In Israel, Self-righteousness Sells

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If a historian researched our history using the media, he'd be puzzled. For example, what were Israelis excited about as the Quneitra crossing changed hands between Bashar Assad's forces and the rebels, and the military commentators warned about war with Syria?

Maybe he'd suffice with a footnote on Israeli indifference; maybe he'd also write about states of denial. Or maybe he'd write something about Israeli hedonism, which isn't reflected in the minuscule sex scandals we report on here. But mainly he'd write about the increasing pleasure of voyeurism.

In any case, the life of the journalist has changed. His salary has shrunk. His sources are different. Who would imagine that three decades ago we sent a reporter to the Central Bus Station's bathroom to glean articles from the graffiti and phone numbers scribbled on the wall? The modern equivalent is a lot cleaner – the wall on your social-network page. The media live on that graffiti. It's not facts that are worthy of publication, but "turmoil."

It's true that for generations Western tabloids have devoted headlines to murder and sex. As a rule, crime news arose with the growth of the city and mass culture, in which anonymity received a face and name only in the tabloids. Still, the press, as an organ of economic and political information, refrained from turning crime news into the centerpiece.

At the moment, as the press fights for its life, the hierarchy is being reversed. The more "liberal" our media outlets, the more they use sensational and scandalous information. The market yearns for voyeurism, naming names, headhunting, sex and gossip, but in this market the consumers have changed.

And with this change there's a new wrinkle in the tabloidization of the serious media. The voyeurism is wrapped in a tone of a supremely important moral struggle, because a "serious" media outlet doesn't demean itself with ordinary gossip about sex or homosexuals. It's better to talk seriously about "the rights of the gay community," for example.

And so, legal commentators are called in to hand down moral rulings before anything has been decided in court. Excited radio broadcasters, before reporting on a danger to our pensions, report on a "development in a years-old murder investigation" as if the murder had just taken place. Petty thieves and forbidden sexual relations are turned into a scandal of national proportions.

And yes, the more "liberal," the more sensationalist. This is the big moment for self-righteousness as a media commodity. In 19th-century British comedy, this role was reserved for a moralistic busybody, the Prude. (The creators of the image were men of course.)

The media seem crammed with such moralists who reply to ostensibly serious questions about human rights, about the dignity of women and their bodies, about minors. And everyone mobilizes for the victims, as long as it's not a matter of violent arrests of masses of Palestinian minors in the territories, beatings and checkpoints at which people wait endlessly, women too.

Nowhere is this turning of pornography into a "moral battle" as blatant as among the vestiges of the "left," whether in the street that's empty of demonstrators or in the parties that represent the left in the Knesset and can't compete with the media's salivating.

Is war on the way? A draconian budget? Increased marginalization of people in the country's outskirts? A malicious colonial government? Nonsense. The discussion about "soul-searching in the gay community" is more exciting. As in every "scandal," every ego on the Internet is a policeman, prosecutor, judge and hangman.

This is where the left could use the bonds of moralism that the media uses to sell their goods. Another reason the left is fading is that it doesn't have the courage to say the following: We are slaves of the agenda, which we can neither change nor ignore, so let's join it via self-righteousness. Are the Bedouin in the Negev being expelled en masse? Let them come to Tel Aviv's gay pride parade; then we'll see.

Vigil for victims of Barnoar shooting.Credit: Motil Milrod