The reports highlighting the financial straits in which most Israeli media outlets are mired are scary. The thought that Israel could wake up to a situation in which there are only two or three newspapers and just one important television channel is terrifying. It's not hard to imagine what kind of country it would be, what would be published and, more important, what would not.
Nevertheless - in fact precisely now, in its darkest hour - it is impossible to deny the negative and fateful role that certain media outlets play here. The elimination of media channels threatens democracy; yet the continued existence of some of them, in their current format, is no less a danger. Before we lament their demise, we should also lament their presence.
Most of the media is tainted with 50 shades of yellow, in addition to nationalistic blue-and-white and militaristic brown. The yellow corrupted generations of Israelis raised on mind-numbing, animalizing television and a press that is in part trivial and sensationalist, scaremongering and prurient.
The blue-and-white and brown gave us a media that is the occupation's great collaborator, concealing it from consciousness and sanitizing it for decades. If Israeli society today is more nationalistic, more racist, it is thanks to the media, which inculcated in it the demonization and dehumanization of the Palestinians; which taught us to treat African refugees as "infiltrators" who pose an existential danger; taught us that the whole world is against us and that seven billion of the planet's inhabitants are always wrong and Israel's six million Jews are always right.
It was the media that taught that all is permitted to Israel, that it is always the sole victim, that international law applies to the entire world with the exception of our tiny land. It was the media that taught us to applaud every war, at least in the beginning, and that military correspondents are army spokesmen in mufti.
It was the media that taught us to worship the generals, at least up to the winter of 1973; and to worship the wealthy, at least up to the summer of 2011. It taught us to avert our eyes from what takes place in the territories, among the occupiers and the occupied, to repress what happened in 1948 and to exclude Israeli Arabs. The media also liked to scare us about nearly anything that moved, and some things that didn't: From swine flu and the dropping level of Lake Kinneret to 21 desperate Eritreans on the border, from Gaza's street urchins to Iran's atom bomb, it was all one big horror show.
These media operate in a state of freedom. With the exception of the state's Israel Broadcasting Authority, there is no pressure from authorities - everything they write and broadcast is a matter of choice. For a long time now there has been no "media draft" but rather voluntary enlistment; and minimal censorship but for self-censorship. Most campaigns are motivated by commercial, not ideological, considerations: the goal is to soothe, to dumb and to entertain the viewers or readers, not to disturb them or keep them up at night.
There have been more than a few accomplishments as well - corrupt politicians and public figures brought down by investigative reporting; important issues placed on the agenda and injustices averted, when the media chose to do so. There are also more than a few talented and principled journalists in Israel, which has not stooped to the lows of the tabloid rags abroad; Israeli journalism is more serious than that.
From within all this, shining from a distance - it must be said, despite the discomfiture - the paper you are now reading. If Channel 10 closes, it means the loss of the Israeli versions of "Wipeout" and "Beauty and the Geek," and there's enough of this already on Channel 2. If Maariv were to shut down, it would mean the end of its ultranationalist propaganda columns. (The paper's purchase by right-winger Shlomo Ben-Zvi will guarantee their continuation. ) Israel Hayom has those, too. But if Haaretz were ever to close, heaven forbid, it would change the face of Israel.
If a gang of low-life cops were to toss a still-catheterized Palestinian on the side of the road in the middle of the night, who would publish it? And if David Grossman wants to write a column on it, where would he do so? Pardon my self-glorification, but Haaretz is a beacon nearly a century old whose light, aimed at Israel and the world, never dims, upholding the honor of Israel's press and its society. This free and courageous newspaper has never been deterred by threats, or by the cancellation of subscriptions or advertisements. Even the undersigned has written for it for 30 straight years, to the chagrin of many.
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