Media Comment: The perennial scapegoat

Is the controversy surrounding daylight savings time to be blamed on the Haredim?

Sea of Haredim 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Sea of Haredim 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Kol Israel director Miki Miro spoke recently on what he perceived as the delegitimization of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector of Israel’s society. As reported by Tully Firkash in the Matzav HaRuach weekly, in a guest lecture at the Hod Hasharon Sha’arei Mishpat School of Law Miro stated: “While the haredim are in a process of ascent, they are facing a pushback from the general media.”
He explained that the job actually was easy.
“You take a weak population and bury it. Even though they have Members of Knesset, it doesn’t help... How much of what is done in the haredi sector gets media attention – the self-help assistance societies, the volunteering? Always the frame is that of those who are parasites of the general populace and don’t accomplish anything.”
The anti-haredi press was very much in evidence during the past week. Daylight Savings Time (DST) in Israel was stopped this past Sunday and all of Israel could sleep an extra hour. DST in Israel has an interesting history. In the early years, it was especially the Sephardi religious population who promoted the cessation of DST as early as the beginning of the month of Elul.
Sephardi Jews are hardworking and really want to reach work on time.
But they also start with Selichot on the first day of Elul.
If DST is applied, then sunrise in this period of the year can be as late as 6:30 a.m., making it difficult for a laborer to reach work at 7 a.m. Yes, there were times when people started working so early! But times have changed; most employees now come to work between 8 and 9 a.m., so that the Sephardi community has become rather indifferent to DST.
There were other factors. For example, if the Seder night is already during DST, then it starts late and the young children who are an important part of this historic night have a tough time staying awake. Parents of young families would appreciate delaying DST to after Seder night. Since the vast majority of Israelis participate in the Seder, this perspective has nothing to do specifically with the haredi world.
Similarly, the psychological aspect of fasting on Yom Kippur until 6 p.m. without DST or until 7 p.m.
with DST has to do with the very broad sector of Israeli society that fasts on this holy day. Yet, when dealing with this issue, our media turns it into another haredi-bashing festival, blaming the sector for their primitive demands.
Don’t the haredim understand that this is religious coercion at its worst? Don’t they understand that DST saves lives since people drive more hours during daylight? Don’t they understand that DST saves electricity costs due to the extra hour of daylight? Don’t they perceive that the rest of the world does not have such a short DST year? The facts are not very important, nor do our media believe that upholding agreements is a moral and social imperative.
DST WAS initiated by the British and the High Commissioner would set the period, usually from April through September. With the establishment of the state, the authority was passed to the interior minister.
DST was continued through the years 1948-1957. It was discontinued completely in 1958 and renewed for 1974 and 1975. National Religious Party Interior Minister Yosef Burg discontinued DST in 1976. The Supreme Court, in 1980, forced the government to reinstall DST leaving the details in the hands of the interior minister.
In 1992, Knesset legislation was passed imposing DST for at least five months a year. In 2005 a compromise was reached according to which DST would commence on the last Friday before April 2 and would end on the Sunday before Yom Kippur. The compromise was endorsed by Labor interior minister Ophir Paz-Pines, MK Haim Oron of Meretz-Yahad, Eli Aflallo (Likud) and David Azulai (Shas).
Last year and again this year, it became evident that this compromise would mean a rather early (relative to the USA and Europe) cessation of DST, and the media cried wolf. Bowing to the media pressure, Shas Interior Minister Eli Yishai set up a panel to look into the issues.
The committee, chaired by Dov Kehath, presented its findings in May, 2011. It recommended that DST begin on the Friday preceding the last Sunday in March and end on the first Sunday after October 1. This would increase the average duration of DST to 193 days instead of the 182 days set by the 2005 legislation. The recommendations were approved by the government but the legislative process has not ended, so this year we still have DST according to the 2005 law, and it ended before Yom Kippur.
The whole issue, then, is over a matter of 11 days a year! The Kehath report is illuminating.
For example, the claim that DST leads to energy conservation, since one needs lighting for shorter times, is no longer valid. Nowadays, many homes and offices have their lights on during the entire day, but more significantly the usage of air conditioning implies that DST can in fact increase the usage of energy, as was found in Australia in 2006-7 and lately in Indiana in the US.
The committee found that there is no overwhelming research supporting the need for DST. There are studies which show that the number of traffic accidents increases dramatically during the change to and from DST. Our biological clock causes extra tiredness which is much more dangerous than the added hour of night-time driving. Nowadays, most roads are well lit so that night driving is not as difficult as it was 20 years ago.
The bottom line is that anyone who really looks into the facts realizes that DST is much ado about nothing. Incidentally, half of the world – India and China and other countries in Africa and South America – do not have DST. Yet for our media DST is haredi-bashing time.
TV’s Channel 2 Keshet broadcaster blames the haredi MKs for dragging their feet on the new legislation and provides Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz ample opportunity to use the DST issue to further his anti-haredi political agenda.
He is quoted as saying, without proof, that DST would save hundreds of millions of shekels. A miniscule demonstration of two dozen people on Saturday night against the cessation of DST received prime-time coverage on the IBA Channel 1 news on Saturday night and active promotion by the anchorwoman Michal Rabinowitz.
The Walla website points a finger at the haredi MK’s as do many others.
This saga points out all that is wrong in our media: Shallowness, as the media did not do its homework; otherwise it would have challenged MK Horowitz’s unfounded claims. Bias, since the issue has nothing to do with haredim specifically, it is much broader and discussed also in many other Western countries. Irresponsibility, as it should have made it clear that if anything, research shows that the institution of DST endangers lives, due to traffic accidents.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch