Reflections on media coverage and your truth

September 5, 2011 by

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I didn’t really care all that much about Daphne Leef.

I knew that she’d been the person to plant the first tent on Rothschild Boulevard, and I knew that she was one of the people identified as a ‘leader’ of this amorphous yet ever-growing protest movement.

My understanding of the protests was that they had occurred spontaneously, and while its heart was consistent, its demands were constantly evolving. It was, and mostly continues to be, an open source kind of protest. As an open source protest, I was less concerned about the personal history of its leaders. I read various position papers from the various groups involved, and developed my own – positive – view of their general aims.

I visited tent camps in Tel Aviv, went on a silent demonstration a few weeks ago, and prepared to go on the (unwisely-named) March of the Million.

Then came all the questions about Daphne Leef.

Was she a poor leader? Should she step aside? I watched a live interview with her on Economic Night, where they grilled her on her military service record. It had been discovered that she didn’t serve in the army. Why? After seeking to avoid answering for a while, Daphne Leef explained: She suffered from epilepsy. The interviewer did not apologize for forcing her to expose her personal medical history, nor did he apologize for poor research (after all, had the program found out she had been exempted from service because of her epilepsy, he would never have needed to ask).Instead the interviewer pushed on: Why didn’t she do National Service instead? It turns out that she had worked as a volunteer for 18 months as a teen, and continues to work as a volunteer, but didn’t do so in the official framework.

I dismissed the interview as a poor attempt to smear the protests by attacking its leader.

Later I read another article that painted her as a bit of a flake, less serious than the wonderfully impressive Itzik Shlomo, leader of the Student Union. By the time we arrived at the huge demonstration at Kikar HaMedina in Tel Aviv, my wife and I were convinced that the time had come for Daphne to step aside. We weren’t great fans of the smear job done on her, but we had also internalized the idea that there is no smoke without fire. She’d clearly done her job, had set all this moving, and now was the time to let the grown-ups do the work.

But then we heard her speak.

This 25 year-old stood up in front of 300,000 people – that’s a lot of people! – and shot out one of the most inspiring, passionate, wise and honest speeches I have heard for a long time. She spoke from the heart to the heart. Standing there, experiencing her live, experiencing her unmediated, I realized that she was not just the instigator of the protest movement: She is its heart and engine. I recommend anyone who hasn’t done so, to read the speech and to watch her deliver it. I understand she wrote the speech together with Dror Feuer, who deserves huge credit, yet it was her passionate and authentic delivery that made the words ring true.

I was left reflecting on the influence that the media can have on us all. I like to view myself as somewhat media-savvy. I was fully aware of the smear-job the press and TV were doing on her. And yet I was ultimately influenced by all the negative coverage. From having had no opinion about her at all, by the time I reached September 3rd, I had a negative opinion of her.

This was an opinion that I had been force-fed, and it was wrong. I don’t say that others are wrong in their negative opinion of Daphne Leef, but I do say that such an opinion was wrong for me, yet I’d swallowed it nevertheless.

It made me wonder about how difficult it must be to be a Zionist outside of Israel. When the overwhelming coverage of Israel is negative – sometimes justifiably, sometimes exaggeratedly and sometimes unjustifiably – how can one maintain a personally true opinion of Israel?

Some of my friends abroad bemoaned the lack of coverage of the protests in their local media. After all, nearly half a million people took to the streets in the Middle East to oppose their government’s policies – and no one was shot, no one was kettled, and the police were even on hand to help. This is an amazing story of a vibrant and civically-engaged society that will never be as important to the foreign media as the stories of Israel’s perceived wrong-doings. Only the bad stuff gets out.

So how does one cope? Living outside of Israel, it must be exhausting and near impossible to maintain a clear emotional connection to this place. Apart from coming to live here (a choice I’ve not regretted myself!), I guess the only other strategy is to go as direct as possible. Move past the report and get to the source, stay in touch with friends in Israel on a more regular basis, and to come visit even more often than you do already…

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