It’s the Identity, Stupid!

Israel’s internal struggle is no longer about East vs West, socialism vs capitalism or even Left vs Right – it’s about Jewish identity

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The last elections shined a spotlight on what Israelis consider to be the main issue facing their society today – left-wing media bias.

Leftist bias in the local mainstream media was previously not considered a major problem. Sure, people talked about it, but that talk never went beyond the usual and familiar Israeli ranting. 

Programs intended to monitor and critique the media’s journalistic professionalism became a farce when colleagues began interviewing only one another and closing ranks to protect “the guild.” The idea of media bias, they sneered, was nothing more than a myth propagated by losers.

For their part, politicians and public figures kept out of the debate either because the media bias served them, or because they were afraid of journalistic backlash.

The first to seriously challenge the media’s leftist bias was head of Jewish Home Party, Naftali Bennett, whose “I do not apologize” campaign proved to be extremely effective, if not at the polling station than certainly as an inspiration to many who had never learned to voice opposing convictions unapologetically. 

Bennett’s interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour was an example of the way he conducted himself time and again on Israeli TV and radio. But however bold Bennett was, he only opened a hatch compared to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s targeting of Yediot Acharonot publisher Arnon (Noni) Moses was like a shell cutting right through the city gate.

The following weeks were characterized by fervent social media discussions that showed just how effective was Bennett’s and Netanyahu’s open criticism of politicized journalism. The effect was also seen in the coming forward of prominent Israeli journalists who not only joined the general criticism of media bias, but dared to call out those of their colleagues who would stop at nothing to defame their political rivals. 

A case in point was Channel 2 reporter Amit Segal, who tweeted something about Tel Aviv restaurants breaking the law that prohibits selling leaven during the week of Passover. The vicious journalistic attack that followed this insignificant tweet prompted Dror Ider from the daily Israel Hayom to write: “What’s happening in the last 24 hours (of April 9th) is a leftist attempt to take out a journalist who defies the Bolshevik tribal codes.”

Kalman Libeskind didn’t hold back either. Writing for Arutz Sheva he said: “For a long time we haven’t seen so much venom and poison. It is enough to see the collection of journalists who signaled with ‘Like’ [on Facebook] the filth that flies all over the Internet to understand that we are dealing with something which is much wider and deeper.”

Journalists like Segal, Ider and Libeskind are marking what could turn out to be a dramatic change in an Israeli media whose mono-colored worldview has for too long served to erode the Zionist vision of the Jewish state. 

In what now seems to be a losing battle, the old socialist vanguard is wasting its remaining paper grenades in attempts to draw people back behind the imagined tribal barracks. They try to confine the battle to worn-out defense lines that supposedly demonstrate the “backwardness” of the East in the face of their “Western light.”

But the battle is no longer about a superior Ashkenazi culture against an inferior Sephardi one. It is not even about Left and Right. Though these issues continue to haunt our society, the real battle is actually over identity. 

Today, the two opposing forces are placed on the Right and Left ends of the field for anachronistic reasons. In actuality, those who voted for the Right did so primarily because they believe the Jewish identity of Israel must not be compromised. Many of those who voted for the Left did so primarily because they think a Jewish state is an archaic and harmful notion. 

The last elections and the media skirmishes that followed demonstrated that most Israeli Jews do not view Zionists as modern day Crusaders. Most of them think that Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land is a historic right that must be protected at all costs.


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