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How did Israel stop being a free country? Adi Schwartz

Adi Schwartz est un jeune journaliste israélien qui n’a pas perdu le cap et ne se laisse pas séduire par le chant des sirènes du post-sionisme. Pour autant, il n’est pas un sioniste illuminé, mais il combat vigoureusement l’antisionisme de l’intérieur, qui gangrène une partie de la société israélienne, et qu’alimentent des idéologues israéliens qui ont renoncé à l’idéal des pionniers, au motif qu’il est désormais anachronique. Schwartz a la belle particularité de ne pas s’être laissé entamer ou déstabiliser par la haine de soi juive et la rage de tuer le père, qui caractérisent tant d’auteurs israéliens, épuisés par plus d’une génération de dénigrement mondial de leur Etat, qui ont fini par se persuader que leurs ennemis ont raison et que, pour en finir avec ce conflit interminable, Israël doit s’auto-dissoudre pour se fondre dans un Etat bi-national. Notre site a relayé plusieurs excellents articles de cet auteur, en particulier ceux qu’il a consacrés à l’affaire Al-Dura. On s’y reportera. Je réfère tout spécialement, ci-après [*], à l’un de ses articles les plus remarquables, à mon avis, consacré à la violente contestation de la légitimité de l’Etat d’Israël. Quant au texte qui suit, je ne sais si j’aurai le temps de le traduire. Il le mériterait cependant. Ceux qui maîtrisent l’anglais ne me contrediront pas. (Menahem Macina).

[*] Adi Schwartz, "Israël: Un pays en question".


Sur le Blogue de l’auteur, 30 juillet


Here’s a story about how un-professional a pro-democracy organization becomes when dealing with the State of Israel.

On May 1st 2009, Freedom House, an international NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, declared that according to its Freedom of the Press Index, Israel is no longer a “free” country, but only “partially free”.

That was odd: if anything, the Israeli press might be blamed for over-aggressiveness, lack of respect for privacy matters and tendency towards sensationalism. Maybe much more so than many other Western media, the Israeli press is robust and boisterous, and far from not being free.

On the other hand, Freedom House is an extremely respected organization, quoted frequently in all major newspapers, as well as in academic papers and governmental reports.

I decided to check with Freedom House how did they arrive at that conclusion, and to my great surprise, I discovered I was the first journalist (Israeli or non-Israeli) to do that. No one before asked Freedom house what was the reason for downgrading Israel to be only “partially free”.

Freedom House publishes every year its Freedom of the Press Index, with scores running from 1 to 100. The lower the score is, the better the situation is in that country. Freedom House regards countries with 0-30 points as “free”, countries with 31-60 points as “partially free”, and countries with 61-100 points as “not free”.

Until now, Israel was regarded as “free” (with 28 points for 2007). But now, for the first time, Israel received 31 points and the title “partially free”. It was an obvious PR victory for all those who claim that the Israeli society is indeed not democratic. Now an important organization says just that.

I asked Freedom House the full report about Israel covering the year 2008. It is published here for the first time. The report notes that “Israel’s status declined due to the heightened conflict in Gaza, which was reflected in increased travel restrictions on Israeli and foreign reporters; official attempts to influence media coverage within Israel of the conflict; and heightened self-censorship and biased reporting”.

Freedom House’ report contains incorrect assertions, and claims with heavy political bias. For example, the report says that “On December 31, the High Court ruled in favor of a Foreign Press Association petition that the Gaza ban be lifted, but the government ignored the court ruling”.

But that’s not what happened: on December 31st, the Israeli High Court offered a compromise between the Israeli authorities and the Foreign Press Association, according to which a few foreign journalists would be allowed to enter the Gaza strip (for the court’s ruling, in Hebrew, click here). The government accepted the compromise and declared that eight journalists would be allowed in each day, but the Foreign Press Association wanted at least 12 journalists in. The court rejected their appeal and decided that the government’s decision was reasonable (for this ruling, click here).

Eventually, foreign journalists did not enter the Gaza strip during the war, because the day after this compromise, Israeli ground forces entered Gaza. On January 25th, the High Court ruled again that it seems the government didn’t break its promise under the compromise (for this ruling, click here).

So - the court didn’t rule in favor of anyone and the government did not ignore anything.

Official attempts to influence media coverage, as the report states, are done on a daily basis in all aspects of life (by spokespersons for example). But the strangest part in Freedom House’s report relates to “heightened self-censorship and biased reporting”. Self-censorship is hard to prove: the only one who knows for sure if he was practicing self-censorship is the journalist himself. But you can’t ask him, because if he did, he would surely not admit it. So - who is to decide if “self-censorship has been growing in recent years in Israel?”

Freedom House also says that “many media outlets largely reflected and indeed fed popular sentiment and prioritized nationalistic themes”. That’s again a problematic assertion: most Israelis felt exactly the opposite, that too many journalists were demoralizing the troops and actually were feeding defeatist sentiments. As in many other cases of social sciences, this kind of judgement is difficult to make, especially if you are going to pin it down with numbers and scores. Exactly because of this there should be clear and professional criteria, which are not derived from the author’s political views.

With all these questions I approached Adam Werner, Freedom House’s representative in Israel and the author of its 2008 report. Mr. Werner is not familiar to most Israelis: he is not a journalist (except for some articles he published for the Jerusalem Post), and this is the first year he works for Freedom house.

He said he worked alone on the report, and that his sources were reports of international media watchdogs, such as “Journalists Without Borders”.

I asked him how he knew that there were cases of self-censorship. He said he based that on an interview with Mr. Yizhar Beer, former director of B’Tselem and the current director of Keshev, a watchdog group. Due to Beer’s well known political views, which are on the far left side of the Israeli spectrum, I asked Werner if he consulted anyone else. Jurists, for example, or specialists for communications law. Or, let’s say, journalists, or maybe ex editors-in-chief, or perhaps political scientists.

He said “no”.

The questionable assertion about heightened self-censorship (which actually led to Israel’s status decline) was based only on Mr. Beer. The problem of course is not of him being a leftist, but of him being the only source. Such a sensitive issue should have been dealt with much more prudence, and surely with many more interviews and sources.

I asked Mr. Werner about the High Court’s decisions. He said he didn’t know, and asked me to send him the rulings (rather late, I’d say). I asked him also about the studios of RAM FM, “a pro-peace radio station”, which according to the report was closed by the Israeli police. He said the studios were closed because they didn’t have a permit, and after the permit was obtained, RAM FM went back on air. Six months later they closed again, this time because of financial problems.

So - why is this case included in the report? And why mentioning that it’s a “pro-peace radio station”, rather than to deceivingly imply that there was a political background to it (when Werner admitted he had no information indicating in that direction)?

I wanted to know who other than Mr. Werner approved this report. According to him, the procedure is that after he sends a draft to the United States, Freedom House sends it to three Israeli professors of communications studies. Unless they sign the report, it’s not approved.

I asked Dr. Karin Karlekar, senior researcher and managing editor for Freedom of the Press Index, who were those professors this year. She admitted that this year, due to financial problems, the report was not sent to any professors at all.

To sum it up: an un-experienced person, who is not an authority in his field, writes a report based on an interview with one interviewee with a very clear political agenda. No body checks it. Freedom House headquarters decide to downgrade Israel from “free” to “partially free”, even though they declare that when a country is being downgraded, an additional check is made. Such a review did not occur.

So - a professional report? A mockery? Decide for yourself.


© Adi Schwartz *


* Biographie sur son Blogue.

Mis en ligne le 31 juillet 2009, par
M. Macina, sur le site