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The worse things get, and the more the government loses its bearings, and especially its head, the clearer it becomes who is really to blame for the screw-ups of the administration - the unpatriotic behavior of the media, of course. The big shots flirt with the media when it praises them and pays them compliments, but not when it reports the dismal truth.

Ever since the censor lost its claws, a new custom has grown up in this country. The political establishment rates the media according to the patriotic character of its views.

As state secrets roll in the streets and everything is up front and out in the open, the government is trying to shut mouths by espousing the principle of "when a nation balks at war, accuse the peace-seekers of being unpatriotic." Hermann Goering thought up that one.

The prime minister refused to approve the appointment of Ran Galinka, former commander of the navy commando and a chief IDF education officer, as director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority on the grounds that this man is unpatriotic.

Sharon was livid over the interviews with Arafat and Palestinian Authority officials. After that, he scolded Israeli journalists, and especially the Army Radio's political reporter, for asking him tough questions at the joint press conference with Dick Cheney.

The U.S. vice president was seen grinning as he listened to the simultaneous translation. American presidents are grilled all the time. Ask Clinton about how they raked him over the coals about Monica Lewinsky. But they would never think to accuse the press of being unpatriotic.

Shaul Mofaz, a sensible, pleasant fellow, has stumbled into politics from time to time. His statement that in the "army's opinion," Arafat should be expelled, which was both inaccurate and contrary to what the government decided, came in for censure. Neither was Sharon pleased at the media's criticism of certain operational bungles or the reports that soldiers called up for reserve duty did not have enough food or clothing. Last Friday, he blew his top and demanded that journalists demonstrate "war-time patriotism."

In a recent article in Yedioth Ahronoth, settlement activist Uri Elitzur, Netanyahu's former bureau chief, accused the media and broadcasting networks of covering terror in a manner that creates hysteria and smacks of voyeurism. He advised us to take a lesson from the restraint shown by America after the September 11 bombings and the anthrax scare.

This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. As someone who was in New York when the anthrax envelopes began cropping up, I can tell you that the media hysteria went on from morning to night.

The difference is that in America, reporting the truth and criticizing failures are an integral part of freedom of expression. They have nothing to do with patriotism. I don't understand why, when I write in favor of Sharon, I am a patriot, and when I am critical of him, my e-mail fills up with threats and curses.

Why is a person who wants to hang on to the territories and create a situation in which we will be at war forever, considered a patriot, and someone who is prepared to make compromises for peace, considered a subversive who should have the Shin Bet on his tail?

Why is Eli Yishai, who calls for war as his 50,000 yeshiva students dodge the draft on the pretext of studying Torah, a patriot, while Yossi Sarid, an opponent of war, is not?

Americans are patriots born and bred. They salute the flag and know all the verses of their national anthem by heart. But it was the media which exposed Nixon as a crook and put an end to the war in Korea and Vietnam.

In Israel, both the objective and how to achieve it are a matter of controversy. What do we give up - peace or territories? When Sharon, interviewed by Dan Shilon, says that "the media's job is to give the nation pride and hope," the man has got his roles mixed up.

"Shut up, there's a war on" has gone out of style. Nowadays, people ask questions when the bullets fly. The public has a right to know the truth, even when it's painful. The abuse of patriotism that produced the witch-hunting of the McCarthy era proved that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. And we don't want to be there.

So, all together now, folks - Hatikva!