Reality check: Popular culture trumps real news

On the eve of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Israel’s major evening TV news program devoted the first half of its broadcast to Eyal Golan.

Eyal Golan's father Dani Biton 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Eyal Golan's father Dani Biton 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
You know you’re getting old when you start tut-tutting at the news headlines because some pop singer has suddenly become the major story of the day.
I can still remember my father outwardly expressing annoyance when our local evening newspaper (yes, the fact that we had an evening newspaper delivered as well as a morning one certainly does date me) reported that The Beatles had split up.
Although I was only nine at the time, I instinctively knew my father was wrong: The Beatles’ immense impact on popular culture certainly made their demise worthy of the front-page headline of the Yorkshire Evening Post. It’s not as if anything of great importance that would influence the lives of millions was happening in the provincial British city of Leeds that day.
Fast-forward almost half a century and it was my turn to start muttering under my breath. I found myself amazed that on the eve of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, the same day that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel “the rabid dog of the region,” Israel’s major evening TV news program devoted the first half of its broadcast to the fact that Eyal Golan was the “famous singer” accused of having sex with underage girls.
I understand the reasoning behind the Channel 2 news editors’ decision.
First of all, the Iranian nuclear talks are an ongoing story that has dominated the news for many weeks, and this not the first time Khamenei has verbally lashed out at Israel. Golan, meanwhile, to use the modern Hebrew term, is a celeb, idolized by many; his name was the subject of court-ordered blackout during the police investigation and much ignored on social media, therefore whetting the appetite of the news media to go big once it was finally cleared for publication; and the alleged crime of sex with minors is one that creates a strong emotional reaction among viewers. All good reasons, then, to devote the top half of the broadcast to the police investigation into Golan.
And yet, is this really such an important story? For the lives of the girls Golan and his shabby entourage allegedly abused, it certainly is. But unlike the Jimmy Savile case in the UK, where a famous DJ and television star spent decades abusing young children, with institutions like the BBC where he worked or hospitals where he volunteered turning a blind eye to his morally disgusting behavior, the Golan affair centers on just the alleged actions of Golan himself.
Like many pop idols before him – and one suspects he won’t be the last – Golan, if the allegations are true, is guilty of abusing the magnetism that surrounds such performers in the eyes of impressionable young girls. This is no president Moshe Katsav behaving badly – whose actions, due to his exalted position, reflect on the country as a whole – rather just another incident of a tawdry talent descending into the moral gutter.
But in today’s celebrity- and ratings-driven age, it seems that such stories take precedence over the Iranian supreme leader’s hate-laden prophecy of doom for Israel and the fate of the crucial nuclear negotiations with Tehran.
THERE WAS, however, an important backlash against populism at the end of last week, with the welcome victory of Isaac “Buji” Herzog as the new leader of the Labor Party. Not only was Herzog’s victory a surprising to the many who had written him off as lacking the celebrity appeal needed to head a major party, but the size of the crushing defeat he delivered to Shelly Yacimovich also left many people scratching their heads, wondering where it had come from.
In truth, it was more a case of Yacimovich losing the confidence of Labor members than an overwhelming vote of confidence for Herzog, but his victory does provide an opportunity for an old-new style of party leadership.
Yacimovich sprang to political prominence through her previous career as a high-profile TV presenter, setting the trend for others to follow, but bringing no real leadership experience with her. As Labor Party leader, she set an unapologetic populist economic agenda that would have crippled the country; she ignored the main issue facing the country – the peace process with the Palestinians – while her autocratic, limelight-hugging leadership style alienated those who were not in her thrall.
Herzog may not have the charisma of Yacimovich or, dare one say it, a Golan, but he is a serious, devoted politician who has proved himself in every ministerial role he has held. He might not get the crowds cheering, but he has a well-rounded social democratic worldview that can unite the Center and Center-Left parties in Israel and provide a much-needed alternative to our present government – which is leading us into a diplomatic abyss and international isolation.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.