Last Monday Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz gave an interview to Channel 2’s news anchor Yonit Levy during the prime-time news broadcast. Levy began the interview with a revealing “question.”
Oozing professional probity, Levy said, “I assume you came here armed with wonderful data about the drop in unemployment and rising economic growth, but I want to ask you, Mr. Steinitz if for all your data you’ve forgotten the people, you’ve forgotten an entire class of working people who can’t live?”
Not that she has an opinion.
Levy’s question encapsulates the pathology of the Israeli media and the public discourse it engenders. In the case at hand, it is true that the facts show Israel has never been economically better off. But how about “the people”?
Levy and her comrades want to discuss abstractions, not facts. Abstractions like the amorphous “people,” are attractive because they are meaningless and are therefore subject to politically correct interpretation. Facts are unattractive because they contradict the media’s effectively uniform worldview and prejudices.
Due to this uniformity, for the past three weeks Israel’s public discourse has been dominated by the media-supported “social justice” protesters. Three weeks ago fewer than a hundred protesters set up tents along Tel Aviv’s tony Rothschild Boulevard and demanded lower rents in Tel Aviv – Israel’s highest priced real estate market.
Ignoring the basic laws of supply and demand, the media immediately embraced the protesters as “the authentic voice of the nation.” And so Israel’s newest “social revolution” began.
And it has all been downhill from there.
If the protesters’ initial demand for government intervention in the Tel Aviv rental market was simply dumb, their current demands are little less than a declaration of economic war against Israeli prosperity.
The protesters’ are effectively demanding no less than the destruction of Israel’s free market and a reversion to the state-controlled economy that doomed Israel to economic sclerosis for its first 45 years of independence.
They want the state to determine rents and nationalize housing construction. They want the government to get more involved in price controls than it already is. They want free day care and medicine. And they want cheap gas, cheap electricity and low taxes. And they want to punish the rich. Oh, and they want to live in communes.
To get a sense of just how economically deranged their economic views are, it suffices to consider what they claim is their most pressing demand. The leaders of the protests, (more on them later), announced on Monday that from their perspective, the first order of business is for the government to cancel its legislative program to reform the Israel Lands Authority.
That plan involves streamlining the process for approving construction tenders and removing most of the hidebound bureaucratic obstacles that make it nearly impossible to build anything in this country. By removing government barriers to increasing the supply of housing, the government aims to reduce housing prices, in accordance with the basic laws of supply and demand.
But the protesters will have none of it. If construction increases, that means that contractors will get rich. And that, they maintain, is unacceptable. From their perspective, the government has to lower housing prices without increasing supply.
It doesn’t take a degree in economics to recognize that this argument is complete nonsense. But most Israeli news consumers do not realize how fundamentally ridiculous the protesters are being. They do not realize it because the media are not in the business of providing facts and data. They are in the business of taking sides.
And in the eyes of the media, the protesters are the good guys and the government is the bad guy.
Aside from ignoring the absurdity of the protesters’ economic demands, the media have joined them in demonizing Prime Minister Netanyahu and his haredi and nationalist political partners. The latter are castigated as parasites who exploit the “nation,” (of which they are apparently not a part), for their own selfish ends.
For instance, on Channel 2’s Sunday newscast, senior economic commentator Nehemiah Stressler argued that in order to pay for all the new welfare programs the good people on Rothschild Blvd. are demanding, the government must stop giving away money to the haredim and the settlers.
Stressler claimed that haredim are able to purchase their apartments “a quarter the price.” Although he didn’t explain what price he was referring to, presumably he meant a quarter of the price of housing in Tel Aviv. But Stressler failed to mention that most of the building for haredi communities is in inexpensive, peripheral towns like Beitar Illit, not in urban centers.
As for the settlers, it is difficult to see how they are treated well. In 2009 the government banned all Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria for ten months.
Since the ban was lifted, housing starts have still been few and far between. Moreover, this politically motivated act had negative repercussions for the national housing market. As Globes reported in January, until 2009, housing starts in Judea and Samaria constituted 4-5 percent of the national total. By then end of last year, they comprised less than a third of one percent of total housing starts. Consequently, families who would have purchased homes in Judea and Samaria were forced instead to compete with families who wanted to buy homes outside the areas, thus artificially raising the overall price of housing.
The media’s contemptuous dismissal of reality in favor of misleading slogans and scapegoats goes hand in hand with their active steps to deceive the public about the identity and agenda of the protests’ organizers.
A poll released on Monday showed that 75 percent of the public supports the protests. The main reason that the protests have managed to garner sympathy from the general public is because with the help of the media, the protest leaders have hidden their identity and agenda from the public.
At every opportunity, the protesters claim they are apolitical and the media go along with them. Yet as a handful of bloggers have shown, more than eighty percent of the protest leaders are professional far Left activists. For instance, Maariv bloggers Uri Redler and Rotem Sela researched the affiliation of all the speakers at the July 23rd rally in Tel Aviv. They found that out of 27 speakers, 21 are known leftist activists affiliated with Hadash, the communist party, with Meretz, with the New Israel Fund, with the Nationalist Left proto-party, and with the anarchists.
Redler and Sela also exposed that several “grassroots,” leaders are in fact professional political operatives affiliated with communist politicians and radical pressure groups. For instance, an activist named Tzika Bashour announced on Facebook that he would begin a general strike on August 1. Yediot Ahronot and Ynet covered his move as an authentic call of distress by an Average Joe.
The papers failed to mention that Bashour is a public relations executive who ran communist MK Dov Hanin’s
campaign for the Tel Aviv mayoralty.
campaign for the Tel Aviv mayoralty.
The media’s manipulation of the public in the service of their political agenda is nothing new. For the past two decades every disastrous strategic initiative Israel has adopted was the product of massive media campaigns.
In 1993 the media rallied unanimously behind the Rabin-Peres government’s decision to embrace the PLO and give Yasser Arafat and his terrorist armies land, political legitimacy, guns, and money. The more than one million Israelis who actively participated in demonstrations against this disastrous decision in subsequent years were demonized as the Israeli equivalent of Arab terrorists and potential assassins.
In 1997, when a handful of European Union financed activists formed the Four Mothers organization calling for the IDF to surrender southern Lebanon to Hezbollah, the media heralded the group as a “true grassroots movement.”
The media blocked out all voices – including IDF commanders – that warned an IDF withdrawal would serve as a springboard for a Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon and lead to war. They demonized opponents of surrender as warmongers with the blood of IDF soldiers on their hands.
Had it not been for the media, the Four Mothers’ campaign would have ended before it began. But due to media manipulation, within three years, a majority of Israelis became convinced that it made sense to surrender to Hezbollah.
In the lead-up to Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, the media again demonized the more than one million Israelis who actively opposed the plan. Voices warning of the dire strategic consequences of surrendering Gaza were silenced. Politicians who opposed the plan were attacked as warmongers. The media gave voice to those calling for open warfare against opponents of the withdrawal, and violence against the plan’s opponents was openly encouraged by the media.
Since the Lebanon withdrawal, the media have repeatedly led campaigns demanding that Israel bow to Hezbollah and Hamas demands and release of hundreds of terrorists in exchange for live and dead Israeli hostages. Opponents of such releases are demonized as heartless extremists.
In the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War, reservists released from service began marching to Jerusalem demanding the resignations of then prime minister Ehud Olmert, then defense minister Amir Peretz and then IDF chief of general staff Dan Halutz for their failed leadership of the war. The media scuttled the reservists’ protest by demonizing them as closet right wingers.
Israelis stereotypically boast that we are nobody’s suckers. And yet, the very same people who refuse to be suckers have been suckered into repeatedly supporting the most devastating policies any democracy has adopted in modern times.
This makes sense. After all, how is anyone to be expected to understand what is happening when the media systematically hide the truth from the public? How can anyone be expected to recognize they are being hand when, as Yonit Levy made clear in her “question” to Steinitz, the media are happy to dismiss facts when those facts contradict their interests as a class?
The only solution to this situation is competition. Israel’s media market is able to operate as a closed guild because government regulations on media licenses have placed the same people destroying our discourse in charge of deciding who gets a broadcast license and what broadcasters can broadcast.
This has to end. Just as Israel’s economic success owes to the government’s withdrawal from the markets, so Israel’s ability to have a rational, truthful, fact-based public debate is entirely dependent on a government initiative to deregulate the media.
But it better act fast. For if the government does not act quickly, as we see today, the media guild will manipulate the uninformed public into believing that our best bet is to destroy our prosperity, just as they convinced us before to destroy our security.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.