(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s difficult relationship with the news media is nothing new. At least since the run-up to the 1996 elections, which took place after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, Netanyahu has charged that the popular news outlets are out to get him.
In 1999, speaking about the news media and its reaction to the prospects of his winning the upcoming general election (which he lost) Netanyahu famously coined the slogan “They are a-f-r-a-i-d.”
But recently Netanyahu’s engagement with the news media has become nothing less than an obsession.
This week in a long Facebook post, the prime minister lashed out at Channel 10’s respected investigative reporter Raviv Drucker for using covert recordings to gather information about IDF Col. Ofer Winter.
Netanyahu went on to attack Channel 10, claiming it broadcast “radical-left positions” and for this reason it was “no surprise that its ratings were so low.”
Later, at the end of a 40-minute video conference interview with Haim Saban at the Saban Forum, Netanyahu raised the issue of the news media.
“Haim, I have a question for you,” Netanyahu said. “So I hear that one of your panels asks if there is still a free press in Israel...there is no press in the world that attacks its leader more than in Israel and it’s fine... but freedom of speech also means that every citizen – even the prime minister – has the right to attack the press.”
The comment, which Netanyahu articulated with passion, seemed to reveal what truly concerns him.
In a particularly long Facebook post last week, Netanyahu attacked “central figures in the media and on the Left” that are waging a personal war against him and against his family.
“These figures know that they cannot convince the people of Israel of the justness of their cause and win at the ballot box. That’s because the people of Israel have awoken from the illusion of the Left.”
He went on to claim that the press was engaging in “the daily brainwashing of the public” and “character assassination” as a means of shifting the debate from the central political issues.
In mid-November, after Channel 2’s investigative news program Uvda screened an expose of the goings-on in the Prime Minister’s Office, the office responded by attacking the program’s anchor, Ilana Dayan, one of the most respected journalists in Israel, accusing her of being a spokeswoman for the “extreme Left.”
And of course there was the Netanyahu-led campaign to torpedo the creation of a new and revamped public broadcasting body – the Israel Broadcasting Corporation – by launching a smear campaign against journalists involved with the corporation for their purported left-wing leanings.
Where does the prime minister and those who serve him find so much time for the press? The leader of the nation should have other things on his mind, connected with running the nation.
Netanyahu’s attack on the “left-wing” media has been self-serving in more ways than one. It serves him at the polls, because many of Netanyahu’s constituents despise the old leftist elites who purportedly control the major news outlets. It is also popular to bash the press, which is viewed by many on the Right as controlled by a radical Left agenda.
By lashing out against the press, Netanyahu portrays himself as an underdog even though he has dominated politics for a decade and clings to the additional role of communications minister. He is seen as a Begin-like figure struggling against the old Mapai establishment. Nobody seems to notice that governments led by Netanyahu have dominated politics since 2009 and three years before that, from 1996 to 1999.
Netanyahu should stop obsessing about the news media and get back to running the country. Dealing with issues such as the economy and security are a full-time job. The ideological leaning of this news outlet or that TV station should not be Netanyahu’s concern. He has more important matters at hand.
The press, we should also remember, is an integral part of any democracy, particularly one as fragile as Israel’s. The press serves as a watchdog and a safeguard against corruption and political abuse. Just look at Drucker – two of his recent reports led police to launch investigations. These are the kinds of journalists a democracy needs to thrive.
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