Saturday, June 30, 2007

Think Again: Democracy and media manipulation

Jonathan Rosenblum,
Jun. 28, 2007

Surprisingly, a recent panel on Israel Radio at Haifa University did not draw the media attention it deserved.

At that panel, Hanan Naveh, the chief editor on the Israel Broadcasting Authority's news desk at the time of the withdrawal from Lebanon, boasted that "three broadcasters - Carmela Menashe, Shelly Yacimovich, and I - pushed the withdrawal from Lebanon in every way possible ... [W]e took it upon ourselves as a mission - possibly not stated - to get the IDF out of Lebanon." He explained that three of the news editors had sons in Lebanon and were determined to bring them home.

Even in retrospect, Naveh was totally unapologetic. "I'm not apologizing ... It came from the guts because of the boys in Lebanon ... I'm very proud that we had a part in getting our sons out of Lebanon," he said.

Similar confessions of media mobilization on behalf of a particular political agenda, and a similar lack of embarrassment when the the preferred policies come a cropper, are an Israeli commonplace. Veteran IBA News anchor Haim Yavin once bragged, for instance, "Without the Israeli press, the intifada would not have led to Oslo."
Free speech and a free press are fundamental to democracy. They help guarantee a well-informed citizenry upon which democracy depends by ensuring that crucial facts are not hidden from the public and that there is a robust debate on the issues facing the country.

BUT FOSTERING public debate and transparency is not how most Israeli journalists view their role. Rather, they see their task as making sure that the public reaches the proper conclusions. That is particularly true of those in public broadcasting, which holds a near monopoly over the air waves - a power of which the broadcasters are acutely aware.

Those caught in morning traffic jams are "captive - they are ours," according to Naveh. At the same Haifa conference, Army Radio's Razi Barkai noted the power of the morning radio to set the national news agenda for the rest of the day.
That monopoly power over the air waves is frequently abused, even to the point of outright fraud. In one IBA telecast, more than a minute was edited out of a speech by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to make it appear he was waving and smiling in response to chants of "Death to the Arabs" by some Betar Jerusalem fans. Long after the Shamgar Commission investigating the Rabin assassination determined that the infamous Eyal swearing-in ceremony was a hoax staged by agent provocateur Avishai Raviv and the IBA film crew, the IBA continued to air the clip as an example of the right-wing incitement prior to the Rabin assassination. And the producer of the clip remained on the IBA payroll.

THE QUALITY of national decision-making has been profoundly affected for the worse by our mobilized press. Last summer's war and the devastating impact of Hizbullah's missiles caught the Israeli public largely by surprise because the press had hidden the dangers of the withdrawal from Lebanon from public view. Having led the charge for withdrawal, the press then deliberately played down Hizbullah's missile build-up in southern Lebanon.

The national debate over the Gaza withdrawal was similarly impoverished, as the press took to heart Channel 2's Amnon Abromovitch's advice to protect prime minister Ariel Sharon like a precious "etrog." Sharon was never forced to lay out the strategic assumptions behind withdrawal, and was allowed to portray all opponents of withdrawal as solely motivated by a Greater Israel theology. As a consequence, serious security concerns were largely ignored. When Shin Bet head Avi Dichter warned, for instance, that the trickle of arms into Gaza would become a mighty river after withdrawal, his testimony was relegated to the back pages.

IMMEDIATELY after Naveh's confession, Justice (ret.) Dalia Dorner, the president of the Israel Press Council, urged journalists to continue to show courage in exercising their power to "determine the daily agenda." She, in effect, held Naveh up as a role-model. Her only caveat was that journalists should not create a "hostile public opinion," which might adversely affect freedom of speech. In other words, continue to lead the people, but don't be so obvious about it that you get caught.

Dorner completely missed the ways that the exercise of monopoly power by a handful of editors and broadcasters is inimical to the core justification for free speech and a free press - i.e., free and open debate. She assumed that the editors of the morning news shows should utilize "their ability to influence public opinion" and encouraged them to continue doing so.

THAT IS hardly surprising. Israeli Supreme Court justices share with the media elites a certain arrogant assurance of their own wisdom and their mandate to impose the fruits of that wisdom on their fellow citizens.

Both have a problem grasping the basic premise of representative democracy - in the words of Judge Richard Posner, one of America's most respected legal academics and appellate judges - the idea that the determination of public policy should be made "by governmental figures who stand for election at relatively short intervals and are thus accountable to the citizenry."

Just as the journalists view their monopoly position as a mandate to tell the public what to think, so do the justices view their positions as granting them the right to determine all public norms. They even claim the right to pass down their monopoly power to hand-picked successors. That attitude endangers Israeli democracy without even the redeeming virtue of having led to wiser public policy.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Goodwill? Good Grief!
By Cal Thomas -Townhall - 6.28.7

Sometimes, for those who pay attention, the stars align and produce spectacular effects in the cosmos and on earth. A similar effect can occasionally be produced through journalism.

On June 26, the Washington Post featured three stories on its World News page that should teach a lesson to anyone who wishes to pay attention. The top story was headlined, "Olmert Makes ŒGesture of Goodwill': At Summit in Egypt, Israeli Leader Pledges to Seek Release of 250 Palestinian Prisoners."

Palestinians hold framed pictures of men held in Israeli prisons during a protest demanding their release outside the Red Cross office in Gaza City, Monday June 25, 2007. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was expected to address the issue of releasing Palestinian prisoners with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in an effort to bolster him in the West Bank, at a summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, Monday. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Related Media:
Dore Gold, Tony Woodlief.

Hiding behind the Veil

The story just below featured this headline: "Israeli Soldier, on Tape, Pleads for Prisoner Swap: A Year After Capture, (Gilad) Shalit Says He Needs To Be Hospitalized."

The third story's headline was "Hope Dims For Imminent Release of BBC Reporter."
Is Olmert self-deluded, or merely dumb, when he promises to engage in one more in a long list of "goodwill gestures" that have produced no reciprocity from Israel's enemies? I'm leaning toward the latter.

When Israel has previously released prisoners who were captured because many of them had killed, or tried to kill, Israelis, many returned to the company of their jihadist brothers and plotted to kill again. On occasion, Israel might have received one kidnapped Israeli soldier or civilian hostage in return for freeing hundreds of prisoners, but mostly it got nothing.

During Olmert's visit to Washington last week, I asked a "senior Israeli official" if he had tried to persuade Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to eliminate the outrageous programming on Palestinian TV, which regularly glorifies suicide bombers and calls for the killing of Jews and the elimination of Israel. The official, who requested anonymity as a condition for speaking, said, "I have made the request before" but without results. If Abbas will not order the cessation of anti-Semitic programming on the TV station he controls, what makes Olmert think the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners will make him more agreeable to anything intended to ensure Israel's survival?

In a telephone interview, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told me, "Abbas doesn't have what it takes by himself" to stabilize the West Bank and that Jordan, along with Egypt, must serve as part of an "external scaffolding" in partnership with Israel to counter Hamas in the West Bank. Netanyahu opposes Olmert's prisoner release idea, saying, "This is a wrong, harmful message that will not strengthen the Palestinian Authority. It will only weaken it." In Washington meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Netanyahu said a division of the Jordanian military should be deployed in the West Bank in order to bring law and order to the area. Netanyahu described Palestinian society to me as "dysfunctional" and said something must be done to "control the mobs."
Israel has made man goodwill gestures, and after each one Israel has become more vulnerable. How about a goodwill gesture from the Palestinian side, such as foreswearing violence and living up to their promises?

What is wrong with Israel's leadership, and much of the leadership in the West, that it believes peace is only a matter of finding the right formula to satisfy the Palestinian side and the Arab states that seek Israel's destruction? Israel's enemies (who are mostly America's enemies, too) care nothing about goodwill, reciprocity, equality or a two-state solution to the turmoil. They want a one-state solution, which is the replacement of Israel with a Palestinian state.
Can anyone credibly argue otherwise? Is there any substance to such an argument, beyond wishful thinking?

Outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently appeared before the Parliament Liaison Committee. Though he was speaking of Iraq, his remarks could apply to the threat to Israel. Blair argued that the West needs to free itself of the habit of mind that believes the violence we see in Iraq and elsewhere is created by the United States, Great Britain, and Coalition forces. He said, "We think we are creating this problem; we are not creating it, it is being created for us."

Perhaps Blair should move to Israel and run for prime minister there. He gets it; Olmert doesn't.
Right On!: Whatever happened to the 'Spirit of Entebbe'?

Michael Freund, THE JERUSALEM POST Jun. 26, 2007

Once upon a time, and it truly seems like it was a very long time ago, the State of Israel knew how to take swift and decisive action in order to protect its citizens and punish its foes.

I know, dear reader, that may be hard for you to believe, particularly in light of recent events. After all, Israel has spent much of the past decade in retreat, ignominiously capitulating to terrorism and turning over vast swathes of territory to Palestinian control.

With Cpl. Gilad Schalit being held captive by Palestinians in Gaza for the past year, and the residents of Sderot and the Western Negev dodging Kassam rockets on a daily basis, it is easy to forget that words such as heroism, daring and bravery once exemplified our government's approach towards combating terror.

None of these qualities were on display the other day at Sharm e-Sheikh, of course, where Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saw fit to heap concession after concession on the ineffectual and increasingly irrelevant Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
After agreeing to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to the Abbas-led regime, and to strengthen the armed Fatah gangs loyal to him, the premier presented his Palestinian counterpart with an unexpected parting gift.

"As a gesture of goodwill to the Palestinians," Olmert declared, "I decided today that I'll bring to the Israeli government at its next meeting a recommendation to release 250 prisoners from Fatah without blood on their hands."

Then, in what passes for Israeli resolve and determination these days, the premier insisted that the Fatah terrorists would be freed, but only if "they sign commitments not to become involved again in terrorism." Phew. And I thought they would be let go for nothing.

Apparently, it didn't dawn on the Prime Minister to link the release of Palestinian terrorists with freedom for Gilad Schalit, or to condition any further movement on the diplomatic front with progress towards his return home.

Instead, the fact that a young Israeli Jew serving his country was abducted 12 months ago by a group of thugs was treated as if it was a pesky and tiresome nuisance, rather than a substantive and fundamental matter of principle.

In light of the Prime Minister's sorry display, it is especially important that we recall the anniversary of an important event that took place just over three decades ago this week, one which offers us a potent and timely reminder of just how terrorism should truly be fought.

IT WAS 31 years ago today, on June 27, 1976, that armed gunmen from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, together with some German accomplices, hijacked Air France flight 139, diverting it to Libya and then on to the city of Entebbe, in Idi Amin's Uganda.

As the world looked on, the terrorists proceeded to separate out the Jewish and Israeli passengers, threatening to kill them if Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails were not set free.

Back then, however, Israel was not yet in the habit of yielding to terrorist demands. No international summits were convened at Sharm e-Sheikh, no "gestures" were made to the terrorists, nor were any tax receipts transferred into their coffers.
Instead, Israel reacted precisely as it should have, by launching a stunning military raid on July 4, 1976, freeing virtually all the captives and bringing the situation to a sudden and dramatic end.

In one fell swoop, Israel had underlined its role as the sovereign defender of Jews everywhere. An entire generation was inspired to believe that the Jewish people were determined to defend themselves whatever the consequences might be.

THE RESCUE at Entebbe was also a powerful symbol for the entire free world. It showed that with a little courage and resolve, and a healthy dose of military force, the scourge of international terror could be defeated.
For years afterwards, it was the "Spirit of Entebbe" which guided this country, and which deterred its enemies from once again thinking that Jews and Israelis were fair game.
Looking back, it is hard to believe how much has changed since then. In just three decades, Israel has gone from being a country which frees hostages to one that frees terrorists. Instead of refusing to negotiate with the bad guys, we now offer them unilateral concessions while getting nothing in return.

In times such as these, we must seek to revive the "Spirit of Entebbe" and infuse it into our national life. Jewish lives were once considered precious enough to warrant risking international condemnation over saving them in a distant land. That must again become a pillar of Israeli security policy.

By refraining from taking the steps necessary to protect itself for fear of how the world will react, Israel is effectively placing greater importance on international public opinion than on the lives and well-being of its citizens. That calculus is not only morally warped, but short-sighted and dangerous too.

As Entebbe so clearly demonstrated, winning the war against terrorists comes not when one yields to them, but when the terrorists themselves are forced to yield.
Only by regaining the spirit of triumph and fortitude that was embodied at Entebbe, and by hitting back at our foes, can Israel possibly hope to dissuade them from committing further atrocities and outrages.

And the sooner our government adopts this basic and self-evident approach, the safer all of us will be.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dear President Bush,

One year ago, three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists. Efforts to free them have been in vain; even the International Red Cross has not been able to see the abducted.

Today, Israel has the opportunity to call for the return of one of those soldiers, Gilad Shalit, in exchange for
250 terrorists. It has been publicized that your administration is pressuring Israel to release those terrorists with disregard for Shalit' s possible return.

In other words, Mr. Bush, you are putting the 'bolstering' of Mr. Abbas - a man whose history has shown involvement in terrorism - as more important than the freedom of an ailing 20-year-old who deserves to be returned to his family and country!!