I have never voted Likud, but over the past two weeks, I have been gradually becoming aware of the fact that, for the first time ever, that is what is going to happen. Something deep inside me is telling me that this is the proper thing to do for anyone who is not willing to allow the Israeli mainstream media to succeed in stealing an election by dishonorable means. The ballot that says "Machal" ( the Likud acronym) on it, at this point in time, is the proper protest ballot, a small but important contribution that an ordinary citizen can offer to strengthen Israel's democracy.
If one of the ways to judge if a state is democratic is by whether its press is worthy of the name, the last few weeks have shown that we have nothing in common with a democratic state. That is because what has been done here by a long roster of journalists and media sources, who cannot abide the thought that Binyamin Netanyahu might win the elections again, is a travesty against democracy. Hysteria, frenzy, there is no other way to define what is happening on screen, on the radio waves, on the Facebook and Twitter pages of just about every leading mainstream Israeli journalist.
In their eyes, Netanyahu has become a demon and the ultimate symbol of evil, so that those who intend to grant him those 20 or so Knesset seats are viewed as the ignorant masses. Likud spokesmen are rudely attacked on mainstream media, while senior journalists ignore any facts that don't fit the master plan. There are no rules, no laws, everything we ever learned in the School of Journalism will just have to wait for the day after the elections. Shush, there is a war going on.
Several days ago, the Likud lobbed a bomb that should have shaken the entire election campaign. And I mean the V15 group that decided that its (perfectly legitimate) goal is to bring about the defeat of Netanyahu. That is not the big story. Nor is the question, important in itself, of whether V15 is overstepping the limits of the law on subsidizing political parties. Not even the question of what the group's American donors told the IRS is the main story. Let's forget the worrisome fact that this is group has no legal standing so that no one can keep track of the funds that it pours into the election campaign or discover their source.
V15 itself says that it is supported by the OneVoice organization. Nimrod Dweck, one of the founders of V15, told Israel's Channel 2 anchor, Keren Neubach, that "OneVoice writes our receipts. They are our legal-organizational conduit".
OneVoice defines itself as "an international grassroots organization that empowers the voice of moderate Israelis and Palestinians to exert pressure on their leaders to advance the solution of two states for two peoples." Among the organization's partners, according to their internet site, the US Embassy in Israel can be found. OneVoice obtains its budget and funding for operations from the US State Department, among others.
If we were not in the midst of an election campaign, we would have to hold a serious debate on how it can be that the most powerful of our friends feels it has the right to pour monies into our country to fund activities meant to "exert pressure" on the Israeli leadership to accept the two state solution, and what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot and we were using our national budget to do something of that sort in the USA.
But we are in the midst of an election campaign, and the election campaign story is very simple. Here it is in one short sentence: An organization whose goal is switching our Prime Minster has as its organizational, legal and bureaucratic base another organization to which the American Embassy belongs and to which John Kerry channels funds. Read that sentence slowly and aloud and tell me if that doesn't sound insane. Tell me if that story did not have to be the most explosive one of this entire election campaign.
Do you realize what is happening here? The Israeli media is lacing mercilessly into Netanyahu because of the "finger he is poking into America's eye", because the planned speech he intends to give in the US Congress may insult Obama – and absolutely refuses to notice that at the same exact time, an organization funded by Obama is cooperating with the group that has as its goal pushing Netanyahu out of office.
This is the story that should have been splashed all over the news by the Israeli media. The State Department's spokesman should have been forced to explain what is going on. The American ambassador should have been seen perspiring in TV studios. None of this happened, of course, because this story doesn't interest our media in the slightest. We have no press during this period. The Israeli press and its democratic flak jacket are on vacation, on its office door hangs a sign saying "out due to elections" and we are completely vulnerable.
Let's forget that the fact that we journalists didn't discover what V15 was doing is a colossal failure on our part. The problem is that once the Likud did expose the entire scandal, the only thing the media did, instead of taking up a cudgel and forging on by itself, was to try to bury the story. On Army Radio – whose budget should be cut by the amount that really belongs on Herzog and Livni's campaign fund disbursements– I heard, too many times to count, both before the Likud press conference and after it, that the whole V15 story was concocted to deflect the public's attention from the story of Sara Netanyahu's deposit bottles. That the story is only a diversion. The station's political correspondent repeated that statement so many times that he practically lost his voice.
While the media took on the story of the returnable bottles and demanded explanations, responses and a criminal investigation, no less, we were witness to a totally different press when it came to the V15 story. Here we had a press that has no desire to investigate, a press uninterested in anything, a press that delivers only an unembellished report. The "Likud says", the "Likud claims", the "Likud will hold a press conference" as all they said. The Likud members' most difficult mission this past week was to convince the press that there was a story at all. One after another the party's spokemen were attacked by interviewers, who not only didn't do their jobs, but demanded that the Likud bring them a full dossier of proofs – or they would decide forthwith that there is nothing to the story.
Did the Likud claimed that one of Obama's past campaign managers is helping V15? Army Radio rushed to announce a "scoop" – they, too, have an advisor for New Media who once worked with the Republicans. Did the Likud claim that OneVoice is interfering in a sovereign nations' elections? Army Radio responded by attacking Likud MK Yuval Steinitz for once appearing before OneVoice, as if one speech neutralizes the fact that the organization is now working to defeat Netanyahu.
The media kept grinding away at the idiotic story of Sara Netanyahu's returnable bottles and exactly when she gave the blasted 4000 IS she received for them to the state's coffers – but the connection between the US State Department and an organization working to defeat Netanyahu didn't interest a soul among them.
Let's take a look at Yoel Hasson, a member of the (self-titled) "Zionist Camp" of Herzog and Livni. After Ar'el Segal revealed that the honorable Hasson himself is on the board of governors of OneVoice, Hasson rushed to deny it and claim that "I was never a member of the board there". A short time later – when the Hebrew language Rotternet site revealed that not only his name, but also his photograph and bio appears on the list of board members on OneVoice's site - an unusual coincidence occurred and they were removed. Hasson explained that he had no idea who had put his name there. Of course, we know about that – which of us hasn't had some organization choose to post his name and photo as a member of their board by mistake?
Seriously, doesn't this merit some discussion? Doesn't this seem a bit suspicious? Wouldn't a fair press force the "Zionist Camp" to deal with the issue and furnish explanations for it?
If we go back 15 years, we will soon see that this is a repeat of the same corrupt press of 1999. That was when the Likud found out about Herzog and Barak's illegal NPO's. Then, like now, only the then fledgling and small "Makor Chadash" Hebrew newspaper featured the issue. No one else showed any interest in their story. Then, as well, the Likud party's leaders (Livni was one of them then) were forced to call a press conference to publicize what they had discovered. Then, as now, by the next morning the entire story had been buried, because there were almost no journalists who found it worth taking up.
Almost, but not quite. There was one rare, intrepid journalist, Shelly Yehimovich, whose political leanings were with the left, but whose integrity forced her to bring up the story on the radio again and again, even if it didn't serve her side. This week, too, there was one – Keren Neubach – who, I am willing to bet will not vote Likud, just as Shelly Yehimovich didn't – but whose pointed questions and demand for answers facing the V15 representative preserved a small part of the honor of her chosen profession.
Key Journalists and the Election Campaign
It's not that I am making little of the returnable bottles saga. As with any other story, I want to be sure that I have all the facts, that there are none that have not been told to the public. Still, observing the full steam ahead with which the press is dealing with those bottles and with how much each meal in the PM's house costs, one cannot help feeling that someone has gone bananas. That someone is willing to prostitute his profession in order to change the government at any price. For every minute on American interference in our elections, we are treated to an hour of the deposit on the PM's returnable bottles. Something is definitely not functioning normally, and if our press does not change direction soon, nothing will remain of it.
Watching all this, it's not hard to understand why the media got the lowest score of all in this year's survey of the public's trust rating, held by the Israeli Institute for Democracy, lower than the Chief Rabbinate, and with numbers that have not been seen in all the years the survey has taken place. If any of us journalists doesn't understand why, let him turn on his TV. Anyway, who cares? Why ask? Why should the public's lack of faith in us bother us at all? It's the same idiotic public that votes Likud, is it not?
How embarrassing to read those commentators who present the "bottle scandal" to us as if it were the corruption case of the millennium, and realize that the close correlation between their names and the names of those who supported, just a short while ago, the possibility that Ehud Olmert would return to be Prime Minister. Olmert, may I remind you, was not involved in a 4000 IS returnable bottle story. Olmert already had a criminal conviction involving an investment company and was facing an enormous indictment for bribery in the Holyland case (and we all remember how that ended).
None of this prevents those who are currently fighting against Netanyahu's alleged corruption to explain why there is no problem with Olmert's returning to run things. Despite the conviction, the indictment, the bribery, he is still "a good manager", they explain. How shameful.
Anyone who wants to understand what is happening to our press, should look at the key players. There, on top. I have expressed my respect for the journalistic work of Raviv Drucker many times, but when I see what he has been doing for the last few weeks, as the pressure of the coming elections heightens, I just can't believe it. A few months ago, he wrote an article in which he promoted a delusional scenario in which three party heads, Meretz's Zehava Galon, Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, join together to bring down Netanyahu. He then decided that if the way to inflict damage on Naftali Bennett is through spreading a false claim that during the Kefar Kana incident, when Bennett was a 20 year old officer in an elite unit, he sounded pressured on radio dispatches, then it's okay to call that journalism. Two weeks ago, he called on Herzog and Livni to have Sara Netanyahu's head and start attacking Netanyahu personally.
And this past week? This past week he hit a new low.
On Sunday, as the Likud was preparing its press conference on the V15 affair, Drucker decided to post on his blog excerpts from what he called "the first draft" of the State Comptroller's report on "Bibitours", the name for the accusation that the PM allegedly reported travelling expenses incorrectly. This was one of the most anti-journalistic acts that I have ever seen. Drucker knows that as well as I do.
Do you want more? Drucker of old, when there was no get-rid-of-Netanyahu hysteria, would never, ever have publicized this "document' at any price. And not because it is illegal to do so, an aspect of that posting that should really be considered while we are cleaning up the rest of the world. This document is not fit to be publicized because it is only a draft, one that is sent to the person being scrutinized so that he can respond to it, answer the Comptroller and elaborate on what needs explanation.
Sometimes, when the explanations do not pass muster, a draft becomes a report. Sometimes, the Comptroller changes some of its paragraphs after receiving a response. And I have personally witnessed an entire report discarded when the person being investigated has responses that justify that measure.
The Rhinocerus' Silence
Drucker knew he was out of bounds, that the draft he quoted was written several years ago and that material has since been given to the Comptroller, that the Prime Minister is working to convince the Comptroller that he behaved properly, and that it is quite possible that the questions about Netanyahu raised at the start of the report's writing have been answered to the Comptroller's satisfaction. What did Drucker due to make sure he doesn't get into trouble? He wrote a short comment "This is an old, first draft, so that it is possible that it has since been modified."
Now explain to me what kind of press this is. Since when do we publicize a document with a short comment saying that it is possible that it is incorrect by now, but that it is important that it be read anyway? Let me make it plain that I am not defending Netanyahu. I have no idea how all this will end, having read Drucker's original investigation of "Bibitours" I realize that this is a problematic story. But to publicize a document when you don't even know if it is still relevant? Before the PM responded to it? Come on, now...
And do you know what is most disappointing? That not one journalist was bothered by the whole thing. If the document's contents damage Netanyahu, that's enough to keep them all quiet. Exactly two days after the Drucker article, investigative reporter Yoav Yitschak revealed on his website that in contrast to what Drucker had publicized, the Comptroller does not suspect Netanyahu of reporting his trips twice.
The big problem with publicizing the document wasn't the facts it presented. We had already seen them in Drucker's previous investigation. There is no dispute about that. Netanyahu doesn't claim that he didn't take those flights, he also doesn't claim that he paid for his and his wife's tickets. The problem was that Drucker chose parts of the report that included facts, but also included the Comptroller's harsh value judgments, and Drucker has no idea if they are still his opinion or not. "The Comptroller's Office views this behavior negatively", "there is an ethical lacuna here". Etc.
Well, I checked it out. The latest draft of the report was sent to Netanyahu for his response in December 2012. That is the most up to date version of the Comptroller's position (not Drucker's). Not one of the harsh expressions quoted by Drucker are in it. Not one. Whether the reason for that is Netanyahu's success in convincing the Comptroller that his response precludes those expressions, is unclear, but that is exactly the reason one is not allowed to publicize these drafts before there is a response to them, and doing so is a breach of journalistic ethics.
After the last elections, journalist Amnon Abramovitch admitted that he had a definite political goal during the campaign. "I joined the anti-Bennett campaign, because had he gotten 19 seats instead of Lapid, the comments would have been over the top." Abrahmovich was not the only one. He was the only one decent enough to admit it.
The time has come to put a stop to pretensions of objectivity. A month and a half before Election Day, everything is political, everything is tainted, everything has been bought.
Translated, with permission, from the Hebrew Maariv newspaper, by Rochel Sylvetsky. The writer later qualified his voting choice on radio Galei Yisrael, while using it to make his point about the Israeli mainstream media.