MEDIA COMMENT: The doomsayers

Media coverage, implications of understandings of international coverage impact "fear-mongering" of public, perhaps unnecessarily.

Obama hugging Bibi Peres bckgrnd 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama hugging Bibi Peres bckgrnd 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One of the outstanding aspects of last week’s visit by President Barack Obama was the demonstration of the depth of our media’s misconception and lack of understanding with regard to the international scene. Let’s review some of our media gurus’ pronouncements prior to the visit with respect to the relationship between the United States and Israel and between Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Amos Harel of Haaretz, back on September 4, 2012, had this to say: “The negative scenario is that Obama resorts to a general, foggy statement about Iran, but remembers to close his account with Netanyahu in response to the happenings of the past few months, right after his election victory (if he is victorious). It is difficult to discount the huge damage incurred to the strategic relations between Israel and the United States resulting from the wave of Israeli pronunciations.”
Barak Ravid, on January 15, 2013, reports that Jeffrey Goldberg, supposedly an Obama administration insider, cites Obama as saying that Netanyahu “does not understand Israel’s interests” and that furthermore, “Netanyahu’s actions will lead Israel towards serious international isolation.” Ravid goes on to remind us that Goldberg’s Bloomberg column is “very similar to Peter Beinart’s recent column which described the White House’s lack of trust in and frustration with Binyamin Netanyahu.”
Ynet’s Washington correspondent Yitzchak Ben-Chorin wrote an article on January 25, 2011, headlined “Obama-Netanyahu relations are worse than ever,” in which he wrote: “The level of personal relationships between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama is tending towards zero... During Thanksgiving, the attitude has changed due to the refusal to continue a building freeze in Judea and Samaria.”
Thomas Friedman, the darling of Israel’s Left, whose political analyses with regard to the Middle East have been more often off the mark than on it, wrote in The New York Times last November 10: “Israeli friends have been asking me whether a re-elected President Obama will take revenge on Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu for the way he and Sheldon Adelson, his foolhardy financier, openly backed Mitt Romney. My answer to Israelis is this: You should be so lucky.”
Not all journalists got it all so wrong. For example, in the aftermath of Obama’s re-election, Tal Shalev, on the Walla website, had a much more sober and realistic description of the Netanyahu-Obama relationship. He correctly predicted President Obama would visit Israel to mend his tarnished image in the eyes of the Israeli public. He noted that Obama is a pragmatist motivated by goals, not personal feelings.
The hair-raising predictions of doom failed to materialize, but this did not faze the doomsayers, who will continue bashing Israel’s society and government irrespective of the facts. Gideon Levy, of Haaretz infamy, summarized the president’s visit to Israel on March 24, as reflected in the TV studios, as follows: “US President Barack Obama never stood a chance. ...His assignment was to break down the iron wall of Israeli political commentators, and that is a mission impossible even for a statesman of his caliber. These carefully selected studio pundits... say what is expected of them. ...They generally know everything, and they did not disappoint. ...[They C]ozied up to the politicians, from whom they learned that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak left no stone unturned in his desire to make peace (a lie) and that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian [Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas the moon (another lie); that there is no Palestinian partner for peace and that Israel is a peaceloving nation (lie, lie).”
Neither are dire, irresponsible and false warnings limited to the issue of Obama-Netanyahu relations. Another favorite topic is the Israeli “occupation.” Too many Israeli journalists have predicted that the “occupation” will lead to Israel’s downfall. Renowned author and Peres-darling David Grossman warned in an Haaretz essay (November 4, 2011) that, “In a place where there are millions of downtrodden people there is no status quo. ...They will become stronger... until they will surprisingly emerge with great force.”
Channel 2 commentator Amnon Abramowitz is another “occupation” guru. In a January 6, 2012, interview with Einat Schiff at Walla, he states: “The occupation is the problem... Had we been sitting here 20 or 30 years ago and had you told me that in 2012 Israel would still be sitting in the West Bank with a variety of settlements, I would have thought [you had a bad case of] lunacy.”
Another favorite topic of the doomsayers is the demographic demon, which supposedly will destroy Israel as a Jewish state. One of the high priests of the demographic catastrophe is Akiva Eldar, who for example had this to say in an October 16, 2012, Haaretz editorial: “The Jewish majority is history. The government’s acknowledgement that Jews are a minority in this land means one thing only: Apartheid is here.”
Professor Arnon Sofer of Haifa University gave the demographic demon legitimacy with his statistics. He was arguably the most convincing academic, as far as former prime minister Sharon was concerned, in justifying his expulsion of Jews from the Gaza strip and northern Samaria, all under the guise of the demon. Even after Yoram Ettinger published his findings showing how much of the demographic data are unclear, to say the least, Sofer’s doom-saying did not abate.
Following the expulsion, in a February 13, 2006, Ynet article, Sofer claimed that “The demographic demon is alive and kicking.” He negates Ettinger’s statistics but admits that the Jews outnumber the Palestinians, claiming that “according to the expected natural reproduction rate, both populations will reach equality by the year 2020.”
At that time, Sofer’s numbers were 3.8 million Palestinians vs. 5.2 million Jews. Yoram Ettinger claims that the number of Palestinians is 2.85 million.
The US census bureau estimated the number of Palestinians as 4.0 million in 2006 and 3.94 million in 2009. This census shows that between 2006 and 2009 there was no growth, implying that Sofer is quite wrong in his statistics. Did Sofer backtrack? Apologize? Of course not. On October 4, 2010, he continued his doomsday prophesy: “There is no choice but to deal with forecasts for the next decade or two, and it turns out that by then the proportion of Jews will have declined to 42 percent. That means an end to the Jewish entity in the Middle East.”
Passover is a festival of hope, optimism and freedom. The Israeli public can continue to sleep at night without fear of the doomsayers. Actually, it would sleep better if it did what should be done, namely hold the doomsayers who dominate our media accountable for their unjustified fear-mongering. We believe that a proud and free Israel, which is certain in its morality and history, which knows that there is no other country under siege in the world which reacts so positively to world events and which contributes to world society so much, is an Israel which will continue for many more years to proudly celebrate the Passover festival.The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (