Monday, November 1, 2004

Giving back India

November 1, 2004

Yesterday I attended a very interesting media conference at the College of Judea and Samaria in the Shomron community of Ariel. The conference was dedicated in memory of David Bar-Illan, a fine man who deserves more than a few words of tribute.
A concert pianist of international renown, Bar-Illan was also editor of the Jerusalem Post and later, director of communications during Bibi’s premiership. Working together with Michael Freund and Michael Stoltz, (both of whom initiated and organized this praise-worthy annual media conference) Bar-Illan issued fact-sheets and information statements, which in many cases contradicted Netanyahu’s own political positions.
Bar-Illan was very close to Hebron and helped in any way he could, especially in the black days, before and after implementation of the ‘Hebron Accords.’ At one point, Arab terrorists, then known as ‘palestinian police,’ stationed on the Abu Sneneh hills, were supposed to receive Ingram rifles, an ‘Uzi-type weapon,’ but faster and more dangerous than the Israeli model. It goes without saying that Netanyahu had given his blessing to the transaction.

Realizing the additional dangers Hebron’s Jewish community faced should the Arabs receive these weapons, we approached Bar-Illan in his office in Jerusalem, presented him with facts and figures, and voiced our great concern. He then spoke to his boss, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, and somehow, was able to get the deal nixed. Thanks to him, the Arabs perched above us, only a few hundred meters away, had a little less ammunition to use to try and kill us.
At the conference yesterday, one of the words frequently used to describe David Bar-Illan was integrity, a trait unfortunately lacking from many many Israeli journalists today. A few of the people speaking at the conference, themselves journalists, clearly expressed their own treacherous biases in front of hundreds of people listening.
For example, Daniel Ben Simon, a correspondent for HaAretz newspaper, spoke shortly after I arrived. His words were stunning, despite the fact that he really didn’t say anything new. However, hearing someone state something even if it is self-evident, can be shocking. I jotted down a few of his remarks, things like ‘The state of Israel is a ‘Tel-Aviv state. The rest is ‘another land.’ He commented that much of what happens in Yesha ‘doesn’t have anything to do with us.’ Perhaps most importantly, he described current events as ‘a struggle for our future image, a process which will shape Israeli society.’ And of course, he believes that the media does and should have an important role in this process.
Another reporter who spoke, Shlomi Eldar, works for Channel 10 news, covering Arab affairs. One episode of his is stuck in my mind. He told how one night he slept at ‘a friend’s house’ in Gaza. That night, watching ‘palestinian television’ he viewed, again and again, the incitement spewed by their propaganda machine. Then next morning he told his ‘friend,’ “After watching that all night, if I was a palestinian, today I would go out and perpetrate a suicide attack.’ He didn’t relate to the pictures screened on the television as incitement. Rather, they were factual evidence of the brutality of the Israeli occupation , after all, 'pictures don't lie.’ He voiced his opinion that much of P.A. television cannot be defined as incitement.
Such views, coming from Israelis, relating to enemies who want nothing less than to destroy the State of Israel and don’t care if they kill all of us in the process, well, it makes me sick.
Not everyone spoke such subversive nonsense. An example of integrity was presented by a journalist from the Ma’ariv newspaper, Ben-Dror Yemini. He first spoke of his relationship with David Bar-Illan, and stressed that despite deep political differences, he had a tremendous respect for the late Bar-Illan. That respect, it seems, was mutual.
Yemini’s subject, under the category of journalistic ethics, was ‘what reporters do not cover’ or, in other words, what they hide. One example he presented concerned the case of MK Zahava Galon, one of the leaders of the far-left Meretz party. Galon was investigated by police for criminal actions. Following the investigation, the police recommended that she be indicted and tried. Both the investigation and the police recommendations were ignored by the press, clearly due to the fact that Galon was ‘on their side,’ and was therefore, untouchable. Of course, other MKs and public figures, whose opinions are more to the right, are expendable and therefore not only targeted, but bombarded by media blasphemy if and when investigated by police.
Ben-Dror’s last comment is also worth noting. He mentioned a previous speaker, Mr. Shlomo Ben-Tzvi, who is, among other things, Chairman of the channel 10 board of directors. “When Ben-Tzvi received the position , he had to sign a statement promising not to interfere with any of the channel’s substantive policy. (Ben-Tzvi is religious and lives in Efrat.) Do you think, if Ben-Tzvi was secular, without a kippah on his head, and lived in Tel-Aviv, that he would have been made to sign such a statement?”
That having been said, I must mention Shlomo Ben-Tzvi, the conference’s keynote speaker, who was introduced by former Defense minister Moshe Arens. Ben-Tzvi, a dynamic young entrepreneur, speaks English with a British accent, and Hebrew like an Israeli with a Ph.D in language. He is the founder and chairman of Techelet, a religious television network, owner and chairman of the Israeli right-wing weekly Makor Rishon newspaper, as well as chairman of the board of Channel 10 television.
The topic of his speech was ‘Our self image an a virtual world,’ and if I had a copy of the text in English, I would definitely post it on our web site and send, at least part of it out on the email list. The gist his message can be summed up with two words: Jewish identity. Know who you are, act who you are, be who you are. Media is a reflection of who we are, or who we thinwe are. If we want to correct media images, we must first correct ourselves. The rest will come automatically.

Of course, Ben-Tzvi’s discourse was much more articulate, but abbreviated into a few short sentences, this is what he said. And how right he is.
I’d like to relate one story that Shlomo Ben-Tzvi told, characterizing our problem. It very well sums up the modern ‘Jewish way’ of doing things. He told of a young Jew who managed to get out of Poland, and made his way to England. The man quicky adopted English customs and habits, including their dress.
After much work, he had enough money to bring his father too to England. Waiting joyfully for him by the docks, he was suddenly jolted at the first sight of his parent. He looked like a Polish Jews, with a long black jacket, a long beard, and sidelocks. Hugging his father as they left the ship, he exclaimed, ‘father, we must do something for you, and fast.’
He took his father first to a tailor, where his long black coat and hat were replaced by a three-piece suit and tie. The father said not a word.
The next stop was a barber. First, the barber cut off the long beard. Again, the father was silent. Then the barber took hold of one of the sidelocks and snipped off a piece. No reaction. He then chopped off the entire sidelock. The father didn’t say a word.
As the barber began cutting off the father’s second sidelock, his son noticed a tear forming in his eye. “Father, what are you upset about?” he pleaded.
Sitting in the barber’s chair with tears in his eyes, the father looked at his son and said, “I’m so sorry we gave back India.”
Need more be said?
With blessings from Hebron.

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