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by Paula R. Stern


Israeli journalists are losing their way.

According to Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, "Journalism's ultimate purpose is to inform the reader... and never to permit the serving of special interests." When journalists make and shape news, rather than report it, they lose their right to claim a place in this profession, and the public in general loses an important mechanism for obtaining truth and information.

Two very worrisome instances have come to light in the last few days that lend increasing concern to the commonly stated opinion that Israeli journalists are losing their way. The first instance has to do with the coverage, or lack thereof, received by the ongoing effort to reclaim Homesh, a settlement destroyed during Ariel Sharon's Disengagement Plan two years ago. In recent weeks, hundreds of youth and families have made their way to Homesh and managed to maintain a steady presence there[1].

As shown by an article recently in Haaretz, Israeli journalists feel that they can play a role in the success or failure of this grassroots effort by giving or withholding coverage, "This [Olmert's handling of the situation in Hebron] will be Defense Minister Ehud Barak's first test in his current post vis-a-vis the settlers, with the exception of the IDF's resounding failure at Homesh, where settler youth have continued for weeks to visit the remains of the outpost at their will. The lack of media coverage at Homesh, however, has made the settlers' victory there nearly inconsequential," Haaretz journalists Amos Harel, Nadav Shragai and Yuval Azoulay write.[2]

Suddenly, it is the journalists, and not the army, controlling the situation. And it is now journalists who make victory "nearly inconsequential." What this means, in the simplest of terms, is that Israeli journalists are guilty of shaping the news as Israelis receive it, and that is not their job. To deny coverage to the ongoing situation in Homesh represents a cynical abuse and one the Israeli population cannot accept in a society that values and needs freedom of the press. We cannot afford to have the press controlled by outside forces: not the government, not the army, and not even the editors and owners themselves.

The second worrisome instance was the coverage of the refusal by 30 soldiers to expel Jews in Hebron[3] from land that was the Jewish Quarter of Hebron until the massacres in 1929. During repeated interviews on major broadcasts, several well-known journalists refused to allow their interviewees the opportunity to present their opinion that it was wrong of the Prime Minister to use soldiers instead of police.

With single-minded determination, they focused only on whether soldiers should be allowed to refuse orders, even when the soldier considers these orders unethical or immoral. In any other context, one can have little doubt that these same journalists would applaud a soldier who refuses to blindly follow orders. This was the case during the Likud reign in office, when some soldiers refused to serve in Judea and Samaria, or refused to protect the Jewish communities in Gaza.[4] Then, the media wrote articles about "The Courage to Refuse."

THEN AND NOW, the media was blinded by its own interests, as it is largely blind today to the significant number of secular Israeli teenagers who refuse to serve in the IDF. It is only the refusal of yeshiva students that interests the media and thus receives the coverage; only the refusal of religious soldiers who refuse to follow orders they feel are unethical is of interest.

Thanks to this misguided reporting, ask any Israeli who avoids the draft, and the answer will almost always be the ultra-Orthodox. Few will think to mention rich, secular children, those featured prominently on A Star is Born, and those of our hypocritical Knesset Members and leaders, such as the Prime Minister himself, whose sons and daughter refused to serve.

To blindly follow orders has never been the "Jewish" way. Our society is built on the concept that our soldiers are human beings and do not simply "follow orders." We, of all people, know the consequences when soldiers follow blindly. But it is made noble when the media agrees with the justifications of the soldiers and made evil and anti-democratic when the reasons run counter to mainstream media opinions. This is not journalism, but rather the political manipulation of the media against the best interests of the country.

When the media works to hide and silence dissent, it is time for all Israelis to stop and take a careful look because, indeed, our very democracy rests on the ability of the press to be free from government and army restrictions, but also from its own prejudice and preconceived notions.

If the media honored those who refused to serve in the territories, and worked to bring their opinions to the front of the story, so too should it have worked to publicize the opinions of those who refused now. There are many in Israel who believe the 30 soldiers who refused orders should be honored for having the courage that so many thousands lacked two years ago. The army of Israel is tasked with the job of protecting the citizens of Israel. When the army is used against the people, as was done in Gush Katif and northern Samaria, again at Amona, and now in Hebron, the government must answer to the people. This opinion was lacking in the papers this week, because the media didn't want to show Israelis another option. They didn't want to report what it is their job to document.

Soon enough, Ehud Olmert's farce of a government will come crashing down on itself. What will be left, one hopes, is the army, the media, and a government more responsive to the needs and opinions of the people. The army to defend, the media to report, and the government to implement. When these important elements of our society fail in their primary mission - when the army doesn't defend and the media doesn't report and the government doesn't do the will of the people - it is the nation that suffers.

The army must act to defend the people and not allow its elite forces to be put in a position such as was done in Hebron. Had Hitler's forces had the conviction that these 30 young men had, it is likely the outcome for the Jewish people during World War II would have been drastically different. That is not necessarily to liken what was done in Hebron to what the Nazis did during World War II, but to remind all of us that Jews should not be expected to follow orders blindly.

If the reporters wanted to ask a challenging question, rather than ask if it is valid for a soldier to refuse an order, they should have asked what political reasons were behind the army issuing orders it knew would be refused. There was politics behind the decision to try to get a Hesder group involved in the expulsion of Jews from their homes. By accepting the army line and questioning the soldiers, Haaretz and most major news organizations failed in their mission.

THE TRUE STORY behind the Hebron refsimply byusals was not whether soldiers should follow orders blindly, but why orders that the army knew would be viewed as unethical were given to these particular soldiers. That this question was never asked shows more than ever that Israel's media has permitted itself to serve special interests and it is time for them to stop and find the path they have lost.

End Notes by Think-Israel Staff:

[1.] The town of Chomesh in northern Sameria was destroyed two years ago, Jewish youths were brutally beaten and the Jewish residents expelled. Activists have recently begun to return to rebuild the town. And they keep returning. See for example "The Race to Rebuild Homesh Has Begun" and "Us or Them".

[2.] The Israeli newpaper Haaretz admitted that "the movement to resettle Homesh has scored a victory against the government" but bragged that the lack of media coverage had neutralized the impact on the public.

[3.] Read about the refusal at "From Israel: Our IDF"; "Gov't Kowtows To 'Peace Now' To Throw Jews Out From The Holy City Of Hebron"; and Hurray For Our Soldiers -- Idf Eviction Refusal More Widespread Than Reported."

[4.] In 2002, reserve combat officers and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces wrote a "Courage to Refuse" letter, which said in part:

# We, who know that the Territories are not Israel, and that all settlements are bound to be evacuated in the end [See Caroline Glick's "Israel's Reeducation Minister" and addendum.]

# We hereby declare that we shall not continue to fight this War of the Settlements [i.e., the Jewish settlements].

# We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people [i.e., the Arabs in the Territories].

Aside from the admiring articles in the Israeli press praising the soldiers for their courage, almost immediately, the TV show 60 Minutes ran a story on them; they had an English website up and soliciting funds; they posted as an ad an open letter of support from several hundred Israeli academics, who, persuaded that Israel was a colonial power, had signed the statement that "for thirty five years [since 1968, when Israel fought off the Arab invaders] an entire people, some three and a half million in number [the Palestinian arabs], have been held without basic human rights. The occupation and oppression of another people have brought the State of Israel to where it is today." Joiners were to funnel their signatures to Anat Biletzki, of B'teselem and Chair of the Dept of Philosophy at Tel Aviv University. She went on to write a heartfelt and appreciative obituary of Edward Said. "I did not know Edward Said personally," she wrote, "[b]ut for many of us in Israel -- philosophers, political scientists, literary scholars, political activists, human rights workers -- Edward Said was a personal icon. He was 'the conscience of Palestine...'" (See John Miller, "How Donors Can Increase Understanding of the Middle East" in this issue.) By June, 2002 the website was organizing trips to bring soldier refusniks to America and Europe. Their store sold booklets on the horrid things the soldiers were forced to do -- such as confiscating keys from Palestinian cars.

Keys of Palestinians' cars confiscated by IDF soldiers

The Arabs were stealing cars from Jews and running them into the territories, where they'd be immune from the Israeli police.

Refusenik literature emphasized that they believed in Israel. Israel's educational system had done its work well -- these soldier believed that Biblical Israel was no part of Israel.

Organizations such as Palestine Facts published factual material
(, pointing out that at most you could argue the territories were disputed, but they certainly were not occupied. But this had little impact on a movement that almost instantaneously had excellent organization and strong well-targetted propaganda, was articulate and well-funded, and had the support of the media in Israel and abroad.

As you might have guessed, the movement's momentum owed much to native and foreign pro-Arab "peace" groups. They targetted high schoolers, some 250 of whom signed they would not go into the army -- Israelis go into the army right after high school; there's no college deferment. They offered money to soldiers who would suffer financially or have legal problems. By 2002, Sharon-Olmert government was beginning to harass individual Jewish towns and outposts and farms, claiming illegality where there was none and not waiting for clearance by the courts. For example, in October, 2002, the IDF and the police were sent in on the Sabbath to destroy Gilad Farm, which is located near Shechem (click "The Settlements Revisited" here.) Some of us who visited the farm just after the demolition wondered what would happen if some soldiers refused to go into the territories to hurt Jews. Would these peace groups be willing to support them? Or did their support only applied to those who would not fight Arabs?

Altogether, there were some 500 refuseniks -- a small number to make such a big inpact. Having "established" that Biblical Israel had nothing to do with the Jews, the Arabs would soon begin to assert more loudly than before, that it was all of Israel that was occupied Arab land.

These are comments by several of the readers of the original article.

5. Vote no confidence in media
We know how to send the Prime Minister and his government home. Ultimately there are elections. How do we vote no confidence in the media? We refuse to buy newspapers, we encourage advertisers to spurn the mainstream media for the alternative ones (I include Besheva newespaper as alternative). We hold a large demonstration in Tel Aviv burning television sets and newspapers, making sure it creates a large enough stink that the public can't ignore it despite the media blackout. The media are no longer the persecuted printing press of John Peter Zenger. They are part of the power elite. In the words of the late editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin, if it's big, hit it.
Yehoshua Friedman, Kochav Hashahar (10/08/07)

6. Media and its role in Israeli society
Paula, in the absence of responsible government the media ultimately plays an increasing role in any democratic society. Unforuntately here the media contributes to the situation by promoting the continuation of this Israeli farce which passes for democracy here.
Dan, Jerusalem (12/08/07)

11. Media Betrays:Refuse to Report WAR Against Israel is an Integral part of GLOBAL Jihad and that the PA/PLO/Hamas et al declared goal is Islamic conquest of Israel and Jewish annihilation.
The peace process is a wicked deception. The US/EU/UN/Israeli leaders are fully aware of the Muslim goal. It is a betrayal of massive proportions. It is urgent the public are informed of the Muslim goal via massive distribution of leaflets.
Linda Rivera, New York (10/08/07)

15. Israel sorely needs a branch of Honest Reporting.
We need to develop a rating system by which to evaluate Israeli media. We would score the Israeli media in a manner similar to the way Honest Reporting scores the international media. In fact, Israel sorely needs a branch of Honest Reporting. Some of the most damaging distortions and lies about Israel are from the Israeli media. Haaretz is a particular favourite of Jew and Israel haters. It's articles can be found in anti-Semitic screeds from Iran to America.
Chaim, (12/08/07)

19. Then give them stories they HAVE TO report
The leftists can ignore demonstrations, peaceful protests and even a spatter of refusals by honest soldiers who refuse to act as pogromschiks. The leftist media CANNOT ignore spectacular acts of armed resistance. You want the voice of the Jews to be heard? Treat Israel as Etzel treated the British Mandate and adopt the same methods. If you demand a Medinat Yehudah and back your words with force, you will be listened to.
mike, OIF (13/08/07)

Paula R. Stern is a technical writer, founder and documentation manager of WritePoint Ltd and part of the Techshoret Jerusalem Technical Writers Group. Contact her at or go to her website

This essay appeared August 10, 2007 in Arutz Sheva Thanks are due Lee Caplan for sending it in.


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