Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Westerners tend to imagine that non-Westerners are just like them only less so. For example, they imagine that Muslims couldn't possibly take their own religion so seriously that they wouldn't give up some of its rough edges on behalf of the promise of prosperity and freedom. Another example, even closer to home, is the inability of American Jews -- including many American olim -- to appreciate the many ways that Israeli politics is more similar to Soviet politics than to American politics.

One example should suffice. Both the media and the law enforcement agencies in Israeli are highly centralized. Both remain in the control of an old guard with a very specific agenda and are used to promote that agenda. And most importantly, the two are completely in cahoots -- none of that "watchdog of democracy" crap around here. Let me give a few examples.

From time to time, the old guard wishes to weaken mitnachalim and strengthen Palestinians. Here is how it is done. Law enforcement agencies create minor events that portray mitnachalim as dangerous and subversive. This is done, for example, by having provocateurs say or do weird stuff. For instance, they have GSS-agent Avishai Raviv take responsibility for murders of Arabs or perform some bizarre swearing-in rite in a cemetery. Or they get some kids to shout some inanity at a politician (most recently, Bibi Netanyahu and Limor Livnat). Or they take crank letters that have been systematically sent to politicians for many years and announce a major right-wing threat to the safety of our intrepid leaders. Or they issue reports detailing how mitnachalim pillage the treasury by receiving funding for fully-authorized "unauthorized" construction (beats me). The non-story is then fed to cronies in the press and gets pumped up into a major event. The morning headlines blare, the late morning talk shows follow up and the nightly news drives it home. In response, politicians pass laws targeting opponents of the agenda, the law enforcement agencies harrass "suspects", more provocateurs are planted, and the cycle begins anew.

At the same time, Palestinian terrorist activity is downplayed, if not concealed entirely. Tactical lulls in terrorist activity or the failure of terrorists to reach their targets are deliberately and falsely portrayed as strategic shifts. (I remember one classic incident at the height of Oslo, when a terrorist plowed a car into a crowded bus stop near French Hill killing several people. Aryeh Amit, a Jew-baiting polemicist then masquerading as a police commissioner, took to the airwaves to announce that it was a traffic accident at the very same time that his uninformed detectives on the scene were describing it as an obvious terror attack.)

I know, I know. If you're American, you're probably thinking that this sounds paranoid and that in fact all that is happening is that like-minded people with no agenda and no coordination are acting according to their own independently-arrived-at understanding of events. Just like everywhere. If that's what you think, you are wrong on two counts. That's not what is happening here and it's not what happens everywhere. That's how it works in the U.S. with its decentralized media and law enforcement. Here it is coordinated and utterly predictable. Any oleh from Russia can vouch for the familiarity of it all.

Here is a prediction (written with a trembling hand). If and when the withdrawal is about to happen and resistance to it needs to be quashed, the shooting of an Israeli soldier by a mitnachel will be arranged. I pray that I'm wrong and you get the chance to say I-told-you-so.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Greg T said...

Thanks a lot for this post. Being an American who is also an immigrant from the former USSR, having been to Israel several times, and slowly planning aliyah, I agree with you fully. The question is - how do we tell Americans (and others) that Israel is not the only democracy in the Middle East?

5:14 PM  
Blogger Doctor Bean said...

Please translate mitnachel for me. Settler?

Does this centralization not create a potential opportunity for a competitive media outlet to give the other side of the story? Obviously, I'm thinking like an American, but are there legal barriers to a newspaper/TV program/web site building an audience by taking the contrarian view?

10:23 PM  
Blogger Sharvul said...

I've been following your ramblings for a while now, enjoying the wit and insight of most of them.

But, alas, this last post places you firmly in that dark corner reserved for crackpots and lunatics who prefer to dream up conspiracy theories to back their pre-determined political views rather than change them. I started this comment by refuting the absurd "facts" of which you speak, but it got so long I decided to just drop it.

After all, why bother? Your next-to-last paragraph proves that resistance is futile...

1:50 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Dr. Bean,

Makor Rishon is a weekly newspaper that is right-wing but it cannot compete with the two main trashy tabloids, Maariv and Yediot, which are both part of the leftist establishment. It will never be trashy enough. Haaretz, which is radical left to the point of anti-Semitism but is high-brow, also has very low circulation.

TV and radio are both highly-regulated. The one right-wing radio station, Arutz Sheva, began as a pirate station (no choice) and was then legalized. The Supreme Court, on the flimsiest of pretenses, struck down the law legalizing it. The left has the airwaves to itself and has no intention of giving up that monopoly.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Sharvul,
Please do refute the ""facts"" of which I speak. This dark corner has become so crowded with crackpots, I can hardly breathe. How I yearn for the rarefied air of center stage, reserved for true sophisticates who have the class to admit political mistakes. Like Oslo, for example.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Doctor Bean said...

Ben: That doesn't sound opposite from the American situation, just an extreme version of it. Here in the US, the mainstream media is monolitically liberal, but it's the new media (talk radio, and now the web) that is starting to challenge the MSM monopoly. Arutz Sheva has a website. Are there no Hebrew language right wing news sources on the web?

10:11 AM  
Blogger Sharvul said...

Of course there are Dr. Bean, and more than a handful (though not all in English). Examples:

- Jerusalem Post: www.jpost.co.il
- Debka File: www.debka.com
- HaTsofe: www.hazofe.co.il
- Yesha News: www.yeshanews.com
- Arutz 7: www.a7.org
- Makor Rishon: www.makorrishon.net

Not forgetting the countless right-leaning radio stations, religious and secular, that populate (or should I say pollute) the FM spectrum in Israel. And to categorize the two leading dailies - Ma'ariv and Yediot - as left-wing is ridiculous, as anyone (braindead enough) reading their editorials and news pieces can attest to.

But what Ben would have you believe is that all of the above are a fata morgana, mere optical and auditory illusions, because "the left" has monopolized the airwaves, ergo there is no righ-wing media in Israel.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharvul claims there is "more than a handful" of right-wing media outlets in Israel - but can only come up with a handful. Of that handful:

-the Jerusalem Post is in English, and therefore irrelevant to the local population.
-HaTzofe and Makor Rishon are weeklies with small (but growing) readership - nowhere near the circulations of the two daily tabloids, Maariv and Yediot, and still less than Ha'aretz (the left--elite Israeli version of the New York Times).

Both of the daily tabloids regularly print "yellow journalism" of the kind Ben describes - shock headlines about imaginary settler insurgencies, etc. The government panel that investigated the Rabin assassination identified several journalists as working closely with the Secret Service to fan anti-settler emotions before the shooting - by creating false "provocations" as Ben describes.

Tellingly, there are NO television stations on Sharvul's list, and the only FM radio stations expressing right-wing views are the handful of "pirate" religious radio stations - whose legal status is iffy. Ben's main point is correct - all broadcast frequencies are controlled by the government. The most important example of this: all legal stations must carry the official news report.

The average Israel who - like his American counterpart - gets most of his news from broadcast media, and scans a daily newspaper - gets bombarded with messages crafted by the left-wing minority in Israel.

The rest of the list are weblogs - repeating the pattern in the US, where conservative views shut out of broadcast media are expressed on the grass roots level.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Sharvul said...

Anonymous,

1. Like there's more than a handful of Israeli media to begin with. You make it sound like there's hundreds of Israeli newspapers.

2. If the circulation of right-wing Israeli media is low, you have only the "majority" of right-wingers to blame. Surely if the right-wingers had had enough of the left-wing "monopoly" they would buy more of the right-wing rags, no?

3. Provocations, shock headlines, GSS-recruited journalists... What other horror stories do you have in store for us? The fact remains that most of the non-democratic atrocities in Israel since its founding were committed by right-wing supporters. Let's see, how about we start with murder: Yigal Amir, Yona Avrushmi, Baruch Goldstein, Ami Popper, etc. etc. Or perhaps these are all GSS-inspired murders?

4. You give little credit to the "average Israeli". Surely if Mr. Average can blog and read blogs, he can also figure out he is being duped by the left-wing "minority", no?

You can repeat your "truths" ad nauseam. The reality is that most Israelis are neither left-wing nor right-wing. They are healthily in the center, believing in what is good for the country and it people, e.g. the disengagement plan. It is the right-wing minority that rushes to paint the world in left colours every time they realize, in the words of R. Yoel Bin-Nun, that they might have succeeded in settling the hills of Judea but falied miserable in winning over the hearts of their fellow countrymen.

2:34 PM  
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9:26 AM  

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