Categorized | Middle East, Sharkansky_Ira, USA

Others before Bibi and Donald castigated ‘fake news’

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — Prominent in what’s similar between the Great Leaders of the US and Israel are their claims about the media. Fake news, especially from the mainstream-leftwing print and electronic.

Those who worry see these preoccupations as the tricks of demagogues. Some have compared them with how Hitler moved toward the complete squashing of opposition in Nazi Germany.

Maybe. But we can also cite an ancient text, of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:12)

That such a sentiment could appear some 1500 years before Gutenberg, and more than 2100 years before the Internet should moderate our concern that we are facing anything new in what Bibi and Donald are selling to their supporters about those who write, publish, and broadcast.

Despite the blather that is coming from the tops of our governments, both Americans and Israelis seem adequately protected against any serious effort to stifle dissent. The First Amendment of the US Constitution survived the Red Scare of Attorney General Palmer in the 1920s and Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. More recently the multiplicity of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, et al, plus a great variety of non-network radio and television are more than replacing the declines in daily newspapers, whose fates come from the ease of sending news and opinion over the air.

Israelis have access to the same innovations, along with deeper threads of Judaic culture. Intellectual pluralism is apparent in various elements of the Hebrew Bible that confound any effort to compose a simplified version of the ancient religion. Then came Rabbinical disputes that are the essence of the Talmud, another 2,000 years of Rabbinical pronouncements, as well as the feisty politics of Jews from the 19th century onward in Europe, North America, and Israel.

It’s always been difficult to decide if the sum total of free expression amounts to wisdom or garbage. There’s plenty of both. The translation service Memri.org.il has published an item from an Egyptian journalist, doing her best to refresh awareness that Jews seek to establish their empire from the Nile to the Euphrates, and destroy Arab regimes between here and there.

Alas, the origins of that canard lie in what Jews wrote a couple of thousand years ago, and what some still accept as holy writ.

“Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the River Euphrates.”(Genesis 15:18)

The multiplicity of expression provides the best antidote to the dangers inherent in the opportunity.

Yet with all the checks and balances, inherent in society as well as government structure, Donald, Bibi, and their supporters continue to give democracy a bad name.

Donald is Tweeting Americans and its friends beyond wonder to some degree of worry.

Against a creeping series of investigations by police that seem likely to end Bibi’s long career, he continues to blast the police and the media, and to assert that “they’ll find nothing because there is nothing.”

His Knesset cadre have proposed several measures to curtail the police. And in order to keep the ultra-Orthodox in their camp, they are proposing other measures to firm up the Rabbis’ control of what Israelis cannot do on the Sabbath.

Yet Israeli politics has its defenses against anything excessive. The measures that have so far survived the weight of opposition as well as reflection within the governing coalition are full of enough holes to frustrate their creators.

Along the way opposition parliamentarians have added a bit to Hebrew that comes directly from the US Senate, i.e., פיליבוסטר (filibuster). Israeli opponents to government-sponsored measures have introduced hundreds of reservations, which take days for the Knesset Committee charged with preparing a proposal for a vote on the floor. Then individual MKs have spoken for hours at a time, singing ethnic-religious chants from the speaker’s podium in the Knesset, as well as reading stories and bits of history.

What survives the legislature may be tied up in judicial dithering, or fall victim to officials who do not implement what’s on the books.

It’s part of the demagogue’s routine to distract the public from bad news by highlighting what is said to be evidence of success.

Bibi’s good news is that Guatemala is following Donald Trump in announcing that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that it’ll be moving its Embassy to this city. He also claims that Honduras is sure to follow.

That’s not quite as good as an Empire from the Nile to the Euphrates, but it does remind us that Jewish ambition is nothing new.

Sound and fury signifying nothing (Macbeth Act 5) is not as ancient as of making many books there is no end, but Shakespeare was making the same point as Ecclesiastes.

We do not know if Bibi and/or Donald are aware of their roots, and laughing quietly at themselves, or–more frightful–if they are serious in all they utter.

Ranking members of the Likud delegation in the Knesset have learned a new routine, which they express whenever a journalist asks about police inquiries concerning David Bitan or Benjamin Netanyahu. They are confident in the capacity of the accused to establish his innocence. Yet Likud has already replaced Bitan as parliamentary leader of the governing coalition, and Bibi’s hold on the top slot may not be more secure.

Various movements from the right and left have demonstrated against corruption and the delays in finishing the investigations of those in high office.

It won’t be over till its over, but meanwhile there is no effective limit on our capacity to express ourselves.

Those expecting anything new in the New Year can check their enthusiasm against what the Rabbis included in the Hebrew Bible centuries before the New Year was defined as January 1, i.e., that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

We also know that details change. Lots of good and bad have occurred since Ecclesiastes and Shakespeare. But those sources provide us with caution against excessive certainty in whatever we are inclined to predict.

And both Bibi and Donald must know about the fates of predecessors said to be irreplaceable.

With all that, we should conclude with mutual wishes for the best in 2018 and beyond.

*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

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