possible to speak about Obama and Kerry with both accuracy and respect.
The Prime Minister distanced himself and his government from Baratz's Facebook. He invited, then uninvited Baratz to accompany him to Washington, said at one point that he would rethink the appointment, and at another point that he would deal with it when he returned home.
President Rivlin and at least two members of Bibi's government were lining up to scuttle Baratz's appointment.
One can speculate that if Baratz is bright enough to have earned a PhD in Greek philosophy from the Hebrew University, he would take the Prime Minister off the hook and give up the prospect of heading Israel's information program.
There's another recent case where activists from the right have used the Internet to tilt things the way they'd like them to be.
Arutz Sheva is a settler outlet on radio, television, and the Internet that celebrated a recent poll done by Palestinians about attitudes in Gaza. Its effort to improve the shape of reality appear in several adjectives and adverbs hardly justified by the data.
The poll was conducted by a Palestinian organization that has been professional in surveying opinions for some years. It headlined a long and detailed item published in June, 2015,
"With only one third of Palestinians satisfied with the Gaza War accomplishments and only one third satisfied with the performance of the reconciliation government, half of Gazans say they are thinking about emigrating . . . . Nonetheless, Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas would win the elections in Gaza Strip while Abbas and Fatah would win in the West Bank."
Arutz Sheva reported
"The most dramatic finding of the poll was that a full 50% of respondents in Gaza are considering emigrating from the area, indicating the highest percentage ever found by PCPSR in its polls. Among Arab residents of Judea and Samaria that figure was not too far behind, with 25% saying they want to leave and not live under Palestinian Authority (PA) rule."
I would say that if only 25 percent of West Bankers want to leave, that is quite far behind the 50 percent of Gazans who want to leave.
In another paragraph, Arutz Sheva notes
Others might say that 47 percent is pretty close to a majority. For Arutz Sheva, however, it shows "disullusionment" with Hamas."As for the terror war launched by Hamas last summer, 59% overall said Hamas won - a sharp decline form nine months ago when 69% agreed with the Hamas party line. However, among residents of Gaza only 47% said Hamas won, showing how disillusionment with the terror organization's claims are sharpest under its control."
The Palestinians who conducted the polls were more candid about the complex results.
"Belief that Hamas has won the Gaza War stands at 59%; 25% believe the two sides were losers. Among Gazans, only 47% say Hamas came out a winner.Nine months ago, 69% of all Palestinians said Hamas came out a winner. By contrast, the percentage of satisfaction with war achievements compared to the human and material losses sustained by the Gaza Strip does not exceed 35% and dissatisfaction at 63%.Despite that, a majority of 63% supports the launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israel if the siege and blockade are not ended."
Arutz Sheva also sees a difference between 38 percent support for one candidate as "handily outpacing" another candidate who received 34 percent support.
If Ran Baratz and Arutz Sheva provide examples of right wing junk in Israeli politics, it seems fair to ask about left-wing junk.
It's not hard to find. Much of it comes routinely, from ostensibly distinguished newspapers as well as international, government, academic, and other sources that provide economic and social statistics. The numbers they report may be accurate, but the analysis often overlooks a basic point that fouls the quality of conclusions.
One example among many is a report from the OECD showing Israel below the organization's norms for a number of economic and social indicators, but without comparing those scores to the country's overall economy. The indicators mentioned in the report vary with a country's GNP/c or GDP/c. Rich countries score better than poor countries, and Israel scores below the OECD average on overall wealth. The question as to whether Israel does better or worse than expected, given the overall size of its economy, did not appear in the report.
Typical for such claims was a damning headline in the Jerusalem Post that dealt with one of the findings
No surprise that Israelis are less happy with their economic situation than the OECD average. Israelis are poorer than the OECD average."Israelis do not have much confidence in their financial institutions with a rate of 38 percent compared to the average OECD rate of 46 percent"
The article ended with a predictable quotation from Meretz head, MK Zehava Gal-On that she is likely to have used with slight variation whenever similar findings are published.
“The report is a certificate with a failing grade for Netanyahu and Lapid, and illustrates how the policies of the Israeli government are detached and designed to serve the tycoons and the wealthy . . . All the big plans of the government to reduce poverty and gaps in Israeli society have brought about only one outcome, the downgrading of tens of thousands of families below the poverty line and the crushing of the Israeli middle class.”Sunday morning the headlines were of thousands who demonstrated against the natural gas deal the Prime Minister is likely to sign. Speeches and placards demanded benefits for the people, not tycoons and large companies.
Two thousand may have gathered in Tel Aviv, and 200-300 in Jerusalem and Haifa.
Israel's iconic demonstrations involved 200,000-400,000..
And anyone thinking that it is possible to extract natural gas from under the sea, or any other major resource project without a large role for international companies ought to think some more.
What we see in both right of center and left of center junk is the prominence of passion in politics. Feelings, beliefs, ideology, and party loyalties matter. It's a game for the masses, meant to reflect and cement loyalties already existing, and to recruit others to one's cause.
It lacks the intellectual rigor of an academic seminar.
Yet we should remind ourselves that not all seminars are free of political intensity.