When then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost power in 1999, among the lessons he told his confidants he learned were that he needed a supportive newspaper and television station.
He got his newspaper in 2007, when Israel Hayom was first published, and it did indeed help bring about his comeback two years later. But he still waited for his own Fox News, the American channel he watches whenever he works out at the Knesset gym.
It took an American billionaire in the late casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to start Israel Hayom. Now another billionaire, Georgian-born Euro-Asian Jewish Congress president Mikhael Mirilashvili's son, businessman Yitzchak Mirilashvili, has taken on the television project, investing massive sums in the new Channel 14, which premiered on Sunday night amid great fanfare.
Netanyahu tweeted about the TV station three times, as did his supporters in the Likud faction. He was the star of the celebratory opening broadcast, granting a fawning interview to Channel 14 hosts Yinon Magal and Erel Segal, who have been among his strongest supporters for many years.
שמחתי להשתתף בשידור הראשון של ערוץ החדשות החדש של ישראל, ערוץ 14. מוזמנים לצפות! https://t.co/bnjAyLaicK— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) November 29, 2021
Throughout the interview, Netanyahu, who is known to snarl at journalists when he speaks to them, kept smiling widely, as if it was among the happiest days of his life.
Netanyahu’s son Yair once said he aspired to help form a Fox News-style channel when he grew up. While he is not involved with Channel 14, he helped the channel on Monday, when he shouted at a reporter from the top-rated Channel 12 who came to cover his trial at Tel Aviv District Court, in which he is accused of libeling the heads of the movements that led protests against his father.
“I call on everyone to stop watching this propaganda channel,” Yair told the Channel 12 cameras. “You are a hostile, antisemitic propaganda channel, whose damage to Israel is surmounted only by Iran.”
A spokesman for Channel 14 admitted that Fox News was its model, from its state-of-the-art studios in Modi’in that cost NIS 10 million to its proudly patriotic presenters. He confirmed that one of the changes from its previous incarnation as Channel 20 is that left-wing fig leaves will no longer be needed.
“We are not embarrassed about our views,” the spokesman said. “We will not hide that we have an agenda and an ideology and show hosts who would not be allowed to broadcast elsewhere. We love Israel, and we appeal to viewers who love Israel.”
THE SHIFT from Channel 20 to 14 is intended to bring it numerically and psychologically closer to the three mainstream networks that are at 11, 12 and 13 and give it a more professional reputation. More shows are hosted by women, including rising stars Lital Shemesh, Yaara Zered and Naveh Dromi.
Channel 14 calls itself “Israel’s News Channel,” a moniker its young reporters will have to prove. The spokesman said the slogan is intended to emphasize that the channel has “no reality shows, no programs intended for ratings, only news and issues that people who love Israel care about.”
There are plenty of kippah wearers among the hosts and the panelists. The channel will not broadcast on Shabbat or holidays.
The channel’s pollster is former Netanyahu bureau chief Shlomo Filber, who is currently a state’s witness against him, but is anything but hostile to him and has become business partners with current Netanyahu advisers.
A poll he took that was announced on the channel on Monday predicted 35 seats for Likud, 19 for Yesh Atid and only four seats for Yamina. New Hope would not cross the electoral threshold. Yamina was not included in the right-wing bloc.
Commentators on the channel competed over who could bash Prime Minister Naftali Bennett the most. The prize was won by Shas leader Arye Deri.
“Stop your chutzpah and get your hooves off the Kotel,” Deri said in a message to the prime minister, using the Hebrew term for the Western Wall. He called Bennett “the smallest man in Israel.”
But the focus of the night was Netanyahu, who told Segal and Magal that he fears for the lives of his wife and children and that in the book he is writing, he will reveal whether he thinks his decision to release a record number of murderers from prison in the Gilad Schalit deal was a mistake.
When Magal and Segal asked if he would stay in politics, Netanyahu said he would “do everything necessary to topple the current government.”
While Netanyahu's critics sneered that he must have been admitting he would have to quit soon, that was the opposite of how his interviewers on Channel 14 interpreted it.
They left no doubt that bringing Netanyahu back to power is a central component of their agenda.
Whether Netanyahu’s own hypothesis about what he needed for a successful comeback 22 years ago was right will soon be proven by Channel 14.