Exposé leads to suicide, but media won’t play blame game
Hebrew media review

Exposé leads to suicide, but media won’t play blame game

Pundits have a lot to say about Boaz Arad’s death in the wake of a report detailing his sexual misconduct, and it’s almost all in defense of the real victims and the fourth estate

An activist holds a #MeToo sign during a news conference on a Title IX lawsuit outside the Department of Education January 25, 2018 in Washington, DC (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
An activist holds a #MeToo sign during a news conference on a Title IX lawsuit outside the Department of Education January 25, 2018 in Washington, DC (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

Days after artist, teacher and accused sex offender Boaz Arad ended his life following a news report about his alleged misdeeds, there is the appearance of hand-wringing in the press, though it all leads to the same conclusion: The journalists who outed him did nothing wrong.

The Arad suicide makes the front page of all three major dailies Sunday morning, and is accompanied by a goodly amount of commentary over the “hard questions” that followed, in Israel Hayom’s language.

Yedioth Ahronoth leads off with the story, which takes up almost the whole front page and the next three pages of the tabloid. One might think that the prominence the paper gives to what amounts to a very personal and domestic story is indicative of it seeing a larger scandal within, but the paper makes clear it has no truck with sympathy for the devil.

“Crime and punishment,” reads the headline of the paper’s main news story, which is accompanied by self-portraits from Arad of him shooting himself. The story notes that he was the third teacher in the Telma Yellin school in Givatayim to be accused in just two weeks, but mostly focuses on Arad and how the story on him led to his death. (Two complementary stories from the paper delve into the allegations of a wider harassment culture at the art school.)

As for the supposed hard questions, two of the papers’ commentators come to the same conclusion: He’s not a victim and the journalists were doing their job.

Artist Boaz Arad (YouTube screenshot)

“The media did its job and uncovered. Arad was the one who was quick to pass judgment, to convict and sentence himself to death,” Ra’anan Shaked writes.

At the same time, the paper’s Hen Arzi-Srour links the death to the #MeToo movement.

“The level of suicide and physical and emotional damage among the victims of violence is unbearable. They, unlike those who hurt them, have no power or standing. They are the ones who are taken advantage of and always brought down. They cry in the dark, alone, out of sight. The victims die in secret. They have no name or face or identity,” she writes. “This isn’t shaming here since the article was well-founded, truthful and to the point: a man who admitted to his deeds. The time has come to say that in the age of #MeToo, the rules have changed. The victim has a voice, and the voice will no longer be quiet.”

Haaretz relegates most of its coverage of the suicide to its arts section, but the same general gist as in Yedioth comes through, including columnist Roni Bar calling the death a tragedy, but one that should not be on the head of Mako, the website that published the allegations.

“Mako journalists did their jobs and gave a voice to victims of sexual misconduct. From reading the investigation and without knowing what went on behind the scenes, it seems they worked carefully, in a well-founded and professional way. Once they became worried over Arad’s mental state they even sent a police car to his house. It’s easy to judge off the cuff, but they could not have known he would actually follow through with his threats,” Bar writes.

But in the same paper, Doron Koren writes that the journalists were out of line and too zealous in trying to join the #MeToo crowd, listing as their sins the fact that the sexual misdeeds were 25 years old and involved a consensual relationship, in his telling.

“The media is still not built to differentiate the severity of different sexual misdeeds,” he writes. “So maybe they will be more careful next time.”

Right-wing Israel Hayom, which normally relishes the chance to go after the lamestream media, passes up the opportunity this time, reporting on Arad straight and not really addressing any of the questions in the way the other papers do.

The paper, seemingly, has bigger fish to fry, like calling former secretary of state John Kerry “absurd” for his reported plan to have Israel depend on Egypt and Jordan for security, which was not quite the main takeaway from the New York Times report on Israeli-Egyptian security coordination. Likewise, its own columnist Eyal Zisser pens a piece about what the report means for Egyptian-Israeli security coordination, and mentions at the bottom that Kerry’s idea is “delusional, showing his detachment from reality and pursuit of wishful thinking.” So of course that is what the paper’s editors turn into a headline for the story.

The tabloid also devotes much room to continuing to sell Rwanda as a great place to send deported African migrants, as well as the Holot open detention center as great for those who refused to leave.

“At Holot I had it good, we got everything,” reads the paper’s main headline, quoting an asylum seeker who has since decamped for Rwanda. Of course, the migrants quoted in Haaretz saying how bad it is in Rwanda also praised Holot in comparison, but in the telling of Israel Hayom’s man in Kigali, things are hunky-dory in Africa as well and one should not believe everything they hear from an African.

“It’s easy to sell us, the white man, drama and tragedies that engage our compassion and get us to help,” he writes, a little bit of racism peeking through. “It works great on countries with a colonialist past. And, it seems, it also works for countries that never captured African territory, like Israel.”

Even if Holot is so great, it will soon be shut down, and Israeli officials don’t know where all 900 people currently staying there will go and what will happen to the other facility, Saharonim, an actual prison that is meant to house those migrants who refuse to be deported.

African asylum seekers gather at the entrance to Holot Detention Center in southern Israel to mark the International Refugees Day on Saturday, June 18, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The paper, which notes that Israel is now considering keeping Holot open, but also turning it into an actual prison, quotes an official as saying that once a facility goes from being an open detention center to an actual jail, it can change for the worse.

“A person now at Saharonim knows he’ll be getting out after a few months. But the moment a person is jailed for an unlimited amount of time, it changes the character of the place. The current expectation is for more conflicts and violent incidents. The people there come from different countries. It’s expected that that could spark conflicts, necessitating appropriate separations [between groups],” the official is quoted as saying.

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