Off with their heads
Whose hairbrained idea was it to threaten the foreign press with deportation and a ten-year ban from Israel if they covered the flotilla aboard the vessels?
Thing is we were doing pretty well: smart, aggressive diplomacy with Turkey, Cyprus and Greece got these important neighbors of ours to stop several boats leaving their ports and joining the flotilla; the IHH pulled out; several boats discovered they had serious trouble getting insurance for their journey; other participants discovered that their boats suddenly had damaged masts and other technical complications; and we got Egypt to agree to let the boats dock at El Arish. All that was needed was to prepare the world’s media for a non-violent takeover of the “provocation flotilla.” This time we did the work quietly, behind-the-scenes, with forethought and foresight, which, in hindsight, is what we should have done before last year’s flotilla fiasco. So, as it turns out, just as things were going our way, we do the most Israeli thing ever: we blow it. Or more to the point: some small-minded beauracrat, some unqualified person who is not in the right job and is only in his job because he was close to someone who was close to someone, comes up with a hairbrained scheme that puts us squarely back on the defensive.
PM Netanyahu wisely overruled and rescinded the threat made by his new head of the GPO, Oren Helman, who came up with the idea, probably by himself, to ban any foreign media on board the flotilla from Israel for ten years. And if it wasn’t Helman but someone else at the Foreign Ministry or National Information Directorate or Ministry for Public Diplomacy, or the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, then Helman, the person tasked with keeping the world’s media very close to him, should have overruled them all, should have banged his fist on the table, should have threatened to resign. So either he came up with it, or didn’t know, or did know and couldn’t do anything about it – it doesn’t matter: he needs to go, he’s not the right man for the job.
Netanyahu realized how the GPO’s threat makes Israel look and repealed Helman’s threat.
So if this was Helman’s instinctual reflex, his ‘great idea’ to get good media coverage for Israel from the impending flotilla, then it shows what he really thinks of the foreign press, and that he has played his hand. It’s out in the open: he can’t stand them and he’s not very experienced in media matters. Every global media outlet slammed Helman’s decision on Sunday and Monday, thereby totally trashing what is Helman’s very raison d’etre: to create the conditions for positive media coverage of Israel. This man must go, before he does any more damage. It’s high time – no, it’s past high time – that the government appoint a seasoned, respected, savvy former top journalist or media expert to this most sensitive, and highly important public position and stop treating it as a way-station for political appointments.
What is needed in this position is someone who speaks the language of the foreign press, and here I’m not talking about English, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic – but someone who would never, ever, ever in his or her wildest dreams concoct such a stupid idea as to deport and ban foreign reporters from the country if they covered what is obviously a newsworthy event from one of the boats.
The Foreign Press Association, which had condemned Sunday’s decision for sending “a chilling message to the international media” that “raises serious questions about Israel’s commitment to freedom of the press,” welcomed yMonday’s reversal by Netanyahu.
“We are pleased to see that Israel has recognized the value of allowing reporters to cover an important news event, and understands that journalists should be treated differently from political activists,” it said in a statement.
Oh, while we’re on it, and thanks to Benji Lovitt for reminding me: whoever put this stupid fake thing up also needs to get the sack:
This embarrassment has been on the New York Times homepage all day. Seriously, the people behind this are doing us more harm than good.