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Last update - 03:38 01/08/2005
Meet the Messiah on Israel TV
By Anat Balint
The Chabad movement has been given lots of Channel 1 coverage as of late. A month and a half ago, the channel aired "The Emissaries," a film about the annual convention of Chabad worldwide emissaries held in New York, in which reporter Itai Rappaport not only documented the event, but also served, according to his own testimony, as something between a journalist and an enthusiastic supporter of the movement. The Friday evening current events program, "Diary of the Week," recently broadcast a report by veteran Channel 1 documentary maker, Uri Goldstein on the messianic stream of Chabad and its violent activity against the disengagement. Two days later, a report by Uri Revah was broadcast that appeared to to correct the impression left by Goldstein's report by presenting Chabad's mainstream as calling for non-violent action.
Behind all this coverage is a complex network of relationships between the movement and several Channel 1 figures, most notably director of Israel Television, Motti Eden. "The Lubavitcher Rebbe [late head of the Chabad Movement] perhaps is dead, but his spirit has been reigning at Romema [Israel Television's headquarters] ever since Motti Eden became director of Israel Television," is how a senior editor at Channel 1 described the phenomenon.
This, of course, is not the first time the Israel Broadcasting Authority has been influenced from the outside. There have been a long series of political attempts to impact the IBA's agenda throughout the authority's existence. However, not all of the Chabad membership is pleased with the stepped-up exposure due to the internal conflict within Chabad in recent years: On one side is the mainstream of the movement, while on the other, there is the Messianic stream that believes the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the Messiah (and therefore, does not acknowledge his death), and has become involved in extreme right-wing activity. This group is primarily identified with those members who are newly observant. According to a number of Channel 1 and Chabad sources, Eden and Revah identify with the Messianic stream.
Eden, who was surprisingly appointed Israel Television directory in November, 2003, has a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe hanging in his office. This is just one sign of the deep connection that Eden, to which he himself testifies, has with the movement and its late leader. At television directorate meetings, even during the days when deposed IBA director general Yosef Barel was in command, Eden often recounted a meeting he had with the Lubavitcher Rebbe at which he promised him that eventually he would be Israel Television director. Eden even claims he has a recording of the rebbe's statement.
A Channel 1 source said that at directorate meetings, participants have started to joke that Eden's' appointment was made by "the Messiah," since everyone knew Barel was behind the move. In the end, a Shas representative on the board of directors, Amram Melitz, tipped the scales at the last moment in favor of Eden, who ran against Amnon Nadav for the position.
At the beginning of last month, Goldstein set out to prepare a report for "Diary of the Week" on what is transpiring in the Chabad movement. He went to Safed, among other venues, where he documented movement members who believe the rebbe is still alive and are conducting violent activities against the disengagement. Goldstein also spoke with city residents who complained about the violence perpetrated by the Chabad members, and how they have become a local nuisance. Channel 1 sources said that prior to the broadcast, all of the normal pressures experienced at every news desk began: there were calls from the Chabad spokesman and movement officials trying to prevent the broadcast. Eden demanded to see the report before it was broadcast, but because he was not in the building, the soundtrack was played to him over the telephone. At the end of the conversation, he ordered cutting one sentence uttered by a Safed resident who said the Chabadniks are "haters of secular people."
Just two days elapsed after the broadcast of Goldstein's report when the weekday evening news program "Mabat" broadcast Raveh's report, which delivered an altered picture. Chabad Spokesman Menachem Brod denied that he had applied pressure not to broadcast the first report or to broadcast a revised report.
Raveh is at the center of criticism as to how Chabad is covered in public broadcasting. Raveh was a reporter for Channel 2 News, and after becoming newly observant, he served as the spokesman for Asher Ohana, who served as religious affairs minister on behalf of Shas in 2001-2003. He then returned to reporting, this time for Channel 1's Religion and Heritage Department. The assumption at Romema is that in the spirit of the way things were run during the Barel era, this gesture was made to strengthen ties with Shas. Barel has refused to talk to Haaretz.
Raveh began to work under a personal contract at the heritage department three years ago. With time, and with Eden's encouragement, he became an occasional news reporter on religious matters, mainly the Chabad movement. News editors said that time after time they have had to stop reports that trumpet Chabad religiously and politically. However, sometimes, due to their heavy workload, they do not succeed stopping materials not worthy of broadcast. "He says that he is going to do a color item on the hakafot (dancing with the Torah scrolls) in Kfar Chabad at Sukkot, and then along comes a report that is a screed against the disengagement and the agreement with the Palestinians, because the rebbe said it is forbidden to give up territories," an editor said. In this case, the report was disqualified for broadcast.
"His whole attitude toward religion is only through the glasses of Chabad," another editor said. "He is incapable of doing a report in which there is an ounce of professionalism, because he is entirely committed. The day before Oded Ben-Ami's Channel 2 scoop on Rabbi Mordecahi Eliyahu's opposition to the disengagement, Uri Raveh went to see Eliyahu, and what did he interview him about? About a clock from the time of the Baba Sali. This was broadcast on the news."
A year ago, Raveh prepared a report on rabbis who "cure" homosexuals, which was broadcast on "Diary of the Week" and aroused anger at Channel 1. "The very choice of the topic for the report legitimizes the claim that homosexuals are sick people," a Channel 1 source said. "This is journalism that testifies to ignorance."
Raveh's conduct irritates employees at the channel in other ways as well. His office in Romema serves as a synagogue where Gemara lessons and prayers are held. On Fridays, Raveh roams the corridors, accompanied by young Chabad members, and distributes wine and Sabbath candles. "His activity at the IBA is missionary," a Channel 1 reporter said. "He goes around to the various rooms, and tries to wheedle people into putting on tefillin (phylacteries) and putting up mezuzot. There is no doubt that this sort of activity is not appropriate at a public workplace. There was always the accusation that the religion department was a branch of the National Religious Party. Raveh does not even try to hide the fact that he is a Shas person. This is done in a crude way, and is known to everyone."
The third rib of the triangle of Chabad sympathizers at Channel 1 is the head of the news desk in the north, Itai Rappaport. The thoroughly secular Rappaport grew close to Chabad after covering Rabbi Moshe Eurechman, a member of the movement involved in charitable activity in the Krayot area, whom he eventually befriended.
On a private visit to New York, Rappaport reported in his film "The Emissaries," Eurechman invited him to the annual convention of 4,000 Chabad emissaries who come from all corners of the world. Rappaport, by his own account, was captivated by the project, and decided he wanted to make a documentary film about the event. Chabad provided him with a film crew, meaning that the production was paid for by the movement, not the IBA. When Rappaport returned and wanted to edit the film, the IBA technicians' committee refused to agree, since the film had not been made by Channel 1. Eden, however, pressured the group to agree that the film be edited. Eventually, the film was not only edited, but also broadcast. However, the channel's technicians have since boycotted Rappaport, and therefore, he has not prepared a report in recent weeks.
"The Emissaries" is a fascinating document, if only because of a look inside the world of the movement's emissaries that was made possible thanks to his Chabad contact. Rappaport documented the pilgrimage to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's grave, filmed the rebbe's library, which includes ancient holy books, and participated in the final evening celebration, a banket. Toward the end of the film, Rappaport appears, joining the circles of dancing Hasidim. "We journalists develop cynicism, defensive walls and look at everything from the sidelines," he explained during a discussion of the film held in the studio. "It is impossible to remain indifferent in face of the ecstasy. This is about thousands of people dancing with tremendous fervor and lightning in their eyes. You enter into it." He ended the broadcast with an emotional recommendation: Every Israeli who goes to New York should visit the home of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, otherwise "something will be lacking from his visit."
A rare scene occurred during the studio discussion: Brod, the Chabad spokesman, appeared more restrained than Rappaport, the journalist sitting next to him. The moderator of the discussion, Shlomi Goldberg, nevertheless tried to touch on painful subjects, such as the schism in the movement between the moderates and the messianics. Brod acknowledged that "there are various opinions, but the love of the Jewish people is above everything." But Rappaport had never heard of this. "I looked for the differences of opinion, and I didn't find any! I looked, and I didn't find any! At the emissaries' convention there are no differences of opinion, there is fraternity."
A veteran Channel 1 reporter said: "Rappaport should have been boycotted by the journalists' committee, and not by the technicians, for this performance."
Eden: Uri Raveh is a Jew
The IBA did not give permission to interview reporters Uri Raveh and Itai Rappaport. As a result, Israel Television Director Motti Eden responded to questions directed to them.
Concerning his closeness to Chabad, Eden stated: "I am acquainted with all the streams in Judaism, and am a friend of many of the various streams. I interviewed the Lubavitcher Rebbe in a first journalistic interview 25 years ago."
Concerning Eden's intervention so that a report would "correct" Uri Goldstein's report, Eden said: "I do not send reporters on assignments. The person in charge of this task are the editors of "Mabat," the program editors or the reporters who initiate reports themselves."
Concerning Raveh's identification with Chabad, Eden stated: "I have no knowledge to the effect that he belongs to any stream. He is a Jew." Eden also addressed criticism about Raveh's work: "Uri Revah's reports, items and films deal with a variety of Jewish topics, not only with Chabad. The only authorities to whom Uri Raveh is required to give an accounting to on his reports are the news broadcast editors and the heritage department editor. The director of Israel Television is the highest professional authority at the television station and not a rabbinical authority."
Concerning the turning of Raveh's office into a synagogue: "It is well know that at the IBA there are many Jewish employees, and if a Jew wants a synagogue, he will have one. Uri Raveh's office, with respect to the matter at hand, also serves as a synagogue."
Concerning the criticism of Rappaport's work on the film "The Emissaries," Eden stated: "Even a journalist is allowed to relate to people he meets. And if they do good deeds for others, then it is alright to relate to this, as do many reporters with regard to topics they cover."