At the Makor Reshon newspaper’s “70 Years of Democracy” conference, no right-wing organization was given a platform. The Israel Democracy Institute, on the other hand, starred in every panel
“Makor Rishon” held a joint conference with the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) a week ago entitled “70 Years of Democracy.” Apart from the newspaper’s reporters, other journalists and a number of civil servants and politicians, only members of the IDI were allowed to speak. Not a single right-wing organization was invited to the conference to balance the leftist positions expressed by the Institute.
One of the IDI’s representatives was Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, a member of Meretz’s Executive Board. In the late 1990s, a committee he headed wrote the Civics curriculum, which for many years was biased in favor of the extreme left. Another participant was Prof. Yedidya Stern, who supports judicial imperialism on almost every issue, opposes the passage of the Basic Law on Legislation in addition to the Nationality Law, which according to him, violates the imaginary balance between the Jewish and democratic natures of the state.
On another panel, Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler spoke. She is the head of the IDI’s Media Reform program, whose life project is to strengthen regulation of the Israeli media by destroying industry competition.
This conference was not the first time that “Makor Rishon” denigrated right-wing organizations. Last summer, the paper held a conference on economic issues with the IDI. Only those associated with the Institution were allowed to speak. In July 2015, “Makor Rishon” also chose to partner with the Institute, when they organized a conference commemorating a decade since the disengagement.
On the eve of Yom Kippur last year, “Makor Rishon” chose to publish a special issue of the legendary “Tzedek” supplement, with a large part of it consisting of columns written by IDI employees. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, who advocates heavy regulation of marketing content in the electronic media, ironically wrote two columns for the supplement, which was most likely financed by the IDI.
The Disguised Left
The definition of the IDI as a left-wing organization inevitably stems from the way in which the Institute defines the concept of democracy. The Center for Democratic Values and Institutions, the IDI’s main project, is:
“… dedicated to fortifying the democratic values and institutions of the State of Israel, based on the humanistic foundations of Judaism and the liberal foundations of Zionism. The Center seeks to strengthen the commitment of Israeli policymakers, opinion shapers and decision makers to the fundamental tenets of Israeli democracy, including freedom, equality, civil rights, separation of powers, transparency and the rule of law.”
In other words, the Institute adopted the left’s false definition of democracy. It is not a mechanism for transmitting the will of citizens into government actions, but rather a tool to achieve the abstract principles of human rights, which are subject to the interpretation of unelected elements such as Supreme Court justices and “gatekeepers.”
All the extensive activities of the IDI in the areas of government, economics, religion and state, security and the media derive its strength from this mistaken, and politically biased, definition of the concept of democracy.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with the IDI being a leftist organization. The problem stems from the cover that the IDI uses as a “professional body,” devoid of political orientation.
The very attempt to claim that one is apolitically dealing with the issues at the core of the political discourse in Israel is a transparent fantasy. Just as those on the left have unquestionably embraced the claim that the Supreme Court is a professional institution devoid of a political agenda, there are elements on the left, such as the IDI, who claim transparent objectivity.
The Old Right and the New Left
When the clearly leftist bodies, such as the media in Israel or the courts, embrace the political neutrality of the IDI, it is nothing more than a masquerade. After all, the same bodies are trying to achieve a similar status, though the general public has long since called their bluff. “Makor Rishon” joining their ranks justifies a raised eyebrow.
“Makor Rishon” seeks recognition as a serious and in depth media tool of the Israeli right. It covers the internal dialogue between the variety of opinions within the right, and sometimes even outside of it. At its finest hour, the newspaper was an important and central partner in exposing the real face of the Israeli elites and removing the political mask of neutrality from their faces.
How then, can one explain the ongoing love affair between the IDI and the paper?
In the past decade, the Israeli right has undergone an accelerated metamorphosis. The old right believed in the sincerity of the intentions of the various institutions in Israel and took the blame for the political bias within those institutions. The important article, “The Best Should Join the Media,” published by Uri Orbach in the periodical Nekuda (1987), is a clear example of this way of thinking:
“If there were among them two or three more religious Jews who were more Zionist and less cynical, they would have the chutzpah to ask the defense minister: “Sir, do not you feel ashamed to uproot settlements in the Land of Israel?” Or: “How do you explain the fact that we uproot dozens of flourishing settlements for a piece of paper whose value is dubious?” But we did not have a broadcaster there … If the ministers are already stammering, it would be better that they do so in the face of our questions, they should squirm due to those who have the courage to ask. They should have more than Nuweiba and the Dire Straits on their minds.”
In short, we are guilty for the left shift of the media establishment. If only we had sent our best boys to IDF Radio and not to the hill tops, perhaps Yamit would still be standing.
The national religious onslaught on the media was one stage of a broad phenomenon. It was preceded by attempted takeovers of combat units and law faculties for similar reasons.
This phenomenon, with all the revolutions it purported to bring about, failed miserably. The problem is not with us, that we did not enlist in the right military units or learned the right professions. It took decades, but the right realized that the problem is that these institutions cannot contain opinions different from the ones already held by the institutions’ personnel.
This insight, which to a large extent also crystallized in the pages of “Makor Rishon”, gave rise to a new right. A right that responds to politically biased institutions in three different ways:
When it comes to a biased government institution whose existence is necessary and vital, like the courts – the new right demands and expects its elected officials to exercise their authority to correct the bias and to fearlessly face the bureaucracy which is mourning the demise of its power.
When it comes to a biased government institution that is superfluous, like Army Radio, public broadcasting in general, or the Knesset’s Research and Information Center, the new right demands that it be shut down as part of its classical liberal worldview.
When it comes to a biased, elitist institution that is private, like the Israel Democracy Institute or the New Israel Fund, the new right creates alternatives to it. The Tikva Fund, the Kohelet Forum, the Movement for Governance and Democracy and Israel’s Media Watch are examples of such alternatives.
On the face of it, the alternatives created by the new right are supposed to find a comfortable home in the pages of “Makor Rishon” and on the conference stages organized by the newspaper, but it does not.
Trying to Fit in
“Makor Rishon”‘s editor-in-chief, Haggai Segal, apparently did not internalize the principles of the new right. He is still committed to the perception of the reality of the old right, which aspires to integrate into the pantheon of leftist elites and not to replace them. This is probably the reason why “Makor Rishon” maintains such close contact with the Israel Democracy Institute.
This alone, though, is not sufficient to explain why the representatives of the new right are neglected on the pages of the newspaper, and on the stages of its conferences. In order to understand this, one must understand another important characteristic of the old right.
The old right does not only want to integrate into the old elites, it wants to gain recognition from them. By virtue of the elite’s legitimacy and their power, it is thought that when they denounce a person, institution, or opinion as illegitimate or irrelevant, then it is so. Like the Jews of the Diaspora, the old right will look for the implied smile, the wink and reception into “their” ranks.
The exclusion of the right-wing organizations in “Makor Rishon” is a natural result of this way of thinking. These organizations constantly challenge the old elites and the IDI along with them.
These elites do not bother to respond to the factual and ideological arguments that are hurled at them. The strategy of insignificant attacks have turned the right-wing think tanks into mere pests. There is no discussion. The left ignores those who they do not think are relevant and (in their eyes) cannot make a proper argument.
If Haggai Segal would give an important platform representing the established views of the new right, he would undermine the strategy of disregard employed by the leftist elites. As a result, he would lose a very precious (in his eyes) asset. Statements that every right-wing person has heard such as “I read only Haaretz and Makor Rishon,” or “Makor Rishon is a right-wing newspaper, but it’s serious. It really challenges the discourse,” are a source of pride and money for Haggai Segal, man of the old right.
The Last of the Mohicans
It seems that Haggai Segal is the last representative of the old right who still holds some position of power. One wonders why he refuses to sober up and join the ranks of the new right.
But even if he maintains his ideological refusal, it seems that the time has come to grasp a simple truth: His refusal creates a barrier between himself and the natural target audience of his newspaper. He will not be able to continue to present himself as an important and central player in right-wing discourse, while constantly winking at the left in the name of an old-fashioned right-wing approach.
On the stage where Yedidya Stern sat on Sunday and spoke about the constitutional status of the Declaration of Independence, it should have been Professor Gideon Sapir of the Kohelet Forum, who could explain his vision of a constitutional regime in Israel.
Mordechai Kremnitzer, who bitterly lamented government corruption, could have been forced to respond to Ariel Finkelstein, who published an article that reveals that the source of corruption in Israel is the bureaucracy, not elected officials. In the panel dealing with the media, Tehilla Schwartz-Altshuler, should have been confronted by Elad Malka, the director general of Israel’s Media Watch. His confrontations with the Knesset committees led the Kish Committee about a month ago to prefer the positions of the new right over the disguised left.
If “Makor Rishon” grants the IDI the right to determine who will speak at the conference, it is no surprise that the Institute chooses to exclude those who do not think like it. After all, their top priority is not the promotion of democracy, but the promotion of their leftist worldview.
The criticism should be directed at “Makor Rishon”, who cooperates with this exclusion, and turns its back on its loyal readers.
*(Translated from Mida.org.il Hebrew)
Ziv Maor is the Editor of Mida Online magazine
[Find this article interesting? You can find more in depth articles on Israel and the Middle East @en.mida.org.il]