Head to Head / Journalist-cum-political Aspirant Menashe Raz, Why Have You Decided to Cross the Fence Now?

For 35 years Raz served in a variety of senior positions at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and more recently as moderator of the Press Conference program, under a special contract. Now he's joining the Kadima Party.

Menashe Raz announced yesterday that he was joining the Kadima Party and intended to run for a Knesset seat, thereby becoming the latest in a line of journalists who have ventured into politics in recent years.

For 35 years Raz served in a variety of senior positions at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, including editor and presenter on the Mabat nightly news broadcast, and more recently, after his retirement, as moderator of the Press Conference program, under a special contract.

Menashe Raz
Alon Ron

Yesterday his name was mentioned in the state comptroller's annual report on the IBA as someone hired without an official search process, despite the fact that the attorney general has declared such hiring prohibited.

Menashe Raz, why politics now, and why Kadima?

In my work as a journalist I have been exposed to the public's hard feelings and I decided that I want to do my part in changing the difficult situation that the State of Israel has encountered. From my point of view Kadima is the right political address for me; in my eyes Kadima is the realization of what I've thought for a long time, that one day voters for Labor and the Likud would come to the conclusion that they had to join forces in order to bring about change. Things have gotten worse recently, and now there must be a drastic change so that Netanyahu's term of office can be ended as fast as possible.

I've recently held many discussions with [Kadima chairwoman] Tzipi Livni. During a period of doubts, she was the address for consultations; I discovered a straightforward leader with clean hands and insight about how to fix things and I felt myself connecting. I've come to help Tzipi. But I also had a long and fascinating talk with [Kadima MK] Shaul Mofaz. I did not know him very well before, and I must say that he is one of the people who does not stop thinking about how to save Israel from the mud in which it is stuck. Shaul is part of Kadima's leadership group.

Did you also consult with your good friend [former army chief of staff] Dan Halutz, who joined Kadima a few months ago?

My friendship with Danny is a great influence. In our long talks he has influenced me and I have influenced him in my way. I spoke with a few other central figures in Kadima and I must pay them a compliment for behaving discretely about this. I was interested in hearing how they reacted. I received terrific responses that had a great influence on me.

Shelly Yachimovich, Daniel Ben Simon, Nitzan Horowitz, Uri Orbach and now you. Isn't it possible to have influence as a journalist?

Journalists are in effect very opinionated people - from whom a great deal of sensitivity to what's going on around them is demanded - and I have no doubt that some of my colleagues would like to turn from being the people who ask questions into people who do things, which is an important and healthy process. At least in the last elections, journalists who made the transition were a big success; they stand out in the Knesset and it's no wonder.

As a journalist from a major television channel and in senior positions there, you didn't have influence?

As a journalist I often felt frustrated. There were instances of enormous frustration, when it seemed to me that I had caused an earthquake that would shake everything down to its very foundations, and the next day it turned out that no one saw or cared, and this drove me crazy.

Didn't you have influence with reports about people dying because of the health system's collapse?

I broadcast on Channel 1 when it had a 90 percent rating, in the days when it was like a community campfire. And then too I felt frustrated. Now I want to be a mouthpiece for those whose can't hire lobbyists. It appeals to me to deal with policy and security, but mainly social issues. I have something to contribute in these areas, to make my voice heard.

Do you see problems with the fact that you mostly interviewed politicians on the Press Conference program on Channel 1?

Absolutely not. I forced myself to take a seven-month cooling off period, although I didn't have to. My professional honesty is unimpeachable, and I did not use my journalistic work in order to advance myself. I did my work decently and with complete integrity. Unfortunately I did not interview Tzipi Livni very often because she doesn't like to appear on Channel 1. I made every effort to bring her around as head of the opposition but unfortunately she would not agree when I begged her to appear.

This isn't the first time you've crossed the fence. In 1999 you left journalism and acted as communications director for the Center Party. Then too you thought you'd have an influence and in the end you returned to journalism.

That's right. But then I was exposed to a world that I'm trying to forget. The Center Party was composed of a few excellent people but there were some I didn't exactly take to, and I found myself in the line of fire. Today perhaps I'm less sensitive to this, and at least, according to the reception I got from Kadima, the feeling is good; I've discovered a genuine party which also has decency and integrity.

You were a political correspondent, you are familiar with politics from up close, and it seems you've already made your first political mistake: Who announces joining a party when there isn't even a date for the next elections? Won't you be forgotten by then?

Perhaps. But the timing is meant to give me a lot of time to work, to meet a lot of people, to go out in the field and do things in order to come out in a good place in the primaries. If I burn myself out, I'll suffer the consequences. But I'm not sure you're right, just like I'm not sure I'm right.

What about your inglorious mention in the state comptroller's report?

They let me read the accusation ahead of time so that I could respond. The claim that I was hired for Press Conference in violation of the regulations is completely false, because the person who took care of this was the previous chairman Moshe Gavish, and [IBA] director [Moti] Shklar received special permission to hire me from the authority in charge of wages at the Finance Ministry. The current person in the latter position has denied these arrangements, which to me is improper. Hiring me was based on professional considerations. All that interests me is to come out clean; that's how it was.

This isn't the first time the comptroller's report gives a difficult picture of IBA management, and interference by political leaders. Are you familiar with this from close up?

Of course. It's a place that's required drastic reform for a long time now, mainly preventing political interference by politicians. I can give you a lot of examples but I don't want to go into it. I've had some very difficult experiences in this context. For example, about whom to interview. There was a period at the IBA that if I said I was bringing [Shimon] Peres in, I was treated as if I were bringing in [former head of Palestinian security forces] Jibril Rajoub, and I understood that I had hammered another nail in my coffin. Over the years it has only gotten worse.

And as an MK you would like to bring about this change?

It's too early.