Israeli journalists are among the most mobilized in the Western world: They view their jobs as a soapbox to teach proper thoughts to the hoi polloi. The media's desire to shape the national agenda also makes it among the most easily manipulated in the world. The EU and individual European states pour millions into left-wing Israeli NGOs annually to peddle their favorite nostrums for peace in large part because they get such a large bang for the buck from the NGOs and media working hand-in-hand.
Blackening Israel's image abroad is one favorite technique. There is an insatiable thirst for stories on the Talibanization of Israel and front-page headlines like "Seismic rift in Israeli society over the role of women" (Sunday's New York Times). The negative portrayals from every direction reinforce one another. If women in Israel, for instance, have no higher status than in Teheran, it is easier to believe claims that Israel is an apartheid society. Negative foreign reports about Israel are intended to convince Israelis of the country's growing international isolation in order to make them more malleable.
One example of how this works. Tanya Rosenblitt, who works for a media mogul, boards a bus in an exclusively chareidi neighborhood of Ashdod. The bus stops only in chareidi neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Getting to Jerusalem is not Tanya's goal; there are many faster and more direct buses to Jerusalem. Her goal is to be the star of her own reality show.
To that end, according to the other passengers on the bus (who are not interviewed by the mainstream media), she sits directly behind the driver singing, making challenging remarks, and occasionally leaning into the aisle. Seeing that her goal is to provoke a confrontation, the driver stops the bus and summons the police.
Rosenblitt is not asserting her legitimate right not to be dictated to by chareidim as to where to sit on a bus. Rather she is insisting that chareidim not be able to sit as they choose on a bus designed to serve only chareidi passengers. The distinction is crucial. (Egged deliberately creates all-haredi lines as part of a concerted effort to prevent chareidim from setting up their own bus services.)
Incidentally, Rosenblitt is also associated with the One Voice organization. The Palestinian media described the One Voice's September 2011 Campaign as designed to build an international consensus on Israeli apartheid.
Another example of media manipulation. Yair Lapid jumpstarted his entry into national politics, where he hopes to inherit his father's mantle as leader of the anti-chareidi camp, with the Channel Two documentary on Naama Margolese. Introducing the segment, Lapid asked rhetorically whether Beit Shemesh represents the future of the entire country unless the chareidim are brought to heel.
I wonder how many viewers realized that the ugly events at the national religious Beit Orot school described in the film took place at the beginning of the school year, and that since then the situation has improved substantially. Dr. Agmon-Snir, director of the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, who is non-observant, described in a recent Mishpacha Magazine interview efforts to broker an understanding between different communal factions. According to Dr. Agmon-Snir, the Sikrikim, or zealots, who represent a "minority within a minority" of the chareidi community, have been spit out by the Eidah Hachareidis, and have largely disappeared from the site of the Beit Orot school. For its part, the Eidah has reconciled itself to the school remaining in its current location.
Agmon-Snir lamented that the Israeli public was roused to fury by a documentary that did not reflect current realities, and expressed his fear that the delicate fabric of trust built-up over months would unravel in the wake of the anti-chareidi demonstration in Beit Shemesh, which piggy-backed on the Channel Two report. One local charidi activist told Mishpacha that when he turned to Channel Two to discuss the compromises worked out, he was told, "Don't interfere with the chagiga."
ISRAEL HAS PAID A HEAVY PRICE in the past for media campaigns designed to dictate the national agenda. The cost of the Four Mothers campaign to withdraw from southern Lebanon, for instance, was Hizbullah control of Lebanon, and nearly a hundred thousand missiles aimed at every inch of Israel. Had the government caved to every demand of last summer's Social Justice protestors, Israel would be well on the way to European-style bankruptcy and unemployment to match. The current frenzy over the "hadarat nashim – the so-called exclusion of women from the public sphere" threatens to take a heavy toll as well.
Last week, Kolech and other NIF-funded groups waged an intense campaign to pressure male doctors scheduled to speak at the Puah Institute's annual medicine and halacha conference to withdraw unless some women were added to the list of speakers. The Israel Medical Association joined the call. Some protestors urged a cut-off of all government funding of Puah as well.
The national religious heads of the Puah Institute do not have a problem with women speaking, and indeed women doctors participate and speak at numerous Puah events throughout the year. But the decision was made by the organization's then posek, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, zt"l, twelve years ago, prior to the first Medicine and Halacha Conference, to have only male speakers in order to ensure the widest possible rabbinic participation.
That participation of the rabbis was for the benefit of women, particularly with respect to their reproductive health. The purpose of much of the medical information made available is to provide poskim with new information of potential halachic application. The sessions with doctors and rabbis sensitize all involved to the needs of couples experiencing fertility problems, and increase the awareness among leading doctors in the fertility field of the concerns of Torah observant Jews.
Seven of the nine doctors scheduled to speak – many of them on topics of immediate practical concern to the hundreds of women in attendance – dropped out in the face of the pressure. Others doctors replaced them, and the conference was attended by about 1300 people, about the level of previous years. But we can be sure that Kolech will redouble its efforts to damage an organization that has created the protocols used in almost every Israeli hospital and clinic, and in approximately fifty clinics in North America, to ensure that the sperm and eggs used in IVF and IUI is that of the husband and mother. (Interestingly, scientific studies show that the rate of success from IVF and IUI increases when such hashgacha is in place.)
Even on feminist grounds, I wonder whether endangering the entire conference and the Puah Institute, which make major contributions to women's health, was justified in order that one or two women doctors speak at the conference.
The current media hysteria about "the exclusion of women" began with the IDF and it is in the IDF that it has had the greatest impact. Four national religious cadets were expelled from an officers training course for refusing orders to attend a women's singing performance.
Since then, the IDF has acted as if its top priority is making sure no woman ever feel dissed. (This at a time when five women just earned their pilots' wings.) It is comforting to know that there are no military threats on the horizon.
The IDF has taken a hard-line position refusing to accommodate the needs of religious soldiers. Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, Chief of IDF Manpower Division, overruled the conclusions of a committee she herself had appointed, and insisted that officers retain the power to compel attendance even at performances that are only for entertainment. By forcing religious soldiers to bow to the diktat of the IDF and refusing to make allowances for their religious beliefs, the IDF has greatly alienated the national religious community, from which it draws an disproportionate share of its combat soldiers and junior officers. And by turning IDF chaplains into the enforcement arm for its orders, the IDF has deprived them any credibility that they might have had in the eyes of religious soldiers. The actions of the IDF top brass suggest a desire to ensure that the national religious do not come to dominate the upper echelons of the IDF.
In contrast to its refusal to show any flexibility towards national religious soldiers, the IDF has always been very accommodating concerning the religious needs of the growing cohort of chareidim in the IDF – a tenfold increase over the last six years. No more. Again, avoiding the "exclusion of women" trumps any other societal interest, including national defense and integration of chareidim into the IDF.
The Chief Rabbi of the Air Force, Moshe Raavad, asked to be relieved of his post last week in light of the IDF's decision not to adhere to its previous commitments to maintain a single-sex environment for the nearly thousand chareidim enlisted through the air force's Shachar Kachol program. The IDF decision will not only deal a major blow to the existing program, but also to IDF Intelligence's plan to enlist 1,000 chareidi soldiers in the coming years. (A pre-induction program to prepare haredi young men looking for an alternative to full-time yeshiva studies for IDF Intelligence called MoFeT is already up and running.)
Coupled with the general media campaign against charedim (ably abetted by elements of the chareidi community), which has resulted in numerous physical attacks on chareidim, the IDF decisions have reinforced the most conservative elements in the chareidi community, and given credence to those within the community who argue that "these sorrows have come upon us because we sought to integrate more into the general population by joining the army, acquiring vocational and academic training, and entering the workforce." Those elements in the chareidi community and Yair Lapid need each other and feed off of each other.
Meanwhile, Israel is once again paying a heavy price for media generated hysteria.
Since this article went up on the Jerusalem Post website, I have received a barrage of comments from members of the national religious community in Beit Shemesh, who felt that I was trying to minimize the seriousness of the harassment of students at the Beit Orot school. In the original article. I quoted Dr. Agmon-Snir, who has been involved in mediation efforts and is non-observant, to the effect that to the best of his knowledge there have been only two incidents at the school since Tishrei. And I had heard from a member of the national religious community that the situation had improved considerably, which he attributed to more active police protection. If I presented the situation concerning the Beit Orot school inaccurately, I am sorry.
It was not my intention to minimize the harassment to which the national religious community in Beit Shemesh has been subjected and continues to be subject, or to defend that harassment in any way. That should be clear to anyone who has read my many pieces on Beit Shemesh from last September. The rioting this past week after the arrest on charges of money laundering of six men connected to the Eidah Hachareidis's major tzedakah organization,which included the stoning of buses and vandalism of police vehicles, which adversely affected the entire community -- chareidi and national religious alike -- provides yet new evidence of how serious the problem is.