Asaf Shimoni
Asaf Shimoni

The Holocaust, Israeli character and press freedom: Survivors are here to stay

Recently the debate over how media influence the public both consciously and subconsciously nearly caused the collapse of the Israeli cabinet. Should people say whatever they like and, if so, should they continue to do so by means of public broadcasting?

In the book Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer, the following sentence provides a rather succinct description of the Israeli character: “They viewed any kind of formality – in dress, in speech, in affect – as some kind of gross infringement of a God-given right to at all times be oneself” (p. 340).

להיות עם חפשי בארצנו

“To be a free nation in our own country” is a phrase in the Israeli national anthem (Hatikvah – The Hope) and describes the national character. Being able to say what one thinks is also part of the country’s strength since Israel includes people with customs from all over the world and people must understand one another. A free press is also essential to the country’s security since one must understand how people with differing opinions who at times might want to destroy you think.

Judaism advocates universal literacy

The Israeli people were the first to advocate universal literacy. While the bar (and bat) mitzvah coming of age ceremonies became universalized some four centuries ago, the rite is mentioned in the Mishnah. The Mishnah and Talmud are commentaries on the Torah (which – in spite of nearly 2,000 years of Christian propaganda – bears absolutely no relation to the English Old Testament since the Hebrew original cannot be translated into English).

These commentaries contain just about every religious, political and philosophical view and inflection within Judaism. People who are literate tend to make short shrift with attempts to manipulate texts. At the same time just about everything published is viewed as a form of manipulation.

Should public broadcasting represent all the country’s citizens?

Proposals to abolish public broadcasting altogether face major drawbacks, particularly the influence of money and power. Should the government “fund” opposing views? If the government represents its citizens then public media represent everyone, not only a majority, a governing plurality or a few ministers who claim to represent everyone.

Should ideas, opinions and “facts” be bartered on the marketplace?

If public broadcasting is replaced by ‘the market’ those with the most money and political connections inevitably rule over the dissemination of ideas and opinions. This never occurs openly and often continues subconsciously. Journalists must report on “what people want to know” (headlines, sports, the latest catastrophe, the latest press release by a government ministry, etc.). Moreover, someone else decides what news is “important”.

By repressing ideas and opinions and replacing them with pre-selected soundbites and the latest press agency releases those with the most money and influence can manipulate the media to their hearts’ content.

Thinking should not be privatized

Media worldwide tend to be victims of dumbing-down. However since Israel survives by being different (turning disadvantages into advantages) and its media need to promote intelligent thinking instead of demanding that its citizens be passive victims of manipulation there is every reason not to privatize the media.

Holocaust survivors are here to stay

For decades the media has been informing us that Holocaust survivors are dying out. This public perception led to a situation in which those who survived the Shoa were neglected for decades.

Israeli public funds tend to be distributed to those who demand money the most. A spoiled kid who has mistakenly “invested” billions of shekels could be bailed out by the government, while a Holocaust survivor who has no idea of the “subsidies” he or she is entitled to or does not want to beg for help can spend decades in horrid conditions. Meanwhile Jews overseas have no idea of social conditions in Israel since they are either concerned about the “rights of oppressed” people elsewhere or have no idea where their donations end up.

The last survivor has another four decades, at least

In September the world’s oldest man, a survivor of Auschwitz, celebrated his bar mitzvah at the age of 113. His family was too poor to afford a bar mitzvah when he was 13, so he decided to celebrate the rite a hundred years later. Since there are survivors 30 years younger with vivid memories of the Holocaust and infants 40 years younger it is logical to assume that many of the world’s hundreds of thousands of survivors will be here for at least another four decades.

Should “young” people and other people care for Holocaust survivors?

Recently the nonprofit agency Adopt-A-Safta decided to pair “young” professionals with the 180,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel. At the same time, survivors not suffering from neglect are helped by imported caregivers, which costs the country a small fortune. For much less money Israel could stimulate young and other Jews to come to Israel to care for survivors.

What about survivors in the Diaspora?

Several months ago an older woman from Ukraine who worked two jobs sought a place at a hostel since she could not afford the rent in Tel Aviv. She supports a mother in Ukraine. Recently a woman from the United States reported that she would soon be making aliyah since she can now communicate with her mother (a survivor) in real time via the Internet. Why not bring survivors who want to make aliyah to Israel? Survivors receive pensions; moreover many can work (volunteer) and also teach us about their experiences.

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 is currently in Amsterdam to sort our affairs. He believes that the media should be as critical and truthful as possible.
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