A response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacking veteran investigative reporter Ilana Dayan’s integrity overshadowed her television report alleging inappropriate involvement in the Prime Minister’s Office by Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, with politicians in the opposition and as well as the Likud expressing discomfort and anger.
Many of the accusations made on Dayan’s Uvda program had been reported in the past, but were now backed up with on-camera interviews with former Prime Minister’s Office workers and, in some cases, handwritten notes from Netanyahu.
One accusation was that the prime minister asked security officials to allow Sara Netanyahu to stay in the room for discussions on issues for which she did not have the proper security clearance.
Another said she called an official and ranted, threatening to fire her because the official had not praised Netanyahu sufficiently in a televised interview. Another said she demanded that the official pay back her salary and not take payment for her work.
A new allegation, not related to Sara Netanyahu, was that the prime minister, when interviewing candidates to head the Mossad, asked a leading candidate if he would be loyal to him. The candidate paused and responded that he was loyal to the state and its security.
On the same evening, according to the Uvda report, Netanyahu appointed Yossi Cohen as Mossad chief instead.
At the end of the program, Dayan read aloud the response sent to her from the Prime Minister’s Office, which took nearly six minutes to get through. It began with: “It will be interesting to see if Ilana Dayan, who claims to be a defender of freedom of speech, will bring our full response without censorship.”
The response did not address the specific allegations in the report other than to say it was political propaganda made up of gossip and lies. The reaction mostly focused on Dayan, accusing her of being “one of the leaders of the orchestrated stigmatizing of the prime minister, which is meant to bring down the right-wing government and establish a left-wing government.”
The Prime Minister’s Office cited several quotes from Dayan making statements supporting former prime minister Ehud Olmert, calling Israel’s presence in the West Bank “land theft” and saying Haaretz was a “sane” newspaper. It also accused her of pandering to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and “having a problem” with Israel.
In the opposition, many accused Netanyahu of incitement and attempting to suppress the media.
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said of Netanyahu’s response: “We cannot stand silent against the labeling, incitement and persecution. We must work together to replace [Netanyahu] and save Israeli democracy.”
The Zionist Union faction called on Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to investigate both Netanyahu’s behavior and his reaction, “which incites against an Israel journalist, on the border of condoning violence against her... which we have never seen in the State of Israel.”
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said that Netanyahu’s response, coming from a prime minister, was uncouth.
According to Lapid, the prime minister has a right to respond to criticism, but it should be in a way that is appropriate in light of his position.
“The prime minister of Israel does not only represent himself. He represents the full power of the state, the moral power of the IDF, the good name of the country before the nations of the world, Israeli society and all of its components,” Lapid wrote on Facebook. “The prime minister is a symbol of Israeli sovereignty, along with the flag and the anthem.
There is no greater privilege or responsibility than this.”
This responsibility, he added, “includes showing statesmanlike restraint, not throwing mud, and knowing how to absorb criticism sometimes.”
In the Likud, most kept quiet, but those who spoke out had mixed reactions.
Culture Minister Miri Regev enthusiastically supported Netanyahu, saying he “redefined the rules of the game for politically-motivated journalists.”
According to Regev, Netanyahu “raised the curtain and exposed the real face of some of the media, which was necessary for democracy and Israeli public discourse. Unfortunately, some of the media are motivated by settling political and personal scores, and use their journalistic work to try to topple the right-wing government.
It won’t work. The public is not stupid, and that is why Netanyahu is prime minister.”
Regev also paid tribute to Sara Netanyahu, calling her “smart, sensitive and dedicated to her family and her work as a child psychologist.”
During an interview with Radio Darom, MK Miki Zohar (Likud) seemed more conflicted, saying he was surprised by Netanyahu’s “very, very, very strong response.”
At the same time, Zohar said “that even [Netanyahu] at some point got sick of the one-sidedness of certain media figures who live day and night trying to remove him and his family from the Prime Minister’s Residence.
This isn’t criticism of the prime minister; this is a situation in which the prime minister is really being persecuted.”
MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) was baffled by Netanyahu’s response and dedicated his allotted speaking time in the Knesset to it.
“I think he is the best person to be prime minister. He is a dear and important person. I am happy that I live in a democratic state,” Glick said.
He went on to say that Dayan had interviewed him.
“I may not have agreed with everything [she said], but she was fair, and I think it is right to defend her good name here, in the Knesset,” he continued. “I don’t understand; I haven’t been able to understand the response by the prime minister, who I value and respect very much, and I am happy to live in a democratic state where I can express my personal feelings.”
The Union of Journalists in Israel came out against Netanyahu’s response to Dayan, calling it an attack.
“We are against repeated attempts by the prime minister and those close to him to delegitimize professional journalists by labeling them politically.
The job of journalism is to bring new information to the public and ask difficult questions of those who were chosen to hold the steering wheel of our government. Elected officials are expected to answer the questions they are asked, and not to attack those who are asking them in the name of the public,” the union said.
The Movement for Quality Government called on the state comptroller to probe the way the Prime Minister’s Office is managed in light of the report on Uvda, which it called “disturbing,” especially in regards to someone without clearance gaining access to secret security-related information.