Monday Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni opened negotiations with her Palestinian counterpart Ahmed Qurei regarding the partition of Jerusalem; the destruction of hundreds of Israeli communities in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem; the expulsion of between a hundred thousand and half a million Israelis from their homes; the borders of Israel; and the right of immigration of millions of foreign, hostile Arabs to Israel.
The Olmert government's Palestinian policies are overwhelmingly rejected by the Israeli public. In a recent B'nai Brith poll, two thirds of the public said that the government has no mandate to conduct negotiations on these issues. Two thirds similarly said that they oppose any Israeli concessions in Jerusalem.
Since the end of the war in Lebanon a year and a half ago, the Olmert government's approval ratings have remained in the single digits. Last Friday's media polls showed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government enjoying the support of a mere eight percent of their fellow citizens.
Given the public's rejection of the government's policies and contempt for its elected leaders, it would be reasonable to assume that the Israeli "street" would be ablaze with protesters. But there are no fires and no impassioned cries – just an eerie, unsettling silence.
WHAT IS going on? How is it that the Olmert government is still in power? There are five main factors contributing to the Olmert government's staying power. The first, and perhaps least problematic was pointed out on Monday by investigative journalist Yoav Yitzhak. Yitzhak reported on his news Web site that Olmert's bureau secured positive media coverage of US President George W. Bush's visit to Israel last week by setting up interviews with Bush for Channel 2 television's anchorwoman Yonit Levy and Yediot Aharonot's senior diplomatic commentators Shimon Shiffer and Nahum Barnea. Yitzhak argues that it is scandalous for the government to trade access to policymakers for positive coverage. But the fact is that such arrangements are the stock in trade of politics.
More interesting than Olmert's use of the media is the media's use of Olmert. Olmert's need for sympathetic coverage is clear. But what do the local media need Olmert for? Their star reporters would be granted the same access by any Israeli government.
An examination of a recent incident involving the editor of Israel's supposed "newspaper of record," the radically left-wing Haaretz provides the beginning of an answer. Two weeks ago, the New York Jewish Week reported that Haaretz's editor in chief David Landau asked US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to "rape" Israel. Landau also told Rice that it was his "wet dream" to tell the Secretary of State to "rape" his country.
Landau made this shocking appeal to Rice at a dinner in September at the home of US ambassador Richard Jones. Also in attendance were Israeli intellectuals and media elites.
Jewish Week's report was a major scoop. But it raised troubling questions. Why did it take three months for Landau's statements to be reported? Why were they not reported by the Israeli media? One of the participants in the dinner was Yediot commentator Barnea. He preferred not to publish the story. After another participant at the dinner told him about Landau's statement, a spokesman for a major academic institution sought to interest Israel's largest dailies and television stations in the story. Appeals to Yediot editor Rafi Ginat and Barnea's colleague Shimon Shiffer were rebuffed. Similarly, Ma'ariv's deputy editor, Avi Bettelheim refused to publish the story. Channel 2 reported the story but without exposing Landau's identity. Two weeks after the Jewish Week broke the story, the Hebrew media still continues its blanket refusal to report it.
How is the media's belief that protecting their colleague (and competitor) outweighs the public's right to know connected to the Hebrew press's insistent and seemingly unnecessary support of Olmert? Ahead of the withdrawal from Gaza, both Landau and his colleague from Israel's Channel 2 Amnon Abromovich said openly that in order to ensure that the withdrawal from Gaza went through, the media needed to protect then prime minister Ariel Sharon from all criticism. Landau openly admitted that he ordered his reporters not to report on allegations of criminal misdeeds by Sharon and to underplay the significance of the ongoing police investigations against Sharon, his sons and his close associates.
Abromovich called for the media to protect Sharon like an etrog – the delicate citron used to celebrate the high holiday of Succot. Like etrogs, Abromovich argued that Sharon needed to be insulated by layer after layer of protection to make sure that he wasn't indicted or criticized for his actions or policies.
The media's protection of Sharon was all-encompassing. For instance, to enhance his chances for reelection, the media refused to report Sharon's visible physical deterioration and mental disorientation in his last year in power. And they reported Sharon's first stroke as a minor episode. Consequently, the public was shocked when two years ago Sharon was felled by his massive and eminently foreseeable stroke.
AFTER SHARON was succeeded by Olmert, the media oligarchs from Haaretz, Channel 2, Yediot and Ma'ariv made clear that the extension of their "etrog" treatment to Olmert was conditioned on his adoption of their radical leftist agenda of land surrenders and settlement destruction. To ensure Olmert's election, the media ignored the significance of the Hamas electoral victory in the Palestinian Authority and the post-withdrawal transformation of Gaza into an international terrorist hub.
After Olmert led Israel to defeat in Lebanon, the media rallied to his side. Reservists calling for his resignation were demonized as "settlers" and "agents of settlers." State radio and television refused to cover the reservists' protests against Olmert. And the media heavyweights overwhelmingly supported the establishment of a commission of inquiry as a way to block the call for immediate elections.
The media are so arrogant in their assertion of control over public debate in Israel that they don't even try to hide their political agenda. On Monday, Haaretz ran a column by Akiva Eldar calling for Olmert to refuse the IDF's request to conduct a major ground operation in Gaza. The column ran under the title, "The etrog is Abu Mazen."
The meaning was clear. Just as the media protects Olmert despite his incompetence in the interest of advancing their agenda of destroying Israeli communities located beyond the 1949 armistice lines and expelling their residents, so Olmert must protect PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, (aka Abu Mazen), despite his defense of Hamas in Gaza, in order to advance the same agenda.
The leftist media do not simply prevent attacks on Olmert from gaining coverage and momentum. They also intimidate into silence people who might otherwise protest. In the case of Landau's rape remarks for instance, there were several people at the dinner party who clearly did not agree with his statements. They came as representatives of the "moderate" Right. Yet they did nothing to protest or publicize his remarks. They made no calls to the media. They did not post them on their Web sites.
And why would they? They know that the price one pays for breaking ranks with the leftist establishment is enormous. Those who break ranks are boycotted by television and radio. If they are employed by leftist organizations, they can expect to be fired from their jobs. And so they say nothing, do nothing, a
nd in the end, accomplish nothing.
WORSE EVEN than the media's intimidation of Zionists is the official harassment suffered by those who insist on speaking out. And as Olmert moves ahead with the leftist establishment's program of expelling Israelis from their communities and transferring them to Palestinian terrorists, that harassment is becoming more and more palpable.
To prevent protests of Bush's call to establish a Palestinian terror state and divide Jerusalem, the government and the police placed Jerusalem under virtual martial law last week. Fully a third of Israel's entire police force was transferred to the capital. Schools and businesses were closed. Jerusalemites were strongly encouraged to stay off the streets.
On January 9, three activists stood in front of the Dan Panorama hotel in the capital where the foreign press accompanying Bush on his visit to Israel was being housed. Jeff Daube, Susie Dym and Yehudit Dassberg were attempting to distribute a report on Fatah's support for and involvement in terrorist attacks against Israel to members of the foreign press. The report, written by veteran researcher Arlene Kushner, contained no policy recommendations. It simply documented Fatah's terrorist activities. For their efforts, they were detained by the police and accused of distributing "seditious materials" and causing a public nuisance.
Beyond its harassment of street protesters and activists, the government is now attempting to silence online protests of its policies. Last week, the ministerial committee on legislation approved a bill that would make Web site owners and editors legally responsible for comments published on their sites. Given the government's arbitrary and biased definition of sedition and incitement, if the law is passed it will effectively force bloggers and Web site operators to block all comments to their Web sites. Yet another avenue of protest will be silenced.
The cumulative impact of these phenomena has been the fifth and perhaps determinative factor enabling Olmert to continue in office. Simply stated, between the media's intimidation and the official harassment of citizens who dare to protest or even disagree with the government's policies, the public has simply lost faith its ability to influence the course of the country. This sense of disenfranchisement has demoralized the public into silence.
For those who wish to help end the tenure of a government pushing a radical, post-Zionist agenda with the support of a mere eight percent of the public, it is important to understand this state of affairs. All ameliorative actions must be geared towards ending the stranglehold of the radical Left on the national debate, and towards defending the civil rights and upholding the reputations of those who protest.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.