Furor Over 'Racist' Comments by New TV Bigwig and Netanyahu's Friend Rattles Israeli Government

Ultra-Orthodox party Shas demands that the new chairman of Channel 10 News, Rami Sadan be fired following a Haaretz report that he had made disparaging comments about Shas and Mizrahim.

Rami Sadan, new board chair of Channel 10 News, left, with Shas leader and Interior Minister Arye Dery.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz, YouTube

Amid concerns that the new chairman of the board of Channel 10 News has a conflict of interest due to his close relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the prime minister's wife, Sara, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party is threatening a government coalition crisis if the new chairman, Rami Sadan, is not dismissed over purportedly racist comments about Mizrahim.

Haaretz reported Monday that Sadan – an associate of the Netanyahu family who was appointed to his new position at the station in a surprise move – had made harsh statements against Shas and Dery during the board meeting at which he presented his candidacy.

Sadan apparently said: “Let’s admit the truth, I, like you in the elite, detest Shas and that thief Arye Dery." Sadan went on: "But we, as an elite, need to reach beyond the channel’s usual circles, to appeal to the Shas audience, to Masuda from Sderot.” 

Masuda from Sderot is an apparent reference to a typical Mizrahi resident of the town on the Gaza border, and the epithet "thief" was apparently in reference to Dery's conviction for graft during his first stint in politics in the early 1990s. Dery served three years in prison, and was released in July 2002 after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

Shas issued a statement on Tuesday demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also communications minister, dismiss Sadan immediately over what the party, whose core electorate is Mizrahi voters, said were racist comments by the newly-elected Channel 10 News chairman. "As long as this is not done, the [Shas] movement's Knesset members will vote in the Knesset chamber as they see fit," the statement said.

Senior Shas officials wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit saying that if Sadan is not removed as chairman of Channel 10's news division, after waiting 24 hours, they would petition the High Court of Justice to have him removed.

In Moscow, Netanyahu reacted to the controversy, noting that Sadan denied the comments that were attributed to him. The prime minister said the matter needs to be clarified. "If he said it, this is a serious matter and he needs to apologize and disassociate himself from the comments."

Even before Shas threatened to resign the coalition, the party head, Interior Minister Arye Dery said that his voters cannot be dismissed in such a fashion.

“Shas voters are hundreds of thousands of Mizrahim who have decided to unite and raise their heads as one to stamp out things like [the sentiments expressed by] Rami Sadan,” he said. “We are here to stay. We will not ignore such statements.”

Haaretz has learned that in wake of these developments, Sadan conveyed a message to Dery’s office, claiming that the reports were not true and insisting that, “’Enlightened’ types are disappointed by the appointment of a religious person to the post and are trying to stir up trouble among the different religious groups.”
 
Sadan requested a meeting with the interior minister but Dery refused. Sadan did not respond to Haaretz’s request for comment, but in an interview with the Kikar Hashabbat website, he said: “It never happened, they’re trying to stir up conflict among religious people. The quotes attributed to me are false.”

A history of denials

It was not the first time that Sadan has denied comments that he reportedly made. In a report to the Second Broadcasting Authority, Sadan claimed that quotes attributed to him regarding coverage of the so-called Bibi Tours affair by journalist Raviv Drucker, cited in an interview with Arutz Sheva, were false – even though a recording of the interview was available online.
 
Regarding Bibi Tours (involving possible multiple billings of travel expenses incurred by Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu), Sadan said, “The press has been after Netanyahu and his wife since 1996. They keep on obsessively spreading stories the way the press focuses so intensively on this, trying to show the ugly face of Israel, is a sickness, a pathology.”
 
Sadan, owner of an advertising, PR and advertising firm, appears on the Knesset website as a regular parliamentary lobbyist. He was involved in Netanyahu’s first campaign for prime minister and worked as an outside adviser to the premier during his first term on matters pertaining the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities. In practice, he also served as the personal spokesman of Sara Netanyahu until 1999. He still maintains ties with the prime minister’s circle of associates.
 
Sadan was also in the past one of the leaders in an effort by a non-profit organization to bring about the closure of Channel 10. The group, Israel’s Media Watch, is a right-wing organization headed by Prof. Eli Pollak. During the period in which Channel 10 was in serious financial straits some time ago, people associated with the group repeatedly insisted that there be no lenience shown to the ailing station and that it should be shut down.

A Shas spokesman said Tuesday that “the comments made by Rami Sadan are appalling. These are racist and condescending statements leveled against a movement that represents hundreds of thousands of people in Israel. They were said at a meeting where Sadan laid out his point of view, before the board of the news division, which makes it all the more serious. It is extremely troubling that such a person is close to the prime minister and to the Netanyahu family. Shas is calling on Channel 10 to reconsider his appointment to this top position.”
 
The Channel 10 board plans to immediately investigate what Sadan said, and decide whether his appointment will go ahead. One board member said: “I was appalled by his statements. There’s no way someone with such views should be chosen for the position. I hope the exposure will lead to the cancellation of the appointment." Monday, someone present at the board meeting at which Sadan reportedly made his offensive comments, said they “reeked of condescension and racism.”

Channel 10 economics reporter Matan Hodorov wrote via Twitter Tuesday that he had contacted MK Yitzhak Cohen of Shas to disassociate himself and his fellow journalists at the station from Sadan’s comments. “Racism, condescension and elitism have no place here,” Hodorov wrote.
 
Sadan is one of four representatives of the public on the ten-member Channel 10 News board and the chairman is always one of the public representatives. Sadan's appointment as chairman was supported by the five members of the RGE group, which owns the controlling stake in the station, and by Nana website CEO Yoav Heldman. It was opposed by all three of the public representatives. Sadan had not initially submitted his candidacy for the position.