The Screen Has Been Darkened

It would appear that Israel is caught between the jaws of two families: the family of organized crime and the family of immense affluence.

It would appear that Israel is caught between the jaws of two families: the family of organized crime and the family of immense affluence. These two families seem to be sovereign in this country.

One individual has taken a moment out to reflect on the situation, and apparently has gone stark raving mad. I am referring to Miki Rosenthal, who decided to produce a film, "Shakshuka," about the Ofer brothers, Sammy and Yuli, and their descendants. What could Rosenthal possibly have been thinking when he chose to proceed with such a project? What has made him totally insane? After all, he "has it made" - he is not only a talented individual, he is also a celebrity in these parts. Besides, his programs are telecast on prime time. What could he have been thinking, when he was given fair warning by the country's commercial television channels that they would never, ever air his film? Foundations that could have provided funding shunned him as if he were the Bubonic Plague. And so did local movie theaters. Even his wife and children pleaded with him to be reasonable, but he would not budge.

His only option was the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, which, on Sunday night, will be screening "Shakshuka," if the threats do not escalate. I have already seen it, and I recommend the film to all those who want to know what impact the affluent can have on politicians and vice versa. To paraphrase Amos 3:3 ("Can two walk together, except they be agreed?"), can politicians walk with the affluent, if there is no mutual benefit? In researching "Shakshuka," Rosenthal found the Ofer family received government gifts totaling at least $1 billion. Few Israeli billionaires have made their fortunes from inventing acetone or ringtones; instead, governments have generously stuffed the pockets of the affluent with the cash benefits that only partners are entitled to enjoy.

The Ofer family is only one example of the dozen families in Israel who, to paraphrase Louis XIV's "L'etat, c'est moi," are saying "L'etat c'est nous." Not only do they dig into our pocketbooks, they are also blocking the camera from documenting how they dig into our pocketbooks, how they actually pick our pockets. They have acquired considerable control of our commercial television channels, as well as the country's major advertisers and franchises. And we cannot free ourselves of their control. Channels 2 and 10 are in their hands, and the people with the big bucks do not like investigative journalism, especially when they are the subject; thus, in-depth probes are beginning to vanish from the Israeli media.

These people with the big bucks, who also call the shots, prefer reality programs like the Israeli versions of "Survivor," "Polygraph," "The Biggest Loser" and "Beauty and the Geek." All this garbage is fit for mass consumption. At the very most, Israel's television channels will make a sloppy shakshuka dish out of any available politician, because these days, the politicians have begun coming down from their high horses (or luxurious apartment towers) and it is now easy to gang up on them, like muscular heroes triumph over weak, despicable cads. Journalists are thus being given an opportunity to exercise their professional freedom, to show how they can be true to their conscience.

Rosenthal's film has already been censored de facto, after he finished the shooting but before he really finished the job, and his family and friends are providing him with the necessary funding. It is not hard to imagine how other films are pre-censored - even before they are shot. Journalists and their bosses are highly skilled in sniffing out what their big boss is expecting of them, and in getting ahead in their profession nonetheless.

Self-censorship, which is covert, is far worse than overt censorship, and the Thought Police operate effectively without a cop in sight.

All the gifts that various governments have given to their masters have been presented in court and declared revolting, although technically legal. Judges have expressed their squeamishness at the many instances where government officials have turned a blind eye, and these judges have sometimes called our attention to the fact that not every deal involving affluence and politics can pass the litmus test of common sense. Through his film, Rosenthal wants the public, not our courts of law, to judge the unholy alliance between the affluent and the corridors of political power, because he believes, and so do I, that the public still has the power to express what it feels and to act accordingly. However, the screen has been darkened, and Israel's citizens are making their way through the darkness as they walk through the paradise - or should I say, the hell - of the blind.