One of the complaints we on the right voice against the leaders of the judicial reform and their staff is the absence of good information on the initiative, to counteract the incessant flood of lies and fearmongering being promulgated by the three left-leaning TV channels and most mainstream newspapers (I’m talking to you, Ha’aretz).
On Tuesday night, Hasbara Minister Galit Distel-Atbaryan (Likud) was asked that very question by the only truly fair and balanced (which is code for right-leaning) host on Kan 11 News, Ayala Hasson. Hasson is a very recent import from Channel 13, which decided to dump her despite her unmatched ratings. It appears 13 is aiming strictly at the left, much like Ha’arez. Both channels have dropped all pretense, cleansing their last remaining non-leftist talent.
It turns out the reason for the government’s roaring silence on the reform is not Minister Distel-Atbaryan’s laziness, but the Prime Minister’s Office’s legal counselor Shlomit Barnea-Fargo, who last month forbade the Hasbara Ministry from conducting a campaign on “Creating discourse and bringing hearts together,” which would have included a discussion of the judicial reform that involves the entire spectrum of views.
Barnea-Fargo, who was not appointed by the prime minister but was foisted on him by the judicial system, pinned her response on a clause that prohibits election propaganda funded by a government office. Fargo-Barnea added: “We would suggest considering an awareness campaign on the topic of unity without going into the details of the reform.”
OK, you must admit, leftist jurists have a sense of humor. It’s more practical jokes than Molière, but, hey, funny is funny.
Minister Distel-Atbaryan stated that the campaign was intended to reflect both sides of the debate, and claimed that the legal counselor forbids her to report the truth. She wrote Barnea-Fargo: “We are in difficult times, the sounds of war heard in Israel’s streets are alarming and channels must be opened immediately for an open, transparent and respectful discourse.”
“I would like to launch a campaign for unifying the people and reassuring them. In this campaign, the Hasbara Ministry will try to bridge the parties, both those who oppose the reform and those who support it, with transparency and providing factual knowledge,” the Minister continued, adding that “the campaign will be based on explaining the legal reform, reflecting on the legislative process and the changes that follow. I am convinced that a campaign that will explain the reform whose goal is to balance the branches of government will bring hearts closer together and unite the people.”
Remember what I said about Barnea-Fargo’s aggressive sense of humor? She wrote back that the Hasbara Ministry may only publish content referring to its own activity and is closely and clearly related to the ministry’s work.”
In other words, the Hasbara Ministry is only allowed to do hasbara about the Hasbara Ministry.
The acronym ROFL was created for these kinds of statements.
“Emphasis must be put on the activities of the ministry as a government body, or on certain functions of the ministry, and the results must not serve as personal advertising or promotion of personal or political goals,” she went on, and “the publication must maintain a neutral image and is free from political appeals and messages.”
She then cited Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who reasoned: “The reform is being promoted these days, and the legislative process has not yet been completed. In this situation, the publication of the facts regarding this is not related to the activity of your office, and it cannot be said at this stage that this is a matter of legislation that must be explained to the public.”
They really said it, they really did.
Fargo-Barnea concluded, based on the decision of Baharav-Miara: “In addition to what has been said, and it seems that this is where the main difficulty lies, there’s strong disagreement in the public regarding the legislative procedures. Under these circumstances, when the issue of the public’s attitude about the reform is at the heart of the political discourse, it seems that it would be very difficult to say that a campaign that deals directly with this sensitive issue could be perceived as one that maintains a neutral image free from political appeals and messages.”
Don’t confuse them with the facts, Hasbara Minister.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER SIDE?
It’s impossible to say with certainty how much has been invested in the protest movement that has maintained a constant and vigilant war against the judicial reform for ten weeks now. The numbers are flying all over the place. There are stories of demonstrators who are paid between 250 and 500 shekels to rage against the government (that’s $70 to $140). According to a News12 lengthy report, securing and putting together one major rally in Tel Aviv costs about NIS 300,000 ($82,000), plus each bus that delivers 50 demonstrators costs NIS 3,000 ($8,200). There are rallies all over Israel, the biggest of which, outside Tel Aviv, are in Haifa and Jerusalem. Do the math.
Then there are the many hundreds of billboards, many of them in high-traffic areas that cost a hefty penny both to produce and post. There’s the hundreds of thousands of Israeli flags (my friend R. confessed that he was offered a partnership in a flag-printing business and turned it down – who knew? But in order to remove the initial bad optics of Palestinian flags in the first demonstration in front of the Habima national theater, campaign strategists decided to almost literally flood the rallies with kosher, blue & white, Israeli national flags).
And there are the signs, many of which are made to order, and the thousands of Handmaid’s Tale dresses and headscarves – those don’t come cheap either.
In short, the Israeli media’s estimate of the costs over ten weeks comes to 100 million shekels, $30 million, give or take. Crowdfunding took in about 2 million shekels in the early weeks. Where is the rest of the money coming from? There are rumors about several Israeli billionaires who have been sinking many millions of dollars each in the demonstrations’ till. Billionaire Maurice Kahn has been sending in millions over the past decade. That sounds legit.
And there there’s The New Israel Fund, the US Government, and several other usual suspects who have reportedly been pouring substantial amounts into the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which is among the main driving forces of the protests.
All this while Hasbara Minister Galit Distel-Atbaryan is banned from using her ministry’s resources to put out a video that explains what the judicial reform is about, and, even more importantly, what it is not about (dictatorship, putting women back in the kitchen, throwing LGBTQs off rooftops, to name a few popular horrifying lies).
I’ve been concluding all my reports these past few weeks with a call on our coalition members to keep moving the ball, pay no attention to detractions, get into the end zone, or we’re all going back to the realities of the Oslo and Gush Katif decades. We must win this one!