Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Teves 5760 - December 22, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
History Repeats Itself: Promoting Personality Cults

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

The positive attitude the press, the television, and the radio show toward Ehud Barak is widely known, especially to Barak himself. The Prime Minister is well aware that the media backs him fully, that they have adopted a biased, partial approach to him, and that this was an important factor in his being elected last May instead of the incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu. Barak is trying his utmost to eliminate any possible damage to his favorable media image. Furthermore, the Prime Minister is taking special pains to project the impression of being a revered leader immune to any "mortal" criticism.

Despite media silence, there are a few reporters who wonder about Barak's gaining control of Israeli public opinion through recognized methods of massive brainwashing. Uri Aurbach in Yediot Achronot, the largest afternoon newspaper in Israel, writes sarcastically about a media department in the Prime Minister's Office:

"According to what has been made known we are not talking about a mere media department in the Prime Minister's office, but a whole brigade or even division to deal with the media. At this rate, Binyamin Netanyahu will be the only veteran media expert not employed by Barak. The only amazing fact is how Barak can make do with only 50 people in this media department. According to my calculations, Barak needs 50 people just to help him with his speeches. A Prime Minister of such a world power cannot limit himself to less than five speech writers in every language. He can hardly survive with less than ten permanent media investigators, another three to four people to insert pesukim and Hebrew poems in his speeches, not to mention about the indispensable typists, five or six response writers for immediate reaction to the most insignificant event or criticism, another two to three to deny what was said or written in his name, four to five experts of body language and advisors to teach him on which side to be photographed, editors, proofreaders for composition and punctuation mistakes, a special choreographer for hand movements and the art of biting one's lips, and naturally, at least one full-time permanent assistant to make one of the following comments after each appearance: `That speech was wonderful, Mr. Prime Minister.' `I received many splendid reactions to your moving speech, Mr. Prime Minister.' `This has never happened before! People are simply calling all the time to thank you for your speech, Mr. Prime Minister.'"

Uri Aurbach is considered a Rightist newspaper reporter and is not afraid to express these contrary views. But even in Ha'aretz, a popular Israeli morning newspaper, Yoel Marcus, who is personally identified with the Left side of the Israeli political map and asked his readers before the last Knesset elections to vote for Barak, is worried about the Prime Minister's intention to prevent any internal or external criticism. Marcus writes:

"After the Norwegian law is passed and another 23 Knesset members will have no desire to overthrow the government, Barak will become the only ruler without a party breathing down his neck and without a system of checks and balances. He will rule, it would appear, with the help of a commando of 50 spokesmen and a war room operating 24 hours a day. This frightening agency will ensure that the government speaks with one voice, his voice, and we will gradually be turned into brainwashed citizens."

I have not written the above without a firm basis. Everyone has noticed the media silence of the last few months. The current government has enjoyed special and unlimited privileges. Barak has become a politician protected from any criticism. His decisions are accepted indisputably and his failures are not publicly discussed. Writers have hidden their normally sharpened pens and are behaving like trained dogs waiting for their master's commands. Many of them are chained by the solemn promises Barak gave before and after the elections to execute long-term positive changes, and they are not ready to destroy the thesis they themselves helped inflate. Except for a few minor critical notes that these reporters write to show their apparent objectivity, the media has been very supportive of the Prime Minister. They forgive any of his mistakes. Any minute criticism is pushed to one side and sinks into a deep pool of praise. From the time of Ben Gurion never has there been an Israeli prime minister privileged to have an "official" media like this one, striving to elevate the ruler of the government, to show only his favorable side, to promote almost messianic hope for a better future, and to imbue in the nation with a reverence bordering on blind worship and personality cult.

It is difficult to evaluate the degree to which this well- oiled system is succeeding in its influence on public opinion. One thing is for sure: It has done a good job influencing Barak himself. He reads the flattering newspapers and listens to the endless buzzing of praise from the "yes men" around him. It is no wonder that he has started to feel elevated above other mortals.

Chazal have taught us that a person's acts must always be reviewed by others and he must love rebuke. Only when man is under consistent supervision and examination, when others check carefully whether his deeds indicate any deviation from the truth, can he be saved from errors. A person is naturally blind to his own faults and must rely on external reprimanding and inspection.

This does not refer only to young students who need supervision. Even gedolei Yisroel who refined themselves for many years in Torah and yiras Shomayim, appointed maggids to rebuke them after careful examination of their deeds. They knew that a true friend admonishes the one he loves.

If this holds true even for those who have reached sublime levels in pure avodas Hashem, surely when dealing with low-level politics, business and power, there is a vital need for constant examination, without which it is easy for one to deteriorate rapidly.

Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler ztvk'l said that even a chareidi movement with all its activists and workers Torah- observant, can only prevent itself from ideological deviations and ensure it will function strictly according to the light of the Torah and halocho when it is forced to take into consideration the public opinion of the Torah- observant who are subservient to gedolei Yisroel. He writes:

"`For the bribe blinds the wise and perverts the words of the tzaddikim' (Shemos 23:8) refers to wise people and tzaddikim according to the Torah. People leading any movement encounter endless challenges. A movement desperately needs the disinterested opinion of Torah sages, and without such an opinion guiding them, it is possible they will make mistakes that will damage the objective itself. The movement cannot see what awaits them in the future. Aguda is lucky since it must take into consideration those associated with it, a factor that obligates it to follow its objectives and which surely must be in matters of cardinal importance" (Mishnas Rebbe Aharon, vol. 3, Al Daas Torah).

Even in recent times all nations have recognized the need for checks on government. It is no secret that dictatorships and despots were primarily concerned with choking off all public criticism. They made sure to prevent any active opposition to their government and to display those opposing their government as being mentally insane. Communism succeeded in controlling Russia for decades only because of their continual brainwashing. Their control did not suffer from any criticism and they enlisted the help of their official newspaper Pravda.

We as Torah-true Jews do not consider even western democracy as the ideally advisable lifestyle. Democracy has its own disadvantages, but it has the great advantage of setting restraining forces against rulers and those in powerful positions. The possibility of exposing wrongdoing and criticizing those in power prevents the government from doing whatever it wishes.

From America come two well known sayings to demonstrate the fear of a tyrannical government and how to prevent it. The first saying is: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The second tells us: "Sunlight is the best public disinfectant there is."

Indeed the way to prevent the creation of absolute power that corrupts absolutely those in positions of power is the ability to expose injustices and publicly condemn them.

What has happened in the State of Israel these last few months shows its citizens they are living in an imaginary democracy. If the strange and revolting behavior of the judicial system and the police -- who have devoted so much effort in investigating marginal infractions, if there were any, of the past Prime Minister, but do nothing in connection with the suspicions concerning the associations that helped the present Prime Minister to be elected -- was not enough, the earsplitting silence of the media with regard to the mistakes of the current government is totally unbearable.

We all know the type of aggressive attack the media would have launched had the strike of the disabled people in Israel and the crisis of its health system taken place during the period of the previous administration. Now, in comparison, there is complete silence, although the Prime Minister placed these matters at the center of his election campaign and said only a few months ago that the "concern for the weak" is at the top of his list of priorities. Everyone is aware of this but no one cites these slogans and speeches or plays the recordings of the election broadcasts that could totally confound the Prime Minister.

Even whimsical ideas of setting up a casino that had suffered scornful criticism during the previous administration encounter silence today. We still remember the media turning a blind eye when a Likud activist was strangely killed the day before the elections after a fight with a Leftist activist. It is not necessary to continue to list the many contradictions since they are well known.

We will only point out that secular politicians (even from Ehud Barak's party) who want to criticize his way or style have no choice but to contact reporters of Yated Ne'eman! They pour out their hearts to us and say they must come to us because the general media is not "overjoyed" to allow them to express their criticism.

This immunity that the current Israeli administration and the Prime Minister enjoy arouses much concern. History has shown us what happens when rulers are immune to criticism and employ media in the style of Pravda. The fear is not only that "we have been turned into brainwashed citizens," as the solitary reporter wrote. The atmosphere that allows a politician to think he is more elevated than a mortal is no less dangerous.

No one is infallible. Slowly the public will discern the continual fallibility of the present government. Even during their "hundred days of grace" many citizens were disgusted with the pretentious behavior of the heads of the government and the forgiving attitude of the media toward them. In the past the Jewish people have suffered from leaders and governments who thought they could enjoy unlimited power and do as they wished. Heaven, however, soon showed them that even they are mortals and their governments fell with a loud bang.

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