Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Iyar 5760 - May 24, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Sponsored by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by

Opinion & Comment
They See What They Want Us to See and Hear What They Want Us to Hear

by S. Yisraeli

It is no secret that the secular Israeli press considers itself to be the guardian of the sacred task of "educating" the masses regarding the righteousness of the left-wing cause, especially when it comes to the current peace process.

But it is now becoming increasingly clear that Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his cohorts have come to the conclusion that the left-leaning tendencies of the press can be used to their advantage, even if it means fabricating stories and "political developments" out of whole cloth.

A recent study by the Israel Institute for Democracy describes one such episode, namely the euphoria that took hold of the Israeli regarding the much-talked-about-though- never-realized "final agreement with Syria."

The media worked overtime loudly declaring that a peace deal was only days or weeks away. Only when the lies of the headlines were shattered on the wall of reality at the Clinton-Assad Summit meeting in Geneva did the scope of the scandal become known.

"Well known journalists and experienced commentators fell prey to the preferences of their sources and of themselves regarding the imminent success of the Israeli-Syrian negotiations," writes Avner Hofstein of Yediot Acharonot.

Almost without reservations, the press adopted the stance that an agreement with Syria was completed, and that a withdrawal from the Golan had been agreed to. All of the other delays, threats and hesitations were part of predictable tactics. Throughout the entire period, and with the intention of coming to the Clinton-Asad Summit meeting in Geneva, the reporters tended to relate to peace with Syria as a fait accompli.

"The feeling that beneath the freeze, brisk activity is taking place, was an outgrowth of the optimism which Ehud Barak's people had been expressing since the summit meeting at Shepherdstown," Hofstein recalled.

This optimism was strengthened by the report of Amnon Abramowitz on Channel One in the beginning of March: "I would say with the required caution, that within approximately three to five weeks, the agreement with Syria which will include the solution of the problem with Lebanon, will be put before the Knesset, the government and the Israeli public.

"I would now venture to say that the agreement is complete, and already packaged," Abramowitz continued. "I can say that the professionals have completed their work; the details are clear; the draft is ready, and the time to finalize the decision has come."

Three weeks later, when the Israelis were told about the arrival of Clinton and Assad at the Summit meeting in Geneva, they considered it "clear proof" that the supposition was correct, Hofstein pointed out.

The editors of Channel One news program were filled with professional pride, especially on the background of the doubts the newspapers circulated on the day following Abramowitz's sensational report. Again and again, they repeated Abramowitz's remarks, and the editor of the program, Elisha Speigleman noted with satisfaction: "We already told you this before."

However, when it became clear that no agreement was or apparently ever will be presented to the government and to the public, Abramowitz and his editors didn't think that it was necessary to explain themselves or to apologize to their audience.

Hofstein notes that Abramowitz was not the only culprit.

Throughout the month of March, the list of journalists, who were enamored with the idea of the imminent agreement with Syria, swelled. These journalists gave added weight to the "technical reactions" that testified that something was brewing.

At the same time, they brushed aside underlying hints such as Syria's refusal to renew the direct negotiations, its defamatory remarks about Israel in the Syrian papers, and Assad's intransigence regarding the right to swim and fish in the Kinneret.

Meanwhile, Amnon Abramowitz refuses to admit that he erred. He noted that those in the immediate circle of the Prime Minster indeed conveyed the impression that the time for the decision was nearing, and that the meal was ready, but that the question of whether Assad would agree to eat it, remained open.

On the other hand, Shalom Yerushalmi a Maariv reporter felt that his sources misled him. At first he reported in his column in the local tabloid Zman Yerushalayim that the deal was sealed, but later on apologized to his readers, and laid the blame on the doorstep of the Prime Minster and his aides, who, as he said, "spread high hopes among the commentators and reporters, tempting us to believe that we had substantial information at our fingertips."

"A week after I published my column, I spoke with a reliable source in the Office of the Prime Minster," Yerushalmi said." And he told me that not only is everything finalized, and that they are coming to sign in Geneva, but also that they are about to schedule a date for the meeting between all three sides. In other words, the check is ready, and all that has to be done is to sign it. That is how he expressed himself."

Yerushalmi divides up the blame: "It could be that we are to blame, because of our blind acceptance of whatever the Office of the Prime Minster says, and our failure to develop alternate sources, not among the Arabs or the White House. But perhaps the chevra in Barak's office also acted inappropriately. After all they have a responsibility. This story undermines many of the norms by which we work. Next time, even if I receive information from the horse's mouth itself, I won't trust it."

Oded Granot, a Maariv commentator on Arab issues, told Avner Hofstein: "I have a bad feeling that some of my colleagues were victims of the dis-information campaign, which presented the agreement as completed and ready. There is no doubt that promises like that, which announce the advent of an agreement, serve the interests of the Office of the Prime Minister, and help it advertise its activities.

"The problem is that it is impossible to correlate things," he said. "With whom can a correlation be made? The Foreign Affairs Ministry is out of the picture. The Americans made a conceptual mistake, and the difficulty to penetrate Assad's mind is genuine. Unlike with Egypt and Jordan, in this case, there is no one we can call."

Ronen Yishai claims: "They used me, without a doubt. The story was leaked to me, as part of the maneuvering of a negotiation which was meant to create a certain ambiance and to convey a message: we're amenable. But then that's legitimate, since the facts were basically correct." Amnon Abramowitz doggedly insists on not admitting the mistake he made at the outset. "I don't accept the determination that this was an instance of manipulation. Those in the Prime Minister's circle made the impression that they had conveyed a correct portrayal of the situation.

Actually they were far more cautious than Clinton, Mubarak and Arafat, for whom everything appeared rosy.

The write-up in Ha'Ayin Hashevi'it ends with the reaction of Dr. Eyal Zieiser, the head of the Syrian desk in the Dayan Center. Dr. Zieser believes that the media exaggerated all along.

"The press served as a piece in a game. A few weeks before the summit, when I saw that the Syrian media was speaking about the banks of the Kinneret as their land, I understood that they were referring to an inviolate condition from Assad's point of view."

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.