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Radio Bibi

Right wing reality TV star is now public radio anchor

Liel Leibovitz
July 24, 2012

Keren Neubach is the kind of journalist Hollywood screenwriters have in mind when they sit down to create shows about fearless reporters who speak truth to power and make a difference in their societies. A star correspondent for Israeli Army Radio, she soon joined Israel’s public broadcasting system, working first for the state-run TV station, Channel 1, and later for its prestigious radio counterpart, Kol Yisrael.

Unlike NPR, which is funded by numerous sources, Kol Yisrael is paid for solely by taxpayers, with the state imposing a tax on every radio or television set sold and using it to finance its public broadcasting. Keren Neubach, then, was a civil servant, and, as such, she did a great job: her program received high ratings, and her reporting—frequently focused on social and economic justice—won awards for exposing numerous instances of corruption.

So how did the government—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also the minister in charge of all public broadcasting—thank this most valuable employee? By trying to get rid of her. Marking Neubach as a troublemaker, the management of the Israel Broadcasting Authority tried, earlier this year, to dismiss her producer, Mirit Mitrani. When no professional grounds could be produced for Mitrani’s firing, the IBA came up with a brilliant idea: Neubach, they decided, would be assigned a co-anchor who would “balance” her.

Leaving aside the highly spurious nature of the IBA’s reasoning—there are many other broadcasters on public radio who don’t share Neubach’s preoccupations and, therefore, balance her by default, which is the way things ought to work in free and robust media environments—the IBA’s choice of co-anchor is stunning.

He is Menachem Ben, a pundit best known for his recent participation in the reality show Big Brother. Ben is an outspoken denier of the theory of evolution. He is also a self-described “proud homophobe” who has called for the criminalization of homosexuality, and a radical opponent of medicine who denied his own son, diagnosed with schizophrenia, medical treatment.

Ben’s views got him fired from most of his gigs in Israel’s commercial media. This week, he stepped in as co-anchor of Neubach’s show. The expectation was that Neubach and her staff would quit in protest; they did no such thing. Instead, they played music by Elton John, Morrissey, and other openly gay artists.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.