Right-wing TV station ordered to include Reform, Conservative Judaism

A public television channel with a right-wing Zionist slant asks for permission to start a nightly newscast. Israel’s Communications Ministry says sure, but only if they start including ‘every stream of Judaism.’

By Raanan Shemesh Forshner

A television control room, illustrative photo by Flash90.
A television control room, illustrative photo by Flash90.

Israel’s Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting (CCSB), part of the Communications Ministry, accepted last week a request from Channel 20 to start broadcasting nightly news programs. The channel in turn accepted the Council’s demand that it join the Israel Press Council. In addition, following the Reform Movement’s opposition to the granting of a license to Channel 20, the council ruled that the license could only be given once the broadcaster commits to “represent every stream of Judaism active in the State of Israel.”

The heads of Channel 20 didn’t wait for the decision. Since the channel’s founding the chunk of programming dedicated to current affairs and political issues has gradually increased, and its political stance has sharpened: it is a right-wing media outlet representing a conservative-Orthodox outlook. Since there’s no reason to assume that this will change, one should not underestimate the importance of the CCSB’s decision: this is the first time that a public channel with a right-wing political bent has been established.

News channels with a political identity are not necessarily a bad idea. The realm of written media is saturated with newspapers and journalists aligned with a certain ideology or party — and there’s ostensibly no reason not to create a similar reality in broadcast television. The Israeli Democracy Institute hastened to declare as such:

The Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting’s granting of a news broadcasting license to Channel 20 is an important and worthy decision that can broaden diversity and pluralism in the media. Now, the burden of proof passes to Channel 20, which has committed to abide by the rules of journalistic ethics. So we wish for good news and success!

It’s almost unnecessary to point out that the CCSB’s decision ignored Channel 20’s political stance, and that no decision was taken to establish a left-wing news channel in order to “balance” the picture. It’s hard to understand whether the Israeli Democracy Institute missed this point, or whether they simply agree with right-wing propaganda, according to which every existing media outlet is left-wing.

But even more serious is the well-wishers’ ignoring of the fact that under the original terms of the station’s license, it’s supposed to serve as “Israeli heritage channel.”

“The Heritage Channel” was actually Channel 20’s name when it launched in 2014, following a tender for the establishment of a channel dedicated to Israeli heritage. The terms of the tender outlined what the channel’s content should look like:

The channel’s programming will encompass a diverse range of topics, connected to Israeli heritage, the Jewish religion, history, culture and traditions of the Jewish people in the Diaspora and the State of Israel, with consideration to the cultural and social experience of the Jewish public and all its elements, streams and stripes, in the State of Israel and in the Diaspora.

A channel such as this raises an interesting question for public discussion: is it right to have a Jewish heritage channel with a public license? But the channel’s continued existence makes this question superfluous, because it’s much more important to look at what the channel is doing with the license it’s been given.

From viewing the channel and its content one can see that the station heads are primarily interested in having a right-wing media outlet, and that the “heritage” programming is just there to meet the regulator’s terms of tender — or so I thought. But on further reflection I concluded that the channel’s aim is to strengthen the connection between Jewish heritage and right-wing politics: the station’s central message is the statement: “Judaism = right wing.”

If I had to define the settler right’s most important and successful messaging of the last few years, after “there’s no partner,” it would be equating the right-wing and Judaism. It clearly shows the triumph of nationalist, right-wing and Orthodox organizations that are working in the education system and the army. The Movement for Progressive Judaism, as well as the various Jewish renewal groups who try to advance a pluralistic, secular and humanistic Judaism, are constantly on the defensive. They are under-funded and lacking in political and public legitimacy.

One therefore cannot treat Channel 20 as a right-wing media outlet bringing out its own newscast, as the Israeli Democracy Institute has done. It is, rather, a deceit and part of the religious Right’s ideological battle to try and draw a picture of Judaism that is monolithic, right-wing and racist.

The CCSB’s decision was wrong: there is no need to tell the news broadcast not to exclude Reform and Conservative Jews. It should instead have revoked the station’s permit to operate the “Heritage Channel” and invited the channel to file a request to launch a right-wing news outlet.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.