Media Comment: The ignorant fear of haredim

Hatred, fear and self-righteous hypocrisy make for a recipe of media bias of the worst kind.

haredi men sitting 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
haredi men sitting 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Many in the Israeli media, it appears, are afraid of haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews. Some of them even consider the “haredi problem” an existential threat. This past week brought with it two examples of such fear.
The first was provided by Razi Barkai, the left-wing anchor of the army radio station’s daily Galatz program, Ma Boer (What’s Burning). He thought it correct to draw a parallel between singer Eyal Golan, suspected for sexual misconduct, and the late Rabbi Ovadia Yossef. On December 3 in an interview published in the Globes newspaper, he proclaimed, “I see no difference between Eyal Golan’s public and the congregation of believers in Ovadia Yossef.”
Miki Haimovitz provided the second example. She inaugurated Reshet’s new investigative documentary series HaMa’arechet (The System) on Channel 2 TV last Thursday. The original promo for the title of the program was “The Haredi Invasion.” A public outcry of haredi politicians led to a change in the title.
Haimovitz’s program dealt with the housing crisis within the haredi population and its effects on Israeli society. The program claimed that the government authorities responsible are not planning appropriately for this phenomenon. As a result, it is not surprising that haredim find no alternative but to leave their population centers and enter secular neighborhoods.
The message is elitist at best and discriminatory at worst. Don’t we live in a free society where anyone, Jewish, Arab, haredi or secular, an choose freely where to live? The program was marred in many other, perhaps more minor but still significant aspects. The terminology used was of war, tension and conflict. The narrative accentuated all that differentiates the haredi from the Israeli. As usual, the extremists from both sides provided the color.
Haimovitz cannot be faulted for remaining true to fact. She showed one woman bemoaning the fact that her apartment was in a building with a synagogue. The Arad Municipality noted that the synagogue existed when the woman bought her property.
However, there was also an element of “if facts don’t exist, create them.” The producers attempted to create a provocation by sending a scantily-clothed woman to the haredi area in Beit Shemesh.
All in all, Haimovitz’s “investigative report” was rather banal and worthless. But the damage was done; the haredi was again stereotyped as aggressively colonialist. Public figures within the haredi community sensed that the report was slanted and no meaningful haredi figure took part in it.
Haimovitz and Reshet are not the only performers in this act. Channel 10 initiated a series of reports titled “Government by the Rabbi,” playing on the Hebrew “Government by majority” by replacing the Hebrew word “rov” – majority – with “rav” – rabbi. The reporter, Avishai Ben-Chaim, tries to bring home the fear that the population explosion within the haredi community will turn the secular segment of Israel’s population into a minority by the year 2030.
The implications were no more mixed swimming but stringent Shabbat and kashrut observance for everyone.
Photos of a third-grade haredi teacher who was interviewed for the program are all shot with the reporter Ben-Chaim behind bars, as if in a jail, looking outside toward the free haredi world.
The Nana website provides this description of the series: “This is undoubtedly one of the sensitive issues within Israeli society. But surprisingly, the haredi leadership is not aware of it... they simply are not yet ready for this moment.”
The haredi obsession does not end here. A year and a half ago, Amnon Levy tried educating us in a Channel 10 docu-series titled “Haredim.” As described by haredi Nehemya Rosenfeld in an article in Ynet, the series relates to the haredi world as a sect with strange customs, as if it lives in a separate nature preserve. The narrative is reminiscent of documentary series on African jungle tribes.
But one should not underestimate the impact of this genre of sensationalism. The three chapters received an average rating of 16.4%, more than any other documentary series aired on Channel 10.
The haredi community is not only the object of tendentious pseudo-documentaries. Most news relating to the community is negative. The media allows itself to disregard elementary ethical obligations when dealing with the community. It was less than a year ago that Galatz’s police reporter, Hadass Steiff, came out with a bombshell – rape in a haredi town whose perpetrators are known, but who are being protected by the haredi leadership of the town. For three long days, the haredi community found itself under constant attack. The truth was that no rape occurred. The falsehood had been spread by a mentally disturbed person.
Did someone apologize? Did anyone realize the damage done to the haredi community, irrespective of the facts? Provoking haredim has become an accepted practice.
Last July, Channel 10 reporter Doron Herman disguised himself (illegally, we must add) as an army soldier and strolled in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, hoping to provoke an incident. He did not succeed and his ruse was exposed. But even the ombudsman of the Second Authority for TV and Radio, David Regev, as well as Dr. Ilan Avisar, chair of the SA TR, defended the reporter.
Two weeks ago, Avishai Ben-Chaim also exposed on Channel 10 an IDF lieutenant-colonel, Nurit Lamay, who stated in an answer to a phone call, “I get a rash from the haredim, I hate haredim, I want all haredim to die.” Knesset Member Aryeh Deri demanded that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon force the resignation of the officer, but to the best of our knowledge, nothing has happened. One can only imagine the reaction if the word “haredim” would have replaced by “Arabs.”
Recently, there has been an attempt to balance out this irrational reaction to the haredi world. Two current television dramas, Shtissel and Mekimi, do not position themselves as emotionally critical but rather seek to present the haredi community as it is. But this does not dispel the media’s extreme responses to the haredi community.
Why? Fear of the other, the different, seems to be a major factor. But media bias also stems from a form of hatred which is prevalent among a class of people who claim for themselves the sobriquets of “liberal,” “humanist,” “progressive” and what-not.
In the past, we referred to the exceptional outburst of Gabi Gazit in April 2010 when he broadcast that haredim are “leeches,” “parasites” and “worms.” He said, “They are useless, they don’t produce anything, don’t contribute anything, they don’t plant a tree or a tomato, don’t manufacture hi-tech... I would pack them up in one package and send them to their primitive brothers in the dark courtyards of Brooklyn, Queens and all the other places they should live in.” Other media broadcasters have uttered similar spiteful remarks, which haredi media monitoring groups have stored.
This long litany from the left-wing clique in the media, the camp that berates the right-of-center for its inability, supposedly, to deal fairly with the “other,” reveals another element: hypocrisy.
Indeed, hatred, fear and self-righteous hypocrisy make for a recipe of media bias of the worst kind.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (