The hidden and the fake

For the past 12 years, this organization has been producing reports on the achievements of Israeli ministers and Knesset members in the national camp.

DEMOCRATS ARE taking control the US House of Representatives (photo credit: REUTERS)
DEMOCRATS ARE taking control the US House of Representatives
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The NGO Mattot Arim describes itself on its website as an authentic grassroots Israeli organization that promotes the national interests of the residents of central Israel and the large cities within the former “Green Line.” It provides critical information on existential topics, information that often is not made available to the public by any other means. It aims to empower the citizenship and enable it to express itself in an informed manner so as to have positive influence on the Knesset, primary elections, the government and other centers of political power.
For the past 12 years, this organization has been producing reports on the achievements of Israeli ministers and Knesset members in the national camp. Their definition of an achievement is helping to bring about an outcome that the national camp electorate supports as well as preventing an outcome that the national camp electorate opposes. As the actors are elected parliamentarians and appointed ministers, “achievements” range from initiating legislation, voting in the Knesset, policy promotions, public pronouncements and so on.
Its 2018 report, published in October, noted that “almost 70% of the National Camp’s elected leaders had 10 or fewer achievements”. Their report is detailed, listing the number of achievements of each coalition party MK separately. For example, Bayit Yehudi Minister Ayelet Shaked was found to be the top performer, with 78 achievements in which she furthered the interests of the national camp. This is to be contrasted with Yisrael Beytenu’s former minister Sofia Landwer with not a single achievement for the national camp to her credit.
Especially with primaries and national elections in the near future, one would think that its report would raise interest, at least within the national camp and its media outlets. Indeed, Arutz 7 published their results, as did the religious website Srugim, but that was it. Nothing in the mainstream media or Makor Rishon and Israel Hayom. The right-wing media does not support its NGOs, as does, for example, Haaretz.
Contrast this with a very different NGO, Mashrokit (in English, the Whistleblower). It describes itself innocuously as an organization that “deals with public statements made by public figures in order to provide the news consumers with an essential tool for their informed and critical examination. Through a quick, comprehensive, balanced, and real-time examination of statements regarding the day’s issues, the Mashrokit seeks to lead a more credible, accurate and factual public and media discourse in Israel.” Furthermore, “the principles that guide the work of Mashrokit are precision, accuracy in facts and details, and the use of reliable sources, regardless of the speaker’s identity or the position presented.“ That sounds good and presumably, that is what Israel’s mainstream media also thinks.
As reported on November 14 on the ICE website, in the Haaretz newspaper, at the national Eilat Journalists Conference and on Kan Reshet Bet, this organization reached the conclusion that 74% of public statements made by Israeli politicians are fake news. Certainly, if true, that is quite worthy of publicity, not less and not more than Mattot Arim’s conclusion that “almost 70% of the National Camp’s elected leaders had 10 or fewer achievements.” Why, then, the striking difference in the media attention given to the two different reports?
As published on September 20 on The Marker’s website, a study of the Mashrokit organization’s website leads to the conclusion that mostly right-wing politicians are under scrutiny, an allegation vehemently denied by Michal Sela, one of their employees, who says, “We all have opinions, but we are apolitical…. It does not matter if you are left or right. It is important that politicians do not lie to you.” Indeed, we would agree. But it is also important that NGOs do not misrepresent themselves. Mattot Arim openly describes itself as belonging to the national camp. Mashrokit, on the other hand, is afraid to present its true identity, and no wonder.
In 2016 its largest donor was guess who? The New Israel Fund. Are they neutral? Not exactly.
Mashrokit’s concept of fake news is a very relative one. For example, Yehuda Glick, Likud MK, stated on September 14 that two million Palestinians live in Judea and Samaria. This was deemed fake news by Mashrokit. But of course, the number of residents is hotly debated – neither Glick, nor Mashrokit nor anyone else knows the correct number, since the Palestinian Authority refuses to hold a scientifically controlled census.
Likud MK and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely criticized the Supreme Court for ordering the destruction of homes in Netiv Ha’avot in the Gush Etzion area. She states that this was “despite the fact that there was no Palestinian who had a claim on the land.” The Mashrokit goes into a long harangue to try to prove that this is false and that there are Palestinians who have a claim. However, in truth, that is a claim some Arabs made, but it was never proven in any court of justice. To assume that the Palestinians are truthful and Hotovely is not, is perhaps not surprising for an organization whose budget comes from the New Israel Fund.
Journalists today seem to be dissatisfied with the traditional roles of the press, which were to truthfully and objectively report on events. A journalist was a “committed observer,” as Gil Thelen, former publisher of The Tampa Tribune, wrote. But new norms have been developing, as we see above.
In the most recent issue of Journalism, published by Sage, three academics, Karen McIntyre, Nicole Smith Dahmen and Jesse Abdenour, report on a survey of more than 1,300 journalists concerning “contextual reporting.” What that means are stories that “go beyond the immediacy of the news and contribute to societal well-being.” Their analyses showed that younger journalists and female journalists highly valued three genres of contextual reporting: constructive journalism, solutions journalism, and restorative narrative. Moreover, the more favorable view of those genres stemmed from the journalist’s belief in activist values such as setting the political agenda and pointing to possible solutions.
In short, the media is becoming less of an observer and more of a player. The media has involved itself in the news. A monograph we published more than 20 years ago asked if Israel’s media was reporting or managing the news. We concluded that we found an increasing influence of the broadcast media on the political life of the State of Israel. Additionally, the bias in its reporting of public affairs deliberations was interfering with Israel’s democracy.
Mashrokit’s treatment by Israel’s media and the virtual non-existent treatment of Mattot Arim, we suggest, are further proof of our observation.
The bottom line is that Mashrokit – The Whistleblower – should first blow its whistle on itself, admit its ideology and stop trying to present the public with the fake news that it is objective in its judgments. And our mainstream media should do the same. The fact that an organization such as Mashrokit is provided uncritical publicity support by Israel’s mainstream media while Mattot Arim is not, gives further insight into how and why our media is not trusted by the public.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (