MEDIA COMMENT: Silencing the truth-sayers

A woman reads testimonies during a gathering in Tel Aviv to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Israeli NGO "Breaking the Silence" (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
A woman reads testimonies during a gathering in Tel Aviv to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Israeli NGO "Breaking the Silence"
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
In 2010 the Zionist-oriented Im Tirtzu organization mounted an attack on the New Israel Fund, portraying a horned Naomi Chazan, then president of the NIF.
The attack drew responses such as “right-wing hooligans” with a “potential for murderous violence” attempting to “quell dissenting voices in Israeli society.” True to form, last week’s Im Tirtzu’s “Foreign Agents” video clip which dealt with the virulent anti-IDF Breaking The Silence (BTS) NGO again generated a media storm.
Just like five years ago, the Im Tirtzu campaign was not only reported on by Israel’s media but actively engaged with by it, with the media providing its judgment of Im Tirtzu’s actions.
An extreme example was Haaretz correspondent Chemi Shalev’s “Im Tirtzu and the Proto-fascist Plot to Destroy Israeli Democracy” column of December 16. The video, he wrote, was “a symptom of a rapidly spreading, potentially terminal disease.”
Calm and rational discourse was a rare media commodity this past week.
HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual demanded the opening of a criminal investigation against Im Tirtzu for incitement to murder. Hagai El-Ad, B’tselem’s director, told the UK Telegraph that the government was behind the extra-parliamentary group’s clip and was quoted saying that “the voice is Im Tirtzu but the hands are of the government.”
Israel’s biased media is then reflected also in the foreign media.
The AP’s December 20 headline “Dovish Israeli groups say they face harsh crackdown” was followed by the explanation: “hard-line Israeli politicians and activists” are accused “of a nationalist witch hunt that risks turning violent.”
Achiya Schatz of BTS was quoted saying, “People are silenced and gagged in Israel.” In Haaretz on December 18, Amos Harel employed the expected and silly “McCarthyism” charge and on December 20, Don Futterman’s piece was entitled “The witch hunt against Breaking the Silence,” and claimed that “the only malice is coming from those who want to limit Israel’s political discourse.” All the alarm buttons were pressed.
Futterman, incidentally, is the Moriah Fund director, a group which works with the New Israel Fund which, in turn, in 2008-2014 authorized grants worth $699,310 to BTS. This piece of relevant information was withheld from the public.
The media need not have waited for the video. NGO-Monitor has been consistently revealing the majority foreign-funding sources for years, but only when Im Tirtzu released their clip did the media awaken. Is it only drama which drives the media? The video itself accuses four specific activists from left-wing organizations, self-declared “human rights groups,” of being foreign agents. Those targeted immediately “translated” the clip for the public as an attempt to besmirch them as traitors whose blood may be spilled.
Like Mary Rhodes, the complaisant love in Graham Greene’s play, whom a critic described as “one of those women who needs both the novelty of a dashing lover and the security of a weathered husband, loving each according to his function,” organizations like Breaking the Silence, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, the Center for Defense of the Individual and B’tselem demand unrestrained freedom to travel the world, being feted at the recent Haaretz New York conference, for example, exhibit misleading photographs in Europe while enjoying uncritical review at home.
Surprisingly, the usually left-ofcenter Gav HaUmmah (The Nation’s Back) satirical Channel 10 program pressed the NGOs on the point that bothered Im Tirtzu the most: the funding from governments in Europe.
Leor Schlein’s 10-minute monologue, while expressing sympathy for the aims of BTS, provided a patriotic dressing down. He especially noted the links that have developed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the collaboration with the Goldstone Report and other infamous anti-Israel attacks. But this was an exception to the rule.
The polarization between Israel’s Right and Left became further charged when right-wingers attacked Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, after he appeared at the Haaretz New York conference, at which as mentioned representatives of left-wing NGOs also spoke, including BTS.
“The presidency has lost its shame,” read a post on the Facebook page of Israel’s Channel 20. Rivlin’s presence there, with a “vile organization,” was deemed the crossing of a red line and “a disgrace to the presidency.” Channel 20’s editorial stand on Rivlin’s behavior caused a secondary media explosion.
Haaretz’s political caricature conflated the separate issues and had a bunch of Im Tirtzu and Channel 20 hooligans driving up to the president’s mansion intent on mayhem.
The main arena for the elite was the radio and television interview programs where the microphone is controlled, the panels are carefully imbalanced and the right of both unlimited interjections as well as cutting off the guests is that of the non-neutral moderator.
Oh, and, of course, the throwaway remarks.
Some examples of our findings: Yuli Novack of BTS appeared on Channel 2’s At Six With Oded Ben- Ami on December 14, but no one from Im Tirtzu was present. Their correspondent Ronni Daniel “represented” the opposition (a double ethical infraction, in our opinion).
Yaron London outdid himself at Channel 10, devoting precious time to lambasting Im Tirtzu. Prof.
Moshe Zimmerman, who in 1995 referred to Hebron’s Jewish youth as “Hitlerjugend,” was a guest on December 16.
First, London informed the audience that the real meaning of “plants,” the term used in Im Tirtzu’s video, was “traitors.” Then Zimmerman spoke ominously about the opening scene in the clip which has an Arab wielding a knife, coming at the camera from in front as if to stab the viewer.
He suggested it was a version of the German post-WWI “stab in the back” legend of civilians betraying the armed forces.
We note that Zimmerman is outdated.
Arabs stabbing Jews is not a myth but all too real. London’s studio director contributed background graphics of anti-Semitic caricatures. London spoke of the aesthetics of the propaganda and the music used.
London purposely perverted not only the Im Tirtzu clip and its message but related it to a disconnected period of history. He said, “this creates an Israeli syndrome...
we are struggling against powerful elements from without... elements that pulled the strings, as the Jews did and we Jews today need be sensitive to this.” Zimmerman, even if he recalled that Uri Avneri also employed such methods, interjected a snide anti-Semitic throwaway.
The previous day, London’s two guests, Col. (Ret.) Liron Liebman and Ruth Kedar of the extreme left-wing NGO Yesh Din justified the activities of BTS and the other groups. London’s viewers were simply overwhelmed with a one-sided narrative over three days.
Newspaper columnists did provide some balance to the electronic media.
For example, Ben-Dror Yemini, no rightist, already on November 26 at Ynet accused BTS of demonizing Israel and being “an organization that spreads lies about the IDF, to benefit from official legitimacy and foreign funding.”
Yoaz Hendel’s December 15 op-ed, also at Ynet, asserted that the group publishes “false testimony about an unbalanced army, an unbalanced state and good people who have turned into monsters.”
Nevertheless, deeply embedded in Israel’s media is a core that will jettison journalistic ethics in favor of silencing ideological opponents.
Breaking the Silence? Silence? Who are you kidding?
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (