(September 11, 2019 / JNS) A recent report aired by Israel’s Channel 13 news which smeared a prominent religious Zionist institution with ties to Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz was exposed as false this week by a media watchdog.
The Channel 13 report involved an Israeli pre-military academy founded by Peretz, and portrayed one of the leading instructors at the school as a rabidly anti-secular extremist.
After Presspectiva, the Hebrew arm of media watchdog CAMERA, revealed that the report was false, the television reporter was suspended, journalists and politicians scrambled to either apologize or point fingers, and the network has launched an investigation.
On Aug. 28, Channel 13 aired highly selective and edited video clips of Rabbi Asaf Naumberg telling his students at Otzem Pre-Military Torah Academy that secular Jews are “evil” and must be avoided. He also appeared to instruct his pupils to dodge military service.
The public’s reaction was swift. Major Israeli news outlets ran with the story, while leading Israeli political figures denounced the rabbi as a dangerous zealot.
Avigdor Lieberman, the former Israeli defense minister and founder of the secular-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, said in response to the video clips, “Time after time we are exposed to the true intentions of Education Minister Peretz and his buddies, trying to turn the State of Israel into a theocracy.”
Former Labor MK Revital Swid tweeted: “In a properly functioning government, Rabbi Rafi Peretz would resign tonight from the Ministry of Education. The deplorable content heard in the Otzem school, which was headed by Peretz until recently, is starkly anti-secular, anti-IDF and anti-Ben-Gurion. His silence regarding the report speaks volumes [regarding] his agreement on these matters. Shame on him and his entire party. That’s not the ‘Israeli’ unity they speak of.”
The leader of the Democratic Union Nitzan Horowitz said, “Peretz must be suspended immediately. We mustn’t leave the education system in his dangerous, violence-inciting hands for one more second. He is not Minister of Education—he is minister of darkness. A school that incites violence must be closed.”
Hanan Amiur, editor-in-chief of Presspectiva, was immediately skeptical, however.
“As a graduate of a similar pre-military program, I know that these religious Zionist academies educate students to contribute to the state as outstanding soldiers. The notion that a teacher at Otzem would urge his students to avoid service was unthinkable,” said Amiur. “It’s disturbing that so many news outlets and political figures accepted the story without question.”
Amiur approached the academy and obtained unedited film of the rabbi’s lectures. He discovered that Rabbi Naumberg had clearly been role-playing, presenting the position of an extremist element within the ultra-Orthodox community, one at odds with his own worldview.
“Channel 13 didn’t show the rabbi’s refutation of the radical views,” Amiur said. “It only showed his impersonation of those views, thereby misleading the public and smearing an innocent man.”
The full video showed Rabbi Naumberg expressing warm sentiments towards secular Israelis. “My basic viewpoint is that we [and the leftists] are in the same boat,” he said. “This is my boat. I don’t have another boat.”
He expressed “great affection” for the Labor Party, saying, “Their social vision is much closer to the Torah than the piggish capitalist reality in which we live.”
He also denounced prejudice against Arabs, saying, “Hatred of Arabs is a horrible thing. It’s a terrible thing. It’s racism. It is despicable! What is this? We don’t hate people!”
“I think the lesson here is that especially in these heated political times, we need media watchdogs,” said Amiur. “If news outlets can fail so dismally, news consumers themselves need to exercise skepticism.”