Channel 14

I make it my business to watch programs on Channel 14 regularly, even though several of its programs and senior presenters rub me the wrong way. They rub me the wrong way not necessarily because they are right-wing, but rather because of their style, and because some of the specific goals they openly promote diverge from what is in my eyes legitimate – namely, from the basic principles of liberal democracy upon which Israel has traditionally sought to exist.

The Right, like the Left, is not monolithic. There is a predominantly liberal Right, which characterized the Likud of Menachem Begin’s first government, but is barely felt anywhere in Benjamin Netanyahu’s all-right government.

There is a conservative Right, which seeks to preserve what was, rather than seek new paths. There is a fascist, anti-democratic Right. There is a religious Right that seeks to weaken secularism in all fields of life. There is a Right that supports a benevolent or sectoral welfare state. There is a Right that seeks a free market, and is free of any state intervention. There is a populist Right, which is how one might define today’s Likud.

Channel 14 is no home for the liberal Right

Naturally, if I had to opt for one version of Right, I would opt for a liberal Right, and since Israel is constantly moving rightward, I hope it will be a combination of liberal-Right political leaders, who will replace the country’s current leadership, in cooperation with the Center/Left. Unfortunately, Channel 14 in not a home for the liberal Right.

My main problem with Channel 14’s flagship program The Patriots is its style, and especially that of its regular presenter, former MK Yinon Magal, and some of its regular, non-religious panelists, such as Yotam Zimri, Itamar Fleischmann, and Dror Kapah, whose style is disparaging, frequently to the point of being libelous, when it comes to the Israeli Center/Left, and its leaders.

Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening broadcast of Channel 14, November 27, 2021. (credit: MEIR ELIPOUR)
Channel 14
Channel 14

Leftists and many centrists are frequently presented by them as collaborators with Israel’s worst enemies, as enemies in their own right, or has-beens and mediocre human specimens, at best. Frequently, these “evaluations” are based on convoluted historical facts, or fake news, produced by notorious “poison machines.” Magal accompanies his statements with vulgar mimicry, arm-waving, and a childish intonation that sounds like “nananana na na.”

In terms of style, there are some other voices, no less right-wing, and even caustic at times, but at least neither vulgar nor deliberately insulting, such as the two regular religious panelists Yaki Adamker and Yedidya Meir, and the two women panelists Irit Linor and Naveh Dromi, who are not devoid of some mischievous charm.

Occasionally, there are even ideological oddballs among the panelists, who try to cast an air of academic respectability on the studio, such as constitutional law Prof. Moshe Cohen-Eliya, who is usually presented by Magal as a left-winger, but seems to me more of a free thinker. From time to time an authentic left-winger presents him or herself in the studio (last week it was Labor Party Secretary General Eran Hermoni), but he/she usually looks like a fish out of water, is allowed to give a short opening speech undisturbed, and is then usually given a rough time.

Against the background of Israel’s current legal travails in various international forums, and its restless relations with the current US administration, in which ups and downs succeed each other with great frequency, last week some disturbing opinions were voiced by one of the panelists (I do not remember who) regarding Israel’s international relations.

He suggested that Israel should disregard claims that it is contravening international law, especially in the field of military conduct in wartime, and should stop letting the United States push it around on issues on which the two states disagree on practical issues, for either ideological or political reasons.

He referred to those who do not stand up to Israel’s critics as “diasporic Jews,” in the derogatory sense of the term. At any other TV channel, such a statement would not have gone by without any comment from the presenter. Here nobody protested.

The inclination to pooh-pooh international law, and for that matter also the mechanism for the working of the international system as devised by the US and its allies toward the end of World War II, to prevent the recurrence of such a war in the future, is prevalent in Israel, especially in right-wing circles.

However, it should not be forgotten that the first Zionist Congress, convened in Basel in August 1897, declared that “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine, secured under public law,” which has always been understood to mean “international law” (in Hebrew, the term mishpat ha’amim – the law of the nations – was used).

In the final reckoning, the State of Israel was established on the basis of international law, and since its establishment, the legal departments of its various relevant ministries, and of the IDF, have worked hard to ensure that Israel continue to act within the framework of international law, also when this is considered an annoying nuisance.

Furthermore, it was the UN General Assembly – part of the post-World War II mechanism established to navigate the world’s international relations – that gave the establishment of the Jewish state its legal confirmation, within the framework of the 1947 partition plan.

Though religious Jews believe that the basis for the state’s establishment is God’s promise of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, for better or worse it is international law and the post-World War II world order that call the shots, and Israel does not have the ability or the power to change the rules of the game.

Channel 14 has right to exist, but with constraints

It is not just in The Patriots that calls are resonated “to put the US in its place.” Just over a year ago, Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli told the US ambassador in Jerusalem to mind his own business, when the ambassador suggested that Israel should put on the brakes on its judicial reform plan.

In reality, we can argue with the Americans, we can plead, and we can stamp our feet, but even Netanyahu understands that in the final reckoning, we cannot survive without the goodwill of the US and its president, as well as the billions of dollars that they bestow upon us for our defense. A fly can irritate an elephant – it cannot defeat it, not even in the studio of The Patriots.

Channel 14 certainly has the right to exist as a right-wing TV network – even an extremely irritating right-wing TV network, that makes the American Fox News Channel look moderate and balanced in comparison. However, what is worrying is that Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi seeks every legal means to increase state support for Channel 14, without any constraints on some of its more disturbing content.

At the same time, Karhi does not hide the fact that if it were up to him, he would close down the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation Kan – which is undoubtedly Israel’s most pluralistic broadcasting network – both because he supports free competition and opposes government-owned corporations, and because, like many of his colleagues in Likud, he considers Kan to be excessively left-wing.

The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge.


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