We’re meeting in Eilat this week for our annual conference; let’s use it for some soul-searching. There are many reasons to be proud of what we write, broadcast, uncover and express. Not everywhere can you find such a lively press, especially such a free press. But this freedom of ours is in great danger, friends, a freedom we don’t take proper advantage of. A dangerous fire is burning around us, and even if it hasn’t reached us, it’s on the way, yet we are complacent. The monster is coming, and there is no one to stop it.
Journalists are not being assassinated here yet, but some people are insinuating that this should happen. We are not being gagged yet, but some people preach openly that this be done. Shockingly, some journalists call for us to be curtailed, to be prevented from whispering an opinion, not to mention one that is subversive or a minority view. Too many of our colleagues don’t understand their function; they confuse public relations with journalism, propaganda with the truth, true patriotism, which means doing our job, with false patriotism, which means serving propaganda.
The house is burning, friends, and people on the inside are adding fuel to the fire. Outside, dangerous laws are being passed that are aimed at nonprofit organizations, Arabs and other minorities, but will eventually strike at us, the acclaimed life’s breath of democracy, which too few truly understand.
There is hardly any censorship or pressure from the government, army or other powerful groups in Israel that we cannot withstand. The problem is that many of us bow our heads in surrender and self-censorship, which is immeasurably worse than government censorship. Too many have joined the Israeli propaganda service, a press that has not been drafted, but has joined up.
Ostensibly no one ideology rules: The editorial pages are full of a wide variety of opinions, but one line is taking us over: the need for our readers to like us, not to make them unnecessarily angry, not to tell them what they don’t want to know, but to move them and entertain them as much as possible; to sell.
We have brought down presidents, ministers and prime ministers with our investigations and reports, yet the rarest commodity among us is courage. Do people not want to know about the occupation? So we won’t tell them. Do people not want to hear the truth about Operation Cast Lead? We won’t let them lose any sleep over it. There is no need for the IDF Spokesman’s Office, it’s within us. Most of the ghosts that are emerging from the terrible attack on Gaza, a handful of tardy investigations and trials, are not the result of our uncovering them. We were put to sleep and misled in Operation Cast Lead. Some of us called for it to take place and then willfully blurred what happened there.
The government has closed Gaza to us since November 2006 and scandalously, no one defies it. It’s hard to believe that only one courageous reporter, Amira Hass, has managed to be there to report without being part of an army unit, while the rest of the press has given up the task. The activists of the Turkish flotilla to Gaza were called “terrorists” in the media without fitting that description, because that’s what our government called them, that’s what our readers want, and that way we can justify killing nine of those activists.
A press that excels in many ways has shirked its task in covering the occupation; it’s the occupation’s greatest collaborator. It helps Israelis feel that there is no occupation. Without the dehumanization campaign in the press, Israelis would feel less self-satisfied, and perhaps more moral doubts would be raised about what we are doing.
In ignoring matters and serving propaganda, the press is not carrying out its task and is allowing this cruelty to continue not far from our homes, distancing it light years from our awareness. We should talk about this in Eilat, between reception and flowery speech. Over a gin and tonic, we should ask ourselves if we are reporting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
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