Who should be called an ‘extremist?'

It is a basic part of media theory that news and views should be separate.

BARUCH MARZEL, from the Otzma Yehudit political party, in Hebron this week. (photo credit: REUTERS)
BARUCH MARZEL, from the Otzma Yehudit political party, in Hebron this week.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘Extremism” is the political buzzword of the current election campaign. Meretz chairwoman MK Tamar Zandberg repeatedly accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud for joining up with Kahanists, racists and what not. Zandberg’s headline after the union of the religious parties as a technical bloc, including the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) Party, was: “Netanyahu is bringing representatives of terror into the Knesset.”
That Zandberg’s intellectual honesty is questionable is obvious. Her party was part and parcel of the second Rabin government whose majority was based on, among others, the outside support of Azmi Bishara, then a pan-Arab nationalist and, it turned out later, a Hezbollah spy. In 2015, the Meretz list included Prof. Naomi Chazan who, as head of the New Israel Fund, funded the “We are all Haneen Zoabi” advertisement published in Haaretz in the wake of Zoabi’s participation in the MV Marmara attack on IDF soldiers.
Moreover, any coalition of the Left today cannot survive without support of the Arab parties. Some, like Ahmed Tibi, have actually worked for Israel’s enemies, and whom some could call traitors. Has Zandberg called upon her left-wing camp to disavow any relation with them? No. Arabs are not “extreme.”
Our column, however, deals with the media, not with politics per se. Our media, which always assert that they speak for justice, is found to be reporting in a very one-sided fashion on the use of the expression “extremism.” We have documented time and again in this column how Haaretz used Nazi discourse in its attacks on Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Is Bennett an extremist? Yes, according to Haaretz, but Otzma is worse. How does one characterize something more extreme than extreme? You call it “Kahanist.” Haaretz’s caricaturist parroted Zandberg’s accusations on February 23, displaying a picture of the entrance to the Knesset decorated by flags of the “Kahana Party,” with Netanyahu leading members of the Otzma Party by the hand into it.
A caricature is legitimate in itself. The problem is that such caricatures should be exposed as what they really are by a responsible media: nothing but part of a campaign whose main goal is to delegitimize the prime minister. Otzma is just a pawn in this struggle between Left and Right in Israel.
HAVE WE ever seen similar venom in the past 20 years, even in the right-wing media in Israel, in a concerted effort against left-wing parties that aid, defend and take pains to make sure that Arab parties under Palestinian Authority dictator Mahmoud Abbas’s influence? Are any left-of-center MKs acknowledged by the media as “extremist”? Is that term ever used?
As media observers, we note that it is not surprising that the Gantz-Lapid coalition party Blue and White keeps its distance from Meretz and the Labor Party. They know that the Israeli public does not want to be part of extremism, from either side. So their tactic is not to be part of this discourse. And in an aside, how would the media describe a right-wing party composed of three former IDF commanders-in-chief? Would the term “junta” perhaps be used? Or even “putsch”? But a center-left party gets a break.
Even Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay refused to form a coalition party with Meretz, realizing that he should distance himself from Zandberg and her friends. He does not want to have the “extremist” label attached to the Labor Party. But the media does not present people such as Zandberg with a challenge to the character of her politics.
THE MEDIA’S one-sided relation to the concept of extremism is but one part of how it colors our election campaigns. Another side is its flagrant contempt for ethics. It was back in 1918 that Henry Ford purchased a newspaper, renamed it the Dearborn Independent and had it make its first appearance in January 1919. With circulation lagging and Ford losing millions of dollar, Journalist Joseph J. O’Neil suggested to the editor, “Find an evil to attack” and added in caps “LET’S FIND SOME SENSATIONALISM” (caps in original).
At that time, the Jews were seen as “evil” in Ford’s eyes. Today, within the media clique, the “evil” includes Netanyahu, right-wing nationalists, the religious and almost everyone who doesn’t follow their agenda, including attacks on fellow journalist Amit Segal.
Recently, Oshrat Kotler ended her Channel 13 Magazine report on the Netzah Yehuda Brigade soldiers accused of improper conduct toward prisoners, with a denunciation including the phrase “human beasts.”
Of course, her language could be considered intemperate, but not actually out of order in today’s political discourse. Personal opinion statements such as hers are prohibited by the ethics codes.
It is a basic part of media theory that news and views should be separate. Views are important but should not mix with news. The historical Nakdi Document, the old Israel Broadcasting Authority’s ethics guide, long ago phrased it as: “The Authority has no voice, policy and outlook of its own. It does not broadcast op-eds. The task of the Authority and its employees is to allow the various voices to speak for themselves.”
THE PUBLIC longs for the old order. The Second Authority’s complaints officer issued a press release shortly after that by Saturday evening, after Kotler’s denunciation, receiving over 1,400 complaints. Moreover, Kotler’s “explanation,” broadcast later, was still problematic professionally. She said at the end of her clip: “We are sending them [the soldiers] to this impossible reality. Okay for you? We will meet next week and I will continue to express my opinion on this program and you will not succeed to shut me up.”
Israel’s Media Watch struggled for many years to prevent the slippery downhill road. On the positive side, we do note that KAN’s Arieh Golan no longer opens his 7 a.m. Reshet Bet news program with his personal rantings. Yet people such as Kotler and her editors abuse the public by supporting her venom under the guise of free speech. The truth is probably closer to the “Let’s find sensationalism” slogan aimed at increasing advertising revenue.
In this context, consider Lara Logan, foreign correspondent for CBS’s 60 Minutes, and her comments in an interview with independent podcaster Mike Ritland on February 15. Logan, who suffered that horrific mass crowd rape in Egypt in 2011, agreed with the right-winger that US news media are “absurdly left-leaning,” adding that “most journalists are left... the media everywhere is mostly liberal, not just [in] the US.”
She continued, stating that, “One ideological perspective on everything never leads to an open, free, diverse, tolerant society. The more opinions and views... of everything that you have, the better off we all are... we’ve abandoned our pretense – or at least the effort – to be objective... We’ve become political activists, and some could argue propagandists – and there’s some merit to that.”
It is time to stop using divisive slogans. Otzma Yehudit can and should be questioned as to its policies and actions. The same is true for Meretz, and actually, for all political parties. The democratic process is predicated on an informed public. This is what we need – not more, not less.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch, imediaw.org.il.