Opinion

For Israelis, There Is No World Beyond Their Borders, and They Don't Need BBC World News

A man shops for televisions as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is seen on a news program at an electronics shop in Jerusalem, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2008.
AP

Yaakov Ahimeir’s weekly international news show, “Ro’im Olam,” was insubstantial and often infuriating. Despite that, I watched it religiously for decades. It was for me a refuge from the nonsense of the other news programs, with their whitewashing and their brainwashing. Its cancellation is not a tragedy, as it has been depicted on social media, and of course it had nothing to do with Ahimeir’s right-wing views, as the prime minister has claimed. But it is part of a significant and deeply worrying trend: Israel has lost interest in the world beyond its borders.

If it isn’t Jews, Israel or anti-Semitism, there is no world. In any case the whole world is against us, so why should we care about it. In any given situation we know best, we’re the chosen people, a light unto the nations, the nation of high-tech and Nobel laureates, so what does the world matter to us now.

Several days before “Roi’m Olam” (“Seeing the World”) ended, Israel’s HOT cable company stopped offering BBC World News. The arbitrary, aggravating decision left HOT customers without a single serious international news channel, with the exception of the overly American CNN. Al Jazeera English, the most fascinating international news station of them all, was removed from HOT’s menu long ago. The cable provider’s contempt for its customers is commonplace. It announced its removal of the British channel with a banner saying “The BBC will end its broadcasts on December 31.” The British Broadcasting Corporation did not stop broadcasting, of course. Rather, HOT, a provincial and arrogant company that takes its customers for ignorant bumpkins, stopped providing BBC’s broadcasts.

Without Al Jazeera and BBC World News, our world no longer includes Africa and Asia, no Second World or Third World and only barely includes anything between Berlin and New York, and even then mainly when it has to do with the center of the world, Israel. This not only instills provincialism and ignorance but also brings in another dose of ultranationalism, through the back door.

HOT and the Kan public broadcaster presumably knew what they were doing. There’s no demand in Israel for international current events. With the exception of Moav Vardi’s excellent daily program (on Kan Channel 11) and the professional coverage of Arad Nir (Channel 12 News) and of Nadav Eyal and Emmanuelle Elbaz-Phelps (Channel 13 News), Israelis are barely exposed to events abroad that are unrelated to Israel. The conventional perspective, according to which there hardly exists a world in which Israel is not the center and the Jews are the force that moves it, is in part the result of this type of coverage. TV news long ago became mainly entertainment news, opening with a few minutes of hard-hitting political investigations, local political gossip, sensationalized disasters and a few stories of battlefield heroism before getting into the cost of flights between Ovda Airport and Katowice, Poland and a comparison of deodorant prices in London and in Israel.

Israelis are very fond of traveling the world, but they see little of it. Bargains, shopping, gambling, popular tourist sites and beaches are the destinations of most travelers. Listen to what they talk about after they return: how much it cost me, and how much you paid. The rite of passage known as the post-military-service-trip does not exactly broaden their perspectives, as you’ll note if you listen to them afterward. Most of these young adults have no idea where they were. Their experiences range from hummus and schnitzel at a Chabad House to full-moon parties in Goa, with very little interest in or knowledge of the countries they visited.

“Ro’im Olam” was a slightly odd duck. Ahimeir shaped it in his own image; an Israel Prize laureate whose long and persistent career likely included no accomplishment worthy of the award. He hosted a program that showed the world, but he never missed an opportunity to fold into it his love for Israel and fear of anti-Semitism.

It happened more than once that there would be a perfectly fine show, and then somehow there’d always be some lunatic pastor who believes in the revelation of the Jewish people, a Congressman who is battling the BDS movement with all his might, an author known only to Ahimeir who thinks that Israel is a beacon of justice or an intellectual who sees anti-Semitism everywhere. It was the price viewers had to pay in order to see segments purchased from “60 Minutes,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation or France-TV in English.

Now it is all over. We are left with the flooding in Nahariya and petty party politics.