ToI podcast'We're the Marvel universe. We have alternative realities'

What Matters Now to veteran journalist Biranit Goren: Media-made parallel universes

Editor of ToI’s Hebrew-language sister site Zman Yisrael says all of PM Netanyahu’s court cases stem from a desire to control Israel’s media. Now he has Ch. 14, his own ‘Fox News’

Deputy Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan is the host of The Times of Israel's Daily Briefing and What Matters Now podcasts and heads up The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology coverage.

Welcome to What Matters Now, a weekly podcast exploration into one key issue shaping Israel and the Jewish World — right now.

The Knesset reconvened this week and anti-judicial overhaul protestors ramped up their demonstrations with Thursday’s nationwide Day of Disruptions.

While these protests were going on nationwide, a panel appearing on Israel’s Channel 14 talked about the upcoming protest outside former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak’s house that night. Barak, the panel agreed, is the puppet master who is pulling all the strings in the anti-judicial overhaul movement. He is to blame for the mess the country is in, and only if Barak agrees to the reform, they said, will all protests stop.

Even as Fox News captures headlines throughout the world for skewed coverage, Israel’s version, Channel 14, is slowly capturing an increasingly larger audience. So, I sat down this week with Zman Yisrael editor Biranit Goren to make sense of Israel’s Hebrew-language media map.

A three-decade veteran of Israeli journalism, Goren started out as an investigative reporter at the Haaretz group, moved on to become the news and magazine editor at Yedioth Ahronoth and then editor-in-chief of Maariv’s website.

Goren also crossed into the tech world, developing and maintaining dozens of media websites — including The Times of Israel and Zman Israel, where she is also the editor-in-chief since its foundation.

Now celebrating four years, Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s sister Hebrew website, covers politics, economy, environment, diplomacy and the rule of law. With a staff of highly experienced journalists, the current affairs website focuses on investigative reporting, exclusive news and in-depth analysis.

In our in-depth discussion — recorded on World Press Freedom Day — Goren explains the lay of the land in Israel’s Hebrew-language media and suggests that all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s three ongoing court cases are tied to its control.

In yet another week of dueling narratives, we ask veteran journalist Biranit Goren, What Matters Now.

The following transcript has been lightly edited.

ToI’s Amanda Borschel-Dan (left) and Zman Yisrael editor Biranit Goren record What Matters Now at Israel Story’s Nomi Studios in Jerusalem. (Zev Levi/Israel Story)

Amanda Borschel-Dan: Bira, thank you for joining me today in the Nomi studios, our partner podcast, Israel Story’s studio.

Biranit Goren: Thank you, Amanda. It’s a pleasure to be here.

We’ve had quite a week, as usual, here in Israel and around the world when it comes to media. Of course, the case of Fox News and the firing of Tucker Carlson has made headlines everywhere. And we’re going to talk about our own “Fox News” here in Israel, Channel 14, and other things relating to Israeli media, including Communication Minister Shlomo Karhi’s threats against closing swaths of Israeli media.

But before we begin, I want to say mazel tov, congratulations to Zman Yisrael for turning four.

Thank you so much. Yes, we celebrated our fourth year anniversary on May 1, two days ago. So that’s quite a feat for us.

It is. So, Bira, in this week of media capturing headlines all over the world, I ask you, what matters now?

Well, we’re coming off a month of holidays — Passover, Israel’s 75th anniversary — and the press is back to business. We’re back to where we were with the judicial overhaul, with the legislation that’s coming our way, the Israeli budget and Knesset is back to business, and so is the press.

We’re here to talk about media. So to begin with, let’s map out the media. It’s very confusing, I think, for mostly our overseas listeners to understand what is Haaretz, what is ynet, what are all these different creatures that we see popping up on the Internet? So give us from left to right map of Israeli media.

From left. Okay. Haaretz is certainly the most left-wing media outlet. It’s a daily newspaper and a very popular website. And after that, I would put Yedioth Ahronoth, it’s more toward the center. It used to be the largest daily newspaper in Israel. Now it’s considered the second largest. Yedioth Ahronoth also has a very popular website called Ynet. It also has a very popular financial newspaper called Calcalist. So it’s an empire. It’s a media empire. And I would put them leaning left, but mostly central.

After that, I would put Channel 12, and I will put them all over the map. I think they did a very good job in making sure that they have both right-wing and left-wing voices, both radical right-wing and radical left-wing voices. So I would put them dead on in the middle. I think they aim to be the mainstream.

And they’re television, but they also have an Internet site, right?

Yes, their Internet website is probably the most popular today. They’re very strong with crossovers from television, so it makes them quite a powerhouse. After that, I put Channel 13. Now, Channel 13, I should have put more to the left, but they’re just transitioning. They used to be very much on the right, but their main star power, two television hosts, left them a few months ago. One is to Channel 14, which we’ll get to, and the other one to Channel 11, which is the Public Broadcasting Service. So as soon as those two left they’ve become very left-wing. So in a way, I should put them on the left of the left side of the map, but the ratings are not very high. They’re probably second or third on television, but quite a gap to Channel 12.

And then we have Channel 11, which is the public network. Channel 11, I don’t think, was ever a partisan channel, but they are loathed by the current government. You mentioned that the Communications Minister, Shlomo Karhi, the first thing he did when he came into office was say, I’m going to close the public channel, at least their news.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi unveils his reform in the communications market, in Jerusalem, March 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

And what they did was they took a very right-affiliated host, a very popular right-affiliated host from Channel 13 and gave her the primetime slot every day at 7:00 p.m. So in a way, they kind of gamed the system. They bought themselves some kind of a shield from being shut down, but also painted themselves more right-oriented.

Channel 11 has amazing podcasts and it has radio stations. It’s also, I would say, an empire.

Channel 11 is amazing, especially in what isn’t related to news. It has the best dramas. It’s the only channel that actually invests in dramas and series.

“Tehran” is one of them.

Quite a few of their shows make it to Netflix and Apple TV and certainly, they are a powerhouse in that respect. As far as the news goes in Israel, their ratings are quite low. They usually were at the bottom but they do a decent job. I don’t have a bad word to say about it, but they don’t attract as much attention and I don’t think they have as much traction.

And then we’re getting to the right side of the map. There are two forces to be reckoned with. One is Israel Hayom, which is the largest newspaper in Israel. It’s a free newspaper and certainly, for many years, the impression was that it didn’t have as much impact on the public discourse that reflected its size. Because it’s a free newspaper, people pick it up going on the train or on the bus, so it was more a time passer. They weren’t very strong or they didn’t put much investment into investigative reporting, et cetera.

And more than anything they were completely identified with [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu. The newspaper was founded by Sheldon Adelson about 15 years ago and it was completely beholden to Netanyahu. It was reflecting his line, it was very positive towards him. To the point that in Israel we used to call it the “Bibi press” or the “Bibi paper.” That changed in the last couple of years, since Mr. Adelson died. His wife, Miriam Adelson, is a little less invested in helping Netanyahu. She’s a very political person, she has ideologies, but I don’t think that she’s as invested as her husband was. And we also see that in the United States as far as her donating to Republicans or being involved in various races. So the newspaper is less as extreme as it was before, but it still has a right-wing agenda.

In this February 21, 2020, file photo businessman and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson (red hat) and wife Miriam wait for the arrival of then-US president Donald Trump to a campaign rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

And then we get to Channel 14, which you alluded to, as you said, we have our own “Fox News” now. Channel 14 would love to be Fox News. Let’s put this on the table, but it’s still a nickel-and-dime production. They don’t have the money that Murdoch put into Fox News.

They don’t have the ability, they don’t have the stars, they don’t have anything that relates even from a technology point of view. They’re very low-tech, everything is done in a single studio. There are no productions, there’s no outside productions, et cetera.

But they are completely committed to one thing, and that is to Benjamin Netanyahu. They are his house channel. He repays them by often giving them interviews when it needs to be said Netanyahu does not give interviews in the Israeli press at all. I think his last interview was about three years ago and it was before the elections.

You’re talking about one-on-one interviews, not press conferences.

But even press conferences. He doesn’t do press conferences. I mean, he normally just announces that he’s going to make an announcement at 8:00 p.m. And then all the channels just broadcast it, which is hilarious. You would never see [US President Joe] Biden just every week or whenever it is just hogging the prime time and all the networks, just letting him without questions, without anything.

Netanyahu would normally just give a statement and there wouldn’t even be journalists there to begin with, let alone somebody to ask questions. So the one-on-one situation where you can interview somebody and ask him questions, that doesn’t happen with Netanyahu. He pretty much bars the mainstream media from interviewing him. And the only place you would see it is on Channel 14, along with his wife, Sarah Netanyahu, and his son, Yair Netanyahu. They are frequent fliers in a way, over there.

Channel 14 is completely devoted to Netanyahu and it has built a kind of an alternative reality, as I like to call it, where they’re actually putting themselves and pivoting themselves on the point that they’re going to show things from their point of view, which is 180 degrees the opposite of what you’d see in mainstream media. As far as they’re concerned, and they say this — I’m not analyzing things, I’m telling you what they say as far as they’re concerned: The media in Israel is very left-wing, and as far as they’re concerned, it’s very anti-Netanyahu, and they need to balance this out by bringing the picture from the other side.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 10, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

So essentially what we’re hearing is that on the left we have Haaretz, which is quite far left, and on the far right we have Channel 14. And of course, in the middle we have other things, such as Arutz 7 and other smaller operations, Maariv and Zman Yisrael.

I don’t count those because those are a niche. Even Zman Yisrael, we’re a current affairs website. We’re not a news website. So we have a niche, we have an identity, we have an agenda. When you talk about the larger viewpoint, the national media, as you like to call it, the national media as a whole, then you’re looking at pretty much four players in this game, four or five players in this game, some having both Internet and television, some having both newspaper and internet, et cetera. But not more than that.

This country is small. We have 10 million people. About 20% are Arabs, so they don’t want to read Hebrew newspapers. They have their own media. And about another 15% are also Orthodox or religious people who don’t want to read. They have their own media, they have their own alternative reality.

I think if somebody came to visit Israel from Mars, if there ever was life there, and somebody came to visit Israel from Mars and just judge this country by picking up its newspapers and watching its television or listening to its radio stations, it would come to a conclusion that we’re the Marvel universe. We have alternative realities.

There’s a “Benjamin Netanyahu” who’s the prime minister. Everybody agrees on that. But who he is, what he’s doing and why he’s doing it is a completely different story and a completely different affair. If you pick up an ultra-Orthodox newspaper, or Haaretz or watch Channel 14, those are completely alternate realities.

I love that analogy of parallel universes. But to play devil’s advocate, Bira, why do we even need a free press? Why is it important?

I like to tell this story: About ten years ago, I visited Romania. It was the first time I ever visited Romania, and it was a few years after the fall of [Nicolae] Ceaușescu and the country being liberated from dictatorship after many, many decades. And I sat there with some journalist friends and the thing that struck me in what they were telling me was all the press used to be, one way or another, handled by Ceaușescu’s people. Either the publishers were friends of his or his own people he put in place.

Hella Pick interviews Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. (Courtesy)

So the Romanians grew up not believing the press. They knew that whatever they were reading is from the government. And even though that fell, even though they became a democracy, even though newspapers started out, they never lost their disbelief in the press, so they just wouldn’t read it. It’s a huge country. It has tens of millions of people. And the most read newspaper had something like when I was there, something like 250,000 readers.

So it was really to a point where they completely avoided mainstream media and actually went for alternate media: WhatsApp, social media, and conspiracy theories were rife there. They were so rife that Romania became a hotbed for the measles explosions because they wouldn’t vaccinate, because they completely believed the anti-vaccination stories that were around, and there was no way of reaching them and giving them reliable information because that’s where they were getting it.

And I remember leaving and thinking, oh, my God, this could happen to us in Israel. Because at that point, when I visited Romania, it was a threshold moment for Israeli press. Netanyahu had come back to power in 2009. Very quickly, there was a war between him and the media.

He truly, truly believes that the media in Israel is against him, is trying to oust him, is uniting with his opponents, wherever they may be — they may be within his own party as well. And he started doing everything possible to create an alternative. He did two things. One is a consistent campaign against the media and the journalists in Israel, and he’s still doing it.

And the second one was trying to bring in other forces to create his own “Fox News,” which ties into why he’s now standing trial. He’s standing trial for three cases. And case number one is a bribery charge, it is him trying to control the then-largest media outlet in Israel, which was the Walla News website, in exchange for regulatory favors for the owner of that website at the time.

He’s standing trial for trying to reach a bribery deal with the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth, who wanted Israel Hayom to start either charging money or stop beating him in his own game because it was unfair. He was selling newspapers, they weren’t, and they were stealing readers and advertisers. So he had negotiations with the prime minister over that. “We’ll help you. We’ll give you better press coverage, and in return, you ask Adelson to stop.”

And even the third case, which is seemingly not about communications, it’s about him getting free presents and cigars and champagne and everything. Even that does have to do with the press. Because the person who was giving him all of that, which is Arnon Milchan, the famous producer, he was trying to convince Arnon Milchan to buy Yedioth Ahronoth and at the same time, he was trying to convince another billionaire, James Packer, who was also mentioned in this case, to set up with Murdoch to set up a Fox News channel in Israel.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie flank Arnon Milchan, head of Regency Enterprises, at the premiere of ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ in Los Angeles on June 7, 2005. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

So everything that led Netanyahu to stand trial has to do with his complicated relationship with the Israeli media. He wants them to appreciate him. He wants them to love them, and they don’t.

There is something to be said that he’s right: The media traditionally has been against Netanyahu, but not in the sense that they just didn’t like him. They were very critical of his policies and the way that he leads. And I always remember during the Trump years, Martin Baron, who was the editor of The Washington Post at the time, the great Martin Baron, he was asked, “Why are you always at war with the administration, with the Trump administration?” He said, “I’m not at war, I’m at work.” And I love that. Because I think the Israeli media, their standpoint was they truly believed that this is what they need to do. They need to criticize the government. I’m talking about the existing government and Netanyahu’s governments as a whole. They didn’t like being criticized. They really did not feel that that was the role of the press to be “at work.”

Something I find so interesting in Israeli media, and we feel this in the difference between, say, The Times of Israel and Zman Yisrael, is that The Times of Israel is still trying to have balance in our writing, to maintain at least an objective facade. But in Zman Yisrael, I see in your pieces that your opinions come through, that the writer’s opinions come through, that the writer puts himself much more into it. And you see this throughout Hebrew-language Israeli press in general, that Israeli reporters are opinionated — maybe because they’re Israeli — but also because that’s just the way the press is done here. It’s not this taking yourself out of the picture and trying to report on the scene. Do you agree with me, Bira?

Partly, yes. I think, first of all, Israelis are opinionated. That’s a fact. They would say what they think anywhere. You can stand in line to buy milk, and somebody from behind, whom you’ve never talked to will explain to you why this specific milk is probably not better, not good for you, and you didn’t even ask for advice.

And how many hats does one baby need? Really? Please, ladies, come on!

Absolutely. And the way you drive and the way you dress, and the way you look, you’ll get advice everywhere. So that’s the DNA of it. But I don’t completely agree with you that opinions are everywhere. But I do agree with you that there is agenda. I will agree with you that we wear our agenda on our sleeve. And actually, I think that we have quite a lot to thank Netanyahu for because I think for many years, even before he was back in power, for many years, he and the right-wing politicians in general kept accusing the Israeli media, “you’re too left-wing.” To a point where they pushed it, it became an identity issue. To the point where they pushed the publishers and the media outlets and the channels to ask themselves, okay, I know Amanda is pro-peace, and I know that Bira is anti-peace or whatever. So I’m good, I’m covered, and if not, then I need to bring somebody who’s anti. You actually see this in our primetime television shows on Friday nights, where you have the weekly roundups.

Former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak in a January 7, 2023 TV interview with Channel 12’s Dana Weiss. (Channel 12 screenshot)

They make a point of having a person there who’s known to be left wing, so they’ll make sure that they’ll bring somebody from the right wing to sit next to them, et cetera. So it kind of outed the journalists themselves, I think maybe more than 10 years ago. But 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have a clue. I would sit with you, and we would look at who’s the reporter for this, and I wouldn’t have a clue who they voted for. And today, you don’t say who you vote for, but you kind of announce yourself on what side of the fence you’re sitting in, what camp you’re putting yourself in.

It’s very rare, especially for people who write about politics and who write about current affairs, it’s very rare that we don’t know who they side with. So with that in mind, I think it makes things easier. I think it makes it messy, but it makes it easier. There’s no attempt to mask it and to try to be who you’re not. Having said that, professionalism is professionalism. If you write about the facts, you don’t make up facts.

And if you write about something that is controversial, you bring both sides or try to present both sides of the argument, even if you’re in favor of one side. And professionalism is something that is becoming scarce in Israel. So I think I look at Fox News, setting aside the very big, huge elephant in the room of conspiracy theories: Did Trump lose the elections? And everything that happened to them that led them to two huge lawsuits, one which they’ve already settled, and another that’s still standing. But I watched Fox News coverage on election night when Biden won. It’s still professional. They don’t make up polls. They don’t look for pollsters that will give them the right numbers to tell their own stories. They still report what’s happening. You don’t get an alternative reality. You get the same reality with a different perspective, but you get the same reality.

That’s not the case in Israel. It’s become too radicalized. And just looking at the national media in general, I think we’ve seen a drop in professionalism. Channel 14 is a good example. This is a channel that is now a force to be reckoned with. So we need to look at what their journalism is like and not just what their agenda is like.

Channel 14’s diplomatic correspondent Nati Langermann reports from outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, October 12, 2022. (Screenshot/Twitter)

What worries me the most is that we’re at a point where there is a chasm in Israeli society that probably or maybe isn’t even recoverable. And I think the press has a job more than any other time in Israel today to inform people. To inform not just not just give them what they want to hear, but to actually tell them what is happening, explain to them what is happening, and make sure they know what is happening in every aspect of life. And I think if you’re a pro-Bibi voter, if you voted Bibi and you love him and you think he’s great, and you watch Channel 14, you’re going to get a certain reality.

I’ll just give you an example, okay, if I may. But let’s take one that is very radicalized. We have a defense minister, Yoav Gallant. A little over a month ago, he stepped up, spoke publicly, and said, we are at a point of clear and present danger to Israeli security because of the judicial overhaul and its effect on Israeli society. We must stop. And the day after Netanyahu fired him or said he would fire him.

That day, if you remember, all hell broke loose. People in the middle of the night left their homes and went out to demonstrate against this. It was a turning point in the entire reform versus demonstration issue. People were shocked that he would fire Gallant for that. If you turned on Channel 14 that evening, or if you even just went to their website, the headline was, “Netanyahu is showing leadership: He finally fired Gallant.”

So looking at that, you didn’t know, they didn’t say a word about people on the streets demonstrating. You wouldn’t have a clue. They even suppressed what Gallant said about the clear and present danger, which is quite a sentence for a defense minister to say. And the way that they covered it was that he was a rogue politician from Netanyahu’s party who was being subversive and needs to be fired. And finally, Netanyahu did it. Hurray! That’s the picture you would get. And I think about the people, and there are quite a few people nowadays. I mean, they have a market share of about five to 10%, depending on the hour. So that means that there’s a group of people that this is what they watch and this is what they know. That’s the reality that they see.

Singer and poet Yehonatan Geffen at the EMI, the Israel Artists Association, lifetime achievement awards ceremony, held in Petah Tikva, February 17, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Yehonatan Geffen, who is probably one of our most famous songwriters or writers. He was a journalist, he wrote songs, he wrote poetry, he wrote books. He is really a staple of Israeli culture. There isn’t a single person in Israel who doesn’t know at least half a dozen songs that he wrote. Children grew up reading his books and listening to his records. He’s really an icon. He’s also very left-wing. Channel 14 didn’t mention even once that he died. He died two or three weeks ago. It was a major story in Israel. His songs were being played on the radio. His photo was on the front page of every newspaper. The television broadcast his funeral live. Not a word in Channel 14.

So a person who watched Channel 14 that week didn’t even know that Yehonatan Geffen died. Maybe it was mentioned in passing somewhere, but there’s a good chance he didn’t even know that it was an important story to tell. So those are just two examples.

I’ll give you another one, which is quite astonishing to me as a journalist. I think we all want to have scoops. We all want to have exclusives. We all want to be able to have something that everybody then follows up on and writes and quotes and becomes the topic of the day. That’s a holy grail for any journalist. Channel 14 has an exclusive interview with Yariv Levin, the justice minister who is the godfather or the brain, the maker of this judicial overhaul, and they interview him about the judicial overhaul — 14 minutes, a very detailed interview. They even ask the right questions. I have no qualms with what they were asking him.

The headline that they took out of it was something about the president of the Supreme Court [Esther Hayut], that she needs to be investigated and the former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak should be investigated, whatever. Something very trolling, a trolling headline that will only upset other people, and fine. Nobody watched it, I think, from our end. I mean, it just went under the radar. With the exception of this headline that they took out, two weeks later, somebody who did watch that sent a tape of a moment or a minute within this interview to another journalist in Haaretz saying, you completely missed this.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, left, during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on April 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)

That minute was Yariv Levin saying on the record live that they actually made a mistake, and their judicial overhaul, were it to go through, is the end of democracy. He agreed. He essentially agreed with everything that the demonstrations and the anti-judicial overhaul people were saying.

That became a huge headline. It became a huge headline worldwide. There wasn’t a single newspaper in Israel that didn’t have it and I’ve seen it even appearing in The New York Times, et cetera.

The justice minister, the person who actually started the whole thing, this whole mess, is admitting on television that his own reform would hurt Israeli democracy. It’s not done in democracy, he said it would lead to things that are not done in democracy.

Channel 14 had this and they completely buried it because it didn’t fit the story of their alternative reality. It was almost like, going back to Marvel Universe, it was almost like there was a hole, one of those holes between the universes, and something seeped in, so they just ignored it. It doesn’t belong to this universe. It’s quite astonishing, I think.

Today, with the rift that there is in Israeli society, there is a rift within the Israeli media. And the thing that worries me the most is that there’s silos in this country. The state of Israel after 75 years is actually probably broken down into various sub-states that have their own microorganism, including their own media and their own viewpoint, and we’re too small a country to be able to afford that.

But wasn’t Israel founded on this kind of very subjective media? Meaning the original news outlets were either aligned with a political party or some kind of movement, were they not?

Well, first of all, some of the newspapers existed well before the country existed, Haaretz exists for 100 years or so. Yedioth Aharonot, I think, 120. There have been various other newspapers that have been closed by now, but there’s definitely always this appeal for the politicians to own, or rather to control the media always everywhere, whether it’s the UK, Tony Blair, his relationship with Murdoch, et cetera. There’s always this relationship between the press and the government. There’s always this yearning to control the press. There’s always this animosity towards the critical press. It always exists, and within that, you balance it out.

A collection of Israeli newspaper front pages, (top R-L) Maariv, Haaretz, Israel Hayom, and (bottom) Yedioth Ahronoth, their headlines featuring the 2020 US general election results, November 8, 2020. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

75 years ago, we had several newspapers, some of them, and some of the newspapers that just started out were politically affiliated. The government, Mapai, which was David Ben-Gurion’s party, it had its own newspaper and then the communists had their own newspaper and the right-wing people had their own news. And Channel 7 [Arutz Sheva] is something that started off from the settlers in Judea and Samaria and Gaza. Yes.

But somehow they weren’t controlled by those politicians. They had an agenda. I wouldn’t say that they weren’t Pravda. They had proper journalists and proper editors, and the professionalism that we keep talking about was there. They weren’t there to make up stories and they weren’t there to create an alternative reality. They were there to report a reality from their own perspective or from their party’s perspective. And I respect that. I think that, let’s not shy around. The New York Times has a perspective, The Washington Post has a perspective, and it’s completely different than, I don’t know, Steve Bannon’s Breitbart or Newsmax.

I’m not against perspective. I’m not against people having a choice and being informed in various ways and the public discourse being fueled by different newspapers and different media outlets, that’s great. I think the problem starts — and this is a problem that probably not just in Israel, but worldwide — when fake news seeps in and when conspiracy theories are so rampant and social media feeds the press instead of the press feeding social media. At that point, professionalism becomes an issue. If you don’t have it, if you don’t have people who put themselves first and foremost as journalists, and only after right-wing, left-wing, whatever it is, if their religion is not journalism, but rather a different religion, then you’re in trouble.

Very fascinating. We’ve gone on too long. But before we end, I’d really like to talk about something that is somewhat unique to Israel, and that’s censorship. And if our religion is journalism, sometimes we have to bow at the altar of the censor and say, hey, let us actually print what we need to print. Tell us a little bit about what the censor is, to begin with.

Well, we have an army censorship, and by law, every journalist, every press outlet, media outlet, has to submit anything that has to do with Israeli security in a very broad sense of the word. If we write about Iran, if we write about the relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan, whatever it is, we’re supposed to submit it to the censor for review. And they either okay it or they take out a few words, or they ask you to change something, or they completely strike it out.

There’s one other thing that I want to say that I think we also have one other thing that is very unique to Israel, even though it’s not unique, we have gag orders. We have court guard gag orders. Everybody has them. The United States has them. You can go to court and get a gag order. We have more gag orders statistically than any other country in the world. We’re number one. So we are censored from all sides of the aisle.

You mentioned Tucker Carlson. When I woke up this morning, I read breaking news stories in The New York Times where they revealed the damning email or text that Tucker Carlson wrote, which actually led to Fox settling with Dominion for $787.5 million. It’s a number I’ll never forget. And also firing him, essentially.

American television host and conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson is seen on screen delivering a speech at the CPAC conference in Budapest, Hungary, May 19, 2022. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP)

I read this letter, oh my God, it’s nothing! It’s “pareve,” we say in Hebrew. You know, I mean, you fired him for that? Come and watch our Channel 14. It’s even worse. But the thing that struck me was that they published this text that has a gag order in the Dominion case, it was submitted, et cetera, and it was blackened out by court order. The New York Times doesn’t care. It wouldn’t even think twice to publish something that has public interest.

In Israel? Oh, hell yeah, we care, and we get in trouble if we don’t. If there’s a gag order, you can’t publish by the court, even if we think it’s super important. And if the censorship tells you you can’t publish something or strike something out, we can argue, there are various things we can do, but there’s almost zero chance you’ll win that argument, and it’s ridiculous, and sometimes it’s being used against us.

At some point, I remember the censorship telling me that I can’t write something, or telling me that I need to take something out of one of our articles and explaining to me that I need to take this out because the enemy shouldn’t know. And if it’s been published in our articles, then it makes it official. I can quote Syrian press saying this and that, but if I say this [in Israeli press], that makes it official. Even if I’m just opining on something. And I thought it was ridiculous and I had no choice, and I figured I’ll pick my battles. It wasn’t such an important sentence, and I took it off.

And then the morning, everybody had that sentence in. So I called the censor to complain, and he said, yeah, well, the powers that be came to the conclusion that they actually want the enemy to know. They actually want to hint to the enemy that we’re standing behind this, whatever it is.

So I don’t know. It’s a small minefield to walk through. Sometimes I think with the Internet and social media, it’s become harder for them to monitor things. Gag orders as well. I mean, there’s lots of examples where there’s a gag order to not publish somebody’s name, but if you just search Google, you’ll find it because everybody’s already talking about it and writing it on Facebook or Twitter or whatever.

But it makes the press handicapped. On the one hand, we have, I think, silos of press. We have a government that truly wants to control the press. We have various censors and gag orders that are limiting the press. And journalism as a whole is not such a fantasy anymore for young people. That’s the press we have.

Zman Yisrael editor Biranit Goren (left) with Times of Israel editor David Horovitz, celebrating ToI’s 10th anniversary, May 1, 2022. (Ariel Jerozolimski)

And within that, there are few, and it needs to be said, that are still doing a really good job. I think the fact that we’re talking about the Israeli press, we’re not Romania, we still have an impact. When somebody breaks a story at 8:00 p.m., or when Haaretz has a major story, or Yedioth Ahronoth, or Zman Yisrael for that matter, it still makes an impact.

People still talk about it. They’ll say they don’t believe the press, but when it’s written in the press, they believe it. There is a subconscious belief still that if something was published in the press, then it must be right.

Bira, thank you so much for this.

Thank you, Amanda.

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