Remember the intensive ad campaign: "Say Tehillim --
for the Soul" that blanketed the country at the beginning of
the Jewish year? Ever wonder what happened to the catchy
jingle proclaiming the power of Psalms to bring "more
happiness -- to you, to your family, to all of us?"
It is hard to believe that the innocuous suggestion to recite
a chapter of Psalms a day could cause anyone's blood to boil.
But this is Israel. Shinui MK Yossi Paritzky filed a
complaint with the Appeals Committee of the Israel Broadcast
Authority demanding that the ads be removed from the air.
A] The stated purpose of the Appeals Committee is to protect
free speech by providing a forum for advertisers whose ads
have been rejected by the IBA. It has no authority to
hear complaints by outside parties who are offended by a
particular ad that is already being broadcast.
Nevertheless the Appeals Committee heard Paritzky's
complaint. Worse, it ordered the ads removed on the grounds
that: (1) their content concerns a matter of intense
ideological debate and (2) they are missionary in nature.
B] The protocol of the Appeals Committee meeting reveals a
shocking animus on the part of committee members to
traditional Judaism. The chairwoman of the Committee,
literatteur Nili Carmel, announced that she could tolerate an
advertisement that urged Jews to read Psalms which is,
after all, a fine literary text. What was unacceptable, in
her eyes, was the suggestion to say Psalms, which she
classified as a form of "incitement" to ritual activity.
Dr. Ilan Asia, another board member, launched into a vicious
attack on the chareidi community, which he described as
"sucking from our veins." He expressed his concern that the
ad might lead to more ba'alei teshuva, and thus more
power for the chareidi parties, which "already control three-
quarters of the Knesset Finance Committee [and whose members]
don't work, don't go to the army, and are galuti."
That protocol shows how cut off those who control the
broadcast media are from the general Israeli population.
There is barely a hospital waiting room in the country in
which books of Psalms are not found. A memorial gathering in
Mevasseret Zion, hardly a bastion of religiosity, began with
the head of the local council reciting Psalms. Throughout the
evening a couple of men circulated with large sacks filled
with hundreds of books of Psalms that were eagerly taken by
C] One of the statutory purposes of the IBA is "to strengthen
the connection of the nation to its Jewish heritage and
values and to deepen the knowledge of that heritage." Yet
here was the IBA Appeals Committee equating a radio ad
celebrating one of the most widely observed Jewish customs --
reciting Psalms -- with Christian missionaries soliciting
Jews to abandon their religion.
The members of the IBA Appeals Committee are perfectly
entitled to their opinion that reciting Psalms is a waste of
time. By the same token there are plenty of people who remain
unconvinced that Coke "is the real thing," and even some who
view Coke as a major health hazard. Yet the ads for such
products are not kept off the air on the grounds that they
are "too ideological."
Nor did the IBA refuse to broadcast the ads of the Reform and
Conservative movements, promoting their "egalitarian
services" under the slogan "There is more than one way to be
Jewish," on the grounds that they are missionary.
Mordechai Eisenberg, director of the Movement for Fairness in
Government, appealed the decision of the IBA Appeals
Committee to the Supreme Court on behalf of the listening
D] In the past the Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed the
value of free speech in a democracy, and ruled that the IBA
therefore has little discretion to reject ads. Recently Court
President Aharon Barak even instructed the IBA to find a way
to broadcast ads sponsored by Gush Shalom warning Israeli
soldiers that their actions in the "occupied territories"
might constitute war crimes under international law.
E] The Court has also enunciated the most liberal rules
governing standing of any Court in the world. In decision
after decision, the Court, led by President Barak, has done
away with the traditional limitation of standing to parties
who have suffered some personal injury from a governmental
decision. Instead the Court has permitted anyone who does not
agree with a particular governmental decision to sue of
behalf of the general public.
Yet in this particular case the Supreme Court ruled that
Eisenberg's organization had no standing to represent the
interests of the general listening public, and that the suit
could only be brought by the sponsors of the ads.
The record before the Court was crystal clear. The IBA
Appeals Committee had no jurisdiction to have rendered a
decision at all (A]). That decision was on its face blatantly
violative of the free speech principles that the Court has
repeatedly applied to the IBA (D]), and contravened one of
the very purposes for which the IBA was created, "to deepen
the attachment of the nation to its heritage" (C]). In
addition, the protocol of the Appeals Committee meeting
showed its decision to have been tainted by an antipathy to
religious Jews and traditional Judaism (B]).
Yet rather than writing a stirring opinion on the primacy of
free speech, or springing into action in its self-proclaimed
role as defender of minorities, the Court suddenly decided to
become finicky about standing, even though Eisenberg was
doing nothing more than asserting the same "public interest"
cited by Meretz Knesset members every time they run to the
Court (E]). Several times the three-judge panel suggested to
Eisenberg that he withdraw his petition -- a suggestion that
always comes with an implicit threat of being socked with
The Court thus provided one more glaring example of the
manner in which it cynically manipulates legal doctrine for
its own political purposes.
Rabbi Rosenblum is the director of Am Echad in Israel.
This column first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.