Any researcher examining the Israeli media’s adherence to ethics guidelines (or lack thereof) during the past two decades would most probably find that the leading topic to be coverage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu himself acknowledged the phenomenon when he declared on May 13, 1999, that the media was fearful of him.
It was Haaretz’s Ari Shavit who surprisingly asked on December 26, 1997, why the Left hated Netanyahu so much.
“Why do our editorial pages read like an endless string of summary verdicts,” he wrote, “our feature pages... a series of firing squads all aimed in one direction... the wild, impassioned, ‘kill the beast’ atmosphere of bloodletting... how did it come to pass that decent, humane people are willingly taking part in the process of demonization, unabashedly fanning the flames of hatred for Benjamin Netanyahu?” Almost 20 years later it would seem that not much has changed. The current election campaign is in full swing, and once again central elements of Israel’s media find themselves die-cast in the mold of this relationship.
It started with a plethora of reports from biased organizations whose professional staff’s salaries depend on the country’s poverty levels. The media blew their claims of extreme poverty in Israel out of all proportion, and the blame was aimed at Netanyahu.
Then we had Channel 10’s blackmail of the government, using a sinister, low-angle snapshot of Netanyahu – which was quickly altered by management.
The latest chapter in this sordid story was the prime minister’s recent trip to Paris in the wake of the terrorist attacks there.
One of the central accusations against Netanyahu was that he pushed himself to the forefront of the world leaders attending the Paris rally. Haim Zisovitz, hosting Educational TV’s “Tik Tikshoret” program, highlighted the incident. A guest commentator, diplomatic pundit Moav Vardi from Channel 10, was honest enough to admit that the media focus on Netanyahu’s inserting himself into the front line and then his being left behind when the VIP bus departed was excessive, a result of media “hatred.”
Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea was particularly critical of Netanyahu’s decision to march in the front row of the unity rally. However, Barnea ignored what the French media did not: according to the official protocol disseminated ahead of the march, the various world leaders were to walk in the front line.
Barnea also didn’t like the fact that Netanyahu waved to the crowd, which responded with pro-Israel chants. Writers for the rabid anti-Israel blog site Mondoweiss also singled this out, recounting that “Haaretz says that Netanyahu’s Paris performance was a PR ‘disaster’... Reporter Ascher Schechter notes that Netanyahu is being mocked for pushing past Ibrahim Boubacar Keita... and for his ‘gauche waving’ during the march, when others were solemn.”
Netanyahu’s raised arm was interpreted by extreme leftist Michael Kaminer as being reminiscent of a Hitler salute. Igal Sarna also peddled that perverse interpretation of Netanyahu’s raised arm.
Of course, not only wasn’t Netanyahu the only one to wave at the rally, he wasn’t the first. One of us (YM) took the trouble to review the footage of the Paris march and noticed that even German Chancellor Angela Merkel could be seen lifting her arm in that gesture. But Israel’s radicals only saw Netanyahu.
Traditionally, Israel’s media would lash out fiercely at anyone who dared to use Holocaust arguments for present-day political purposes. During the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, for example, when some demonstrators wore a yellow star to express their abhorrence for the dictatorial practices of Ariel Sharon and his government, they were roundly ostracized.
Yet, these outrageous aspersions regarding Netanyahu passed almost without a whimper.
Instead of some sympathy for his distress and discussion of the outrageous French behavior – which in fact can be interpreted as an act hostile not only to the prime minister but to the whole country – too many media outlets took delight in castigating Netanyahu.
They were able to quote Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who stated to Niv Raskin that Netanyahu had “unfortunately” represented the “impolite” and “pushy” Israeli.
In our day and age, however, the truth ultimately becomes evident. The German newspaper Bild actually made the effort to review the footage of the event, and discovered that – lo and behold – the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, elected in 2005 and six years overdue for reelection, also pushed himself forward to gain a photo op.
It was this paper’s Caroline Glick who pointed out the real news value of the incident: that “the French tried to prevent Netanyahu from participating in the rally yesterday in Paris [but]... he had none of it and found an elegant way of pushing back.” She added that in “Channel 2’s coverage last night, they told the story through hateful French eyes.... They gave less than 5 seconds of coverage to [Netanyahu’s] reception at Paris’s Great Synagogue.”
Dr. Haim Shine, in the sympathetic-to-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, was angry.
“The Israeli media has decided to take the low road in its all-out attempt to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” he wrote, adding, “[Their] ‘Anyone but Bibi’ campaign... [and] their coverage is a akin to a burial ceremony for a free and honest press that does not bow to the economic interests of its owners.”
Another Netanyahu “crime” was his call on France’s Jews to immigrate to Israel. Here, too, some of the pundits had a ball. Netanyahu was “dancing on the blood,” utilizing a tragedy to further his electoral standing. The New York Times’ Jodi Ruderon devoted her January 14 story to the affair and reported that it “set off a backlash over the weekend.”
The duty of the Israeli government is to safeguard Jews wherever they are. Netanyahu feels that the most effective way to implement this basic tenet of Zionism is by advocating aliya to Israel. It is easier to safeguard people here than in the Diaspora. France’s political leadership did not like this call, but the Jews of France showered Netanyahu with praise and appreciation. The Israeli media, however, preferred to be negative.
Will the Netanyahu-bashing take its toll on the Likud on election day? Both academics as well as history show that the public’s reaction to negative media and intolerance is usually rather mature. The true victim of this bashing is all of Israel. This type of media behavior only feeds anti-Semites, enabling them to claim that they are only repeating what the Israeli media has said.
Our media should be ashamed of itself.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).