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Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Israeli al-Jazeera

Israeli mainstream media is at least as left wing as in the United States, if not more. The broadcast media is completely dominated by leftists. The newspapers, with the exception of the Jerusalem Post, are each more left wing than the next. The Post itself has gone back and forth over the years, and has some very left wing columnists and some right wing columnists. As in Europe, news here is reported in an editorializing fashion, so that sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the news and the opinion columns. The one sizeable right wing broadcaster we had was Arutz Sheva, but the government forced it off the airwaves, and it has been reduced to an internet station.

Shmuel Flatto-Sharon is a colorful figure with quite a history here.
And then there was Shmuel Flatto-Sharon.

Flatto-Sharon was something truly unique in Israeli politics. A Polish-born con man who grew up in France and boasted of his support for Gush Emunim and friendship with Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir, Flatto-Sharon fled to Israel in 1976 after being indicted on charges of defrauding French citizens of some $60 million. He resolved to avoid extradition by a hitherto untested method - running for the Knesset and obtaining parliamentary immunity. In the 1977 election, Flatto-Sharon - who hardly spoke a word of Hebrew and had to read his stump speeches from a card - threw his hat into the ring and campaigned openly on a platform of avoiding extradition to France.

His campaign plank also included an eclectic measure of right- wing populism, solidarity between Israelis and the Jewish diaspora, and good old-fashioned Likud-primary-style vote-buying. As the Washington Post reported at the time, Flatto-Sharon promised to pay anyone who voted for him, following which "the switchboards were jammed by Israeli voters calling to find out how and where to apply for a bribe."

In any other year, Flatto-Sharon would probably have had about as much chance of being elected as the Men's Rights in the Family party does in the current campaign, but Israeli politics were strange in 1977. Then, as now, the political scene was affected by war - the Yom Kippur War, and the way the Avoda government was caught unprepared. This was the year that Avoda's 30-year hegemony over Israeli politics would be broken, and there was room for other parties to pick up the pieces. At the same time, anti-French sentiment was riding high in Israel because France had refused - using a rather flimsy excuse - to extradite Abu Daoud, who was wanted by Israel in the murder of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich. The voters, seeing the opportunity to give France one in the eye, elected Flatto-Sharon to office, giving him twice as many votes as civil-liberties activist Shulamit Aloni. He subsequently joined Menachem Begin's ruling coalition, and one of the first votes he cast was in favor of a 1978 law that prohibited the extradition of Israeli citizens.

Flatto-Sharon served in the Knesset for two years, but was ultimately convicted of vote-buying in connection with the 1977 election, sentenced to nine months in prison, and suspended from the Knesset. He lost bids for re-election in 1981 and 1984, and all his subsequent terms have been spent in Israeli prisons rather than the Israeli parliament. However, he was never returned to France to serve his five-year sentence due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

It's easy to dismiss Flatto-Sharon as a joke, and - well, he was. It's still possible to insult a member of Knesset with Flatto-Sharon's name, as when the possibility of Ahmed Tibi serving on the Knesset committee on defense was compared to Flatto-Sharon serving on the Committee for Constitution, Law and Jurisprudence. Despite being a political joke, though, Flatto-Sharon had a flamboyant - and occasionally successful - career as a legislator. His demimonde connections and ability as a wheeler- dealer made it possible for him to successfully negotiate the return of several Israeli prisoners of war in exchange for captured terrorists. He also recruited 25 Israeli combat veterans to protect French and Belgian synagogues, which were undergoing a wave of attacks much like those taking place now, and obtained housing for homeless Israeli squatters in Jerusalem. He was a crook, but one who apparently gave a damn - which, sadly, makes him a better class of crook than many of those who now serve on the Likud Central Committee.

Flatto-Sharon is, in many ways, the bad and good things about the modern Likud Party writ large - corruption, vote-buying, right-wing anti-elitist populism, support for West Bank settlements and active opposition to anti-Semitism worldwide. (Well, all the bad things and one of the good things.) Maybe it's time to think of bringing him back. He's currently available - i.e., out of jail - and, as a renowned con artist, he could relate to Arafat on a truly personal level. It may be that a wheeler-dealer like Flatto-Sharon could forge a compromise in the West Bank where the diplomats could not - or, failing that, make an offer that Arafat can't refuse.
Obviously, that post was written some time ago.

There's a lengthy interview with Flatto-Sharon in today's Jerusalem Post, because his newest idea is to set up an Israeli al-Jazeera. I think we'll let him talk about it. Some of his ideas are quite interesting.
Maybe it's not that we're a "bunch of idiots," but that there's no way to convey Israel's message to an anti-Semitic world?

I don't believe that. In the first place, if you allow an initial lie to go unchallenged, it becomes perpetuated. It's like drugs that get into the bloodstream - it's hard to flush them out.

Take the example of [Israel's airstrike on the Lebanese village of] Kana [during the recent war in Lebanon, which was first reported to have claimed the lives of at least 140 innocent civilians, many of them children].

Eighteen dead is a lot, but it's not 140. Nor is it 40 children. Nor was it on purpose. It was a tragic accident of war. They started talking about 140, and it took us 10 full days to say that this wasn't the case. By that time, the effect of the truth was dead. The response to a lie has to be immediate. This is where my TV station comes in.


People who are willing to lie have an advantage, because they don't need time to research the facts of an incident. In insisting on upholding truth, Israel has no choice but to respond late to events, such as the one at Kana.

It's true that sometimes you need a few days to examine all the facts. But at least we could have immediately come out with a statement casting serious doubt on the accusations. Where Kana was concerned, for example, we could have announced right away that we knew there were far fewer casualties than were reported. Because we did know that for certain. In other words, the first thing we have to say in response to such accusations is: "wrong!"

Regarding anti-Semitism: It will always be around. But there are other voices, as well. Take, for instance, the 80 million Americans who support Israel, among them evangelical Christians, who love us more than we love ourselves. My network is going to provide them with material to bolster their ability to argue Israel's case. I want to arm every one of Israel's friends in the world with the intellectual weapons for its defense.

This is crucial at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, and TV stations like Al Jazeera and Al Manar are broadcasting whatever vile lies about Israel and the Jews whenever they want. The purpose of my network, first and foremost, is to wage an intellectual war against those two networks.


If you're "waging war" against Al Jazeera and Al Manar, won't it appear as though your network is no more than a propaganda outlet - like theirs?

I'm only waging war against their lies. Otherwise, I'm going to present factual news, features, interviews and talk shows. And - I don't know whether I should be saying this in the newspaper, but I'll tell you anyway - anything that can do damage to Israel will be left out.

For example?

Anything harmful to the state will be omitted.

Such as President Moshe Katsav's legal troubles?

No, no. Katsav is a prominent figure whose issues have to be reported. What I mean is that I don't want to include blatantly treasonous material, such as the lies surrounding [the counter-terrorism offensive in the Palestinian refugee camp in] Jenin [in April 2002, as part of Operation Defensive Shield. It was initially reported as a massacre of Palestinians by the IDF - reportage which was later proven baseless].

After the UN findings that a massacre had not been committed in Jenin, former education minister Shulamit Aloni told the French daily, Le Figaro, that "There doesn't have to be a crematorium for it to be a massacre; we committed a massacre in Jenin."

People like Aloni are diabolical.

So Shulamit Aloni will not be welcome on your network?

That's correct. We will impose an "embargo" on people like her. Or on people like the six IDF refusers who appeared before large audiences in San Francisco and claimed that the Israeli army targets children and rapes women.

Everything they say is a big lie! I had them on my radio show and told them they were modern-day Kapos [Jewish inmates who assisted the Nazis]. I told them that they know very well that we don't kill children intentionally. That even if a general commands a soldier to kill some [Arab] child walking down the street, the soldier won't do it.

Through my network, I want to tell everybody that ours are the most moral soldiers in the world. But, in order to tell them that, I have to prove it.

You say that you are going to impose an "embargo" on figures such as Shulamit Aloni. But many in the Israeli media agrees with her views. Who are you going to be able to hire to work for you if this is your position?

Only patriots. I don't care whether they're left- or right-wing. I respect all Zionists, regardless of their political leanings. On my radio show, I don't allow anyone to speak ill of Arabs. Arabs are not my enemies. Terrorists are my enemies. Traitors are my enemies. Not the Arab who wants to work and live here. Jews live in Tunisia and in Morocco, which are Muslim-Arab states. This is a Jewish state in which Arabs can live.

When I ask an Arab whether Israel is a Jewish-democratic state, and he answers "no," I tell him that in that case, he has no business being here. There's no getting around the fact that this is Jewish state. The UN General Assembly determined that in 1947. And we have to start defending and protecting it. One of the ways to do this is by taking back the media. This is a country that needs media like other countries need air to breathe.

I want us to stop volunteering unnecessary incriminating information about ourselves. When your child wets his bed, you don't go announcing it to the bullies in his class. You know, even in court, a person has the right not to incriminate himself. It's a Jewish and Israeli illness to harp on what's wrong with us. Everybody's always walking around saying that it's a shitty country. What good does that do? Why not stress the positive? There's certainly plenty to be positive about.
Read it all.


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