Hundreds of Israeli journalists will gather in Eilat today for their annual professional conference. They have little to be proud of. It's true that threats hang over this conference, the threat of politicians to injure journalistic freedom, the threat of the economic crisis to harm the media and the threat of technology to eliminate print journalism, but Israeli journalism's dereliction of duty began long before this frightening twilight hour. And what they face today is entirely their own fault.
Before we declare war on those outside who would do us harm, we should first look deep within.
For many years, until just recently, Israeli journalism enjoyed great liberty. Military censorship contracted significantly; unacceptable institutions like the Editors' Committee effectively ceased to exist and the pressures placed on journalists were negligible.
In addition, most branches of the media were in good shape economically. It is ironic that Israeli journalism is falling down on the job precisely in such excellent circumstances. Come the day of reckoning it will be found wanting for these years of blindness, complacency and extreme nationalism.
Israeli journalism censors itself to the point of harm. Part of it has become a means of entertainment while inciting our more base passions. Part of it now appeals to emotions, not reason, and deals with trivial rather than important issues, taking part in the campaigns of denial and obfuscation. No one asked this of it, it did so on its own. It often turned propagandist, too. Journalism hasn't been conscripted. It signed up itself.
The journalistic tom-toms were beating before the most recent wars, calling in unison for another ferocious assault. The media lined up in support of every war, offering no criticism. That came only afterward, when it was too late to repair the damage. Israeli journalists authorized nearly every transgression, and many forgot the difference between public diplomacy and journalism.
The images the world saw of Operation Cast Lead, for example, were not the ones shown to Israelis. Some of the military correspondents liken themselves to spokesmen. Nowhere else in Israeli journalism is criticism of the establishment so lax.
The version of events offered by the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Office is always victorious and often the only version available. Its delegitimization campaigns against such organizations as Breaking the Silence and Anarchists Against the Wall received full cooperation from the media. No Israeli journalists have been allowed into the Gaza Strip for five years, and no one utters a word in protest.
Israeli journalism is the senior partner to the delegitimization campaign against the Palestinians; it is the most important tool for maintaining the occupation. It isn't an issue of right and left, it is a betrayal of its purpose. It broadcasts false fears, from "all of Gaza is booby-trapped" on the eve of Operation Cast Lead to "Iranian weapons are smuggled through the tunnels" to the lie of calling that one-sided assault a war.
Israeli journalism adopts every military euphemism in the book and collaborates with the distortion of reality. There's nothing like Israeli journalism when it comes to saving people from moral qualms over what is being done in their name.
Journalists serve unholy goals with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, too: When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas presented his borders proposal to the Quartet last week, it was barely reported. Israeli journalism swallows whole the government's claim of there being "no partner" for talks, and to hell with the truth.
It called the Mavi Marmara activists "terrorists" and labeled the Gaza-bound aid flotilla a "threat." Any justified criticism of Israel is immediately branded as anti-Israeli, not to mention anti-Semitic.
Any "friend of Israel" is a friend of wars and the occupation. Israeli journalism practices the religion of the military and sanctifies the ritual of death. The same is true for social issues: It practices the rites of the rich (until recently) and turns away from need.
The list goes on. The media can also claim many accomplishments, such as courageously investigating numerous scandals and fighting steadfastly against corruption and the threats to democracy. But at the end of the day, at the end of the years of darkness, we are at least partly responsible for more than a few of the ills that are now rising against us to silence us.