An epidemic of mistrust

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (Dec. 14, 2017) – At a first reading, most Israelis appear to share President Trump’s views about fake news. According to a poll commissioned by the respected Israel Democracy Institute, only 28% of Israelis polled trust the media.

However, this view seems to be based less on personal impressions and more on what people in power tell us to believe. And nobody in the world has more power than Trump. The prime minister of Israel seems keen to emulate him. Despite the almost daily reports about the various investigations of illegal dealings in which Netanyahu is alleged to have been involved, he himself tells us repeatedly not to believe any of it. His supporters in the Knesset are even trying to legislate to muzzle police reports. Netanyahu would like us to take his own pronouncements as absolute truth and everything else as lies.

In this vein, the Netanyahu government has played havoc with Israel’s public broadcasting system. It’s also trying to curb the scope of the private TV and radio stations, presumably to have a better grip on what should reach the public. The Supreme Court ordered Netanyahu to give up being the minister of communications (in addition to being not only prime minister but also foreign minister). He has now put in there a yes-man/poodle that allows him to continue to be in charge.

It may be that the population in Israel is less suspicious of the news than of the powerful who make the news

A chapter in the late Rabbi Lionel Blue’s book, To Heaven with Scribes and Pharisees, is called, “Revelation in the Newspaper.” It suggests that Jews who had given up reading Holy Writ transferred their allegiance to newsprint. The above cited statistics suggest that things have changed, but I’m not persuaded. I get many messages from fellow-Jews urging me to read their favourite columnists to make sure that I get the absolute truth. They don’t seem to believe that they’re being offered fake news.

While we’re bombarded with news from all directions &ndash Trump is reported to watch eight hours of television a day – there’s the temptation to treat most, if not all, of it as entertainment, not information. But that may not be right. Most people in the media seem to have integrity. They help us to understand what’s going on around us as well as in the wider world. Some of what we’re getting may be fake news, but much of it is so labelled by people in power because they don’t want us to believe unfavourable truths about them.

The fact that 56% of those polled seem to assume that we’re told that things are much worse than they are may be because politicians in office want us to believe that they’re the only ones to save us from disasters. I’m, therefore, inclined to believe that the poll is more about the powerful than about the news, because the same survey also suggests that only 26% trust the Knesset and only 15% believe the political parties, presumably even if they vote for them.

Only one in five Israelis seem to trust the Rabbinate, according to the same poll, thus rightly implying that the religious leaders are no more trustworthy than their secular counterparts.

Whatever else the Israel Democracy Institute may have alerted us to, it may be that the population in Israel is less suspicious of the news than of the powerful who make the news. It may be that we may trust those who report the news but have doubts about those they report about. The latter may accuse the media, but they really incriminate themselves. There may be more revelation in the newspapers than Trump, Netanyahu and all the others want us believe.

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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