How to Combat the ‘Etrog’ Treatment Used by the Press


Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni opened negotiations last week 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 more than 100,000 Israelis from their homes; the borders of Israel; and the right of immigration of foreign, hostile Arabs to Israel.

The Palestinian policies of Ehud Olmert's government 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.

What is going on? How is it that the Olmert government is still in power? The Israeli media provides a large portion of the answer.

An examination of a recent incident involving the editor of the left-wing Ha'aretz — Israel's supposed "newspaper of record" — provides the beginning of an explanation. Three weeks ago, the New York Jewish Week reported that Ha'aretz's editor in chief, David Landau, asked U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to "rape" Israel. Landau also told Rice that it was his "wet dream" to tell her to "rape" his country.

Landau made this shocking appeal to Rice at a dinner in September at the home of U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones. Also in attendance were Israeli intellectuals and media elites.

The Jewish Week 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 Achronot commentator Nahum Barnea. He chose not to publish the story. Editors at Yediot and Ma'ariv came to the same conclusion. Others in attendance who didn't agree with Landau also chose silence, lest they face the wrath of Israel's media establishment.

Israel's TV Channel 2 finally reported the story this month, but without exposing Landau's identity. Weeks after the story broke, the Hebrew media still continues its blanket refusal to report it.

How is the media's belief that protecting their colleague outweighs the public's right to know connected to their consistent support of Olmert?

Ahead of the withdrawal from Gaza, both Landau and his colleague from Israel's Channel 2, Amnon Abromovich, said openly at the time that in order to ensure that withdrawal went through, the media needed to protect then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from all criticism. Landau admitted that he ordered his reporters not to cover allegations of criminal misdeeds by Sharon, as well as to underplay the significance of police investigations against Sharon, his sons and close associates.

Abromovich called for the media to protect Sharon like an etrog — the delicate citron used to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot. Just 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.

After Sharon was succeeded by Olmert, the media oligarchs from Ha'aretz, Channel 2, Yediot and Ma'ariv made clear that the extension of their etrog treatment to Olmert was conditioned on support for a left-wing agenda. They were true to their word.

After Olmert led Israel to defeat in Lebanon, the media rallied to his side. State radio and television refused to cover reservists' protests against Olmert.

Worse than that is the official harassment suffered by those who insist on speaking out.

On Jan. 9, three activists stood in front of Jerusalem Dan Panorama, where foreign press accompanying President Bush on his visit to Israel was being housed. Three protesters from the Zionist Organization of America were attempting to distribute a report on Fatah's support for and involvement in terrorist attacks against Israel to members of the foreign press. For their efforts, they were detained by police, accused of distributing "seditious materials" and causing a public nuisance.

Between media intimidation and the harassment of citizens who disagree with the government's policies, the public has simply lost faith in its ability to influence the course of the country. This sense of disenfranchisement has demoralized Israelis into silence.

Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy.


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