Media Comment: Bashing haredim

The job of news people is to report, to get the facts, not to argue, reprimand and wave a finger.

Haredi men dance on Simhat Torah 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Haredi men dance on Simhat Torah 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
It was only a week ago that Hadas Shteif, the police correspondent for Army Radio (Galatz), got an important scoop. The headline was sexual harassment and its concealment in Modi’in Illit.
The gist of the story was that various people claimed knowledge of cases of sexual harassment of children which were suppressed due to rabbinical pressure. Drawing special ire was a story about the rape of a five-year-old girl on her way to kindergarten, whose parents, advised by rabbis, refused to go to the police. Shteif did qualify her story by stating at its end that police had not yet acted upon the case of the five-year- old and that it was not clear whether indeed she had been raped.
The next day, Galatz aired a response from the head of the rabbinical court in Modi’in Illit, who claimed the story was a complete fabrication.
This did not stop anchor Razi Barkai from stating what he termed the “shocking” fact that every month there are five to six cases of sexual harassment in Modi’in Illit.
Barkai and Galatz also aired a live interview with a lady, identified as “Iris,” who had complained to the police about harassment of her daughter. She continued to describe an atmosphere, called “terror” by Barkai, which makes her fearful of talking freely of the events.
Iris described the perpetrator of the act against her daughter as a known pedophile, asserting that the local leadership refused to act against him.
The story raised a storm of accusations against the haredi community, of course at a very opportune time. The political issue of army service of haredim is heavy on the agenda, and any story which depicts the haredi world in negative terms plays into the hands of those who claim the haredi world must be brought under the fold of the law.
The story continued for three successive days on Galatz. Sure enough, it was picked up by almost all other news services in the country, including Ynet, NRG, Israel HaYom, Haaretz, TV Channel 2 news and more. One can well believe that people belonging to the haredi world were under pressure by their colleagues and friends, who were demanding explanations.
But the story goes much deeper. Let us assume that indeed the rabbinical leadership took the law into their own hands and did not go to the police. Let us further assume that the same leadership put pressure on all involved to keep things quiet. Is this right? Certainly not. But is the outrage of Shteif and her colleagues justified or is it just an outrageous double standard? Decide for yourself based on the following information.
On June 13 this year, Shteif, under the title “It is time to cease shutting up,” wrote the following in her blog: “A new female journalist group has emerged last Friday. In their first meeting, a previously closed door was opened. The problem of sexual harassment and indecent acts taking place in newspaper offices and other media bodies in Israel came up in the meeting repeatedly. The women who gathered...
decided that this time they would open their mouths for the sake of female journalists, producers and editors, and for the sake of the ‘fresh meat’ of the future.”
Shteif does not let go. In a follow-up blog, published on November 4, 2012, entitled “You have been warned,” she writes: “to you the media man, beware, I am after you.
For months I am following you, gathering testimony of women against you. Media women tell me their stories.
Troublesome stories, which took place over a period of years. Testimony against a single media person, you.”
Amazingly, to this day Shteif has not revealed who this person is, nor have any of her friends revealed the identity of the people Shteif claimed were guilty of harassment.
Razi Barkai did not use the opportunity of the story from Modi’in Illit to ask Shteif some tough questions about this other matter, presumably involving a non-haredi individual. Is she, who lives and works in a much more liberal and “free” atmosphere, any better than the rabbis accused of hiding the facts from the police? Truthfully, the issue is a serious one, not to be made light of. The law says that when we know of a felony we must report it to the police.
But does this really lead to prevention? The outrage of people like Shteif and Barkai is false and inhuman. None of us would want to face such dilemmas.
Shteif and her media friends claim that they are making a positive contribution to haredi society by exposing misdeeds. Even if we accept that this is not another sensationalist story that perhaps didn’t quite occur the way it was reported, will their self-righteous storm really create change? One knows that such attacks only lead to a further defensive reactions and an unwillingness to deal with the situation.
The claim of the media people, that they are only using the media to defend the poor five-year-olds, does not hold water. If Shteif does not have the guts to expose her media “friends” who are guilty of similar acts, why then, does she expect a haredi family to expose their five-year-old child to further calamity? It would seem that the only “profit” that emerges from such stories is that some people in the media can pat themselves on the back for creating an uproar. Their motives, seem to be mainly selfish.
The media attack on the haredim was not limited to this case. Too many people, such as Arieh Golan from the IBA’s Reshet Bet radio station, felt that it was their heaven instructed duty to attack haredim for their lack of “equality in sharing the burden.”
To be precise, we certainly believe that all citizens should “share the burden.”
However, the job of news people is to report, to get the facts, not to argue, reprimand and wave a finger. By doing this, they jeopardize their standing as purveyors of news.
In fact, as noted by Dr. Devora Lederman-Danieli in the “Seventh Eye” website, statistics talk about one out of seven girls raped by a member of the family. In most cases, rape is not reported to the police, irrespective of the social makeup of the people involved. There is nothing really extraordinary in Shteif’s story from Modi’in Illit, except for the blatant and unethical attack on the haredi world.
Does anyone still believe that our media is “liberal”? The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch,