Pullout as Pogrom

The Russian-language press has explicitly enlisted in the struggle against the disengagement, and the arguments it uses are not only political or related to security.

During the weeks and months after the huge tsunami wave hit southern Asia, the world was engaged in trying to understand the meaning of this huge disaster. Philosophers and theologians, each from within his own discipline, tried to understand, and failed in their efforts. The clear and unambiguous answer was, in fact, discovered by an Israeli newspaper published in the Russian language. In a long and reasoned article, the newspaper Vesti explained to its readers that the tsunami was a punishment brought down upon the Jews and on the world for supporting the uprooting of Jewish settlements - i.e., the disengagement. The writer was also able to explain to his readers that the word "tsunami" is indeed a transformation of the Hebrew words soneh `ami (hater of my people), a fact that leaves no doubt as to the validity of the thesis.

You have to read this to believe this, and also remember that this is not an ultra-Orthodox newspaper that is explaining some local disaster that was caused by improper mezuzahs. This is a newspaper in the Russian language that is directed at those who were considered on their arrival here to be representatives of secular rationality.

As strange as this text sounds, it is not unusual. The Russian-language press has explicitly enlisted in the struggle against the disengagement, and the arguments it uses are not only political or related to security. The evacuation of Gush Katif is defined in many cases as the ultimate wickedness, the root of all the evil that has afflicted the country. About three weeks ago the Russian-language paper Yisraeli-Russi published a long article about the outbreak of the wave of violence in Israeli society. All of the Israeli media were engaged in an effort to understand the phenomenon, but Yisraeli-Russi defined the reason right in the headline: "The reasons for murder and rape - the exit from the territories and the Dovrat reform." In those very words. Internet sites in Russian that have not yet decided whether they are political or pornographic, and which published the long article, went even further. "The girl was raped vaginally and anally," they specified. "And what was the reason?" The answer, again, was the pullout and the Dovrat Commission's reforms in education.

Russian-speaking psychologists who were interviewed for the article say that it is no wonder that the country is awash in violence. "The youth do not see their future in this country that has no perspective and hope for the future, in a country that so easily gives up its territories ... It is also impossible to understand the meaning of the Dovrat reform. In a situation of disorientation, we do not know what to do, to attack or to defend ourselves."

On Internet sites appearing in Russian, one of the most important sources of information for Russian-speakers ages 30 to 40, the disengagement is often depicted as a "pogrom" and as a process that will end in catastrophe, not only for the people that dwell in Zion, but also for the Jews of the Diaspora. "Expelling Jews from their country will increase anti-Semitism," they say. "If Jews can throw Jews out of their homes, what will stop other nations from returning to total pogroms?" Apocalypse now.

Different picture

This is not the first time that Russian-language media have joined in the fight against territorial concessions. This was also the case during the Oslo era and during the periods when there was talk of a possible arrangement with Syria for withdrawing from the Golan Heights. Then, however, there was congruence between the rightist views of the readers and the contents of the press. Then, the writers and the editors in the Russian-language press would explain that they were expressing the readers' views and serving their wishes. This time around, the picture is entirely different. According to all the surveys that have been conducted among the Russian-speaking community, support for the disengagement ranges between 50 and 65 percent, much like the rate of support in the general public, and moves up and down with it. Support also rose again after the round of violent right-wing demonstrations in which children and adolescents took part. The Russian-speaking public is firmly opposed, even more than the general public in Israel, to using children in this way. Moreover: This is the first time that a majority of the representatives of the Russian-speaking public in the Knesset - five versus three - has been in favor of the disengagement. The newspapers, for the most part, no longer reflect the positions of their readers, but rather are conducting an independent campaign that is alienated from them.

A good example could be found last week: Two events of political interest to the Russian-reading public happened at the same time. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held a lengthy meeting with senior people in the Russian press, and the chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman took 2,000 immigrants to demonstrate solidarity with Gush Katif. Lieberman's performance won extensive coverage, with large photographs, in Friday's Vesti, which has a circulation of about 20,000. Coverage of the meeting with Sharon, at which he spoke at length about the pullout, was put off until the Sunday paper, which has a much smaller circulation.

The explanation that is sometimes heard to the effect that "Vesti serves Lieberman" is too simplistic for an understanding of what is happening. It appears that beyond the real opinions of the writers who are vehemently against the disengagement, there is an interest here that is shared by Lieberman and the press: Both want to maintain the weakening "community." Lieberman is building himself up, after Natan Sharansky's exit from the political arena, as the last communal leader; the Russian-language press, whose circulation has been in a natural decline, must preserve a sense of community in order to survive.

Severed connection

In this context, when all the ills that befall us are explained by the disengagement, it is amusing to note that only one event has not been connected to it: Sharon's fight against the appointment of Sharansky to head the Jewish Agency. At this time Sharon did not want this powerful position manned by someone who opposes his political plan. However, this was explained completely differently by Lieberman. In an open letter that was published with great prominence in the Russian-language press, Lieberman asserted without blinking an eye that Sharansky was not appointed to the position because he is a Russian, another slap in the face and humiliation for the entire community from Sharon. Indeed, in a clear case in which there was a definite connection between the event and the disengagement, it was severed entirely.

"There is a problem," says MK Michael Nudelman, who some time ago resigned from Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu and supports the disengagement. "The Russian-language press is very unbalanced. While 63 percent of the immigrants support the disengagement and there is clear movement from the right to the center, 95 percent of the contents of the newspapers are against the disengagement and against Sharon. This is something incomprehensible."

This week, Nudelman has been working on writing a long article about De Gaulle and Algeria by way of analogy to Sharon and the disengagement. Is this a way of circumventing the obstacle to getting into the Russian press - by means of the analogy? "Yes, that too," admits Nudelman.

He probably does not want the fate of his article to be like the fate of the critical piece rejecting Lieberman's pullout position that engineer Yaakov Kabietkovsky sent to a Russian-language paper. After a long and tortuous road, at the end of which it was made clear to him that there is no point in criticizing a particular politician when they are all the same, Kabietkovsky told Haaretz with evident cynicism: "It's nice to feel like a dissident again. Maybe we'll start up samizdat [underground publishing] here again."

"In the Russian media today there are clear differences between the broadcast media, the written media and the Internet," analyzes MK Roman Bronfman of Meretz-Democratic Choice. "The radio and the television under public supervision provide a balanced picture. The written media downplay any display of support for the disengagement. The Internet in Russian is entirely controlled by the right."

Bronfman has experienced this personally. Although he has no problem publicizing his positions on social issues, his opinions on the disengagement are treated differently. Last week in the Knesset and at intersections, Bronfman handed out blue ribbons to hang on cars. The newspaper Novosty reported this - but at the end of the item, it posed seven sarcastic questions of which the main one was: On which part of his body and in what manner is someone who does not have a car supposed to tie the ribbon?

The only one who has any cause to get upset by the winds that are blowing in the Russian-language press is Sharon himself. However, the prime minister and chairman of the Likud, who has made it a goal to anchor the immigrants' future, long-term support for the party, does not seem to be taking this matter to heart. This week MK Nudelman drew Sharon's attention to what is being written in Russian. "You have a problem," he tried to warn him. "Someone has to answer there on your behalf." Sharon listened, but he didn't really relate to it," said Nudelman in retrospect. "I think that his tactic is simply to ignore it. In this case I think he's mistaken."