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Israeli Education Minister Rumored Enmeshed in Sex Scandal, Haaretz Censored Report

saar scandal censored article

Uncensored version of Yossi Klein’s article about Gideon Saar scandal

I reported here last year on one of the greatest stories never told in the Israeli media: that education minister Gideon Saar had sex in a Tel Aviv club with an underage girl; that all the Israeli reporters knew this and that none could report it.  Though this blog gets the discreet attention of the military censor and other intelligence officials, reports here aren’t strong enough evidence for Israeli police to commence an investigation.  No one followed up on this story and Saar emerged unscathed.

Now a new scandal is brewing thanks to a brave Haaretz reporter, Yossi Klein.  He wrote a story today, What You Won’t Read in the Papers (censored version).  The report is one of those breathless intrigue-filled exposes which allude to far more than they expose.  He writes about threats and assignations in dark hotel bathrooms, money passing hands, and much more:

Last week, I met veteran journalists and heard stories about politicians.  Lewd stories of the sort I haven’t heard in a very long while.  Urges, threats, bathroom stalls in dark night clubs…

I’ve never thought politicians were angels.  But I never believed they’d endanger their career and position.  I erred.  It seems that something happens to men with power.  It blinds them.  Their blood goes straight to their nether region and makes them believe something bursts forth there that simply can’t be refused.  It also goes right to their pocket as well: we’ve heard of envelopes passing from hand to hand and insiders bounced from job to job.

When I first read the previous paragraph I thought Klein was claiming Saar had bribed people to maintain silence about his dalliances.  But the reporter may be referring to other politicians who’ve done this in similar circumstances.

Klein moves into a tutorial on the moral and social responsibilities of journalists to report what they know about such scandals given the right to privacy of even public officials.  But there are times, he says, when rumors have a solid basis and the public has a clear interest in knowing the information.  But reporters still can’t report such news, at least not in Israel.  Why?  Ah, now that’s complicated.  We’ll try to explain:

I’d like to believe that a minister comes to his office with a clean mind.  The calculations of the drunken minister are different from those of one who is sober.  The calculations of a minister who’s a sexual harasser are different from those of one who has self-restraint.  A minister who’s a traffic offender can’t preach good driving and a finance minister who’s an embezzler can’t demand austerity.

Why do journalists only talk and not publish?  They don’t publish because news that’s passed the test of credibility and legality still must pass another test.  Not a simple test.  All the stories I heard this past week failed it.  The test is set up at the end of the hall in the office of the publisher.  It’s a test of connections, because connections for a publisher are a supreme value.

The map of connections between a publisher and the powerful is many-branched.  Ties of friendship between them go above and beyond age or party.  Love blossoms: Sheldon loves Bibi and Nimrodi loved Katsav.  Mozes at Yediot loves Olmert and Lieberman.  How does a journalist know about whom he can level criticism?  Mozes went to kindergarten with Olmert?  Served with Lieberman during army service?  Such ties are reflected in the newspaper from front to back. There is no journalist who hasn’t heard and doesn’t know.  You don’t write about friends [of the publisher].

The following paragraph was the censored one (paragraphs following the first one were not censored):

Most friendly of all is the education minister, Gideon Saar.  His ties are wide and deep.  He’s a friend of Yediot and Maariv and right at home with Yisrael HaYom.  You can’t write a nasty word about him because journalists respect those their bosses love.  The education minister can do whatever it comes into  his head to do and but criticism can only be offered to a limited extent.

Journalists love too.  They’re drawn to the powerful.  They call this “cultivating the source.”  In the best of circumstances, the source offers vital information and the journalist arranges protection from negative publicity. In the worst circumstances, the source appoints the journalist to be his advisor, arranges a private car for him, an office and secretary.

Journalists must report what people try to hide.  The assumption that the public deserves to know what they’re trying to hide from it deserves reconsideration.  The public has a right to know.  But doesn’t have the will to make this right real.

The director of the prime minister’s office harassed a female staffer and resigned.  Now he continues to pull the strings, but from another room.  And no one’s terribly upset.  This story we did read in the papers.

gideon saar

Gideon and Shelly Saar in happier times (Elad Dayan)

Several Israeli media watchdogs including Dvorit Shargel and Oren Persico noticed that in the online version all references to Saar were excised.  My Israeli source tells me that Saar’s lawyers threatened Haaretz with a major lawsuit unless the editors dropped their client’s name from the story, which they dutifully did.  But the cat’s out of the bag since they couldn’t destroy all the papers they’d published, which name Saar.

There’s good news and bad news in this report aside from the story itself and its subjects.  The good news is that there are enterprising Israeli journalists willing to speak truth to power regardless of the impact it may have on their careers.  The very bad news is that in the current political climate of fear and intimidation against the Israeli media, Haaretz’s publisher decided to censor this report because he didn’t want to risk a lawsuit from Saar’s litigious side.

Interestingly, last month Saar’s wife of 22 years demanded a separation and Saar is now living in a rented Tel Aviv apartment.  The Israeli gossip columns have written breathlessly about this new desirable bachelor on the market, without explaining why he was tossed out of his home by his wife.  So go the gossip rags.

Rumors have swirled for a long time about Saar having affairs with other women.  One of the most notable partners named has been Labor’s leader, Shelly Yachimovich.  Since Klein, in his article makes reference to powerful politicians and their alliances crossing party lines, it’s sensible to infer that the reporter might be alluding to such an affair between the two.  The other interesting aspect of timing for this story is that Israel’s election campaign has just begun to heat up.  Labor is a hot political property right now.  It doesn’t yet threaten Likud’s dominance, but Yachimovich is a bright star in the election firmament.  She has no obvious scandals or corruption hanging over her head as all other prominent Israeli politicians do.  In other words, it’s terribly opportune to smear Yachimovich at this point in the electoral process in order to cut her and her party down to size.

Another bomb shell announced today is that Netanyahu’s Likud and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu are merging.  My Israeli source tells me that this plan announced today wasn’t scheduled for release at all.  It was supposed to be held back till later in the campaign in order to build a sense of drama.  But Netanyahu thought the Saar story could become huge, distract from the campaign and hurt Likud’s prospects.  So he announced news of the merger in order to take the wind out of the sails of the Saar scandal.

Saar is a rising star in the Israeli political scene.  As Klein’s article makes clear, he is beloved by editors and reporters alike.  He has relationships that cross party lines.  He is a powerful figure and has commanding stature.  Not to mention that he plays a sensitive role in political discourse as education minister.  He guides the education of Israel’s youth.  He determines what students learn about Israeli history and how they form their Jewish (or Palestinian) identity.  As such, his role involves setting a moral example.  This story threatens to destroy whatever credibility he has established as a model for young people.  Imagine a sexual predator and serial adulterer determining the educational and moral standards for the young people of the nation.

Saar has also made a pact with the devil in the form of Im Tirzu, the neo-fascist youth movement undertaking a campaign against academic freedom in Israel.  The group, allied with Saar has smeared the political science department at Ben Gurion University and threatened it with closure due to supposed anti-Zionist tendencies among the faculty.  They have done the same with other universities and departments though they haven’t succeeded nearly as well elsewhere.  Noted Israeli political blogger and Ben Gurion faculty member, Idan Landau, calls him the worst education minister in the history of Israel.

Though it should be said that Israeli politicians are so universally embroiled in scandals, whether financial or sexual, that the public are entirely jaded by such stories.  Unless the subject is indicted or convicted, people barely notice.  So it will take more exposure and reporting on this story before Israel will give this the attention it truly deserves.

Will Gideon Saar weather this storm?  I’m afraid he might with the network of relationships and enablers he’s cultivated in politics and the media.  But I hope he will get what he deserves.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Uri Shani October 26, 2012, 12:41 AM

    There is a sentence you tranlsated wrongly:
    “The public has a right to know. But doesn’t want to make this right real.” It’s a difference

    • Richard Silverstein October 26, 2012, 1:28 AM

      I translated cheyshek as “power.” Which is different than your translation. I’ll consult with other Hebrew speakers & change it if I got it wrong. Thanks.

      Update: I’ve changed the translation to reflect your correction. But I don’t understand why Klein would say that journalists have a responsibility to inform the public about these matters, but that the public doesn’t have any interest in protecting or advancing that right. It’s a bit strange. THough I guess he may be saying that the public isn’t interested in supporting journalists’ desire to get at the truth of such scandals, which would be depressing.

      • meir October 26, 2012, 6:41 AM

        My translation, via the German “hat keine Lust” which maps directly to the Ivrit. The English does not feel like, has no desire, has no inclination comes closest. English has no good one-to-one translation of “eyn lo hesheK”; the closest is the above.

        • Daniel F. October 26, 2012, 7:51 PM

          yes, inclination is a good choice although “cheyshek” evokes a passionate inclination.
          A good translation for “eyn li cheyshek” (I am not inclined) might be when Napoleon Bonaparte, busy with the complicated details of his next campaign says in a slow and flat voice… “….Not tonight Josephine”

      • Daniel F. October 26, 2012, 7:30 PM

        The translation was not wrong, just a little awkward.
        For someone doing so much news gathering and analysis, translation and writing, such a minor
        imperfection is to be overlooked.

        זכותו של הציבור לדעת, אבל אין לו חשק לממש את הזכות הזאת

        May I suggest……The public has a right to know but does not have the appetite (or desire) to exercise that right.

        I think “cheyshek” is more desire or appetite, something moody.

        The point (as I see it) is that the supposedly very outspoken Israeli public has become strangely (אדיש) apathetic
        in the face of rampant corruption and misconduct on the part of its officials ( both elected and non elected).
        They know that something has gone wrong over the years but prefer to ignore the problem as if it might somehow
        fade away…………BIG MISTAKE!

      • Rechavia Berman November 10, 2012, 2:37 PM

        cheshek is not power. cheshek means desire. when somebody doesn’t have “cheshek” to do something it means they don’t feel like it, not that they are powerless.

  • Assaf October 26, 2012, 7:35 AM

    Yes, I saw this Klein column yesterday and couldn’t figure it out without the missing paragarph. The ending simply made no sense.

    An excellent topic for a website such as yours…

    btw, I agree with Uri above re the translation. “Heshek” is lust, and “Ein Heshek” simply mean “don’t feel like it”. Not power.

    Also, AFAIK Sa’ar might be a rising political star, but he has zero stature as a person. Who the heck is he? Just another corrupt right-wing hack. No personal qualities beyond that, whatsoever.

  • Ofer October 26, 2012, 8:39 AM

    Saar is ,or was, a rising star. Intelligent, Tel Avivi, shrewd.
    And a fascist, sure, but that’s popular.
    Would have been Netanyahu’s no. 2 and heir to the throne, or may still be.

  • Rehmat October 26, 2012, 9:51 AM

    [Comment off-topic and deleted]

  • Bob Mann October 26, 2012, 10:24 AM

    Stick to hard news. Leave this nonsense for the gossip pages.

    • Richard Silverstein October 26, 2012, 1:20 PM

      One of my comment rules says I don’t need editorial advice from readers. That includes you. Unless I ask, & I haven’t.

      • Bob Mann October 26, 2012, 2:58 PM

        That is not one of your comment rules. At least not according to the “comment rules” section of your website. In fact, you explicitly write in the rules that there should be criticism. There is nothing in the posted rules saying that readers are not permitted to suggest what stories ought to be covered and which ones ought not to be covered. The only thing about editorial advice in the rules is with respect to how you edit the comment threads.

        • Richard Silverstein October 26, 2012, 5:03 PM

          Criticism is fine–of what I write. Not criticism saying I shouldn’t have written it at all. That’s an editorial decision that’s mine to make, not yours. Deal with what I’ve written & don’t give me advice that I shouldn’t have written it.

  • PersianAdvocate October 26, 2012, 2:54 PM

    Yeah, Richard, why don’t you try running a blog or something these people have read religiously for months and hypocritically groan about? Sheesh… ;)

    Censorship and creating “reality” through manipulating information — who isn’t guilty of even bias in some measure? Israel makes US media look like News for Idiots, especially when it comes to matters concerning the lobby that controls much of how everything goes in Washington nowadays with its various connections and influences. Flotilla? See page 15C.

    At least they had a piece about Zeev Tene’s new song, “Jew-Ish”. That’s an important step. You’d never see anything of the sort in America, land of controlled speech.

  • Piotr Berman October 26, 2012, 6:57 PM

    Can a serious political carrier be launched after being Education minister? Checking…. Yup: Margaret Thacher! I think Saar is a hunter in spirit — while most game is not kosher, bagging a Polit Sc department at BGU would make a magnificent trophy indeed. But a war or hunt launched and finished before success may be a carrier ending move.

    Thacher, while controversial, was never accused of any impropriety. Mediterranean politics is much more tolerant in that respect, so perhaps Saar may have a bright future still.

    • Fred Plester October 27, 2012, 8:55 AM

      You mean: he might yet become Prime Minister of Italy?

    • Richard Silverstein November 28, 2012, 3:14 AM

      Ah, yes, Saar the hunter bagging Big Game in the Tel Aviv club scene. How those pretty young things love a handsome, virile, manly man, an Israeli hunter.

  • Micaela Harari October 27, 2012, 3:09 PM

    I am not familiar with Gidon Saar’s personal life and I dont’ think that anyone’s bedroom behavior is material for the press. That Israeli students don’t have a minimal grasp of history is an abomination. This is the censorship we should be worried about. This is what is prolonging the conflict. Instead of becoming a modern, cosmopolitan society, we are slipping at an alarming pace into tribal racism and ancestor worship.

    • Richard Silverstein October 27, 2012, 7:27 PM

      Read my earlier post from a year ago. He was accused on having sex with a minor, which in most countries including Israel is considered rape. But I generally agree with the other things you wrote.

      • shmuel October 27, 2012, 11:15 PM

        He was suspected, not “accused” of underage sex, and maybe or maybe not investigated.

        Subtle difference, but accused means indicted which means on a basis of hard evidence and not rumours.

        I think the story is more the cover up than whether he did anything. All Israeli pols have a skeleton in the closet, but only the lucky ones have connections to cover up

        • PersianAdvocate October 28, 2012, 1:48 AM

          “Innocent until proven guilty.”

          *SHOOTS THE ACCUSED IN THE FACE*

          oops :x

      • Nimrod October 28, 2012, 2:40 AM

        quick correction for you, Richard.
        Having sex with a minor under the age of 16 is considered rape.
        Having sec with a minor at the age of 16-18 is legal.

        In my opinion, if it’s true, this should end his career.

        • Rechavia Berman November 10, 2012, 11:44 PM

          No, it isn’t. It’s called “CONSENSUAL prohibited coupling (or intercourse, if you prefer)”. See the “consensual” there? It matters. It’s a felony, but it isn’t rape.

          Note that I am not arguing for leniency towards child-abusers. I’m merely pointing out the actual law.

      • Simone October 30, 2012, 7:38 AM

        “He was accused on having sex with a minor”.
        As I recall, in the story you posted then, it was rumoured that he disappeared for a while into a bathroom at a nightclub with a teenager. It was you who assumed that “teenager” meant “a minor” – she could just as easily have been 18 or 19 (and the age of consent for sex, in Israel, BTW, is 17). Also, it was you that assumed that disappearing with her into a bathroom meant they had sex.
        Now, I’m not saying she wasn’t a minor and I’m not saying they didn’t have sex – I’m merely saying that you made a lot of assumptions.

        • Richard Silverstein October 31, 2012, 2:05 AM

          I wouldn’t trust you or your memory. My source, a prominent Israeli journalist, told me he had sex with a minor. I asked him several times to be sure. He didn’t say that he disappeared into a bathroom. But h-a-d s-e-x. Capice?!

          I’m merely saying you’re a jerk. Sorry everyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of meeting this commenter before. And in case you think I’m being harsh. I’ve actually banned Simone, but this comment seemed merely obtuse rather than offensive or a comment rule violation, so I approved it.

      • Rechavia Berman November 10, 2012, 3:40 PM

        For the umpteenth time: Sex with a minor is NOT considered rape in Israel. The name of the offense is “coupling with a minor” and falls under “consensual prohibited coupling”. Whether or not you think it should be considered rape, in Israel it is not.

        • Richard Silverstein November 11, 2012, 2:36 AM

          Sex with a minor is considered rape if there was no consent. Or are you claiming that minors give up their right to refuse consent? And how do you know that the minor consented?

  • dani October 29, 2012, 6:06 AM

    this story is legitimate only with evidence or other proof. its wrong to spread such rumers with no proof/

  • yankel October 29, 2012, 10:32 AM

    Gideon Saar is a disgusting political figure, labouring hard to brainwash the innocent. He’s the very ugly face of latter day Zionism.

    It’s a safe bet that most people reading – let alone responding – to your posts, Richard, are far better humans than this lowlife is.

    Pursuing such bright yellow gossipy line, it seems to me you have gone somewhat further. You prove to be even holier than this miscreant.

  • Chris November 12, 2012, 3:29 PM

    Yikes, that is crazy. Sex scandals aplenty with ministers, apparently. Very sad.

  • Dudu February 9, 2013, 10:49 PM

    The young Lady alleged to have written the letter now denies doing so. http://www.haaretz.co.il/news/elections/1.1925756