The Israel news media seems to be comprised of alternate, parallel universes right out of a sci-fi novel. (I¹m not referring to the loony-tune world of conspiracy theorists.) Important news items, supported by hard facts and documentation, published by Arutz-7, Makor Rishon, or at Yoav Yitzchaki¹s NewsFirstClass website, are regularly ignored by the three dominant newspapers and broadcast media.
The mainstream press often acts like a wolf pack protecting those whom it has anointed for protection and tearing into those who have incurred its disfavor. That "mobilization" on behalf of particular parties and agendas inevitably takes its toll on the quality of Israeli democracy.
Two stories found last week on Yoav Yitzchaki’s website illustrate the point. (Yitzchaki, it will be remembered, is the investigative reporter whose revelations brought to an end the late Ezer Weizman¹s term as president.)
His first scoop concerned Prime Minister Olmert’s sale and purchase of two apartments in the Old Katamon and German Colony neighborhoods. Here are the facts supplied by Yitzchaki. In January 2004, Olmert sold his 461 square meter apartment in Old Katamon to American billionaire Daniel Abraham, the patron saint of many a left-wing Israeli politician (the State Comptroller is currently investigating Abraham¹s large contributions to Shimon Peres prior to the last Labor primary), for $2.7 million, or $5,857 per square meter. He then rented the apartment back from Abraham for $2,600 per month.
Later that year, Olmert purchased on paper a 310 square meter apartment, with a very large garden and two parking spaces, in the Germany Colony. The cash purchase price of $1,025,000, comes out to $3,306 per square meter of living space, apart from the garden and parking spaces. Thus Olmert sold an old apartment, in need of repairs, in Old Katamon, for nearly twice the price per meter of a brand new apartment in the German Colony.
Yet real estate prices in the German Colony, according to Yitzchaki, average 10-15% higher than in Old Katamon. To prove the point, he notes that the next purchaser in the prime minister¹s new building paid $6,000 per square meter, without an attached garden.
Even more curious, according to Yitzchaki¹s calculations, the developer who sold Olmert his new pad, invested at least $4,849 per square meter to purchase and develop the site where the Prime Minister¹s new apartment is located¬ i.e., 36% more than Olmert paid. At the time of the purchase contract, Olmert sat as head of the Israel Land Administration.
Before the purchase contract was signed, the developer received written assurances from Osnat Post, head of the Jerusalem Municipality’s Planning Department, and a subordinate of City Engineer Uri Shitreet, an Olmert associate, in which she committed herself to securing approval of the developer’s plan to completely rebuild the existing structure and add a floor. The city comptroller subsequently found both the permission to knock down the existing structure and to add an additional floor to be contrary to the municipal building plan.
Though Yitzchaki posted the story with a headline accusing the Prime Minister of having received a bribe of over $1,000,000 from the developer, Olmert¹s sale of his old apartment and the purchase of a new one would seem newsworthy even absent any hint of criminality. Readers enjoy such textbook illustrations of the first rule of economics: ¬buy cheap; sell dear. And while it is doubtful Olmert would be anyone¹s first choice for the title "citizen above suspicion", even his most ardent supporters would presumably be happy to know that our prime minister is such a clever fellow and real estate maven.
Nevertheless, Yitzchaki¹s most recent revelations fell, like David Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature, "dead-born from the press." Neither the mainstream print nor broadcast media showed much interest.
Indeed it was not Yitzchaki¹s week. Another bombshell published at his NFC site also fell dead-born.
Journalist Elazar Levin revealed that nearly two years ago Rabbi Chaim Druckman, head of the conversion authority in the Prime Minister¹s office, signed a certificate of conversion, which stated in Aramaic that a particular candidate for conversion had come before a beit din of the three undersigned rabbis to be converted. The only problem was that the alleged conversion took place in Warsaw, and Rabbi Druckman, one of the signatories, was in Israel that day. On the face of it, then, the beit din mandated by halacha to perform conversions never existed. Not in Warsaw; and not in Israel.
When confronted by Attorney-General Mani Mazuz with the discrepancy between the certificate and the facts, Rabbi Druckman explained that at the last minute he cancelled a scheduled flight to Warsaw, but since he had promised the prospective converts (i.e., more than one) that he would convert them, he signed the certificates anyway.
In a subsequent court proceeding in Israel, the would-be convert testified that she wanted to convert "in order to marry and make aliyah." Both the acknowledgment of the financial incentive of immigrant rights and the desire to marry would likely have rendered her conversion halachically invalid.
In a letter to Mazuz, Shimon Yaakobi, the legal advisor to the rabbinical court system, mentioned that there were tens of other cases in his files of affidavits signed by Rabbi Druckman that raised suspicions similar to those in the case under discussion.
After receiving Yaakobi’s letter, Mazuz took no action on the file for nearly a year. At that point, he sent Rabbi Druckman a strongly worded letter calling his attention to numerous apparent violations of the law, including false testimony and violating civil service regulations by performing conversions outside of the country while on the state payrolll. But after the strong admonition, Mazuz informed Rabbi Druckman that he saw no need to open a criminal investigation.
Like Olmert, Rabbi Druckman is viewed by the media as one of the good guys. He was appointed by former Prime Minister Sharon to dramatically increase the number and speed of conversions, and seems fully committed to the task. The media, which is not overly sensitive to the requirements of halacha, supports that goal, and has therefore wrapped its protective mantle around Rabbi Druckman.
So has Mazuz. Even though Druckman¹s actions have completely undermined his credibility, and thus his ability to supervise conversions (not to mention calling into question the validity of hundreds of conversions he has performed in the past), Mazuz let him off without even a slap on the wrist. Isn¹t this the same Mazuz who has pursued Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, whose alleged crimes were far less connected to his official duties than Rabbi Druckman’s, with the tenacity of Inspector Jaubert and demanded his resignation?
Not only does the press wield vast discretionary power, subject to no clear standards, so does the Attorney-General.