Debunking the Im Tirzu report part II: Ha’ir media critic on journalism as propaganda
Other recent posts on the latest wave of suppression of dissent in Israel | Essays Hadas Ziv; Hagai El-Ad; Yariv Mohar; Aeyal Gross;Dorit Abramovitch | News and analysis IDF joins assault on Israeli human rights community;Israeli media goes after New Israel Fund: “Responsible for Goldstone Report”; Hagee and CUFI fund anti-NIF campaign organizer; Two senior Maariv reporters attack the anti-NIF campaign sponsored by their newspaper; Following the Im Tirzu campaign: First Knesset steps against NIF; Israeli McCarthyism, circa 2010; Debunking the Im Tirzu report part I: Keshev’s Yizhar Be’er |
What is the difference between Ben Caspit and a reporter? A reporter would have checked the content of the charges that the organizations gave Goldstone, verified them or not, and establish his view of the issue based on his findings. Caspit, however, does not care about verifying the facts; he is here to uphold the approach he came with
Itay Ziv [media critic], Ha’ir [Tel-Aviv weekly owned by Haaretz], February 5 2010 Issue [Hebrew original here]
The difference between Ben Caspit and a reporter is that a reporter checks the facts, and Ben Caspit does not have to. Once they are included in the Goldstone report, for example, they are no longer important. Why? Well, because Justice Richard Goldstone is “a loathsome liar,” according to Caspit. Let us, for the moment, set aside the question of why Goldstone did not file a libel suit against Caspit and Maariv, the newspaper he works for (probably because he is an internationally renown legal expert who does not care much about being slandered by this or that Caspit). What is more important is the chain of the underlying assumptions of the Caspit article that adorned the cover of Maariv’s Musafshabat supplement last weekend (“The Stuff the Goldstone Report Is Made Of”) and was given a front-page banner (reading “The New Fund and the Industry of Lies”).
That article was based on an inspection conducted by a movement named Im Tirzu (“if you wish”), which argued that almost half of the Israeli sources quoted in the Goldstone report are organizations that have one thing in common: they are all sponsored by the New Israel Fund. Furthermore, when Im Tirzu isolated only the negative quoted passages — that is, claims about IDF wrongdoing — it turned out that 92% of them were furnished by those same organizations. Caspit and Maariv celebrated the “disclosure,” branded it “an exclusive scoop,” and carried fancy banners on the paper’s front pages, as noted. This was a celebrated political charge sheet disguised as a journalistic achievement. What exactly is the achievement? After all, every remark cited in the [Goldstone] report came with a clear reference to its source, specifying exactly what organization it was taken from. Furthermore, the fact that the NIF sponsors some of those organizations is no secret matter; it actually takes pride in that. If Caspit had bothered to read the report properly, including its reference list, he would have single-handedly found the “incriminating material” that he is now celebrating. As one of those who came out against the report from the day it was published, it was actually Caspit’s duty to do so. It seems, however, that he did not do the bare minimum he was required to, and so he shamelessly established his article on a “research” by an ephemeral and clearly politically-motivated movement, gave it a stage it could not even dream of and, to validate his accusations – that is, its accusations – he even exalted its leader, a 29-years-old character.Thus he did the same thing he had attributed to the cooperation between the Goldstone committee and the Israeli human rights organizations: “they scratch each other’s back and promote each other, as long as their common agenda wins.”
The hidden assumption at the core of the Caspit article is that the Goldstone report is illegitimate and thus each and every one of the claims or testimonies it contains is false. This a far-reaching assumption that was borrowed one-for-one from the government position — I am speaking of the broadest meaning of the term, referring not to the political position of the government under Netanyahu – against whom Caspit has been conducting a personal campaign, for his own reasons – but to the ruling position that currently stands above the facts. This is the core difference between Ben Caspit and a true reporter. A reporter would have first checked the facts and, based on those, would determine his position later. Caspit, however, has a basic attitude toward the facts the article is based on it. In the specific case before us, a reporter would have checked the content of the claims that the organizations made to Goldstone, verified them or not, and established his view of the issue based on his findings. If he found them wrong, he would have had an opportunity to screw those organizations, as well as Goldstone himself, which is what Caspit, the star of the Maariv team, has been dreaming of. Caspit, however, does not care about verifying the facts; he is here to uphold the approach that he came with and, in most cases, he does that by simply declaring it. In philosophy, this is called “assuming the consequent.”In this case, this conceptual distortion bred a journalistic absurdity. Throughout his entire piece, Caspit rages against a series of arguments and quotations without citing their reference or verifying their veracity. He hides that because, no matter what their content might be, once they were given to Goldstone, he views them as “contaminated” – that is, scheming against him and the position he serves, which is why they are compartmentalized. In this context, we should pay attention to Caspit’s choice of words when he describes how it worked: “The organizations provided him (Goldstone, I.Z.) with the references… offering the committee incriminating materials.” That is to say, no one argues that the testimonies were true (they have “references”) and that they can substantiate real accusations against the IDF activities (they are “incriminating”), and the only trouble is that now this has been made known abroad as well – and that should have been prevented.
This is how journalism serves propaganda.
One of clauses in the charge sheet that Caspit authored is practically misleading. He wrote, “When there is ‘proof’ from Israeli sources, it is viewed as a Goldstone achievement… saying, ‘There you have it. Look at what the Israelis are saying about their own army’” – as if to say that the committee went looking for opinions, not facts; as if its report is based on position papers by leftists who expressed their aesthetic displeasure with the military operation, and not on testimonies that Israeli organizations collected from Palestinians (Yesh Din, B’tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, and others) and soldiers (Breaking the Silence). Caspit, however, cannot tell a view and a fact, and facts from proofs. After all, whenever he came across an argument that the committee received from an Israeli source, he turned it inside out, emptying it of its content and turning it into an empty shell. Now, he can sell those empty shells by the pound, create statistics or internal classifications, and use them to provide “the research” with an objective, scientific aura. This is how reality is created from the void. In this lopsided reality, where “inspection” and “criticism” are derogatory terms, the accused currently facing the tribunal is the New Israel Fund – an association established to promote democracy, liberty, and equality in the State of Israel by sponsoring dozens of social organizations.
For a moment there, even Caspit could not understand this upside-down reality. It was unclear to him how, on the one hand, the NIF supports some 300 organizations, most of which “engage in most welcome social activities,” while on the other hand it sponsors those 16 rebellious organizations. The solution he found for this momentary lapse of reason attests to his narrow-mindedness: “(is) the New Israel Fund actually planting a fifth column here… and covers it up with welcome social activities?” he asked. Caspit made this stupid assumption because he was unable to grasp, with his limited mental resources, how one aspect of the NIF activities complement the other, how humanitarianism works domestically and externally at the same time. He is incapable of understanding that because, as far as Gaza is concerned, the ruling government position bans this. This is very much unlike the case of, say, Haiti – where the propaganda made the connection between the importance of extending aid externally to the domestic fabric of life. Caspit’s role, after all, is to reflect that.In his conclusion, Caspit writes about the human rights organizations: “They are winning big in the public opinion. Israel bleeds, IDF generals hide in their Kiria offices, foreign leaders cancel their visits, Israeli goods are taken off the shelves, and this is only the beginning.” According to him, Israel’s international image is at a low because the organizations revealed what happened in Operation Cast Lead, not because of the things that happened in Operation Cast Lead. Metaphorically speaking, the problem according to Caspit is not that a person was robbed of his life in a street corner murder, but that the public has learned about the murder. This is the same old flaw: a dissociation between inside and out; results separated from motivations; an effect without a cause.
Given that this is how reality is perceived – and that Caspit both creates and represents that reality – in the current Israeli climate, all we can do is beg people to make the right connections between results and motivations. Such people can be found in the organizations mentioned in the article. So, in a way, Caspit did a good thing by publicizing them.