For more than half a year, Eldad Yaniv has been publishing stories in his column on Walla’s website promising a spectacular revelation regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ethics as well as hinting at criminal actions. He was the pincer’s second jaw, along with Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker, in an attempt to cause the prime minister to resign.
Yaniv was previously an extremely close adviser to former prime minister Ehud Barak, of the Labor Party.
He coauthored the New Zionist Left political manifesto, and also ran in the 2013 elections as head of the Eretz Hadasha (New Land) Party, which failed to garner enough votes to pass the electoral threshold. He styles himself a social activist and journalist.
Yaniv and Drucker are not the only ones who have been promoting the doomsday scenario for Netanyahu.
The mainstream media, via Army Radio, Yediot Aharonot and Haaretz began to fall in line along with channels 2 and 10. Yaniv was extensively interviewed, commentators commented and predictions were made – all with a negative attitude toward Netanyahu. No one investigated how Yaniv “knew” what he knew or what his sources were. Details began to emerge only during these past two weeks, and even now, no one has bothered to inform the public who is doing the leaking.
There are two central stories. One has to do with expensive presents received by Netanyahu and his family from friendly moguls. The other has been portrayed as an attempt to bribe Netanyahu, through the vehicle of favorable press coverage by the Yediot Aharonot media empire, in return for the elimination of Israel Hayom.
We cannot judge the seriousness of the claims against Netanyahu. But we note that what started out as questions about how many cigars were gifted to Netanyahu and how many bottles of pink champagne Sara Netanyahu imbibed, has ended up as a major debacle for the local media. Whether Arnon “Noni” Mozes, owner and publisher of Yediot Aharonot, will be indicted for attempted bribery is meaningful, but not the real essence of the story. His attempted negotiations with Netanyahu, ostensibly to eradicate his competition, revealed the true face of the country’s self-proclaimed “most influential newspaper.” Mozes is motivated by crass commercial interests, rather than the champion of the free press he portrays himself as.
As MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said: “On a public level, this is a very grave thing... there’s a risk here that the public will lose faith in the government and in the media.”
Based on the published transcripts of the negotiations between Mozes and Netanyahu, whose genuineness has so far not been denied, Mozes sought to trade with Netanyahu: favorable coverage for a law that would weaken Israel Hayom.
The proposed legislation, portrayed as “saving” the domestic press from the jaws of billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the owner of Israel Hayom, was, it turned out, a major element in Netanyahu’s decision to call early elections in 2015. This past Sunday Netanyahu freely admitted this consideration on his Facebook page.
The legislation was initiated by Eitan Cabel of the Zionist Union in 2014, passed its early reading in the Knesset, against the wishes of the prime minister who voted against it, and was halted only when the Knesset was dissolved. Cabel has been questioned by the police.
This sordid affair has set off an internal media war.
Haaretz is attacking Yediot, as is Israel Hayom. Nahum Barnea, Yediot’s Israel Prize-winning journalist, claimed in his January 12 column that “everyone is a suspect.”
He added, “The reports that are being published are hard to digest for the newspaper’s editors and writers, who are doing an excellent job fearlessly and [without bias]. They are difficult for me too.”
If indeed Mozes was promising a quid pro quo in the form of a more moderate portrayal of the prime minister, this means that self-promoting journalists such as Barnea, who are on Mozes’s payroll and who ferociously attacked the prime minister, are in fact far from what they would want their public image to be.
They are nothing more than pens for hire. Barnea, in writing “everyone,” really means “no one.”
Barnea, though, reserved a special barb for Haaretz.
Accusing it of possessing “a lot of influence on the legal system and on the regulators,” he noted that the fact that it’s printing of Israel Hayom in its printing house was a factor that “contributed to the repression [of the country’s press freedom].”
But the story does not end with the media. It might also have serious political repercussions. Various ministers and MKs have already been required to give testimony to police. One name that has not appeared is that of Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett. Will he be investigated? Let us recall that beginning in 2013 Bennett benefited from some rather flattering coverage in Yediot. The observation in the media was that he had managed to make it onto Yediot Aharonot’s prestigious list in record time.
Bennett, openly competing with Netanyahu as leader of the nationalist camp, was also one of the supporters of the short-lived anti-Israel Hayom bill. Bayit Yehudi Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also supported the bill.
Did they agree to or were they offered a quid pro quo? Netanyahu claims that the negotiation with Mozes was a farce, or better, a sting operation. He purposely had his chief of staff Ari Harrow tape the meetings, so that if necessary he could use the material against Mozes. From his point of view, the tapes prove Mozes is hungry for power and money. Morals, or the media ethics code, were the last thing on his mind.
Was it a sting operation? Was Netanyahu trying to curry favor or was he trapping Mozes? We do not know, but just like Mozes, Netanyahu’s image has been sullied.
From the material published thus far, it turns out that Netanyahu’s emphasis was on the negative portrayal he was receiving from Mozes and his cronies. We would have expected that the prime minister would take the high road and blast Mozes for destroying the concept of a free press. Instead, like Mozes, it seems that his central interest was self-preservation and the public interest be damned.
We should not forget that a central issue on the agenda is the status of the public media. Netanyahu is also the communications minister. Thus far, he has used high terminology in his attempts to derail the establishment of the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation, which is supposed to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority. But after this Mozes mess, can the public trust that the prime minister’s interests are pure? The aftermath of the Mozes debacle is that in Israel, an independent media is a myth. It doesn’t exist in the private sector or in the public one. It is high time that public funding for the media be stopped, but not less so, the prime minister should not, if he wants to protect his image, continue to serve as communications minister.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch.
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