Media Affairs

Journalists construct our political reality, they are in cahoots with politicians and all the public hears is spin, claims former editor and columnist Orit Galili-Zucker in her new book.

She doesn't have one good word to say about the contestants in the Kadima party primary. Or about the potential candidates for prime minister in the next Knesset election. Not one meets the basic minimum requirements, according to Dr. Orit Galili-Zucker, an expert in politics and the media. Israel's leadership is at the lowest level ever during an electoral campaign. What will happen? The spin doctors, she says, will have a field day. The candidates will be repackaged, and the outcome will be as gloomy as it is inevitable. In the end, the public will get last season's merchandise - at full price. The good news is that Galili-Zucker knows who's to blame for this situation: the media, of course.

A former journalist and current teacher of public communications in Bar-Ilan University's political science department, Galili-Zucker has just published a book based on her own research. The main thesis of "Contemporary Communication Politics (Part 1): Online Citizenship in an Era of a New Media" (Ramot Books, Tel Aviv University), is that the political game in Israel, even more than in other countries, evokes the film "Wag the Dog." In other words, everything is spin and winks and pretense. Nothing is really happening; everything is mediated and constructed by the media, as it chooses to reflect reality. It's all a done deal between politicians and journalists, and if you don't see it on television or read it in the newspaper - it never happened.

"We as citizens have no way to familiarize ourselves with politics other than through the media," Galili-Zucker. "In the past, politicians appeared at mass rallies in the town square, but no longer. Now there is a primary in Kadima and there are meetings in the party's branches, but other than that the branches barely exist, and the parties too have become virtual entities - platforms on which to run politicians. But between elections the party is dead. There is no longer any need for it."

Galili-Zucker is now writing the second part of her book, which centers on what she calls the "oligarchization" of political life: how people with money are entering the political arena and trying to influence politics by economic means. "There are some who do it directly, like [Silvio] Berlusconi and [Arcadi] Gaydamak, and there are others, like [Ehud] Olmert, who did it the other way around: They got entangled with people who pumped money into their campaigns, and as a result became actors in the political game."

Why is our leadership at such a low level?

Galili-Zucker: "Good people are not entering politics these days, and those who do are either unsuitable, because they lack the qualities that are needed for leadership, or they have already been there and failed and are trying to make a comeback. Prof. Fred Greenstein, the director of the Program in Leadership Studies at Princeton, created an analytical model of six traits, which predicts who can be a successful leader and who cannot."

These traits are public communication, organizational capacity, political skill, vision, cognitive style and emotional intelligence - traits that Israel's leaders do not exactly excel in, according to Galili-Zucker.

"It's no wonder Benjamin Netanyahu is leading in the polls," she says. "He has two of the six traits; the others barely have one. For example, [Tzipi] Livni communicates very poorly with the public and is very insular .... It is unheard of for someone to be elected to a political post without everyone knowing everything about his doctrine. Ehud Barak was elected head of the Labor Party after being silent for half a year. Also unheard of.

"It's the same with Shaul Mofaz: I know nothing about him other than that he expresses materialistic values: borders, security, fear, army. Barak and Netanyahu were poor organizers of their staffs; bureau chiefs and managers left them. Netanyahu understands this and is now rebranding himself, but part of that is a deception. Recently he has been publicizing reports that Benny Begin and Dan Meridor are returning to his camp."

Why is the Israeli public willing to accept these politicians, with their spins, time and again?

"Our public is indifferent and that's related to the socialization of the Diaspora. The Jews there were conformists. Their survival skills included not upsetting the master - accepting the authority of the regime and not questioning it. This is a very sleepy civil society, which is convenient to rule."

How do we get out of the rut?

"We have a problem. Who is supposed to represent the public? The media. But the public does not perceive the media as its instrument, but rather as representing the government, so the authorities feel sufficiently secure to declare, as the expression goes: 'The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.' It's very different in Europe, where the media usually have an adversarial relationship with the government and reflect the public mood."

And here?

"It's more of a struggle between two elitist establishments. Even though the media in Israel appear feisty and combative, and have many readers and viewers, they are actually very weak. They lack the power to make politicians confess and resign. The politicians are pulling the wool over the public's eyes, and the journalists salivate as they publicly sink their fangs into the politicians. The two camps are doing battle at the public's expense.

"The new type of journalist - Raviv Drucker, Emanuel Rosen, Yaron Dekel - presents political reality as he sees it, interpreting it for the viewer or listener. Even with a politician next to him in the studio, the political analyst is seemingly conniving with the viewer over the head of the politician, without fear or favor, saying: 'What the politician is selling here is all spin, not real.' Viewers are confused and angry at both the politician and the journalist, and at their manipulations. What remains is the polls."

Maybe this has to do with the friendships between journalists and politicians?

"[Veteran journalist] Dan Margalit once said that the fact that he is Olmert's friend doesn't interfere with his writing about him; on the contrary, he has an advantage because he has access to what is normally hidden from the public and can provide it with better insight into what goes on behind the scenes. I think there is far too much buddy-buddy stuff here. In my opinion, we are paying a steep price in terms of the public transparency of this phenomenon, which does not look good and is improper.

"The relations between journalists and politicians should be adversarial. The friendships with the powerful people whom the media are supposed to view critically - this elbow-rubbing explains why the press here is not very effective ... There is too little screening here when it comes to accepting people into the profession. I am not talking about licensing, but about internal processes. Maybe this could have created journalists whom the public view as being ethical and having 'teeth.'"

If everything you say is true, how do you explain the major role the media played in Olmert's downfall? In his crash in the polls?

"The media are full of headlines and exposes, but this is deceptive because people in authority do not resign because of such exposure, but rather stick around until the law catches up with them. The press here is not afraid of politicians as in the West; if they expose politicians in the media there, they resign in a minute. Here it can take years. The legal process involving keeps going on - and they stay put.It took nine years for the legal establishment to call for [Aryeh] Deri to resign. It's such an Israeli phenomenon. Deri, [Moshe] Katsav, Olmert, who is still sitting there. This is a real embarrassment for the media. Is there any greater weakness than this?"

Orit Galili-Zucker, 52, was born in Jerusalem. Her mother, Aviva, is a musicologist; her father, Yosef, is a businessman. Her family - she has two sisters and a brother - moved to Tel Aviv when she was a little girl. She began her military service in the induction center at Tel Hashomer, but did not complete it. At 19 she married Motti Galili, a promising young poet who worked in his father's bookstore, Masada, on Tel Aviv's Frishman Street.

"He was my first boyfriend," Galili-Zucker explains. "I bought books there and he advised me. He was a handsome man, one of the best-looking in Tel Aviv, a poet, an officer in the Shaked commando unit. That was the myth that enveloped him, his calling card."

The Galilis were married for eight years, during which their son Itamar, 28, was born. "Motti was my first relationship," she says. "It was an immature marriage."

She completed a Bachelor's degree in political science and sociology ("I entered journalism with academic degrees"), and afterward worked in the Histadrut labor federation, when the union was at the height of its power. The first people to educate her in the subtleties of political intrigue and power centers were the so-called Histadrut triumvirate - Giora Eini, David Harnik and Gideon Sagi - who played key roles in the backrooms of Histadrut politics. They pulled the strings.

"That's where I learned the iron rule of the oligarchy," recalls Galili-Zucker. "My love of politics was heightened. They were the first spin doctors."

She then moved to national politics, as parliamentary assistant to Labor MK Ora Namir. In 1980 she joined the vibrant group that founded the Tel Aviv weekly Ha'ir, which belongs to the Schocken Group, as does Haaretz. "I was the editor of the Ha'ir city guide, the 'father' of today's Achbar Ha'ir, and I am very proud of it."

At Ha'ir she met Hanoch Marmari, the editor (who later became editor-in-chief of Haaretz, and is now chief editor at the Kinneret/Zmora-Bitan/Dvir publishing house). The relationship between them crossed professional bounds.

"I married young and immaturely, and then had an immature love with Hanoch. True, it was hugely intense, the kind of love without any rational dimensions, but apparently I was not yet ready for it, and maybe that's why the relationship ended."

The romance shook Ha'ir's editorial board, Galili-Zucker says, and the two split up: Marmari moved to the daily Hadashot, and she to Haaretz. She began as a news editor and then became a reporter.

Galili-Zucker began to write a daily column in the news pages, and then a weekly column featuring personal interviews focusing on socioeconomic and political issues; she was enthralled by the workings of the centers of political power. In the fall of 1994 her attraction to this subject brought her to what would become one of the most meaningful assignments of her life: She went to the Knesset to interview an energetic MK from Meretz, who was then chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee - Dedi Zucker.

"He was divorced," she says. "We talked about life and about children, and very quickly we found ourselves in a romantic relationship."

And what about professional ethics?

"I immediately told Hanoch Marmari, who was then the editor-in-chief, and asked him what to do and whether there was a problem with it. He said there wasn't. Naturally, I never wrote about Dedi after that, or about Meretz."

The relationship with Zucker lasted almost two years. It was an emotionally charged affair, with many ups and downs. It was a great love that was supposed to last a lifetime, but didn't. The power struggles and mutual arm-wrestling eventually defeated her.

"We started living together in Herzliya," she explains. "Part of the week his children lived with us. Itamar moved in with Motti; the situation was a little complicated for him, and he benefited from a strengthened relationship with his father. He was in his senior year in high school, and it was more convenient for him not to switch schools. A year later everything fell apart."

Why?

"Because I got pregnant. The declared intention of the relationship from the start was that we were going to have a family. I was already 40, there had been a previous unsuccessful pregnancy, and I did not want to give this one up. But the relationship was also characterized by power struggles and many disagreements over all kinds of things, due to each of our personalities - two strong, very opinionated people. When I became pregnant Dedi suggested that we first get the relationship back on solid ground and then have a child. But I had an independent agenda of my own and he, as a strong person with his own agenda, who didn't like being dictated to, differed with me, and that was why we broke up."

Great loves are not easy to find.

"It was a very great love, although there are those who claim that I am not capable of accepting love, that I do not know what love is. I have these arguments with my partner to this day. With Dedi, in order to survive together, I had to be the type of woman who encourages her man's career, the woman behind the man. I had to make a decision to devote my life to that. With my skills and talents, I could have planned his career for him better, together with him. He is extraordinarily talented, but his skills were not fully realized. There was some sort of glitch there - he is, after all, outside the system today, because of a number of mistakes that he made. But I, on the other hand, always have the desire to stand out myself, and in that regard good communication did not develop between us, or between me and myself. Against that background, our relations became difficult and rife with differences. Dedi suggested giving up either the relationship or the pregnancy, and the pregnancy was very important to me."

Zucker left here when she was three months' pregnant. "I tried to contact him but he didn't respond, because it was hard for him to accept that I had an agenda of my own," she says. She brought in her lawyer, Benny Don-Yechiya, who demanded that Zucker regularize their future relationship with regard to the division of responsibility and finances. Zucker's silence and Galili-Zucker's decision to call in her lawyer were yet another round in the power struggle between them. Each was determined to prove absolute seriousness, and an unequivocal stance. "The rest is tactics," Galili-Zucker remarks.

At this time, Zucker was entangled not only in an unwanted pregnancy and a crisis in his love life, but also in other matters. The police were investigating a complaint submitted to the attorney general about an alleged conflict of interest involving Zucker and the Camera Obscura photography school, where he was board chairman. His colleagues in Meretz rolled their eyes and did not make life easier for him. The party chairman, Yossi Sarid, placed him in an unrealistic slot in the 1999 elections, and Zucker left politics.

Galili-Zucker: "He made a point of not being in contact with me. Maybe he hoped that his behavior would put pressure on me and I would change my mind about the pregnancy, and I wanted to be very clear about that."

Their son, Eran - they chose the name together - was born 11 years ago, and since then, she says, Zucker has been a terrific father. He is always there and has fulfilled his paternal duties superbly.

"We are raising Eran together out of very great love. From the age of six months he already slept at [Dedi's] place, and now he is with me half the week and with Dedi the other half. We are very happy and proud of him. He is an absolutely delightful boy, and is outstanding in the children's soccer league."

A few years ago, she added the surname Zucker: "When Eran was in kindergarten he asked me why he was Zucker and I was Galili. He told me the children were asking what the connection was between us. I told him that just as I did not deprive Itamar in any way, I would not deprive him either, and would add Zucker to my surname. By the way, that is based on a law that Dedi sponsored in the Knesset, according to which an unmarried woman with children can use the father's name."

Zucker declined to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, in 1999, Galili-Zucker decided to leave journalism and return to academia: "Journalism is very grinding work, and I had the feeling that I was no longer part of the zeitgeist of [Haaretz]. The deputy editor promoted other people ahead of me, and I was not getting satisfaction from the work." Her past relationship with Marmari didn't help, either.

"Our relations were entirely businesslike, without any personal dimension, but at the end of the road, I felt I had not been moved up enough. I felt that there was a clash between my need to stand out and his desire not to let me achieve that too much. I had a reportorial column at the time, and occasionally I would express my opinion in it, but he would say, 'That is not your mandate. You are writing the editorial here, whereas you should be writing about trifles.' What he meant was that, say, if [columnist] Yoel Marcus interviewed someone, I should look for all kinds of adjuncts there, but in my self-perception I was not going to be the one who collected Marcus' leftovers."

One day, after the 1996 elections, Galili-Zucker appeared on Ram Evron's television program and stated that the media, which had come out in full for Shimon Peres, had some serious stocktaking to do. Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken did not like what he heard and wrote her an angry note.

"Something about my appearance riled him," she explains. "On the one hand, I was there under the banner of Haaretz, but at the same time the feeling was that I was an independent observer and not exactly representing the paper."

After leaving Haaretz, she focused on obtaining her doctorate in political science at Bar-Ilan University. To support herself, she taught at several colleges and "lived very modestly. I was doing a Ph.D., had to support myself and also had a little boy in the house." She still does not have tenure at Bar-Ilan, but is an adjunct instructor - "one of those who gets fired every eight months."

Three and a half years ago, Galili-Zucker married Alon Rotlevy, in a civil ceremony held in Prague. An analyst in the capital market, Rotlevy is divorced and has two daughters. "He came on to me in a pub in Tel Aviv," she says, adding that they now live together in a rented apartment in north Tel Aviv.

Galili-Zucker sees the transition from journalism to academia as stage in development and growth, as a necessary move for her.

"The hardest thing for me was the deadline, which doesn't leave time to examine things in depth, because you have to create a headline fast, and often there is a price to be paid, because you aren't always able to understand processes. My feeling was that in the university, I would have the opportunity to learn and delve deeper and more thoroughly into things. It freed me of the need to force myself to devise a headline every day, and necessitated greater caution in formulating things and a change in writing style; it meant grounding one's work only in proven data.

"On the other hand, journalism is one of the most riveting professions in the world. It gives you a daily thrill. You do a kind of small doctorate every day, are exposed to issues and to people. It was a particularly great privilege to work at Haaretz, an excellent school, and when I look at my colleagues in academia, I feel the extra added value I have as compared with media researchers who did not take the practical track - even though there is a tendency in academia to look suspiciously at people who come from journalism, as though they are not serious enough."