Media comment: Desecrating a memory

What does all this have to do with a media commentary article? Everything.

Palestinians in Gaza celebrate cease-fire (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians in Gaza celebrate cease-fire
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tzafrir Ronen was an Israeli Zionist through and through. A kibbutznik who worked as a media advisor to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin during the 1992 election campaign, slowly but surely he changed his thinking and joined Israel’s Right, and was even appointed to the Yesha Council in 2007.
Ronen was an idealist. He firmly believed that facts are important and for this purpose tried to found an Israeli History Channel, assuming that if people were to become more familiar with the facts, they would understand that the Oslo process was a disaster for the State of Israel and Zionism.
He collected over 8,000 hours of documentary material, preparing some of it for a fourpart series entitled “The Curse of Hadrian.”
In the aftermath of the Bar Kochba revolt, the Roman emperor Hadrian not only destroyed the Judean Province and exiled all of its Jewish inhabitants but also changed its name to Syria Palaestina. It is this change of name which Ronen referred to as the curse; the usage of the name “Palestine” today is nothing but the perpetuation of an attempt by an enemy of the Jewish people to erase the memory of Judaea. According to Ronen, anyone using this terminology today is playing into the hands of those who want to destroy the national identity of the Jewish people.
Ronen passed away in 2008 at the relatively young age of 53, destitute and deeply saddened by the tragic evacuation of the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria.
What does all this have to do with a media commentary article? Everything.
Channel 1 TV, our publicly funded TV channel, decided to air this past Tuesday the first of a two-part series, entitled Hadrian’s Curse, supposedly fulfilling a promise given to Ronen that his work would be brought to the public.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a Bar-Ilan expert on Middle East studies, appears in a few sections of the series and wrote the following on his Facebook pages: “I saw both parts of the film and I am upset to the depths of my heart. This film is the precise opposite of what Tzafrir Ronen tried to achieve. Tzafrir claimed all his life that the ‘Palestinian Narrative’ is built on lies, bluffs and inventions while Israel’s truth emanates from the solid history of other peoples (Greece, Rome), from archeology which cannot be questioned and in the modern age on international law since the Balfour Declaration (1917) and the San Remo conference (1920).
“The film to be shown on Channel 1 is a defilement of the memory of Tzafrir and his life’s work. The film brings forth two narratives, an Israeli and a Palestinian, and presents them as equally valued. I called one of the people who participated in preparing it and asked him about this distortion. His answer shocked me: ‘In Israel you cannot get funding for films which present only the Zionist side positively.’” Kedar ends his post by noting that had he known that this would be the final product he would not have participated in it.
This disappointing story follows another recent news item. As reported in Haaretz on November 24, Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat (Likud) has requested that all public funding be withdrawn from the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. Last year, the state gave it NIS 1.8 million. The cinematheque had just organized a “Nakba and Right of Return Film Festival,” the product of the virulent anti-Zionist Zochrot movement. The festival includes what one might expect.
Livnat said, “It is unreasonable in my eyes that an organization which is funded by the State of Israel would allow its premises to be used for preaching [that] the day of the establishment of the state is a day of mourning.
It cannot be that the state funds a body which encourages a discourse on what the Palestinians call ‘the right of return.’” Another related incident is the poem “Ahmed Loves Israel.” Amir Benayoun is an established mainstream Israeli singer, who also happens to be an observant Jew. In the aftermath of the recent spate of murderous acts against Jews by Arabs, Benayoun composed a song with lyrics such as: “It’s true a moment will come when you’ll turn your back; And I’ll slash you with a sharpened ax,” describing a fictional Arab called Ahmed who lives a “normal” life but has dreams of killing Jews.
In response, President Reuven Rivlin dis-invited Benayoun from an official presidential event organized by the Senior Citizens Ministry. Ironically, the event commemorated the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands. Minister Uri Orbach (Bayit Yehudi) was angered by the presidential boycott, believing that Benayoun’s freedom of speech should be safeguarded. In protest, he absented himself from the event. One wonders what is worse: describing Arabs as bloodthirsty or accusing a whole nation (which happens to be Jewish) of supposedly uprooting half a million people from their homes.
This does not end our saga. The criminal arson of a classroom and hateful epithets appearing in Jerusalem’s Max Rayne Hand in Hand school received across-the-board condemnation in Israel. At the Hand in Hand school Arab and Jewish children learn together and its motto is “Building a shared society.” This includes, for example, holding a special event on the tenth anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat.
Yet almost at the same time, another school, the Teddy Kollek middle school in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood, became the scene of Palestinian stoning of Jewish children. Injuries were caused last Friday. Parents could not come and collect their children as the school was under siege.
Despite calls for outrage, all the “important people” somehow managed to avoid making any pronouncements. What is worse, vandalizing an empty classroom or stoning people? Actually, there isn’t too much news in this article. We all know that among what is considered the Israeli elite, Jews are second- rate denizens of this earth. One may with impunity debase their holiest beliefs, as in the Broadcasting Authority’s new satire, The Jews Are Coming, or one can deny their fundamental truths such as their very right of existence in the land of Israel. But, if one dares to do these to Arabs, the epithets start flying.
In retrospect, this situation is really a reflection of the media’s contempt for Israel’s Arab citizens. They are treated as is they were babies who have to be safeguarded at any cost, babies who cannot defend themselves. We the Jews are grownups, and therefore, our obligations are of a more serious nature. Babies are allowed to cry, grownups are not. It is high time that our media and cultural leaders started treating Jews and Arabs as human beings, with equal rights but also equal obligations. When this day comes, we can start really believing in coexistence. When this day comes, the life’s work of Tzafrir Ronen will not be blighted any more.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (