Haredi journalists apply self-censorship for sake of unity
"There are lots of things that the haredi press does out of consideration for the feelings of the readership," says editor of a local newspaper chain.
By MATTHEW WAGNER
Independent haredi journalists apparently have been practicing self-censorship by ignoring some of the nastier aspects of the political infighting between haredi political factions.
Last week, the haredi Radio Kol Hai's popular primetime news program discontinued its coverage of the turmoil and played Hassidic pop music instead.
"I cannot say anything critical against either side," said newscaster Mordechai "Moti" Lavi. "If I do I will receive a threatening telephone call from someone in the middle of the night saying that I am against the rabbis."
Lavi said that as a haredi journalist, an integral part of his role was furthering haredi political interests.
"In these volatile times, haredi journalists have an obligation to refrain from fanning the flames. I've contemplated suspending my show altogether until this storm blows over."
For the first time since 1988, when Rabbi Elazar Shach broke from the Hassidic-dominated Agudat Yisrael and formed the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah party, the Ashkenazi haredi voting public is divided.
The Ger Hassidic sect, headed by Rabbi Ya'acov Aryeh Alter, effectively controls Agudat Yisrael and successfully waged a campaign against Meir Porush, the Jerusalem mayoral candidate.
Porush represents a constellation of smaller Hassidic sects that are opposed to Alter's heavy-handed rule of Agudat Yisrael. Like Shach in 1988, these Hassidic sects feel they are not properly represented by Agudat Yisrael.
The warring sides have resorted to mutual recriminations, threats and even physical attacks. MK Ya'acov Litzman, chairman of Agudat Yisrael and senior political representative of the Ger Hassidic sect, was roughed up over the weekend while attending a hall that belongs to the Slonim Hassidic sect.
Meanwhile, Ger Hassidim have used various underhanded tactics, including the dissemination of campaign literature disparaging Porush and the cutting of phone lines in his campaign headquarters.
Avi Rosen, editor of Kav Itonut Haredit, a chain of local haredi newspapers, said there was nothing surprising about the lack of coverage.
"There are a lot of things that the independent haredi press does out of consideration for the feelings of the haredi readership," said Rosen. "Who am I to decide which side is right and which side is wrong when both are backed by important Torah sages?"
Ya'acov Eichler, a veteran haredi journalist who provides commentary for the Knesset Channel (99), said the push by haredi newspapers to maintain political unity even at the expense of objective journalism was even more urgent with national elections just months away.
"A split right now would decimate the Ashkenazi haredi vote," said Eichler. "If Porush tried to run on an independent list, he probably would not pass the threshold of 2.5% [of the total votes]. But he would do enough electoral damage to Agudah to seriously hurt its chances of getting into the Knesset. And Degel Hatorah might not make it in on its own, either.
"Haredi journalists understand this and are doing everything they can to calm things down as quickly as possible," he continued. "After all, those parties represent haredi journalists the same way they represent the haredi readership."
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