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August 17, 2012 10:23 am

Backstabbing Democracy: A Nuclear Iran and the Israeli Media

avatar by Arik Elman

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The Haaretz newspaper.

August in Israel is usually full of hot air, and this one is no exception. The country is sweating under the relentless summer sun, and whatever your occupation and the higher calling in your life, if you’re an Israeli with children, your main agenda is quite simple – keep your kids from destroying the universe during this last month of school vacation, after all the camps have ended.

For the local journalists, August is the “cucumber season”, when the real news is slow and the inherent silliness of the Israeli press (caused by the poor level of recruitment and professionalism) runs wild. In recent years, though, instead of reporting on items like “Chechen fighters establish a colony in Southern township”, the summer tea-time of the collective brain of the Israeli press took a decisive turn to the political.

Last year, it was the “popular uprising” of the well-to-do Israelis of the Centrist-Left persuasion that fascinated the media in the way a kitten is fascinated by a ball of yarn. From the moment the first tent appeared on Rothschild boulevard in Tel-Aviv, the Israeli “watchdogs of democracy” abdicated their responsibility to report and to analyze, much less criticize, and became what Vladimir Lenin called a “collective propagandist, agitator and organizer of the masses”. In the following days and weeks, it became painfully obvious that the socio-economic composition of the protesting crowd matched almost completely the audience of two commercial TV channels who competed between themselves for the privilege of being the most radical and most shrill with the most dramatic shots and the most inflated numbers.

Those outside of Israel who took their cue from the local press and became obsessed with “Tahrir in Tel Aviv” could remind themselves that, far from being real bonfires of the Israeli tribe, both channels, 2 and especially 10 are so incapable of setting a unifying agenda for their potential viewers that they constantly bleed money and balance on a brink of financial extinction. When they embraced the protests of 2011, it was not a great alliance but a kiss of death. Large swaths of the public, suspicious of the journalists and their not-really-hidden real motive – to bring down the Netanyahu government – stayed away from the action. Then September came, and the silly season was over.

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This year, despite the attempts to revive the protests in a more extreme and violent form, the Israeli press abstained. Maybe it was preoccupied with its own self-inflicted problems – instead of increased prestige and ratings, the only tangible result of the public outcry against Big Business was the sharp decrease of advertising revenue from Big Business, which brought most of the printed media close to insolvency and brought about massive layoffs. Or maybe it was just disappointed – after all, the demonstrations, however successful in reshaping the Israeli political agenda and bringing forward issues that lay dormant – taxes, prices, housing and social services – haven’t managed to unseat the hated government of the Right, so why bother?

The only aspect of the renewed protest that got media attention, in a morbid and wildly irresponsible way, was the suicide of one of the demonstrators who blamed the government for his business failings. In the following days, the media’s insistence in turning him into some kind of a tragic hero and to transform his personal misfortune into a national tragedy (I am quoting actual headlines here), caused a dozen new attempts by copycat wannabe self-immolators, before saner heads and the deep-seated Jewish aversion to suicide prevailed.

I am bringing this up because without understanding the modus operandi of the rancid mess that is the mainstream Israeli media, it is impossible to plumb the depths of insanity to which it sank in the recent weeks of August 2012. Lead by a member of the Board of Trustees of George Soros’ International Crisis Group (which is, of course, firmly opposed to any kind of military action against Iran), “Yedioth Ahronoth” columnist Nahum Barnea, the press is both whipping up hysteria about an “imminent” Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations – AND blaming Netanyahu and the Defense Minister Ehud Barak for their “irresponsible blather”! At the same newspaper, on the same page, you can read an editorial demanding “a widest possible discussion” on the merits of the attack and its’ consequences AND the ruminations of the chief editorial columnist about how in the past, “the responsible leaders ordered such attacks first and only then talked about it”.

Day in and day out, Israelis are bombarded by gossip in the guise of reporting. Today we’re being told that the decision has been made, tomorrow – that it will wait until September when Netanyahu might meet with Obama at the UN. Mysterious “sources” report that the security establishment is against the attack – a day later you’ll learn from the same “sources” that the generals – naturally – prefer an American-led operation. The febrile atmosphere caused the usual Left-wing nuts to erupt – while the increasingly unhinged Yoram Kaniuk called on the “true Beitarim” to rise on Netanyahu and “stop” him, the assorted “progressives” started a Web petition calling on the Israeli pilots to refuse an order to bomb Iran. One of those, law school professor Menahem Mautner, cheerfully proclaimed in a radio interview that a huge difference exists between the Left and the Right with regard to the (blatantly illegal) refusal to obey lawful military orders given by an elected government. Turns out, that the Right refuses, because it wishes to turn Israel into a racist theocracy, and therefore it must be crushed, while the Left wants to preserve Israeli democracy and therefore its refusal is legitimate and must be respected.

There’s of course nothing “democratic” in the idea that in a crisis, an opinion of the military bureaucrats and “intelligence professionals” must prevail over this of the civilian leaders elected by a clear majority of the people. This, in fact, is what the Israeli hard Left has been dreaming about all along – since it can no longer persuade the people to follow its suicidal course, it must utilize tools outside of representative democracy to make the will of the people irrelevant. This anti-democratic mood is fully shared by the ideological elder twins of the Israeli “liberals” in America – that’s why the “progressive” Peter Beinart’s Open Zion is willing to entertain the possibility of a military coup “to save Israel from itself”.

It is also worth noting, without getting into the debate about the merits and dangers of a preventive strike against Iran, that the Israeli “security professionals” were wrong in the past, sometimes – disastrously wrong. From the fateful mistakes that led to the appalling loss of life in the Yom Kippur War to the failure to predict and prepare for the fall of secular dictatorships throughout the Middle East, the Israeli generals and spooks erred time and again, sometimes on the side of war, sometimes on the side of peace. In the last two decades they gave their support to policies of withdrawal and appeasement that failed spectacularly – in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza – and failed to prepare the armed forces for the inevitable reckoning. Hundreds of Israeli civilians lost their lives, thousands were wounded and traumatized, billions of shekels were lost, because the generals made mistakes for which they weren’t held accountable. Up until Syria exploded, the same generals, united under the Leftist umbrella organization with the deceptive name “Counsel for Peace and Security”, promoted the idea of giving up the Golan Heights “for peace”.

Whatever the outcome of the internal Israeli debate on the pros and contras of the attack on Iran, it must not be hijacked by the anti-democratic Leftist elite, sub-par journalists with ulterior motives and the manipulative security establishment. Israel has suffered enough from insufficient civilian control over its military. Instead of proclaiming generals’ infallibility and giving uncritical support to their anonymous insinuations, the responsible press should have called them to order and demanded to lay their opinions where they belong – at the table of the civilian decision-makers – instead of spreading confusion and panic at the civilian rear.

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