Media comment: The unethical media that disengaged itself

Residents in Gush Katif argue with a policeman after being sprayed with colored water cannon on August 18, 2005. (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Residents in Gush Katif argue with a policeman after being sprayed with colored water cannon on August 18, 2005.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
The expulsion of over 8,000 Jews from the Gaza district, and the destruction of all they had achieved and accomplished, took place 10 years ago. In February 2005, Channel 2’s left-wing ideologue Amnon Abramowitz called upon his colleagues to safeguard then prime minister Ariel Sharon.
He used the etrog, which is wrapped to protect it from damage but discarded after Succot, as an example for how Sharon should be treated.
The media blindly followed their “Rebbe Abramowitz” and outdid itself in serving the government.
As Caroline Glick characterized it in her Friday column, the media was in “lockstep” with the government. It was uncritical, mobilized and unprofessional. We would add that it was doubly unethical.
The media at all levels identified with and supported the government’s decision to remove all traces of Jewish life from the three areas of renewed Jewish residency in the Gaza district – Gush Katif, the center and the northern areas as well as four northern Samaria communities. Secondly, most of the media promoted the government line which portrayed the opposition to its plan in a carefully-crafted negative and untruthful fashion.
Were all involved in reporting the process of disengagement kowtowing to the government? No. But those who weren’t faced either peer pressure or government heavy-handedness. At a conference organized by the left-wing Israel Democracy Institute on July 13, three instances of such interference were revealed. Avi Benayahu, then head of the Galatz Army radio station, related that he was ordered by Dan Halutz, the IDF commander-in-chief, to fire Amit Segal, now a Channel 2 TV star. Asked for a reason, Halutz replied, “Every morning he needles me.”
Mordecai Shaklar admitted that his appointment as director of the Israel Broadcasting Authority was canceled after he publicly criticized the media for being more interested in how the settlers would react rather than whether the disengagement was good or bad.
Panelist MK Yinon Magal, then a Channel 10 reporter, posted on his Facebook page that the station’s director sought to keep him off the air as he had expressed sympathy for the Jewish Gaza residents in his broadcasts. He was the only reporter on the roof of the Kfar Darom synagogue yet he was informed that he would be cut off as according to the IDF spokesperson (now Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev) it was prohibited to broadcast from that location.
Channel 2 television’s military correspondent, Roni Daniel, who was unopposed to the disengagement, was quite forthright in a July 17 Makor Rishon interview, describing the media’s overwhelmingly left-wing slant as a “junta of thought police.”
These few observations, it could be claimed, are not necessarily representative.
But the PhD thesis of Anat Roth is.
Roth, is a former field observer for Peace Now who has worked for Labor politicians Ehud Barak, Amram Mitzna and Matan Vilnai and who became a researcher with the Israel Democracy Institute, originally supported the disengagement. The book, Lo Bechol Machir (“Not at any price”), is over 600 pages long and copiously annotated.
It demonstrates that the media ignored collection of behind-the-scenes information, portrayed unfolding events in a demonic manner and worse, too often did so with no factual basis. Roth, now a recent Knesset candidate on the Bayit Yehudi Party list, highlights all this with a multitude of examples quoted directly from the press.
At the Kfar Maimon showdown, on the eve of the disengagement’s final stage, Haaretz was reporting there would surely be a violent confrontation. Ma’ariv’s Ben Caspit termed it “a clash of civilizations.” Others described the protesters in Kfar Darom as using language from the Second Temple period. Moshe Gorali, also with Ma’ariv, called the Gaza residents “the direct continuation of the Jewish zealots... ready, in the name of their faith, to destroy the Jewish commonwealth and bring it down on top of all our heads.”
To the IDI’s Uzi Benziman, then at Haaretz, they were “armed militias [who] pose a challenge to the government’s capability to exercise its authority.”
Dror Eydar, writing in Israel Hayom last Friday, pointed to the early stages leading to the expulsion, describing the media’s behavior as “shameless.”
He notes that in early May 2004 Sharon, buoyed by media polls that predicted a victory for his plan, decided to put the issue up for a referendum among the Likud members, promising that he would abide by the result.
The polls were wrong; Sharon received a resounding “no.” On the day of the vote, Yediot Aharonot, in an op-ed composed by columnist Sever Plocker, tried to sway Likud members to vote in favor of the disengagement.
The next day, Sima Kadmon, in true communist fashion, had it that the Likud was “against the people.” The paper’s Nechama Dueck noted that “the Likud Party has disengaged from Sharon... the rightist, extremist, religious Likud.”
Last week, Emily Amrousi also recounted her experiences as Yesha Council spokeswoman at the time. After a 250,000-strong rally in front of the Knesset demanding a referendum, all the Army Radio interviewer was interested in was a sign that one protester had waved comparing Sharon to Pharaoh.
“The interviewer wouldn’t move past the silly sign,” she fumed. “Not a single listener knew what a quarter-million people had been demanding.”
Amrousi, like Eydar, notes that the dominant media discourse ignored serious discussion of the security implications of the disengagement. “No one asked why,” she said. “Not one of the smart journalists, the thousands of people who work in the field.
No one.”
One of her anecdotes is especially illuminating.
In a closed cabinet meeting, then-Israel Police commissioner Insp. Gen. Moshe Karadi asked for additional manpower and justified the request by noting that perhaps some rabbi might rule that his students could shoot at a Druse soldier during the evacuation. The next day, a page two headline in Ma’ariv read, “New halachic ruling: Druse may be shot during evacuation.”
Despite the Yesha Council’s press release that an investigation had revealed that there was no such halachic ruling, the response was not broadcast. “All the TV and radio current events programs dwelt on that made-up nonsense,” she said.
A press conference convened to announce that “Yesha leaders and protest groups say ‘no’ to violence” was a failure. A sticker had been supposedly distributed in the settlements reading: “Sharon, Lily [his late wife] is waiting for you.” Amrousi informed us that the sticker was not “distributed in the settlements” but handed to three TV reporters.
Only months later was there an indictment against the person responsible for printing it – a police officer whose job it was to locate extremists.
This past fortnight we have monitored the media and noticed an increase of items devoted to the failures of the media a decade ago, which is an improvement. But sadly many of those whose conduct was unprofessional then, such as Abramowitz, Kadmon, Dueck and Plocker, continue to pollute our public discourse. A truly free, professional and ethical Israeli press is still far from reach.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (