Earlier this month, Ofira Asayag and Eyal Berkovic interviewed Gil Lev, the president of Maccabi Netanya soccer club, on their radio show. Actually, the word "interviewed" is inaccurate: They skewered and humiliated him on the air. Lev's sin was that he traveled to Ramallah to take in a historic soccer game between the Palestine under-21 team and their counterparts from Thailand.
"What were you doing over there?" they asked him repeatedly, in a tone that alternated between disdainful and racist - as if Lev had paid a visit to an Al-Qaida stronghold. I doubt whether one caller even bothered to complain to the station management. After all, mocking Arabs is within the national consensus. Yet when Yoram Arbel, Berkovic's broadcast partner in the booth for Israel's match against Latvia, barely tiptoed over the boundaries of expression that contemporary Israel has imposed on him, the phone switchboards were inundated. Arbel did the worst possible deed in the eyes of the Israeli viewer: He expressed empathy for the enemy, or in practice an individual who is perceived as the enemy. He voiced an opinion that does not square with the Israeli mainstream, which for the moment is only willing to hear such things as calls for Gilad Shalit's release.
Arbel was indeed punished harshly. One of the most highly regarded and experienced sportscasters in the country was publicly flogged for an almost innocuous statement that also included a stiff condemnation of Anat Kamm's actions. At first, he apologized - though for what is unclear - only to read posts by Internet talkbackers accusing him of being a low-down traitor. Arbel understands full well the message sent to him by his bosses at Channel 10 and the real bosses, his viewers: Tell us who scored the goal and don't bother us with your scandalous opinions. Say something nice. Otherwise, shut up. Like Channel 2's Yonit Levy, who dared raise an eyebrow on the air over images of dead Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead, Arbel too will quickly realize that he is nothing more than a cog in the Israeli consensus machine.
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