by Jonathan Rosenblum
December 5, 2003
Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein shocked the November 21 forum on Law and Society sponsored by the Netanya Interdisciplinary Center with his outspoken criticism of the Israeli press, in particular the symbiotic relationship between certain high-profile investigative reporters and senior law enforcement authorities.
Rubinstein charged that there is a correlation between leaked information from criminal investigations published over the years and favorable articles by the journalists who publish the leaks about their sources. He described a whole system based on the principle "give me [information] and I will write favorably about you."
Rubinstein was responding to the sharp criticism by Ha’aretz and investigative reporter Mordechai Gilat of Yediot Aharonot of his decision to recommend the dismissal of Commander Moshe Mizrachi as head of criminal investigations due to the latter’s wiretapping of leading political figures. Ha’aretz reporter Amir Oren went so far as to opine that Rubinstein should be awarded the Yigal Amir and Osama bin Laden prize for the support of international crime for his recommendation to fire Mizrachi.
The charge of collusion between the press and various law enforcement officials is not a new one. Amnon Dankner, the editor of Ma’ariv, has made the exposure of the this clique his personal hobbyhorse in recent years. But for the charges to come from the mouth of the Attorney-General about officials whom he is charged with overseeing, including the State Attorney’s office, gave them special force. Suddenly Rubintein was saying the things about the Israeli press more typically associated with the religious and right-wing communities.
Rubinstein did not spare his lash. He characterized Israeli journalism as "superficial, ignorant, and unethical, with its targets clearly marked in advance." This "new journalism, Israeli-style, amounts to little more than a sustained campaign to suppress other opinions," said the Attorney-General. As an example, he cited Ha’aretz’s coverage of his report on Mizrachi, which he described as partial and distorted. The self-styled paper "for those who think," Rubinstein charged, had chosen instead to "think for its readers, by placing a wall between them and the information that would allow them to make a proper evaluation."
For good measure, the Attorney-General attributed his shabby treatment at the hands of Ha’aretz to the fact that he wears a yarmulke. "In that paper," he said, "anyone who does not belong to the right camp has no chance."
(That last charge by Rubinstein was a huge tactical mistake. Not only did it allow his adversaries to avoid addressing the main thrust of his comments and focus instead on a side issue, but it was also entirely unsubstantiated. It would be hard to point to any decision of Rubinstein’s particularly sympathetic to religious interests. And a number of his decisions have severely harmed both Torah values and the religious community. The Attorney-General has made it easier to terminate life-support to critically ill patients. And his ruling that yeshivos ketanos cannot be funded both from the budgets of the Religions Ministry and the Educational Ministry, even though there are numerous other examples of such "double funding," has plunged the entire yeshiva ketana system into a financial crisis.)
The weakness of the responses to Rubinstein suggested the extent to which his criticism had hit the mark. Dr. Nitza Shapira-Libai, the acting head of the Press Association, accused him of a failure to understand the meaning of freedom of the press. She seemed to confuse freedom of the press with freedom of the press from criticism.
Most of those implicated by the Attorney-General’s remarks wisely tended to focus on his weakest of claim – i.e., that of bias against him on account of his yarmulke. In the process, Rubinstein’s critics provided unwitting support of his claim, "When they can’t deal with the facts you present, they attack you ad hominem for pointing them out." Sarah Sirota, a senior judge on the Tel Aviv District Court and a former prosecutor, accused Rubinstein of being a crybaby, who should get out of the kitchen if he can’t take the heat.
State Attorney Edna Arbel, who clashed publicly with Rubinstein over the recommendation to remove Mizrachi and is competing with him for a seat on the Supreme Court, expressed her sadness that Rubinstein felt discriminated against and her hope that he does not think that any of his nominal subordinates in the State Attorney’s office bear him any ill-will on account of his yarmulke.
Rubinstein’s critics had good reason to avoid substance. For the main thrust of his indictment of the press is hard to gainsay. As Maariv’s Dankner has shown, Ha’aretz devoted more coverage to Arbel’s 14-page defense of Mizrachi than to Rubinstein’s 68-page recommendation of dismissal. Readers of Ha’aretz would never have known that Mizrachi kept massive files of political information garnered from his wiretaps, or that those conducting the wiretaps repeatedly complained to him that the scope of the wiretaps was beyond that permitted by court orders.
Rubinstein rightly pointed out his critics’ hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to issues such as privacy and prosecutorial leaks. Rubinstein incurred the wrath of Ha’aretz for his investigation of the leaks from prosecutor Liora Glatt-Berkowitz to Ha’aretz reporter Barch Kra in the Cyril Kern loan affair. The paper labeled Rubinstein’s subpoena of Kra’s telephone records a gross breach of press freedom. Yet the paper found nothing amiss in the extensive, and far more invasive, wiretapping of Knesset members by Mizrachi. In the latter case, all the paper’s artillery was employed in defense of Mizrachi, who is a fecund source of leaks and can be counted on to pursue investigations supported by Ha’aretz.
Indeed, as Dankner has written, it is not altogether clear whether the police and the prosecutors use the press or the press uses them. At times it seems that certain reporters are instructing the law enforcement authorities whom and how to investigate.
Maariv columnist Ben-Dror Yemini recently provided a good example of how the press attempts to guide prosecutor. Yediot’s Mordechai Gilat has written extensively about the so-called Greek Isles affair and Prime Minister Sharon’s involvement. Nevertheless, senior prosecutor Anat Savidor (the daughter of a former Likud politician) reached the conclusion that there was not a sufficient basis to charge the Prime Minister. Her decision was sharply criticized by certain leading investigative reporters. Shortly thereafter, the "mafia" (in Yemini’s words) took out a contract on Savidor. A local Jerusalem journalist tapped his conversation with her about the case (in which she revealed nothing not already known) and a copy of the tape was sent to the State Attorney’s office. As a consequence, Savidor was suspended from her job and another prosecutor assigned to the case.
Thus the very same "mafia" which complained so loudly of Rubinstein’s investigation of prosecutorial leaks in the Kern loan affair itself entrapped a prosecutor with whom it was dissatisfied into a trumped-up leak. That’s what happens to those who interfere with the efforts of certain leading journalists to appoint themselves the accuser, judge, and executioner all in one.
A great debt is owed to Attorney-General Rubinstein for exposing the modus operandi of the Israeli press. As a consequence, it is hoped that the next time the chareidi population or some other disfavored group complains of unfair press coverage that those claims will be treated more seriously.
Related Topics: Israeli Society, Israeli Supreme Court
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