Israel's Joan of Arc

In the reality of Israel's right-wing, docile public broadcasting, even a persecuted, mainstream radio presenter can suddenly become a temporary hero.

The Israeli Joan of Arc has finally emerged from the Israel Broadcasting Authority studios. As always, in such cases, Keren Neubach had no idea she was destined for greatness, and neither did we. But in the reality of right-wing, docile public broadcasting, even a mainstream current affairs radio presenter can suddenly be persecuted and become a temporary hero. If an alien had suddenly landed here, he might have believed that Israel Radio is a subversive station, the voice of free Israel, the voice of the revolution - invoking the wrath of the government's political commissars, who do their best to silence Neubach's brave struggle for freedom. Well, if you believe that, they'll tell you another one.

Israel Radio is an obedient station because most of its journalists are obedient. Long before the Likud came to power, long before Menachem Ben dreamed of presenting a program, the station was designed to convey its master's voice: most of its presenters never caused trouble. Since the days when Teddy Kollek, later mayor of Jerusalem, ran the station as the general director of the Prime Minister's Office and at Army Radio, where we were required to clear any interview with an MK with the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, Israeli radio enjoyed varying amounts of freedom.

Still, public radio always remained "national" - which means balanced, which makes for poor radio. Yes, the political pressure was, and continues to be, felt. Often, as in the present, the pressures are strong enough to cause nausea, and sometimes they weaken. But the flaccidity of the journalists against this pressure is constant. Self-censorship was - and still is - more powerful than any governmental censorship, and still constitutes the most bitter enemy of freedom of expression in the Israeli media.

The rampant right has long since identified the weakness of journalists, and has therefore felt free to assault them recklessly. Their weakness attracted the assault. Thus, the right cynically and manipulatively invented the urban legend about the "leftist mafia." Similarly, it targeted dummy targets, concocted "leftists" and "traitors," with the sole purpose of further intimidating those who were weak and frail to begin with. Thus, Neubach became a dissident; Razi Barkai a leftist; and Arie Golan an Israel-basher. These presenters never knew that was their true nature, and neither did we. Being Zionists with centrist views, and promoting the Israeli ethos, still wasn't enough for the right wing.

At the end of the day, radio programs are created by the editors and presenters. The news bulletins often seem to report an alternative, almost utopian, reality, and the news magazines insist on "balance laws," as if they were observing religious rituals. Army Radio's "The Last Word," seemingly reflecting left- and right-wing views, presents confrontations between right-wing Irit Linor and right-wing Kobi Arieli, and likewise politically-oriented Jacky Levy and Avri Gilad. The Army Radio's website impertinently declares: "Two presenters, from opposite sides of Israeli society, exchange views." The opposite sides of society? Come again?! What about the left? It's hidden, invisible and unheard. Oh, the sacred balance of Army Radio, and that still isn't enough for some.

And how brave is Israel Radio? A military journalist is awarded prizes for her concern for a soldier and his parents; a news bulletin on Israel Radio reported an increase in new immigrants and a successful Israeli arms deal, before winding up with a report that included the sentence, "...because of what he termed as, 'the occupation,'" fearing that the forbidden word would be attributed to the radio editors.

Esti Perez, vulgar and endlessly nationalistic, is the leading presenter of a popular midday news program. Her censure to an interviewee - "Why do you say the Prime Minister isn't brave?" - truly reflects the bravery of Israel Radio's journalism. It would be too easy to blame the politicians and the right wing. These contents are created by editors and presenters.

It's all too easy to feel victimized, to attack the right-wing censors and to become inured. The sense of victimization legitimizes the moral corruption. But before the radio presenters complain of censorship and the pinning of right-wing cohosts to their shows, they would be better off pondering their actions - or inaction - that enabled Keren Neubach to be victimized by the right. The truth of the matter is that Joan of Arc from Reshet Bet is, as yet, unborn.