The summer of our discontent

The Israeli media have been a driving force in fueling recent protests.

Anyone following the media in Israel can’t help but be amazed at the coverage being given to the doctors’ strike and the real-estate protests sweeping the country. Traditionally walkouts and sit-ins have either been looked down upon by the media or buried in the back pages. There are many reasons for this – the prominent one being that news outlets don’t want to spoil their relations with the people in power, who are often the individuals who must end the disputes.
This time around, it seems that the press, in its many forms, is telling our lawmakers that they’ve gone too far, and is also demanding results. Some outlets are using the direct approach and suing for change. When a top newspaper splashes an editorial on its front page calling the protests “The Slave Rebellion,” not much more needs to be said. Not all media outlets have been that direct. Most have used old-fashioned editorializing to make their points. Let’s examine some:
1. Making lawmakers look uninformed, or as if they are misrepresenting the facts. After the first round of the real-estate sit-ins, some MKs made an attempt at damage control by holding a public briefing. During that meeting, it was said that people pay more for apartments overseas. One news station devoted a two-minute piece debunking that claim. While it might be true that there are countries in which apartments are more expensive, the average salaries there are also higher, and governments have instituted strict regulations, especially regarding rental properties.
2. Making lawmakers look heartless.
We are constantly reminded of the low salaries that doctors and interns make at government-run hospitals. It is truly a disgrace that people in charge of saving lives make as little as NIS 25 per hour.
When a newspaper reviews those pay rates and reminds its readers that the Treasury took in billions of shekels in extra taxes over the past several months, it seems clear that there would be a path to solving the crisis if only the government would show some consideration.
3. Making lawmakers look incompetent.
Looking again at the problems with the real-estate market, a few media outlets published facts making it look like the left hand of the government doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. A good example is the issue of allotting land for cheaper housing. Land in this country is controlled by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) – a pseudo-government agency, and one of the most antiquated bureaucracies in this nation. Last week, when the government tried to order the ILA to quickly issue a tender to build rental housing, the agency admitted it didn’t even know how to go about doing that.
To make matters worse, there is a stark conflict of interest between the government’s populist move to encourage rental housing by making land available for contractors at a discount, and the Treasury’s policy of trying to get as much money as it possibly can for any land the state is selling.
4. Making lawmakers look like elitists.
There have been many reports as to why major building projects have been held up over the past few years.
For the first time, though, I read last week that there are quite a few municipalities that have flatly rejected building projects with smaller apartments.
The reason? They don’t want to attract low-income families who can only afford one- to two-bedroom units.
One news outlet even cited the mayor of Netanya, who reportedly said such low-cost housing would be devastating for the city.
5. Making lawmakers look as if they feel politics is more important than people – almost like Nero fiddling while Rome burns. News sources played up the Knesset vote on “investigating left-wing organizations” last week. The final vote proved that the proposal never really had a chance, but the fact that almost every MK, including the prime minister, was busy running around discussing it while the protests were going on shows that our politicians might have their priorities mixed up. By the way, most of the MKs were on hand for the vote, but immediately afterward, there was a debate on the housing problems. Only 13 MKs decided that this issue was important enough to remain.
THE MASS demonstration on Saturday night proves the effectiveness of the media’s support for these causes. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the news coverage brought about the huge turnout, but it certainly played a part.
Prime Minister (and self-appointed Health Minister) Binyamin Netanyahu has some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks. The demands for change are coming on his watch. If he moves quickly and decisively, he will strengthen his political power. If the resolutions are not forthcoming, the Likud might find itself in the opposition after the next elections.
Speed, however, has not been a trademark of Mr. Netanyahu’s bloated government.
The main problem is that solving these legitimate disputes will cost money. Some will have to be paid out immediately, while the rest will be paid in the future, reducing income for the government coffers. Unfortunately the bureaucrats in the Treasury are more concerned with balance sheets than with the people they serve. That’s another attitude that will have to change.
This time, the media seem to be supporting the people who rightfully feel they’ve been wronged by their elected officials, and it seems unlikely that even the prime minister will be able to turn that tide.
The writer is an independent media consultant and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.