A free press is Israel’s greatest ally

The battle that members of the Israeli government are waging to gain greater control over the press is absurd since it is not in anyone’s best interest. A critical press helps guarantee a strong and united country and reduces corruption.

Ignoring corruption endangers society

One only has to look at countries such as the Netherlands, where billions of euros have been invested in public transportation systems which have turned out to be among the world’s most expensive as well as the worst. The only people to benefit from such forms of corruption are companies and the politicians who either make large profits or receive kickbacks, albeit legally. Imagine if Israel’s future defense procurements were in the hands of corrupt politicians whose chief interest was self-enrichment. And imagine if such things were to happen because the media did not pose any kind of threat.

Pragmatic policies benefit a unified albeit diverse country

Rabbis and many politicians have been appealing to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to work towards promoting further unity. A Jewish state is for all Israelis and is also considered the homeland for Jews in the Diaspora. Turf wars between ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’, ‘Ashkenazi’ and ‘Mizrachi’ and ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ are best avoided.

While the Orthodox community is growing, the secular is becoming increasingly traditional. Haredim are becoming more involved in society, while new immigrants from Western countries and secular Israelis increasingly appreciate Jewish tradition. The evolving Israeli is a mixture of East and West, while the distinction between religious and secular is becoming increasingly blurred. The dogmatic economic philosophies of the 20th century are no longer relevant to Israeli society. Few care about proving whether extreme forms of capitalism or socialism offer absolutist solutions. Most Israelis and Jews desire pragmatic policies that benefit the state of Israel in its entirety.

Free speech is not a threat

Culture Minister Miri Regev has recently been making headlines by demanding that the role played by Jews from Oriental countries be incorporated in Israeli culture and education. She has also opposed funding loud-mouthed ‘anti-Zionist’ propaganda. To top if off, Ms Regev proclaimed that the state should not fund media which it does not control. While I agree with many of the culture minister’s comments, I find it ridiculous that she or anyone else feel threatened. So what if they make offensive statements? If one has faith in what one believes one should have no trouble in formulating more convincing arguments than one’s opponents.

To be socially engaged is not anti-Israel

Even more absurd is that Jerusalem fails to take into consideration Israel’s abominable image abroad. It also does not ask itself why this is the case. As the People of the Book, many of the world’s best writers are Jewish – and many thousands of them work as journalists, both in Israel and abroad. With the exception of an extremely small vocal minority, they support the Israeli cause. Nonetheless Israeli hasbara is geared to preaching to one’s own parish. The fact that the majority of Jews in the Western world as well as most Jewish journalists are socially engaged (tikkun olam) appears to be at odds with entrenched establishment dogma. To be socially engaged is perceived as being either left-wing (in Israel) or anti-Israel (abroad).

This entrenched thinking has become an overwhelming obstacle when it comes to attracting olim from Western countries. Great efforts are made to bring Jews to Israel in the hope that they will make aliyah. However, those who want them to immigrate are seemingly unaware of the dichotomy between current social policies and the fact that most idealistic Western Jews are socially engaged.

Bureaucratic entrenchment has also led to the Israeli alignment, in the eyes of the general public abroad, with the most unpopular political classes. Few efforts are made to engage Jews who are socially active in hasbara, since they are perceived as some sort of cultural or political threat. For instance, the image of the Jew in the foreign media is based on the tens of thousands of pictures we have seen in the news portraying Orthodox Jews as serious and unlikable. We never see pictures of Jews who smile and appear human. However, many in the Israeli establishment are so caught up in outdated modes of thinking that new means of combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are overlooked.

Free speach is not a right to invade privacy

As we have seen in the US elections, a free press has nothing to do with the freedom to throw dirt and make personal attacks for political benefit. Why does the US public have a choice between the two least popular candidates? The Clinton campaign manipulated the press in so blatant a fashion that most Americans have little trust in the political system. Bernie Sanders was warned that he did not have enough ‘real’ political experience, since he was ‘too good’. Meaning that in politics, principles do not matter. Politicians – though not only politicians – are often defamed in the press by exaggerations, invasions of privacy, entrapment and outright lies.

A judge ruled that a recent ‘journalistic scoop’ by a Channel 2 reporter was “responsible, serious journalism and reflected the reality as it was.” A member of the Knesset was charged with having used “hard drugs” before he immigrated to Israel. If the journalist involved was a “serious journalist” and not partisan he would know that if all those involved in the international multi-trillion dollar drug trade were to be tried international gulags would have to be built for all the businessmen, politicians, judges, police officers and anti-crime fighters involved.

Israel has a vibrant society and a free and vibrant press. A free media is a check and balance which prevents corruption from getting out of hand. It also guarantees that new ideas and opinions are not stifled.

About the Author
Asaf Shimoni is an author, journalist and translator who returned to Israel in 2016 after spending 40 years abroad, most of them in the Netherlands. He grew up near Boston, made aliyah while living on a kibbutz (from 1973 to 1976), and graduated from Syracuse University in 1978. He also lived some 5 years in Sicily. He believes that the media should be as critical and truthful as possible.
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