Swami says

publicly discussion of Iran is playing a high-stakes game of “Swami Says” – a phony attempt to predict the future.

Shadow over Likud logo 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Shadow over Likud logo 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
What do people around the world spend billions on every day? What need has spawned more professions, both real and fraudulent, than any other? The answer isn’t so obvious but becomes clear once you start thinking about it.
Predicting the future has been one of mankind’s primary concerns since the beginning of civilization. It is essential for us to try and be in control of our destiny and hedge our bets against the inevitable changes are part of our existence. If you’ve ever considered why people purchase stocks, insurance or even a lottery ticket, you know where I’m coming from.
Before you start thinking that I’ve decided to write a column on philosophy, let me assure you that this need is playing an ever growing part in the delicate balance between the Israeli government and the media.
Let me start by going back to October. Right after the Tishrei holidays, a leading Israeli newspaper published an op-ed, a portion of which ran on the front page. It basically discussed how Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak might be planning to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities without the backing of the heads of security forces and, no less importantly, with zero public discourse. No sources were quoted.
The day after the piece came out I wrote a column criticizing the paper for running the story, especially on the front page, as I felt it did not serve the citizens of Israel. I argued that there are many other parties interested in having the Iran nuclear issue shoved to the forefront of the public agenda (I even named a few of them) but that it was counterproductive for the country as a whole.
My editor at the time decided that I was too critical of the newspaper and killed my piece despite my objections. Sure enough, within two to three days everyone was talking about Iran. Just to clarify, I understand that Iran poses a huge threat to Israel. That said, I believe that publicly discussing all of the different scenarios designed to put an end to that threat is playing a high-stakes game of “Swami Says” – a phony attempt to predict the future.
The Iran agenda has made top headlines not just in the Israeli press but in international media outlets as well. But why do they all go along with it? Simply put, it makes for an endless supply of stories. A highly regarded individual of any party involved in the situation can say something and it can make the front page. Who knows, maybe another piece of information or opinion will give us a clearer vision in our crystal ball.
The problem domestically is that the saber-rattling has been so loud it has drowned out the cries for other important causes. Looking back, it seems to have particularly hampered the message from the throngs of Israelis who last summer took to the streets demanding the government change our economic priorities. Who would want to lead a newscast with a lopsided tax system or the high price of housing when you could be talking about a possible war or nuclear annihilation?
Now, just in case the Iran rhetoric is quieting down, the Likud has orchestrated yet another game of Swami Says for the Israeli public in the form of elections. It started, once again, immediately following the holidays. The Friday after Independence Day, an interview with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin was published saying that the upcoming parliamentary session will likely be the last of this Knesset. Sure enough, on Sunday that’s what everyone was talking about and the next day, it was all but set in stone.
The period leading up to elections is when media outlets are hypersensitive. Knesset members running for office are out there campaigning and trying to raise money. That means massive press presence. Every news outlet wants to get a headline via extensive coverage. We’ll all be occupied as they look for every mistake, every fight and every juicy tidbit and report on it.
If we are to believe today’s polls, Likud will win this election and the status quo will be preserved. But news outlets can’t just leave it at that. There needs to be suspense and plotlines. Some parties will lose out while others will gain power. Which ones? We’ll be taken down the road to the elections. Meeting and revisiting with the people and their stories. Analyzing every twist and turn and what it might mean for the upcoming vote. Four or five months of tales from the campaign trail. We’ll be spending a lot of money to finance a gamble in which Likud has heavily hedged its bets.
That should keep us all busy until after the elections when, like it or not, at the end of the holidays, we’ll all tune in for another nail-biting episode of Swami Says. That chapter has yet to be written.
The writer is an independent media consultant and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.