MEDIA COMMENT: Revising history

Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin (photo credit: US LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/WIKIMEDIA)
Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin
Prime minister Menachem Begin came into power in 1977 on a platform which, among other items, supported especially the rights of the Mizrachi/Sephardi community, who were then the more poor and socially downtrodden segments of Israeli society. For 30 years, the socialist Labor party and its predecessor Mapai (The Workers’ Party) used their power to support the kibbutz movement and the Histadrut labor union which traditionally defended the rights of the economically stronger segments of employees such as those in the electric company and Israel’s ports. Labor was notorious for providing goodies to its supporters while “punishing” those who did not go along.
Begin’s Herut-Liberal party (Gahal), the predecessor of the Likud as we know it today, promised a new era, in which the excesses as well as shortcomings of the previous Mapai governments would be eliminated and the well-being of the general population would increase significantly. It is naturally of interest, three decades later, to assess the impact of Begin and his government on the Israeli economy.
This was one of the topics of a TV Channel 8 series called The Silver Platter, recalling Natan Alterman’s famous poem, produced by Messrs. Doron Tsabari and Amir Ben-David.
Ben-David is among other things a journalist and film producer, but in the present context he is the economics editor of the i24 TV channel.
Tsabari is a film producer who was in the past the chairperson of the Israeli Association of Film Producers. He is a member of the board of the New Israel Fund, served as a member of the board of the IBA and struggled successfully to turn the public broadcaster into a source of funding for Israeli film producers.
The third chapter in the series starred Professor Daniel Gutwein of Haifa University, a known extreme left-wing “historian” whose adherence to facts is arguably guided by post-modern relativism, i.e., there is no truth, only “narratives,” and there is thus no need to either attempt to stick to facts or to provide audiences with the “other” narrative. Gutwein defines himself as a social democrat, founded Yesod and opposes the privatization of governmental assets.
He sees the settlements in Judea and Samaria as the main recipients of governmental socialist support at the expense of Israeli society west of the Green Line. He supported MK Shelly Yacimovich, an outspoken socialist, as well as Meretz MK Ilan Gillon.
Gutwein and Tsabari, in a well prepared film, describe the Begin era as one which led to increased poverty, extreme inflation, expensive loans, reduction of government subsidies, a collapse of the stock market and the failure of the Israeli banking system.
Moshe Fuksman-Sha’al, assistant executive director of the Begin Center, was incensed. He claimed, in an op-ed published in Globes, that “behind the colorful graphics, data presented out of economic context, archival material relevant to a specific historical situation, half-truths and erasure of any fact that would cast doubt on his personal beliefs, Gutwein presented a false narrative that is not connected to reality.”
Fuksman further noted that one of Begin’s most important social contributions was “Operation Renewal,” a program through which the Begin governments invested over a billion US dollars to improve the lot of poor Israelis significantly, reducing the density of people per room in the problematic neighborhoods from 1.9 to 1.2. He also noted that legislation assuring free high school education and minimum income were not mentioned.
We would add two central events in the background that contributed to the economic failures that did occur during the Begin era. One was the rampant inflation in the US, the other was the removal of governmental support for Labor Party structures, which then collapsed. The narrative of Gutwein was that Begin did not really care much for the lower social echelon, he just used it as a tool to usurp political power from the Labor Party.
Fuksman complained, as reported in the INN news website, and the response of Channel 8 and the Hot cable carrier was that “Gutwein presented his personal view of Israel’s economic history which is based on many years of research and deep insight. Like any presentation, also that of Gutwein’s is open to public criticism and public discussion, which we welcome.”
Fuksman is not unbiased. He is an employee of the Begin Center (as is Y.M.) whose public mandate is to preserve the legacy of Menachem Begin. However, any objective observer would conclude that unfortunately, Channel 8 was less than truthful in its response. The editors should have imposed on Tsabari and Gutwein some minimal standards of reporting, such as providing the public with an independent opinion or a follow-up discussion on the chapter.
They should have had the courtesy to allow the Begin Center to respond.
They knew that Tsabari and Gutwein are not exactly supporters of the Likud and never have been.
They could have guessed that the end result would not be a pluralistic view. They chose to defend revisionist history instead of providing the viewership with an important multi-layered analysis of an era which leaves its imprint on Israeli society to this very day.
One may claim that there is nothing wrong in allowing a distinguished personality to make claims regarding Israel’s society and its economics according to his outlook.
This was the purpose of the whole series. Its first chapter was presented by Guy Rolnik, editor and founder of Haaretz’s The Marker newspaper and a recipient of Israel’s Media Watch’s prize for economic journalism. The second highlighted Professor Yaron Zelicha, a former accountant general of the State of Israel, appointed by then finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Later, he turned into a supporter of MK Shelly Yacimovich and her socialist order.
Interestingly, Zelicha’s career, which had its ups and downs, includes work both in the private and public sectors. He played important roles in the process of privatization of Bank Discount and Bank Leumi including a charge against then prime minister Ehud Olmert that he improperly involved himself in the process. Among others, as reported in The Seventh Eye, he has accused the Yediot Aharonot syndicate of being a major player in defending Israel’s economic system, which in Zelicha’s eyes is corrupt. Interestingly, Ynet, the syndicate’s Internet arm, refrained from publicizing the chapter of the Silver Platter series which starred Zelicha.
It is then not surprising that the series was not balanced. All three presenters pointed toward the need to renew the social protest movement of 2011. But of the three it is Gutwein who stands out as a political choice rather than a professional one. Both Rolnik and Zelicha have spent their lives in the economic sphere and have something to say about it. Gutwein is at best a historian.
But he is an excellent spokesperson for the radical Left. Choosing him sent home the message that this was not an educational series but one intended to brainwash.
Thankfully, the budget for the series ended and those of you who still use the cable services of Hot and funded this sad story can be relieved.
It has come to an end.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (