The New York Times did it again. It took a nonstarter of a topic and used it to chip at Israel’s democratic image. On July 30, it published an op-ed by Ruth Margalit entitled, “How Benjamin Netanyahu Is Crushing Israel’s Free Press.”
Netanyahu, in Margalit’s glossary of terms, does not “criticize,” he “attacks,” as in his “broader attack... on Israel’s democratic institutions, including the Supreme Court and nongovernmental organizations.” To back this claim she quotes Nahum Barnea, “a pre-eminent Israeli columnist,” but does not inform her readers that Barnea, who began his career in the Labor Party’s now defunct newspaper Davar, is eminently anti-Netanyahu.
She accuses Netanyahu of using his influence to assure that the Walla website will serve his interests. Referring to the appointment of Shlomo Filber as director-general of the Communications Ministry, she notes: “Since the appointment of its new director general, the ministry has ruled on a series of decisions that have been highly advantageous to Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications group. Bezeq also operates Walla News, one of the most popular news sites in the country, and a close associate of Mr. Netanyahu’s, Shaul Elovitch, owns a controlling stake.”
As an example of Netanyahu’s newfound control, she cites the case of journalist Amir Tibon, Walla’s political correspondent, “who wrote an article critical of Mr. Netanyahu’s response to the latest wave of Palestinian violence under the headline ‘Netanyahu’s Promises of Calm Replaced by Cheerleading.’”
Soon after the piece was published, Tibon was told that the Prime Minister’s Office was pressuring editors to remove it from the website. Not only has the article remained in place, Tibon felt free enough to publish on the American Politico website that Netanyahu was “successful [in his] purging of the Israeli national-security establishment.”
Her imagination runs wild, claiming that “In broadcast journalism, Mr. Netanyahu has installed associates in positions of authority where he can, and has cast doubt on the financial future of places he can’t. All three of Israel’s main television news channels – Channel 2, Channel 10 and the Israel Broadcasting Authority – are now in danger of being fragmented, shut down or overhauled, respectively.”
Of course, this is utter nonsense. All three channels daily bash Netanyahu and his government.
The Israel Broadcasting Authority is run by people appointed by former communication minister Gilad Erdan, not Netanyahu, as was the chairperson of the Second TV and Radio Authority, which oversees Channel 2 and Channel 10.
She raises the bogey of “an atmosphere of intimidation” whereas the reality is that several times daily, Israel’s media is free to loudly bash Netanyahu, his policies and his government and even create an atmosphere of presumed criminality without any proof.
When this happened in England, even The Guardian
permitted a critique of the new (sub) standard of journalism to appear in its pages on July 12 which read, in part, “it seemed that journalists were no longer required to believe their own stories to be true, nor, apparently, did they need to provide evidence. Instead it was up to the reader – who does not even know the identity of the source – to make up their own mind... Does the truth matter anymore?” Last October in The New Yorker, Margalit decided to play at prophecy, writing, “Netanyahu...
may be serious about wanting to maintain the [Temple Mount] status quo, but... it’s a status quo that is inching closer and closer to the extremist camp.” Well, here we are, nine months later, and the status quo is in place. The “extremist camp” – that is, those who want a law that guarantees free access to a holy site to be upheld, similar to demands of the Reform Movement at the Western Wall – are still without any actual accomplishment.
Margalit is no babe in the woods. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, and is a political commentator.
In a recent article in the New Yorker, she “innocently” characterized the extreme left-wing Peace and Security Association as “non-partisan.” As the daughter of Prof.
Avishai Margalit, who himself writes in the very unfavorable-to-Israel New York Review of Books and was a founder of Peace Now, such bias is, perhaps, understandable – but not forgivable. An alumnus of journalism at Columbia should know better.
The record needs be set straight. To borrow a phrase from Ruth Margalit, despite her assault on Netanyahu he remains the democratically chosen leader of democratic Israel and no matter how critical, aggressive and full of chutzpah Margalit and her associates are, their attacks only highlight the latent totalitarian tendency of the Left. The only blatant attack on a free press in recent years was the left-wing legislative campaign to ban the Israel Hayom
newspaper through legal subterfuge combined with support from its competitor Yediot Aharonot.
That paper was described by Margalit as “widely believed to promote the views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” That is actually true, but it is not a crime. The paper makes no secret that it supports the prime minister. So, incidentally, does the public.
Only recently, statistics have shown again that Israel Hayom
is Israel’s most popular newspaper.
All newspapers have agendas. The New York Times
certainly does. It supports President Barack Obama and has never made secret its support for the Democratic Party candidates.
Is this an attack on democracy in the USA? Haaretz
promotes the views of the Palestinian Authority, is virulently anti-Netanyahu and anti-religious. Yediot Aharonot
is left-ofcenter and does not like the prime minister.Ma’ariv
is somewhere in the center. Makor Rishon
and Besheva are Israel’s right-wing-oriented papers. This is Israel’s democracy, a bastion of free speech.Haaretz
, by the way, opened its columns to suggestions that the army stage a putsch.
The New York Times hosted Ronen Bergman, editorial board member of anti-Netanyahu Yediot Aharonot
, ruled by Arnon Mozes, who wrote that he heard from “high-ranking officers” that “the possibility of a military coup had been raised” when Avigdor Liberman’s appointment as defense minister was announced. Since as far as we know he did not report the “high-ranking officers” to the police, we may assume that yet another “liberal” Israeli journalist views a violent overthrow of a democratically elected government as a desirable outcome.
Such anti-democratic views did not upset Margalit. The fact that Mozes makes sure that his paper follows his ideological line, as does Haaretz
’s publisher Amos Shocken, does not risk Israel’s democracy. No, only Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson threatens it.
The opponents of Netanyahu’s ideological outlook, and that of Likud prime ministers before him, have embarked on a dangerous path. For them, and their cheerleaders in the media, his policies aren’t only wrong but anti-democratic and proto-fascist. The more his opponents lose the popular vote in election after election, their voice, like Margalit’s, becomes more shrill, more damaging, more disconnected from the truth, more distanced from the facts and less rational. We would have expected that the New York Times find more serious journalists to criticize Israel.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).