Crossing the Line

Israel has a rich history of journalists moving into politics.

sheli yehimovitch 88 (photo credit: )
sheli yehimovitch 88
(photo credit: )
There is nothing new about journalists who cross the line from reporting to politics. As a matter of fact, some of Israel's most prominent, colorful, influential and interesting politicians, in the past and in the present, started out as journalists. Former Meretz leader Yossi Sarid was a correspondent for the now defunct Davar newspaper; Shulamit Aloni, one of the founders of Meretz, used to host a radio show where she promoted civil rights; MK Silvan Shalom was a reporter for Yediot Ahronot; Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, who passed away in June this year, was editor-in-chief of Ma'ariv, and even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had a stint as a reporter for the IDF magazine BaMahaneh as part of his military service. The current campaign is characterized a bumper crop of veteran journalists who have decided to leave behind their prestigious positions to run for the Knesset. While it is early in the proceedings, it is likely that all of them will be members of the 18th Knesset, and distinguished ones at that. On Sunday, Nitzan Horowitz, the head of Channel 10's foreign desk, was reported to be considering running for the new left-wing movement, Hatnua Hahadasha, that is negotiating a merger with Meretz. On Monday, veteran journalist Gideon Reicher, announced that he would run with the pensioners party, Gil. "After having seen and done everything, I have decided to run for the Knesset to make an old dream come true: to help the man on the street walk tall, to help people who invested all their lives in their places of work and who have now been left with nothing," Richer said Monday at a press conference in Tel Aviv. Horowitz, if he chooses to cross the lines, is expected to promote environmental issues. He said on Monday that he did not want to be interviewed until he reaches a final decision. Horowitz will probably run only if he is promised a high slot in the Meretz-Hatnua Hahadasha list for the Knesset. Another veteran and respected journalist to have made the transition to politics is Daniel Ben-Simon, who left Ha'aretz in June this year to join the Labor party. Ben-Simon placed a surprisingly high 11th in the recent Labor part primaries and has a good chance of gaining a seat in the next Knesset. As a journalist, Ben-Simon carried the flag of a better, more equal and fair society and decided that writing about it is simply not as effective as doing something about it. "People thought I had gone mad when I decided to go into politics, but I felt that I had exhausted all my abilities to influence the game. I wrote books and articles and went on TV shows but I wasn't changing anything. In fact, more people became poor and more soup kitchens were opened in my years as a journalist. This is why I decided to get down from the balcony I was sitting on and to play on the court," Ben-Simon said on Monday. Ben-Simon believes that journalists are affected by a fake sense of power, while politicians control the game. "[Shas chairman] Eli Yishai , for instance, can give his people more than all the Israeli media can," he said, "I believe I can change things because I am an idealist," he concluded. Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who left a successful career as a socially-oriented Channel 2 news-show host for an even more successful career as a politician and lawmaker, who promoted 17 bills in less than three years in the Knesset, said that Ben-Simon's definition of a false sense of power was correct. "Journalists have always switched from journalism to politics, but only a certain type of journalists make the switch. Journalists who have a strong and consolidated ideological agenda, who don't see themselves as technicians but as world-repairers," she said. "Statistically, politicians who come from journalism usually turn out to be not bad politicians, such as Tommy Lapid, Amnon Rubinstein, Yossi Beilin, Gideon Sa'ar, Silvan Shalom and Yossi Sarid, and they are not just good in representing themselves but also in lawmaking and politics in general," Yacimovich added. "Apparently, working in the media prepares one better for political life." And while Yacimovich admits that despite the hard and demanding work it requires, being a politician is a more rewarding position than being a journalist, Prof. Yoram Peri, Head of Tel Aviv University's School for Communication and Media, thinks the phenomenon is indicative of the nature of the relationship between the media and the political world. "This process started ten years ago in Israel and is already familiar to the American public. It shows that the media is no longer a mediator between the politicians and the people, it is integrated and involved in political life and therefore journalists affect political decisions and are part of making them, so moving on to direct politics is a natural step," Peri said.