Professor takes hard look at Israeli journalism
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Throughout these past several decades, the Yemenite Babies Affair has been a much-debated controversy. During this crisis, Yemenite children were kidnapped from their homes from the late 1940’s up until the mid-1950’s. Suffolk University Professor of Communication and Journalism Shoshana Madmoni-Gerber held a seminar in the Poetry Center this past week analyzing the presence and impact of Israeli media during this crisis.
Madmoni-Gerber was born and raised in Israel to parents of Yemenite descent. She has worked as a journalist for several Israeli publications and also as a broadcast journalist, concentrating on investigative journalism in Israel.
In her book, “Israeli Media and the Framing of Internal Conflict,” she examines bias within Israel and the media at large through the lens of the news coverage of the Yemenite Babies Affair. The seminar took audience members inside her book as she told the story of the affair and the role she played in uncovering the mystery behind these events.
Madmoni-Gerber was inspired to investigate the Yemenite Babies Affair while working at a small Israeli newspaper called “The Hammer.”
During the mass immigration of Jews during the 1940’s and 50’s, thousands of babies disappeared from immigrant absorption and transit camps throughout Israel.
She recalled one memory from her childhood when she saw an ambulance driver take her aunt’s daughter. In several other cases, she said babies were ripped out of their mother’s hands and never returned.
Madmoni-Gerber showed video clips from the investigative show Uvda on Channel Two where she worked as a broadcast journalist. These clips were from actual Yemenite parents whose babies were kidnapped; they vividly showed the horror and suffering these parents endured when their children were stolen.
No investigation into the kidnappings came until the mid 1960’s. Madmoni-Gerber said all Israelis are drafted when they turn 16. However, when these kidnapped children never showed up for the draft, they came to the doors of the parents from which the children were stolen. From there, three commissions ensued.
While the first two commissions revealed little information about the affair, the third Kedmi Commission, lasting from 1995 to 2001, revealed the most shocking data because it had the power to subpoena. The Kedmi Commission heard roughly 1,053 court cases and revealed that roughly 972 children had died. The children who were kidnapped were most likely sold to affluent families looking to raise a child of their own.
Madmoni-Gerber considered that because such shocking results came from the investigation, most would expect the media to conduct a further, even deeper investigation of the events. Unfortunately, the media’s actions were quite the contrary.
Because the Yemenite Babies Affair was not thoroughly covered by Israeli media, many students were truly surprised when they listened to Madmoni-Gerber’s presentation.
Being apart of the media herself, Madmoni-Gerber explained all the censorship and obstruction that was such a routine part of the Israeli media. She said voluntary censorship was a huge part of Israeli media.
“My main finding was that the press was complicit,” she said. “They were reacting to what the government was doing, not creating their own investigation.” Israeli media went along with what the government said rather than conducting their own deeper investigation.
“When you’re investigating, you need to hit non-stop with that issue,” said Madmoni-Gerber. She explained that after a few months of writing about the affair, Israeli media eventually said they saw no need for further investigation. But she felt there was so much more to uncover.
According to Madmoni-Gerber, the government equated racism to rationalize why the kidnappings were not legitimate. They emphasized the babies were not necessarily kidnapped because affluent families wouldn’t want a baby of Yemenite descent.
Madmoni-Gerber concluded the main theory, although there is a significant lack of information, is that the government was a part of these kidnappings and that’s why they tried to deflect the media from a more thorough investigation because they did not want to be caught.