No Psalms in Israel
by Jonathan Rosenblum
April 26, 2002
Remember the intensive ad campaign "Say Tehillim (Psalms) – for the Soul" that blanketed the country at the beginning of the Jewish year? Ever wonder what happened to the catchy, if slightly insipid, jingle proclaiming the power of Psalms to bring "more happiness – to you, to your family, to all of us?"
It is hard to believe that the innocuous suggestion to recite a chapter of Psalms a day could cause anyone’s blood to boil. But this is Israel. Shinui MK Yossi Paritzky filed a complaint with the Appeals Committee of the Israel Broadcast Authority demanding that the ads be removed from the air.
The purpose of the Appeals Committee is to protect free speech by providing a forum for advertisers whose ads have been rejected by the IBA. It has no authority to hear complaints by outside parties who are offended by a particular ad that is already being broadcast.
Nevertheless the Appeals Committee heard Paritzky’s complaint. Worse, it ordered the ads removed on the grounds that: (1) their content concerns a matter of intense ideological debate and (2) they are missionary in nature.
The protocol of the Appeals Committee meeting reveals a shocking animus on the part of committee members to traditional Judaism. The chairwoman of the Committee, literatteur Nili Carmel, announced that she could tolerate an advertisement that urged Jews to "read" Psalms, which is after all a fine literary text. What was unacceptable, in her eyes, was the suggestion to "say" Psalms, which she classified as a form of "incitement" to ritual activity.
Dr. Ilan Asia, another board member, launched into a vicious attack on the chareidi community, which he described as "sucking from our veins." He expressed his concern that the ad might lead to more "ba’alei teshuva," and thus more power for the chareidi parties, which "already control three-quarters of the Knesset Finance Committee, [and whose members] don’t work, don’t go to the army, and are galuti."
As for the specific content of the ads, Asia rejected the suggestion that there could be any positive benefit from reciting Psalms as "close to black magic, a return to the Dark Ages, and irrational."
That protocol shows how cut off those who control the broadcast media are from the general Israeli population. There is barely a hospital waiting room in the country in which books of Psalms are not found. This year’s Yom Hazikaron gathering in Mevasseret Zion, hardly a bastion of religiosity, began with the head of the local council reciting Psalms. Throughout the evening a couple of men circulated with large sacks filled with hundreds of books of Psalms. My sister-in-law, who was present, told me that she could not stop crying as she watched the eagerness with which Jews reached for books of Psalms for themselves and for their children, and began reading from them.
One of the statutory purposes of the IBA is "to strengthen the connection of the nation to its Jewish heritage and values and to deepen the knowledge of that heritage." Yet here was the IBA Appeals Committee equating an radio ad celebrating one of the most widely observed Jewish customs – reciting Psalms – with Christian missionaries soliciting Jews to abandon their religion.
The members of the IBA Appeals Committee are perfectly entitled to their opinion that reciting Psalms is a waste of time. By the same token there are plenty of people who remain unconvinced that Coke "is the real thing," and even some who view Coke as a major health hazard. Others may doubt that Cliniqa On, whose ads seem to run every five minutes, has found the panacea for all that ails modern man. Yet the ads for these products are not kept off the air on the grounds that they are "too ideological."
Nor did the IBA refuse to broadcast the ads of the Reform and Conservative movements, promoting their "egalitarian services" under the slogan "There is more than one way to be Jewish," on the grounds that they are missionary.
MORDECHAI Eisenberg, director of the Movement for Fairness in Government, appealed the decision of the IBA Appeals Committee to the Supreme Court on behalf of the listening public.
In the past the Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed the value of free speech in a democracy, and ruled that the IBA therefore has little discretion to reject ads. Recently Court President Aharon Barak instructed the IBA to find a way to broadcast ads sponsored by Gush Shalom warning Israeli soldiers that their actions in the "occupied territories" might constitute war crimes under international law.
The Court has also enunciated the most liberal rules governing standing of any Court in the world. In decision after decision, the Court, led by President Barak, has done away with the traditional limitation of standing to parties who have suffered some personal injury from a governmental decision. Instead the Court has permitted anyone who does not agree with a particular governmental decision to sue of behalf of the general public.
Yet in this particular case the Supreme Court ruled that Eisenberg’s organization had no standing to represent the interests of the general listening public, and that the suit could only be brought by the sponsors of the ads.
The record before the Court was crystal clear. The IBA Appeals Committee had no jurisdiction to have rendered a decision at all. That decision was on its face blatantly violative of the free speech principles that the Court has repeatedly applied to the IBA, and contravened one of the very purposes for which the IBA was created, "to deepen the attachment of the nation to its heritage". In addition, the protocol of the Appeals Committee meeting showed its decision to have been tainted by an antipathy to religious Jews and traditional Judaism.
Yet rather than writing a stirring opinion on the primacy of free speech, or springing into action in its self-proclaimed role as defender of minorities, the Court suddenly decided to become finicky about standing, even though Eisenberg was doing nothing more than asserting the same "public interest" cited by Meretz Knesset members every time they run to the Court. Several times the three-judge panel suggested to Eisenberg that he withdraw his petition – a suggestion that always comes with an implicit threat of being socked with costs.
The Court thus provided one more glaring example of the manner in which it cynically manipulates legal doctrine for its own political purposes.
Anyone seeking to understand our dispirited situation today need look no further than the manner in which major organs of the Jewish state – the IBA, aided and abetted by the Supreme Court – treated the idea of Jews pouring out their hearts to G-d as one unfit to be heard.
Related Topics: Israeli Society, Israeli Supreme Court
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