As I am not a member of any political party, and my vote cannot be assumed to belong to any side of the Israeli political map, and as I take a keen interest in the most important issues on the state's public agenda, it is reasonable to assume that I, or someone like me, is the genuine audience of the writers, speakers, and opinion-shapers who invest resources to forge our public agenda. All of those who speak or write in favor of a specific opinion, are in fact aiming their opinion at someone like me. Even government-approved party funding, earmarked to create a connection with the citizen, is aimed at people like me, as registered party members have already been convinced of the viability of a specific party.
In Israel, the era of a free press appears to be a thing of the past. Today, every mainstream media outlet no longer reports news, but instead provides a skewed headline, followed by numerous opinion pieces. The news page has been consumed by op-ed articles, few of which are written by experts who aim to present any level of objectivity. In essence, the newspaper has become a tool to convince people like me to accept a certain side of any issue on the public agenda.
Do the various writers and speakers have any level of respect for the intelligence of their audience? It would appear not, as almost every article presented is intended to serve a specific political agenda with no connection to the concept of presenting facts and expert analysis.
I, and people like me, love this country. Of the various political systems, we feel that democracy most loyally serves the needs of the people. In the Israeli electoral system every four years (or sometimes with more frequency), we are asked to choose a government, which, historically, has been comprised of a coalition of parties. Once this government is formed, we deposit in the hands of the government the ability to make decisions on our behalf regarding the shape of the state – are we to be a nation-state or a state of its citizens? Are we capitalist or social democrats? Such questions and numerous other decisions must be decided by the government – this is the very nature of representative democracy. While the people must guard their right to express an opinion during a government's rule, it must not impede on the government's ability to make and carry out decisions.
The State of Israel experienced a great trauma during the disengagement from Gaza. A significant portion of the public opposed this decision, and believed that it contradicted the original position of the government. Despite the fact that this decision caused great harm to thousands of citizens, the majority stood behind this decision, as there was an understanding that elected officials had the power to make and carry out decisions. Even those who opposed this decision spoke out against soldiers refusing orders, claiming that the army must be subordinate to a democratically elected government.
The Oslo Accords were approved by an insubstantial Knesset majority, as some Members of Knesset only voted in favor after being promised various benefits in return – however, despite these shady deals, the democratic decision was accepted. Indeed, the historic act of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion downing the Altalena weapons ship illustrated that Israel would be a democratic country ruled by a single legal authority. However, today various media outlets, day after day, inundate the public with the message that the government should not be trusted with the responsibility of making strategic decisions with respect to Iran's nuclear project.
We are a nation that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust. We witnessed a world that had been charmed by Chamberlain's doctrine in the 1930s, believing peace could be realized through appeasement. We saw statesmen around the world honor Prime Minister Chamberlain, only to be proven wrong as the Nazi invasion of Europe and the Holocaust cast a nightmare over the entire world.
Today, we are facing a country that publicly states its desire to wipe the State of Israel off the map. This state, Iran, gains power through the tacit support of many other states, and the hesitancy of the global leadership to take meaningful action. At such a critical moment, the people of Israel must believe in and grant support to our leaders' decision-making. We must grant them the power to decide how best to deal with this threat.
While every citizen has the right and duty to learn various opinions of such a grave matter in order to form a well-informed opinion, the current media environment has no intention of educating the public, but rather desires to engage in personal attacks on the leadership, hampering their ability to carry out decisions. The various intrigues that may exist between politicians and journalists are of no interest to me. Furthermore, the personal nature of the attacks on our leadership's ability to make decisions injured the public forum and democracy as a whole. The media has exploited its status by insulting the intelligence of the public to advance various political interests.
This battle for the heart of Israeli democracy is part of a larger battle against the effort to impair the legitimacy of the Jewish state. The claim against the ability of elected officials to make decisions on behalf of the people can easily be translated to a claim against the ability of the Jewish people to express their political sovereignty. This is a battle that must unite us all who believe the necessity of the a democratic State of Israel.
Dr. David Altman is senior vice president of Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the College's S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue.