The Etrog: The Media, the Courts and Prime Minister Sharon during the Disengagement

, March 10, 2016

Abstract:

This article describes the protection and favor that the media and the courts extended to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from the moment that he announced the disengagement plan in December 2003 up to and after the withdrawal from Gaza and part of northern Samaria in August 2005. Senior journalist and commentator, Amnon Abramovich pioneered the idea of treating the prime minister like an “etrog” (the citron which is blessed during the Feast of Tabernacles [Sukkoth]) and stored in cotton and gauze. This gentle handling enabled Sharon to carry out the evacuation of settlements and escape criminal investigations. The media thus shifted from reporting and commenting on events to becoming a supporter of the reversal of Sharon’s stated policy by delegitimizing opponents of the disengagement and preventing the public debate. Amnon Lord, currently a columnist of the weekly Makor Rishon and an editor of the Hebrew website, Mida, describes the ‘group-think’ mentality of many Israeli journalists and commentators and discusses the frequently deleterious role of the media in dictating the public agenda. In this process, the media found willing partners in the legal system which harmed democracy in Israel.

Background: The Emergence of the Disengagement Plan

The outbreak of the Second Palestinian Intifada on first day of Rosh Hashana, September 28, 2000, confirmed the widely-held view that the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak had lost both the will and the ability to protect Israeli citizens. Such feelings had been present for much of Ehud Barak’s tenure.1 The ongoing intensity of Palestinian terrorism and the sharp decline of personal security ultimately resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Barak and new elections. On February 6, 2001, Likud candidate Ariel Sharon decisively defeated Barak (62-38 percent). Subsequently, Sharon led Israel during the long and difficult struggle against Palestinian terror. At the end of the bloody month of March 2002, Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield in order to reassert the Israel Defense Force’s fighting initiative. Palestinian terror had inflicted massive casualties everywhere. Long-term military actions, the IDF takeover of Islamist strongholds in the large towns of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the return of Israel’s deterrence gradually restored the public’s confidence that Palestinian terror could be defeated and that Israel could prevail in this struggle.

Therefore, on 18 December 2003, many Israelis were blindsided when Prime Minister Sharon in his address to the Herzliya Conference announced the disengagement plan. In an interview with veteran Haaretz columnist Yoel Marcus on 2 February 2004, the Prime Minister explained that his plan entailed evacuating the settlements in the Gaza Strip along with four settlements in northern Samaria. The idea of a unilateral withdrawal from territories that Israel had held since June 1967 had come up several times in the past. In fact, it actually was the centerpiece of the platform of the Labor Party, led by Amram Mitzna, in Knesset elections held on January 28, 2003. Sharon forcefully opposed this position, stating that “the fate of Netzarim [an isolated settlement in Gaza] is the same as fate of Tel Aviv.”2 The Likud, headed by Sharon, won the election and formed the government.

After the 2003 Likud victory and the formation of the government, a diplomatic campaign abroad and political activity at home began. Its purpose was to destroy the consensus in Israel. At the same time, Palestinian terror went on. On 1 December 2003, former Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, a former minister in the Palestinian Authority, officially launched the rogue Geneva Initiative, drafting a so-called “permanent status agreement” for the solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. As early as mid-October, its content became known, and it gained the support of many leftists in Israel and abroad. Moreover, on 24 September 2003, leading reservists, pilots in Israel’s Air Force, released a letter to the press in which they proclaimed their refusal to continue reporting for reserve duty. In late December 2003, a similar letter was issued by a group of reservists of the elite commando unit, Sayeret Matkal. Thus, Sharon may have felt increasing pressure to take unprecedented measures to end these campaigns that targeted him and his policies.

Following the interview with Yoel Marcus, Prime Minister Sharon began to cultivate the entrenched elites in order to build a new, pro-disengagement consensus. Such a process would take several months. In the meantime, critics of the disengagement plan voiced their reservations, claiming that it would undermine Israel’s security and negotiating capabilities. For example, Professor Uzi Arad of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, who later served as head of the National Security Council in the Netanyahu government, analyzed and evaluated the idea, objectives and consequences of a complete withdrawal from Gaza. Arad questioned the aims of the plan presented to Sharon.3 

According to Arad, the stated objectives of the plan were to gain diplomatic advantages as far as the Roadmap was concerned; to increase security; lessen the burden of the IDF presence in Gaza and achieve a broader understanding with the United States. Arad opined that with regard to security and diplomacy, this plan would encourage expectations that Israel would carry out further withdrawals. Namely, if the Jews are evacuating Gaza and getting nothing in return, it is because it is too difficult for Israel to retain Gaza. Furthermore, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah contingents in Gaza would conclude that they should intensify their pressure on Israel. Thus, there would be increasing demands upon Israel on all other fronts.

Other critics of the disengagement plan predicted that Gaza would become a base for terrorist activities that would pose a threat to Ashkelon and the western Negev. As I argued in my column in Makor Rishon: “The missile threat that now exists in the north will come to the south. Endangered Haifa will be joined by Tel Aviv.”4

In addition, critics of the disengagement anticipated that it would not contribute to American understanding of Israel’s position. Despite the fact that the letter of President Bush of 14 April 2004 was supposed to be a quid pro quo for the withdrawal, critics of plan realized that the international reaction to a withdrawal from Gaza would not result in an outpouring of good will toward the Jewish state but would encourage pressure to evacuate the West Bank as well. The theory of negotiations posits that unilateral, gratuitous concessions compromise the future negotiations. Such unilateral steps erode one’s bargaining power, and one ends up paying compound interest. Therefore, one should not give anything away for nothing. Indeed, Professor Arad predicted all of the above.

Furthermore, arguments about the costs and benefits of the disengagement notwithstanding, there is no doubt that in the decade since the withdrawal from Gaza, Israel lost the ability to conduct negotiations from a position of strength, with the Palestinians and other international actors. According to critics, whoever gives without getting something in exchange and rationalizes his actions as having an intrinsic value in their own right will discover that when he resumes negotiations and seeks give-and-take, he will be expected to capitulate.

Critics of the disengagement were troubled by the considerations noted above. Moreover, they found it hard to believe that those who planned the withdrawal from Gaza did not foresee its unintended security consequences. They could not help thinking that Sharon’s motives for the disengagement from Gaza stemmed from different reasons.5

Indeed, by turning to Yoel Marcus of Haaretz, Sharon revealed his real plan. Because Lieutenant General Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon, the IDF Chief of Staff, opposed the disengagement plan and declared that it would encourage support for terror, Sharon had to enlist the leaders of public opinion in order “sell” it to the citizens of Israel.6 According to the Director-General of the prime minister’s office, Dov Weisglass, Sharon was shocked by the announcement of the Geneva Initiative and by the two letters published by the reservists mentioned above. We do not know to what extent Sharon was influenced by these developments and to what extent they carried weight in forming his policy and its rationalization. It is clear, however, that Sharon still lived the trauma of the Left’s attack on him during Operation Peace for Galilee (the First Lebanon War) in 1982, along with the conclusions of the State Commission of Investigation of the massacres in Sabra and Shatila in Beirut and the memory of his subsequent resignation as Minister of Defense. Sharon’s close friend, journalist Uri Dan, told me that Sharon regarded the Geneva Initiative as bordering on treason, that fear of the leftist elites and the affects of the First Lebanon War may have influenced his decision to carry out the disengagement.

Finally and most important, early in 2004, the office of the State Attorney revived several previous criminal investigations against the prime minister. They focused upon the Cyril Kern and the Greek Island affairs. The outgoing state attorney, Edna Arbel, had wanted to indict the Prime Minister. The task, however, was passed to the new attorney-general, Menachem “Meni” Mazuz, who took office in January 2004.

Amnon Abramovich and the Idea of the “Etrog

Against the background described above, Amnon Abramovich, a veteran journalist and television commentator, called upon his colleagues in the media to unite and back Sharon to protect him from the potential negative consequences of the ongoing criminal investigations. About a year after Sharon had set forth the disengagement plan to Yoel Marcus, Abramovich came out with this declaration. In a discussion between Abramovich and leading fellow journalists, Amir Oren and Nahum Barnea, at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem in February 2005, he exhorted his colleagues in the following terms:

We have to protect Sharon like an etrog. Protect him in a sealed box padded with gauze, cotton and plastic wrap, at least until the end of the disengagement … Sharon is the one who was behind this whole endeavor [of the settlements] and if a good spirit has come to him toward the end of his days and he is prepared to undo it, in my opinion, he has to be protected not only against political troops but against legal ones as well. The etrog status [should be maintained] until the end of September 2005. After that, we’ll reconsider.7

Henceforth, the statement by Amnon Abramovich became the common expression for ensuring the protective treatment of an admired leader and for a type of journalism that follows a political agenda. In fact, Nahum Barnea, the leading columnist of the daily Yediot Aharonot, immediately pointed out why the Abramovich statement was problematic: “I have no interest in safeguarding Sharon more than he safeguards the law, justice and logic. It could be that we’ll wake up the day after the disengagement and ask ourselves what we lost along the way, apart from the matter of the disengagement.”8

Abramovich, however, was not to be deterred. His words provoked the wrath of the settlers and of the Right. He eagerly joined the ostensible public debate in order to polarize the public discourse: one was either “us” or with “them”; for or against the disengagement; friend or foe. There no longer would be room for an open and pragmatic discussion of Sharon’s strategic move. Abramovich was totally frank about his position and acted as a personal example for other journalists, provided that they were also leftists. In an article on the disengagement and related issues in Ha’ayin Hashvi’it that appeared on 1 May 2005, he reminisced: 

It was about twenty years ago, yes, twenty years, even a little more. The late Shmuel Schnitzer was the editor-in-chief of Maariv. I was a columnist for the paper. At that time, Arik Sharon was a veteran of the Lebanon War and the great benefactor and activist of the territories, that is, he was the enemy.

On several occasions, Mr. Schnitzer suggested that I restrain myself a little and stop writing so angrily against Sharon. ‘Calm down!’ he said, ‘Take it easy. Because a day will yet come when Sharon will carry out your policy. Not so’. I said, ‘not so. When that day comes, I’ll turn my sword into a ploughshare and support Sharon joyfully and fervently.’9

Therefore, for Abramovich, it would be “that day,” the great moment when he could turn his sword into a ploughshare. The importance of the disengagement for him and his friends in the media is evident from his remark that “the departure from Gaza [is not] the private concern of Sharon on the one hand and of all its opponents on the other. As if the disengagement – whether it succeeds or not – is a stage in the preliminaries to the World Cup Championship and not a question of life and death, truly existential, something that offers some kind of chance for a future resolution in the region.”10

Thus, the protection of Sharon became a matter of utmost urgency, and the end justified the means. Ethics be damned! One could even bend the law. Colonel (res.) Yaakov Hasdai argued that Sharon was destroying democracy. In an article in Yediot Aharonot of 17 March 2005, he cited the description of Sharon’s anti-democratic conduct as minister of defense during the First Lebanon War in 1982, from Israel’s Lebanon War by Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, as follows: “On the surface, Ariel Sharon was very careful to adapt his moves to Israel’s accepted democratic and political conventions … The paradox is that exactly the opposite was true: the image of obedience and cooperation was a thin but effective veneer masking a highly original method of circumventing democratic procedures. Instead of trying to take over or disperse governmental institutions, as is the usual course of a coup d’état, Sharon devised a formula for bypassing the decision-making process and evading the supervisory prerogatives of the country’s parliamentary system.”11 According to Hasdai, this analysis explains Sharon’s conduct in the year preceding the disengagement.

From 2004-2005, however, Sharon’s staff and supporters made great efforts to enlist the support of different sectors of Israeli society, among them — the defense and legal establishments and the media. The political establishment was more problematic, but the prime minister received support from the Knesset and the opposition, led by Shimon Peres. The media played a major role in cultivating support for Sharon and trying to unite Israeli society in the struggle for acceptance of his policy. In 1982, Sharon had to manipulate the democratic system due to opposition to the war in Lebanon on the part of the media and the political echelons. The opposite was true in 2005. The elites closed ranks behind him, just like the black-clad Special Police Patrol Units (Yassam) on their way to evacuate the settlement of Neveh Dekalim in Gaza.

The New Enemy

In order to rally public support for the disengagement and in response to the call to arms by Amnon Abramovich, the media needed to provide a new picture of the battlefield. After three and a half years of ruthless attacks by a Palestinian terrorist enemy, a new enemy had to be created, the enemy within, namely the Jewish settlers in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Indeed, Abramovich admitted that he once had regarded Sharon as an “enemy.” Now, it was the settlers. On 3 August 2004, in the aftermath of a silent, non-violent protest, a human-chain from Gush Katif to Jerusalem, that evoked sympathy for the settlers, Yoel Marcus warned in Ha’aretz: “…They will do everything to wreck Sharon’s plan … they can whip up enough resistance to turn the IDF into mincemeat … they are organizing on all levels to prepare all types of resistance: all-out rebellion; provocative acts and brute force. The settlers’ organizational skills, together with their financial resources and determination, produce a lethal cocktail.”12 At the end of 2004, the Shin Bet (General Security Service that deals with domestic security) and the police began leaking allegations about the danger of violent resistance on the part of settlers. Once again, Yoel Marcus warned his readers that the settlers consisted of a “lethal cocktail of a minority that seeks to impose its will by force on the majority of the people.” He recommended preparing the evacuation forces to “fight any provocation that is aimed at dragging the IDF into a civil war, even if it requires bloodshed.”13 Indeed, Marcus was preparing the public for the fact that the IDF might well have to shoot settlers.

The settlers had demonstrated steadfast resolve against numerous lethal attacks by Palestinian terrorists during the Second Intifada, and the public admired them. Therefore, some figures in the media decided to revive latent feelings of resentment and engage in demonization of the settlers. As far back as June 1975, three decades before the disengagement and two years before Menachem Begin was elected prime minister, Ron Edelist, a military reporter for Israel Television and member of Kibbutz Ein Shemer, revealed the feelings of many on the Left, including many journalists, toward the settlers and their supporters in an article in Ha-Shavua Ba-Kibbutz Ha’artzi (an internal bulletin of the leftist Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim). In retrospect, after the disengagement, his rant seems incredible. Edelist wrote: “The insane right is a blend of a hawkish political line, religious fanaticism, security interests… economic interests… Like all fascism, this mix attracts a public whose spiritual tendency fits this ideology… The current situation necessitates a declaration of war on the proponents of this outlook, including serious consideration of the use of force.”14

Edelist continued his call for total delegitimization:

This is the enemy. I prefer a just war of Jews against Jews to an unjust war of Jews and Arabs, even if the ratio is 80-percent just for Jews and 20 percent for Arabs… Identifying the insane right as the enemy target will make it easier for the fighters to calm the Middle Eastern winds… This is a sort of call for a civil war [“war of brothers” in Hebrew], except that even a civil war is a concept devoid of substance if the abyss between the brothers has to be filled with corpses…

Finally, Edelist warned that the confrontation must take place as soon as possible “if we do not want to live as a country in which Zevulun Hammer [the late former Minister of Education from the National Religious Party], Arik Sharon, Menachem Begin, and the Lubavitcher [Chabad] Rebbe set the tone domestically and externally.” When the Likud headed by Begin won the Knesset elections in May 1977, the old guard of the Labor Zionist pioneering elite became increasingly frustrated. Later, after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, such feelings turned into vicious hatred of the Right and the settlers. In the wake of the assassination, there was tendency to demonize the entire settler population attribute to it collective guilt.

At the time, Edelist’s article was condemned by several members of the old Labor Zionist elite. Led by Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, widow of Israel’s second president, they sent an announcement to the Labor daily Davar, which it ran on 16 June 1975:15

Any debate, no matter how bitter, is a legitimate part of the life of the nation, but calling for an all-out war against a Zionist movement and its members is a kind of blasphemy that can bring a catastrophe upon the entire House of Israel. The style of expression and thought in this vicious rant belongs to the domain of violence and terror that fostered the annihilation of millions of human beings. We warn against the attempt to bring this style into our own lives which will ignite hatred and a violent civil war.

The authors of this response alluded to the culture of Stalinist political terror. Thirty years later, however, there were no longer voices like those of Mrs. Yanait Ben-Zvi, and Professors Yochanan Aharoni, Ezra Zohar, Pinchas Efrati, etc. In fact, several months before the disengagement, the Chairman of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer echoed Edelist: “If anyone wants a civil war, we are ready for battle.”16

The Origins and Characteristics of Israel’s Media Groupthink

The location and timing of the media’s rapprochement with Arik Sharon somewhat resembles the biographies of Amnon Abramovich and of Sharon. In 2005, Abramovich had company. He was the leading representative of an entire generation of senior journalists, editors and commentators who differed markedly from their predecessors. A sharp-tongued writer and commentator, Abramovich and his colleagues, such as Nahum Barnea and the late Amnon Dankner, introduced a new approach to journalism. Born in Kiryat Ata in 1951, Abramovich grew up in the typical Labor movement milieu. He joined the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement that combined a deep-seated, instinctive and unqualified Israeli patriotism and a strong identification with the Left and socialism. In the late 1970s, he emerged as an outstanding political writer for Al Hamishmar, the newspaper of the now-defunct Mapam Party. During the Yom Kippur War (October 1973), Abramovich served in the armored corps and fought under General Ariel Sharon in the central zone of the Suez Canal. He took part in major battles, including crossing of the canal, and was badly wounded. He received a citation for his valor.

The formative experiences of the generation of journalists and commentators who were active in 2005 included the Yom Kippur War, the victory of the Likud in 1977 and the First Lebanon War in 1982. In 1981, Shmuel Schnitzer, the right-wing editor of the right-leaning daily, Maariv, hired Abramovich who went on to become the leading commentator of Channel 2 Television News. At the same time, a new group of leftist media figures emerged. They had begun their careers as reporters either in party journals or at the anti-establishment Ha’olam Hazeh magazine and even today they remain prominent. Among them were: Shelly Yachimovich, Alex Fishman, Amir Oren, Nahum Barnea, Rino Tzror, Amnon Dankner and Hanoch Marmari. Others, such as Akiva Eldar, Shimon Schiffer and Ron Ben-Yishai started at the Israel (State) Broadcasting Authority and the IDF radio station. Unlike their predecessors, such as Shmuel Schnitzer, Gershom Schocken, Shalom Rosenfeld, Hanna Zemer, Shlomo Nakdimon, Herzl Rosenblum and Uri Avnery, who dominated journalism in Israel into the early 1980s, the leading media figures of 2005 were the products of cultural and ideological uniformity, of Israeli sabra culture, and secular socialist youth movements. Collectively, they exhibit a strong tendency toward groupthink.17

As children and teenagers, this generation admired Arik Sharon and his heroes. In 1973, before the Yom Kippur War, Sharon took part in founding the Likud Party. Therefore, he was regarded as a traitor to his authentic roots in the Labor movement. Nevertheless, and despite the loathing of Sharon during the period from the First Lebanon War to the Second Intifada (2000-04), his reputation as the savior of Israel at decisive historical moments remained intact.

Hence, as far as Sharon was concerned, the etrog strategy had a chance of success. The leftist media figures retained their earlier admiration for the old war hero. In contrast, several years later, when there was an attempt to apply the etrog strategy to Ehud Olmert, who faced criminal proceedings, the strategy did not work. Olmert was portrayed as the only one who could defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This time, the etrog strategy failed, perhaps because the legal establishment apparently learned its lesson from the experience of the disengagement. Moreover, in 2012, there was no consensus in the media to protect Olmert.

The Etrog in practice before and during the Disengagement

In 2005, the “etrogging” by the media created an intellectual-political climate in which the top legal echelon willingly participated. Without the etrog strategy, such complicity would not have occurred. The negative effects of this strategy extended far beyond a temporary lapse of journalistic ethics.18 For example, Hebrew University Law School Professor Claude Klein even justified what he called “constitutional dictatorship,” depending on the circumstances:

I grew up in a school of thought that recognizes the idea of a constitutional dictatorship. There are situations in which the government – in order to implement an emergency policy when facing a danger to the nation – enhances its authority… (as for example with French President De Gaulle). Constitutional dictatorship is a plan to have in reserve for a time of emergency … It is the Knesset that must give the government additional tools, subject to the oversight of the Supreme Court. The tools which are currently available for a time of emergency are not sufficient… It appears that the attorney-general needs a tailwind in order to act.19

In an interview upon his retirement, Supreme Court Justice Mishael Cheshin confirmed that such a tendency prevailed in the legal establishment. He implied that the disengagement had influenced the rulings of Attorney-General Mazuz and of the Supreme Court regarding the possible indictment of Prime Minister Sharon:

Judge Matza said that putting a prime minister on trial is something so grave that one would expect [much stronger evidence]. It may be that because Mazuz was then a new attorney-general, there was a rush to bolster him [Ariel Sharon]… I can only say that when someone [Gilad Sharon] receives, for surfing the internet, $600,000 and a promise of another $2 million, only a fool would think he received the money for the work. I did not think I would be in a minority.20 At that time, however, the nation as a whole did not want Sharon to be indicted because there was a disengagement plan, and if Sharon had been put on trial, there would have been no disengagement.21

While the repressive measures against the opponents of the disengagement did not reach the level of Stalinist “violence and terror,” for Professor Boaz Sangero at the Israel College of Law and Business and an expert in criminal law, the decline in the rule of law and the use of coercion were reminiscent of the former Soviet Union: The freedom to demonstrate against the disengagement was regarded by too many as an intolerable nuisance, including those who in the past were portrayed as staunch proponents of human rights.22 Sangero called the type of democracy that had promoted and implemented the disengagement a “stunted democracy.”

During the period before the settlements were evacuated, minors who participated in protests and demonstrations, some under ten years old, were brought to court where a judge handed down verdicts in assembly-line fashion. The Disengagement Plan Implementation Law, analyzed by Sangero in the article noted above, stipulated that anyone who remained in the vicinity after the evacuation would receive a three-year prison term. There were attempts to label the activities of opponents of disengagement as “insurrection” rather than “protest.” Haaretz enthusiastically backed such efforts. For example, the headline of its editorial on 15 August 2005, at the height of the evacuation, read: “This is insurrection, not protest.” 

Clearly, the courts and the legal establishment, especially Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia, followed the message of Prime Minister Sharon that was conveyed in the mainstream media. According to Sangero, “the epitome was reached with the decision by Justice Ayala Procaccia to place under arrest, until the end of the proceedings, a fourteen-year-old girl who had demonstrated against the disengagement in violation of a restraining order pertaining to an area of a certain settlement. It had been imposed on her because of her participation in a previous demonstration.”23 Since participation in illegal demonstrations during this time probably would have been regarded as an act of “insurrection,” judges upheld the arrests of children and teenagers until the end of the proceedings against them. Administrative detentions were enforced as well. When the Ministry of Education wished to administer matriculation examinations in prisons where twelfth-graders were detained, the court prohibited it from doing so.

Sangero notes that Attorney-General Mazuz, went beyond what was necessary when he ordered increasing the penalty for opponents of the disengagement who blocked traffic routes. Offenders were to be charged with endangering human life, for which the maximum penalty was twenty years in prison. In another extraordinary measure, Mazuz ordered the police to block the buses which brought protesters to a large demonstration at Kfar Maimon.

Conclusion

As Nahum Barnea anticipated, the damage caused by enlisting the media on behalf of Sharon and the way in which the disengagement was implemented continue to afflict Israeli society. To be sure, the bias of the media did not begin with the etrog affair, and it did not end in 2004 and 2005. Indeed, in the wake of the disengagement, it appeared that Sharon was creating a new political hegemony based upon his new political party, Kadima. The media were his accomplice. Kadima had broken away from the Likud, yet Sharon held power, despite its questionable legality. Nevertheless, when the media declared a consensus concerning something that it decided was vital to the country, questioning its validity or legality was not to be tolerated.

Since the disengagement, the media often act as a strategic player, rather than in its traditional role as a medium of news and information. The media seek to set the public agenda, as in the case of the social protest demonstrations in the summer of 2011 or the discussions between 2010-2013 whether or not to attack the nuclear facilities in Iran. The public may question or disapprove of a particular agenda, but this does not seem to be relevant. Furthermore, although predictions by the media may be wrong, as in the case of the disengagement, this does not affect the media’s agenda or behavior. It is more than obvious that the withdrawal from Gaza, so ardently advocated by the mainstream press and television, did not bring peace. It resulted in dislocation, the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, life under rocket fire for thousands of Israelis and several costly military campaigns. As a consequence, many consider that the press is not trustworthy. In addition, media support for Sharon before and during the disengagement overshadowed allegations of corruption and obstructed the criminal investigations against him. Sharon’s possible malfeasance was accepted as a fair price to pay. This was not acceptable to a majority of Israelis who regard corruption as an ongoing problem that must be fought and not overlooked. This situation further contributes to the perception that everything written in the press or broadcast is part of an unstated agenda and therefore suspect. In conclusion, the supportive role of the media for Prime Minister Sharon during the disengagement and the complicity of the legal system have helped undermine the public discourse on major issues and weakened the functioning of democracy in Israel.

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This article is an adaptation of the author’s Hebrew version: “Poodle-Ha-Shmirah shel ha-Demokratia,” (Watch-Poodle of Democracy), Mida, 24 August 2015. Many of the citations from the press appear there. 

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Notes

1 For an assessment of the Barak era prior to the outbreak of the Second Intifada, see: Daniel Pipes, “Israel’s Moment of Truth,” in: Neal Kozodoy, ed., The Mideast Peace Process: An Autopsy (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002), 75-86, written in February 2000.

2 For a thorough discussion of the different plans for withdrawal from Gaza, see: Nadav Shragai, “The Disengagement: The Unanswered Question,” in: Jewish Political Studies Review, vol. 27, 1-2.

3 The interview with Uzi Arad appeared in the weekly column by: Amnon Lord, “Neged Haruach” (Against the Grain), Makor Rishon, 3 February 2004. The conclusions presented in this article represent a summary of the interview.

4 Ibid.

5 See: Nadav Shragai, “The Disengagement: The Unanswered Question,” in this issue of JPSR.

6 For an early discussion of media complicity in selling the plan, see: Amnon Lord, “Ruach Gabit: Tik ha-Hitnatkut: Bekhirei ha-Tikshoret Mafginim etTmikhatam b’Tokhnit ha-Hitnatkut” (Tailwind: The Disengagement File: Leading Members of the Media Show their Support for the Disengagement Plan), Ha-‘Ayin ha-Shvi’it (The Seventh Eye), 56 (May 2005) (Hebrew), http://www.the7eye.org.il/26949. For a later assessment, see: Gilad Zwick, “Kach Ma’alah ha-Tikshoret Be-Tafkidah,” (Thus, the Media Abused its Role), Mida, 26 July 2015.

7 The etrog is the citron, one of the Four Species, blessed on the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). It must be preserved in cotton wool and gauze and protected from harm and is usually kept in a special container. For the original statement by Abramovich and its implications, see: Lord, “Poodle Ha-Shmira shel ha-Demokratia,” Mida website, 24 August 2015 (Hebrew) See editor’s note before Note No. 1. 
See also: “Lexicon Etroganut,” (The Lexicon of Etrogging), Ha-Ayin ha-Shvi’it, 57 (July, 2005), www.the7eye.org.il/lexicon/46526. For a list of many articles relating to the etrog idea, see: “Be-Kufsah Atuma, im Sfogit,” (In a sealed box, with Gauze), including a video of Amnon Abramovich, see: Ha-Ayin ha-Shvi’it (January, 2014), www.the7eye.org.il/92990. For a right-wing critique and citation of Abramovich’s statement, see: Shimon Cohen, “Sharon ve-ha-Etrog: Ha-Mezimah ha-gluyah,” (Sharon and the Etrog: The Plot is Revealed), Arutz Sheva, 2 May 2005, www.inn.co.il/Articles/Article.aspx/4273. All of the above are in Hebrew.

8 Nahum Barnea, “Anachnu Guyasnu le-Kol ha-Hayyim,” (We have been Recruited for our Entire Life”) Ha-Ayin ha-Shvi’it, 53 (March, 2005), http://www.the7eye.org.il/45548.

9 Cited in: Amnon Lord, “Ha-Poodle shel ha-Demokratiya,” Mida , 24 August 2015; see: Amnon Abramovich, in: Ha-Ayin ha-Shvi’it, 55 (May, 2005). See also: Note No. 7.

10 Ibid.

11 Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, Israel’s Lebanon War, ed. & trans., Ina Friedman (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), 302. The Hebrew original, Milhemet Sholal, reads somewhat differently.

12 Yoel Marcus, “Beware of the Smiles,” http://www.haaretz.com/beware-of-the-smiles-1.130371

13 Cited by: Gilad Zwick, “Kach Maaleh Hatikshoret b’Tafkidah” (Thus the Media Abuses Its Role), Mida, 26 July, 2015.

14 Ron Edelist, cited by: Amnon Lord, “Poodle ha-Shmira shel ha-Demokratia,” Mida, 24 August 2015, originally cited by: Shlomo Nakdimon, in: Yediot Aharonot, 8 June 1975.

15 Davar, 16.6.1975

16 For Yariv Oppenheimer’s declaration, see: http://www.inn.co.il/News/Flash.aspx/106684 19 March 2005,

17 On the formative experiences of many of Israel’s leading journalists and commentators, see: Amnon Lord, Ibadnu et Kol Ma she-Yakar Haya : Al ha-Shorashim shel Ha-Smol ha-Post Yehudi (The Israeli Left: From Socialism to Nihilism) (Tel Aviv: Tammuz, 2000), 13-21 (Hebrew), and, idem., Ha-Dor he-Avud: Sippurah shel Milhemet Yom ha-Kippurim (The Lost Generation: The Story of the Yom Kippur War) (Tel Aviv: Miskal, 2013), especially 273-299 (Hebrew).

18 On that lapse of journalistic ethics, see: Note No. 6.

19 Interview with Professor Claude Klein, in: Halishka (The Bureau: Bulletin of the Israel Bar Association), No. 71(2004-2005), (Hebrew).

20 The reference is to the group of Supreme Court justices who ruled on the petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel against the attorney-general’s decision not to indict Sharon on the Greek-island affair in 2004.

21Cited by Yuval Yoaz, “Hamishneh l’Nasi Beit Hamishpat Ha’elaiyon l’Sh’avar Mishael Cheshin Met b’Gil 79” (Former Supreme Court Vice-President Mishael Cheshin Has Died at 79), Haaretz, 26 May 2006.

22 Boaz Sangero, „Ha-im ‘Amda ha-Demokratia ha-Yisraelit be-Mivchan?“ (Has Israeli Democracy Passed the Test?), Sefer Uri Kitai (Nevo, 2008), 193-245 (Hebrew).

23 Ibid.

About Amnon Lord

Amnon Lord is a veteran Israeli columnist at the Hebrew weekly, Makor Rishon, and editor of the website, Mida. He is the author of several books on contemporary Israeli history and society.