Media Comment: Learning a media lesson

The media went so far as to imply that the Im Tirtzu campaign was just a natural outgrowth of the assassination of prime minister Rabin.

Im Tizu video attacking Israeli human rights groups (photo credit: screenshot)
Im Tizu video attacking Israeli human rights groups
(photo credit: screenshot)
These past weeks, the Im Tirtzu organization felt the heavy hand of the media which is simultaneously an arbiter, provider and judge of public discourse. Colliding head-on with the cultural icons and heroes of much of the mainstream media, Im Tirtzu ended up battered, vilified and impugned. Its director resigned.
This student group has engaged in many social and political battles since its founding, but always refused to cooperate with media review organizations such as Israel’s Media Watch, believing it more beneficial to work with the media. This week they learned the hard way that the end does not justify the means.
In mid-December, Im Tirtzu launched a social media campaign via Facebook to highlight the extent of foreign involvement in far-left groups opposing government policies and especially the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria. As we noted in our December 24 column, “Silencing the truth-sayers,” the media provided “judgment of Im Tirtzu’s actions” and “calm and rational discourse was a rare media commodity.”
The buzzword was “shtulim.” Taken from the Hebrew root meaning “to plant,” it was intended by Im Tirtzu to indicate a foreign agent, a mole, as well as those who subvert by working for an outside body/idea within another body, implanted and nurtured with outside funds.
The new poster uploaded last week, reading “The NIF [New Israel Fund] presents: Implanted in Culture,” highlighted the fact that four cultural icons – actress Gila Almagor, playwright Joshua Sobol, novelist Amos Oz and Sha’anan Street, lead singer of Hadag Nachash – not only expressed radical opinions but were actually members of public governing councils of various groups such as B’Tselem, Yesh Din and the NIF.
The purpose was to accentuate the fact that these icons are political activists. The media distorted the message and portrayed Im Tirtzu as an organization seeking to frame them as traitors who should be violently punished. The NIF assisted this interpretation by launching its own counter-campaign. Its poster showed Yitzhak Rabin with the message “they already took care of this Shatul.”
What the media “overlooked” is that Im Tirtzu did not invent the term “shtulim” – the NIF did. It created and funds an organization called Shatil, whose full name is The NIF Initiative for Social Change. This is just Orwellian doublespeak for a program aimed at training Israelis to implement the far-left policies of the NIF. As the name Shatil implies, the goal is to “implant” activists within Israeli society who will create a New Israel, a more “progressive civil society” dominated by “humanist” values.
Anyone with a basic knowledge of the Hebrew language can grasp that a graduate of Shatil should be called a “shatul,” someone who has been implanted.
The Israeli media totally ignored this. They related to the word “shtulim” as fascist terminology, preferring to view it as a throwback to John La Carre’s novels on the Cold War period and his descriptions of a deeply implanted double agent.
The media went so far as to imply that the Im Tirtzu campaign was just a natural outgrowth of the assassination of prime minister Rabin. Im Tirtzu’s accusations, it was implied, were intended to bring about a similar fate for the icons mentioned in their campaign.
Im Tirtzu chose a frontal attack on what The New York Times defined as “beloved leftist literary icons...who have been considered the voice – and conscience – of the state.” That adulatory judgment was voiced by Rina Matsliah on Saturday night presenting Channel 2’s Meet the Press program. Instead of taking neutral ground as media ethics would dictate, she referred to “this baseless campaign” that has “poison flowing in the streets.” She then continued her unprofessional conduct by interviewing actress Sara von Schwarze with no right of reply given to Im Tirtzu, and followed that with an interview on Monday while hosting the evening news program. Talking with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, she stated, not as a question, that there is an “evil wind” blowing from the Right. To Shaked’s credit, she called out Matzliah for ignoring the negative left-wing campaign.
The simple but quite effective tactic of not giving Im Tirtzu the right of reply was also implemented on Channel 1 TV’s Friday at Five, when Uri Levy and Kinneret Barashi interviewed Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich regarding Im Tirtzu’s campaign. The same tactic was used by left-wing media icon Rino Tzror on Sunday when he interviewed Alex Livak and Ronny Someck, targets of the campaign. He also used the loaded term “great fear” to unethically influence his listening audience. On his Twitter account, he tweeted out Someck’s line “my pain is that of the State.”
Last Thursday, Yoav Krakovsky with Nechama Duek on their Kol Yisrael Reshet Bet Dining Room show interviewed only Yacimovich. She spoke of a “very dangerous attack on the freedom of expression and the rule of law.” Im Tirtzu was denied the opportunity to respond. That same day, Attila Somfalvi, Ynet’s chief political correspondent, described the campaign as “provocative.”
At the Walla! news site, again on Thursday, Dov Gilhar interviewed Sarit Vino-Elad, the sole discussant.
His question to her was: “Can you find it possible to say to these despised, fascist and contemptible people who composed these posters: ‘gentlemen, I am no less patriotic than you and perhaps even more so’?” Her reaction was to say, “Blood may be spilled over this.”
No one in the mainstream media recalled language employed in the past by these same cultural icons attacked by Im Tirtzu. In his 1989 speech in Tel Aviv’s (now) Rabin Square, Amos Oz declared that Gush Emunim is a “messianic sect, autistic and cruel, a band of armed gangsters, criminals against humanity, sadistic, pogromists, and murderers...[which] emerged...from the cellars of beastiality and force upon us a blood-thirsty and insane cult.”
The media did not remind us that right-of-center artists continue to be regularly shunted off our public stage, demeaned and even boycotted. It was Benny Ziffer in Haaretz on February 2 who noted “the left’s obscene contest over Israeli culture.” President Reuven Rivlin disinvited Amir Benayoun from an appearance at his residence a year ago in November. Ariel Zilber was prevented from receiving an award due to Dalia Rabin’s political opposition and Haifa University reneged on its decision to award Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann an honorary doctorate.
The meek and weak politicians from the Right collapsed, preferring to attack Im Tirtzu. The Likud’s Benny Begin, in a Kol Yisrael interview, stated, “Singling out so-called traitors is an old-fashioned fascist technique that is both ugly and dangerous.”
Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett opined: “The campaign against the artists is embarrassing, pointless and degrading.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added, “I object to the use of the term ‘traitor’ for those who don’t agree with me” – a term Im Tirtzu did not use and which was falsely implanted in the discourse by the media.
In the end, Matan Peleg, Im Tirtzu’s executive director suspended himself and took full responsibility for the firestorm the poster created. The media won out.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (