Media Comment: ‘Haaretz’ vs. Bennett

It is no secret that the academic elite in Israel identify mostly with the secular, left-wing liberal community.

Naftali Bennett (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Naftali Bennett
In our consumer-driven society, a privately owned newspaper has the right to advocate the views of its editors and publishers. The consumer who does not like the editorial line or, better, the party line, is free to purchase other newspapers. But freedom of expression is not freedom of vilification. A media outlet which respects itself should allow even villains the right of reply and the ability to defend their good name.
Haaretz doesn’t act that way. When it decides to latch onto someone, it does so with no holds barred, cruelly, bitterly and decidedly unethically. This is so in the case of Haaretz vs. Bennett.
The party line of Haaretz is liberal, extreme left-wing but fiscally conservative. Education Minister Naftali Bennett is perceived as a threat, especially to the first two characteristics. Under his leadership, his Bayit Yehudi party is changing some of the most important strongholds of the elites, and they are screaming, with Haaretz leading the pack.
It is no secret that the academic elite in Israel identify mostly with the secular, left-wing liberal community.
They are avid consumers of Haaretz and Bennett is threatening their hegemony. Israel spends many billions of shekels on higher education. Policies are implemented through “Malag,” the Council for Higher Education, and the funding goes through “Vatat,” the Coordination and Budget Committee. The education minister is, by law, the chair of Malag and he appoints the chair of Vatat.
In practice, the vice-chair of Malag is the person responsible for its day-to-day management since the minister does not have the time needed (nor perhaps the expertise) to run the affairs of Malag on such a basis.
Professor Hagit Messer-Yaron, a professor of electrical engineering at Tel Aviv University, served as the vicechair from October 2013 until February 2016. Bennett forced her resignation. Although he did not publicize his reasons, one can fairly well guess what they were: Messer-Yaron led an effort to neutralize the powers of the education minister to implement the minister’s policies and to oversee academia.
Briefly, the Commission for Regulation of Governance which she headed recommended that the members of Malag be appointed through an independent committee, chaired by a Supreme Court justice. The academic community applauded as this would assure their domination of academia. The forced resignation of Messer-Yaron put an end to this.
Haaretz is understandably concerned. So it permitted Professor Moshe Shoked, professor emeritus of anthropology at Tel Aviv University, to write an op-ed article entitled “In Our Very Own Weimar Republic” on February 19. In it, Shoked berates his colleagues and attacks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, he said, is “the unrestrained, deceptive magician who grew up in the home of a historian but was trained to enlist and promote ignorance, fear and hatred in Israeli society.”
He saves, however, his harshest remarks for Benett, “whose conduct is a reminder of dark regimes of other periods” and who wears a “pistol on his waist.”
He ends his article by describing Israel as “a society...
that in practice is moving toward an apartheid regime” and asks: “How can we remain passive in an era that is our equivalent of the happy days of Weimar?” When people in the Gaza Strip, who were threatened and in fact then expelled from their homes, wore a yellow star as a demonstrative act, the media hanged them in the public square. But Haaretz is allowed to publish an article which effectively accuses a minister of Nazi-like behavior, and no one considers this a serious issue. Indeed, Haaretz knows that Shoked has a habit of demeaning the Holocaust. He previously did so in a Haaretz op-ed on March 11, 2011, “No to Boycott, Yes to Suicide,” reacting to a Knesset bill which would forbid boycotting Israeli academic institutions, writing, “it is hard not to recall the 1930s and 1940s, when another great nation took its own life under a mad vision of border expansion.”
Bennett has a number of additional “sins” for which he need atone. These include the decision of his ministry not to place the book Borderlife by Dorit Rabinian on the list of compulsory reading for the matriculation exam in literature. If a student wants to she or he can include it, but it is not an integral part of the curriculum.
Haaretz was incensed. In an editorial on January 1 it wrote: “The backing of Minister Bennett [for the decision on the book] is another step in the nationalistic indoctrination that the heads of the education ministry are providing for the secular public school system.”
But even this was not enough. The paper went so far as to publish a letter to the editor by author Amos Ben-Vered on February 2, who describes his childhood experience in a German school in Bulgaria in 1938.
Although the school was German and its teachers wore the swastika, the curriculum remained as it was in pre-Nazi Germany. Ben-Vered writes: “The question is how does the government and, especially Minister Bennett, want to act? Are they willing at least to accept the moderate spirit of the Nazi [Konstantin] von Neurath who permitted the schools to teach as in previous years, when Germany was a democracy?” On the Haaretz website, the letter comes with a picture of the Nazi von Neurath. The equation, Bennett is a Nazi, speaks for itself.
This is not to say that Haaretz was not taken to task.
On February 26, journalist Erel Segal criticized the paper in an article published in Makor Rishon and the NRG website. The story related that: “As long as Minister Bennett worried about the number of children in the class, adding helping teachers and increasing math lessons, it worked not too badly. But when he dared to touch core issues of our existence here, the left went berserk. What was permitted to [former education ministers Yuli] Tamir and [Yossi] Sarid is forbidden for the right.”
After describing outrageous acts by previous left-wing education ministers, he ends by noting: “For me at least, the story is clear. There is no danger to democracy, there is no fascism. There is here an elite struggling for its hegemony. A paranoid and frightened elite unwilling to accept the fact that the government of Israel, chosen by a majority which believes in Zionism, decided to act accordingly.”
Segal was not alone, but the mainstream media remained silent. The talk shows, the radio programs, the TV news shows, all of which were very quick to decry any allusions of the Left to Stalinism or Nazism, said nothing.
They did not call upon the Israel Democracy Institute or the president of the Press Council, former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, to express their opinion on Haaretz’s articles. They did not request a response from President Reuven Rivlin or Knesset speaker Edelstein.
No, they were silent, quiet accomplices of a newspaper which is a blight to our society.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (