The Hostile Media

                       Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Q: I read in detail your article last week about the credibility of the media and the I.D.F. spokesmen. In principle, I agree with most of what you wrote, Rabbi, but is this all you had to say after such serious violence? Is this the way a Rabbi should behave, ignoring such dangerous criminal acts, and instead, dealing with the credibility of the media and the I.D.F. spokesmen?

Rav Eliezer Melamed

A: Yes, this is the case. In my opinion, the actions of the high-ranking commanders and the media, who spread harsh lies and false accusations against the settlers, are immeasurably more serious than the unruliness of the youth. The media’s exaggeration, which was meant to malign the settlers, is as serious as an outright lie. After the overstated description of the “pogrom”, of the “settler’s horrible violence against the soldiers” and all the talk about the commanding officers “who were nearly killed by blocks thrown at their heads”, unexpectedly, a great miracle occurred: not one soldier was injured, and even the officer who was hit in the head with the block escaped without a scratch!

Besides spreading false accusations being more severe, the fact that it was done by adults and responsible people, such as the General Commanding Officer, I.D.F. spokesmen, and the media, who get paid from our taxes, and are required to fulfill their duties honestly, makes the sin even graver. Those youth, the majority of whom are not ‘hilltop youth’, but rather normal kids from surrounding communities, are Israel’s cream of the crop. In the future, they will serve in the army as outstanding soldiers, and raise exemplary families.

In such a situation, when libels are being spread, the only thing that needs to be done is to reject them outright. And if someone thinks that now is the time to educate the youth via the media, at the very least, let him do it by means of media channels that the youth themselves find trustworthy, such as Arutz 7, Basheva newspaper, the Shabbat pamphlets, and not in the media who fan the fires of libel.

 The Connection between the Media and Reality

Q: In last week’s article, you criticized the media. True, their coverage is slanted, but in general, they report events accurately, and we should pay attention to their criticism.

A: Anyone who believes that the media reports events accurately has fallen into their trap. Reality is complex and multi-faceted; the decision which event is important and which is not, determines what the media presents to the public, and it is very far from describing the situation accurately.

If the Media was Controlled by the Haredim

Let’s assume, for example, that the media was controlled by the Haredim, and its’ journalistic magnifying glass was directed towards the stories about the drunk youth in the pubs of Tel Aviv and the surrounding neighborhoods, since at the end of every night there are drunken brawls. Occasionally the drunks hit each other with their bare hands; sometimes with sticks or metal chains; other times, they break bottles over each other’s heads; and every now and then, they even knife each other. And when the police arrive – every so often they even beat-up the cops. Every year, a number of people are killed in these drunken brawls, and the number of people killed in car accidents due to drunk driving is much greater.

Let’s assume that each radio and television station and newspaper had a special journalist to cover this story, similar to today’s media who have a special correspondents for “matters in the territories”, and the journalists, of course, would compete amongst themselves, who could bring the juiciest story of violence to their readers, listeners, or viewers. Every now and then, one of the drunks turned out to be the son of a Knesset member, minister, C.E.O., professor, or author. The journalists would hint about who it was, eventually the person’s name would be publicized, the flames of public outcry would reach the skies, and the entire media would break out into a wild, self-righteous dance. Of course, the reporters would always ask the secular Jews to respond and apologize for the “wild thorns” growing in their flowerbeds, which have already become forests, and the Haredi announcers would rebuke every secular interviewee who was not willing to admit that significant failures exist within the secular education system.

Correspondent for Secular Family Disintegration

Every media outlet would also maintain a correspondent for family matters, whose job is to cover all the unfaithfulness and divorces amongst the famous, members of Knesset, business executives, professors, doctors, poets, and authors. His job would include interviewing the betraying wives and their abandoned husbands, to listen to their allegations, and to sigh over the bitter results of the secular education system. He would follow, with deep concern, the pain of the children whose parents got divorced, how they divide-up their time between their father and mother, how they get along with their father’s new girlfriend, who, due to her tender age, could be one of their friends. Secular moralists would complain about the media, claiming it harms the rights of the individual, but the Haredi journalists would counter-claim that the public’s right to know is greater, because it is extremely important to investigate the failures of secular education; and, unfortunately, there’s no choice – when a person is a candidate for a senior position, his level of morality must be made public. In time, a secular ‘Takana’ forum would be established, dealing with inner-soul searching, and attempting to get rid of individuals who are liable to give the overall secular public a bad name in the media, due to family problems.

And of course, all the Haredi journalists and announcers would make comparisons between the lofty speech of secular public figures about ‘honoring women’, and the way they behave in their own lives. For example, if the President of Israel spoke about the ‘exclusion of women’ from the public scene, the entire media would delve into his shaky relationship with his wife – so shaky that she refused to live with him in the Presidential residence. And if one of the ministers, or the Prime Minister himself, were to rebuke the Haredi public about their disrespect for women, the Haredi media would investigate the degree of their loyalty to their wives, and the results would be pretty appalling. Of course, a number of righteous individuals would rise-up, claiming that this is slander and it is forbidden to humiliate heads of State, but the Haredi media would answer them saying that the public has the right to know who their leaders are.

Journalists covering the field of health would eagerly report, in depth, the sad cases of 16 year-old girls who perform abortions – but in this case, without mentioning names, as a result of the girls being underage. Nevertheless, due to the wild competition between the journalists, their parents’ names would be leaked periodically.

Some secular people would complain about the media, asking why they refuse to report about all the wonderful endeavors in which the secular public plays a major role, such as scientific achievements, advanced industry, the philharmonic orchestra, and works of culture. And not one person would listen to them. On the contrary, the radio and T.V. announcers would continue to preach to them, and at every opportunity, they would find children of the secular personalities who had become religious, and, for a smidgen of dubious publicity, were willing to come on air and publicly condemn all the ugly phenomena in the secular educational system.

Wave of Repentance – Despite the Media

And you know what? A lot of Haredim would then become secular, because, if the sicknesses of the immoral secularism are criticized to such an extent, and yet, it still survives – there must be something to it!

Currently, however, the situation is exactly the opposite: The journalists are secular leftists, and therefore they report about the settler ‘rampages’, fights amongst the Haredim, and about the ‘exclusion of women’. And despite all this, a huge wave of people returning to traditional Judaism is sweeping the country, the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria continues to grow, and the majority of the Israeli public admires them.

Consequently, I am not concerned about the media’s criticism, and I don’t consider it as truly reflecting public opinion. At the very most, they manage to create a certain transparent, shallow awareness amongst the public.

Media Influence

True, the media does have short-term influence, and we must learn how to minimize its damages. Occasionally, it can even be used. However, this can be done only after realizing the media’s low level and its’ negative orientation towards the settlers and the Haredim, and to understand that when we are dealing with libels against us – the only thing that needs to be done is, to counter attack. And since quite a few spokesmen from Judea and Samaria do not understand this, instead of condemning the libels, they try to rationalize and publicly confess, and every time they are interviewed, a media attack occurs.    

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed is the Dean of Yeshiva Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law. Rabbi Melamed is one of the most active leaders amongst the religious-Zionist public. This article was translated from his popular weekly column “Revivim” which appears in the “Basheva” newspaper. According to official media surveys, his column is the most widely read editorial amongst the religious and ultra-Orthodox public in Israel.

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