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The media’s assault on the nation’s morale

Nonstop news of mourning, worry and political divisions harms the thing we need most to defeat our enemy: unity

Yesterday I bumped into a soldier friend who told me he was just released from his combat after 107 days. He’s 47 years old and I’ve known him for more than 25 years.

“I have one thing to say to people,” he told me unprompted. “Don’t look at the media. What they say isn’t true. They only want to keep people watching. The truth is that at the front it’s ‘all for one and one for all.’ We are together. People from all different places and all different sectors. There’s only achdut,” he said. Unity.

Turn on the TV in Israel today or read a newspaper or a website and you’re certain to find interviews with the family of a kidnapped loved one in Gaza or a moving tribute to one of our fallen soldiers. Interspersed are reports and commentary on the conduct of the war and the demands for Bibi to resign or an argument about when to begin the investigation into the failures of October 7. It’s almost as if, in the midst of the most difficult war Israel has faced, the media is on a campaign of psychological warfare against the morale of our nation.

I understand the impulse to honor the fallen. When my son Koby was murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the beginning of the first intifada the attention of the national and international media somehow had a salutary effect on my spirit. It told me that my son mattered, that the pain mattered. I have nothing but sympathy and support for the families of the kidnapped and understand that they need to keep the issue in front of us all.

But questions must be asked. What is the effect of watching all of this emotional suffering and hearing about the divisions in our society on the morale and spirit of our people? Can we at the same time prosecute a cruel war to defeat our enemies, wallow in the understandable sorrow of the families who have lost their loved ones or are worried about their kidnapped children, attack our national unity and leadership, and maintain the perseverance courage and spirit necessary to defeat our enemies?

During the first few days of the war, I would go on the internet and watch one of the Israeli television news shows. Every half hour or so they would interview a relative of one of the kidnapped Israelis or one of the relatives of someone murdered on a kibbutz or at the Rave. And I would feel just terrible. I would feel the pain of the person deep inside perhaps because, as a bereaved father, I could relate so deeply to what they were feeling. And the effect would last for a long time. When I realized it was affecting my whole day, my ability to be a father to my children, a grandfather to my grandkids, a husband to my wife, and a friend to my friends, I stopped watching. Entirely.

A few weeks later I got a call from what sounded like an older, Hebrew-speaking woman. “I am a volunteer for Bituach Leumi, (the National Insurance agency) and I’m calling to find out how you’re doing.”

“We’re fine,” I said. “We have a lot of support. My daughter and her family live nearby and we live in a community. But thank you for calling.”

“So you are coping well with the situation?” she asked.

“To tell you the truth,” I said, “we actually run an organization that offers emotional support to people affected by terror (the Koby Mandell Foundation) so yes, we have lots of resources, we are fine.”

As I was about to hang up she said quickly, “You’re not watching too much TV, are you? It’s better to try not to watch too much.” I had already figured that out but I thanked her for mentioning it and hung up.

Today, I don’t even read articles that are likely to portray Israel and the IDF in a negative light. And I try not to take to heart descriptions of the humanitarian situation in Gaza because, like almost all of us, I know that it has to be done because if we want to remain in this land as a sovereign nation we have to defeat our enemies whatever the cost.

When my wife Sherri was writing “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” her award-winning memoir about Koby and her experiences in the year after his murder, I found the first pages of the manuscript next to the computer. I had not read it because as I told her then, I had lived it. But I picked up the typewritten draft and read the first five pages. At around 2:30 my wife arrived home and walked into the living room to find me laying on the couch. “What are you doing on the couch in the middle of the afternoon?” she asked.

“Oh, I read the first five pages of your book.”

“What’d you think of it,” she said.

“If the rest of the book is as good as this it’ll be great. But I’ll never read it. I’ve been lying here since 7:30.”

And to this day I have not read her book because I believe it will bring me back to the depths of despair.

Someone once said that armies don’t win wars, nations win wars. When a country is at war, should the information presented to the public take into account the morale of the society as a whole? Is the truth and the compassion for the injured and bereaved a higher value than the morale of a society at war where there is no choice but to win? Is now the time to be attacking our politicians and generals? And how much do we need to know about the suffering of the population in the country we are attacking even as we are in the middle of a war?

I don’t have answers, only questions. But I can tell you what my friend said yesterday when I asked him if he thought we were going to win the war. “We don’t have a choice,” he said, “if we want to have a state.”

About the Author
Seth Mandell and his wife Sherri moved to Israel from America in 1996 because they loved Israel and wanted to put Judaism in the center of their lives and their children's lives. Their lives were devastated on May 8, 2001, when their 13 year old son Koby was murdered by terrorists. In Koby's memory, they created the Koby Mandell Foundation which provides healing programs for families struck by terrorism. Seth, a rabbi, believes that the Jewish response to suffering is to live a fuller and more engaged life. The Koby Mandell Foundation helps others who have suffered the trauma of loss overcome the isolation that keeps them from returning to life.