Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Abutbol - A Victim of "Comedic" Editing?

The press is reporting the story worldwide that Mayor Moshe Abutbol said, "There are no gays in Beit Shemesh," and that gays need to be dealt with by the Ministry of Health and the police. So the first thing to do, if you haven't, is to watch the actual clip from "Shai b'Shishi" - specifically from 2:55 to 3:44.

In Stern’s interview with Moshe Abutbul, he claims “there are no gays in this pure and holy city” and that if there were, “they would be dealt with by the ministry of health and police.”

Read more at: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/tzedek-tzedek/mayor-abutbul-and-the-awkward-issue-of-beit-shemesh-child-abuse/2013/11/12/

(For the non-Hebrew-speaker's benefit, here's a brief transcript from 2:55 to 3:44. There are edits in the first interview as well, but I'm specifically pointing out edits in the second which may be significant/misleading.)
[Shai Stern interviewing Eliran Cohen, a gay resident of Beit Shemesh.]

Shai: All in all, it's wanted that gays live in Beit Shemesh, no?
Eliran: What does that mean, "wanted"?
Shai: From the standpoint of warmth to gays.
Eliran: Not warmth to gays, it's warmth in a general sense to all people.
Shai: You voted for Abutbol, the Haredi candidate.
Eliran: Correct. Both in the previous elections and also now.
Shai: Right. Why?
Eliran: I simply like him, both as a mayor and also as a person.
Shai: Mayor Abutbol knows that you're...
Eliran: Yes, of course. For years, not [just] from today. He doesn't have any problem [with it].

[Cut to: Shai interviewing Mayor Abutbol.]

Shai: Are there gays in Beit Shemesh?
Abutbol: What?
Shai: Are there gays in Beit Shemesh?
Abutbol: We don't have things like these.
Shai: You don't?
Abutbol: If I'm thinking about what you're thinking about -
Shai: Yes.
Abutbol: Then no. Thank God, here, this city [kisses his hand] is holy and pure.
Shai: Clean?
Shai: What do you do with them then?
Abutbol: [You should] consult with them [the authorities?] - I don't know. It's not [up to me] to decide. There's the Health Ministry which deals with them -
Shai: The Health Ministry?
Abutbol: I don't know, the Health Ministry, the police. I'm not involved. It depends -
Shai: Right.
Abutbol: Buddy ['Chabibi'], from me you'll hear only good things.
Abutbol is asked by Shai Stern, "Are there gays in Beit Shemesh?" Abutbol didn't hear, and Shai repeats the question. Then, at 3:24 in, there's a critical edit. It cuts to, "We don't have these kinds of things, etc." This was not just a cut to a different camera POV - it was an edit. At 3:22, Abutbol's hands are on his desk, and a second later his right hand is suddenly up and gesticulating, clearly indicating not just a pause, but that Abutbol was in fact in the middle of speaking. About what? We don't know, because that - and perhaps a different question he was responding to - was edited out.

Then there's a second edit, at 3:32. It's harder to catch because it's a cleaner edit, but Shai is actually interrupting himself, and making it sound like "What do you do with them" is again referring to gays. Abutbol responds, "[You should] consult with them," which assumes we know who "them" is. Again, it seems to indicate another part of the conversation that was edited out.

The Mayor himself apparently later explained on the radio that he thought he was being asked about pedophiles, not gays. And yes, I concur with those who say that even if he was referring to pedophiles, this also represents a "denial" about sexual abuse taking place in the city.

BUT... THAT IS NOT what's being reported throughout the world. What's making news is that Abutbol "said" there are no gays in Beit Shemesh, and that homosexuality is something the health ministry and police would need to deal with. And what we have in fact is the question "Are there gays in Beit Shemesh?" in one part of the edit, Abutbol's statement "We don't have things like these" in a second part of the edit, and the bit about the Ministry of Health and police in a third part of the edit. Could these all be referring to gays? Theoretically yes.

But why do I think that the edit is deliberately misleading, that Abutbol was NOT in fact speaking specifically about gays?

1. The gay man interviewed (2:55 to 3:20) said he voted for Abutbol, likes him as a mayor and a person, and that Abutbol knows he's gay and has no problem with it. The man seems sincere, and I take his word for it.

2. Abutbol says we don't have these kinds of "things" in the city, which sounds like he's speaking about certain types of problematic/criminal activities. He does not say we don't have these kinds of "people," which would have made more sense given the question asked.

3. Even Haredi people who don't condone homosexuality in the least would not say that gays are something the "police" should deal with. To wit, later in the segment (see 3:44 to 4:05), R. Yitzchak Hagar speaks about homosexuality as a psychological issue, not a criminal issue.

The whole "Shai B'Shishi" segment is a comedic commentary. It's much like the interview segments done on the Daily Show, which are deliberately edited to draw laughs and often to make the interviewees look foolish. In this case however, Shai B'Shishi's edits have made international news. And in my opinion the program now needs to own up to the edits and produce the original footage UNCUT and IN FULL, so that we can see with our own eyes what Abutbol actually said, or didn't say.

My feeling is that laypeople and media alike are being dangerously naive by accepting the "no gays in Beit Shemesh" quote as fact, when there's ample evidence to suggest it was an edit-job. But more than naive - they're being grossly [if inadvertently] irresponsible by spreading it. Yes, there may be leniencies regarding lashon hara where it comes to public figures, but there is no leniency (in Halacha or in secular law) for slander, motzi shem ra - creating a bad name for a person by spreading a lie.

Yes, I agree that if someone makes a fool out of themselves, it's their own fault, not the media's. But when someone is made to look like they've said something they didn't, that is WRONG. It's slander and needs to be corrected - and appropriate restitution is due.


  1. In the galei zahal interview with Yael Dan yesterday. Abutbul admits that he said these things .

  2. Your truth-seeking is more than admirable, it is a pure movement of the soul.
    It would "feel" so much better and would so reinforce "our" side of the R/BS divide if there were no editing and the mayor did, in fact, say all that we think he said. We'd be so justified in our animosity. That's where I am emotionally. I don't have the ability, at least given the history we share with said mayor, to give him the benefit of the doubt here.
    I do think the Emet part of your quest is remarkably addressed.

  3. David, you have gone to a lot of trouble here and that is admirable. Tricky part is that the Mayor himself has not made such a claim, and indeed is taking this in a completely different direction. Sort of like "Ahhh, you meant gays, I thought you meant pedophiles." He made no complaint about creative editing.

  4. Here's a link to Abutbol's radio interview with Ya'el Dan. A quick summary:

    Abutbol says he regrets if anyone was hurt or offended by his words, by his not being clear. He says several times emphatically that he was "sure" Shai was speaking about pedophilia, which is what he meant when he referred to the police and Health Ministry. (Nowhere did he say that he thought that the word "gays" meant pedophiles.) He says that when it comes to private citizens, it's their life, and Beit Shemesh has a diverse population. Then Yael poses the pointed question: Are there gays and lesbians in Beit Shemesh? And he says, "I now hear that there are. I didn't know." She asks if he only just found out when the Shai b'Shishi interview was aired, and he says, "No, a bit before that" (though presumably after he made his infamous remarks). It goes on, but that's the main gist in terms of the issues I addressed. My take:

    1) In terms of the "no gays in Beit Shemesh" line, he flat out admits having believed that. Though there's no question that part of the interview was edited out between Shai's question and Abutbol's response, and I'd like to hear that.

    2) It seems to me extremely unlikely that Abutbol would have spoken about homosexuality as being a matter related to the "police". It makes much more sense that Shai had made some reference to pedophilia, and he responded to that. Which is what Abutbol is claiming.

    3) I think we need to be much more discerning and skeptical where it comes to clips like these, which are edited for "comedic effect" to make people look as foolish as possible. But on the other hand (like Daniel says above), Abutbol doesn't mention anything about being the victim of an editing hack job. Which either means he wasn't, or else he simply did a terrible job defending himself. Or both!

  5. If you listen to the radio show David linked to above you'll hear that the segment was replayed for Abutbol. He didn't not claim that there was any nefarious editing and in fact validated by responding to questions on it. Neither he nor his staff had been proactive in trying to stem the damage that was spreading internationally. It's obvious that if we were the victim of false editing they would have been on it immediately.

    His claim, on the follow up interview, that he was not familiar with the term "gays" flies in the face his background. He's a BT who went to public school and served in the army. He had a career as a radio host and actor before spending many years in politics.

    Was it possible he was flustered, maybe. But again, his background in radio makes that highly unlikely.

    It's too easy to blame the media here. Whether he was talking about gays or pedophiles what he said wasn't pretty.

    Also, for better or worse, more and more Americans are getting their news from Comedy Centrals Jon Stewart. It's a new reality.


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