In an address to the Likud’s Knesset faction on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unleashed his wrath on the Israeli media for presenting a skewed view of his government’s judicial reform plan – and fanning the flames of the opposition to it.
“We are witnessing an unprecedented attack by biased media channels against the government, fully mobilized to serve opponents of the reform,” Netanyahu said, accusing them of broadcasting one-sided commentary, biased polls and “a never-ending tsunami of fake news.”
While they “stroked” the previous government led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett with “gloves of silk,” he charged, the “left-wing media” now have everything back to front.
Backing up his claim, Netanyahu argued that when foreign outlets reported on the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) as their main headline, Israeli media barely addressed it.
However, the prime minister seems to be practicing what he preaches against – the dissemination of fake news. The SVB story featured prominently in all Israeli news media – and The Jerusalem Post led with it on Monday.
The Israel Press Council swiftly issued a statement objecting to Netanyahu’s “harsh and targeted attack” on the media. “It is the right and duty of the media in Israel to present the facts as they are and to express a variety of opinions, including those who see the proposed judicial reform as a change in the balance of regimes in Israel,” it said.
Although it appears that Netanyahu was targeting television stations rather than the printed press, his verbal assault was just the latest volley in the premier’s ongoing battle with the media. Reflecting his disdain for their crucial role in a democracy, Netanyahu has turned the Fourth Estate into his favorite punching bag.
He would be well advised to stop shooting the messenger for what he considers “fake news,” and instead focus on non-fake, genuine news – the growing public campaign against the judicial overhaul and the mounting number of letters and appeals emanating from all quarters for him to call a time-out and endorse dialogue on a compromise.
Passionate pleas, dire warnings
The last ten weeks have witnessed passionate pleas by President Isaac Herzog, dire warnings from security officials and financial institutions, and deep concern from foreign allies and Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
Moody’s, for example, warned last week that if the proposed judicial reforms are passed, the country’s credit rating outlook could be downgraded from positive to stable. Another recent example is a letter signed by 255 US-based financial investors warning Netanyahu that the legal reform legislation could have a devastating economic fallout. “Many leaders in the business community will feel compelled to reevaluate their reliance on Israel as a strategic destination for investment, sourcing talent, building engineering centers, and maintaining intellectual property,” read the letter, according to Channel 12 News. “It will also become increasingly difficult to advocate for and defend Israel internationally.”
In a free society that respects the freedom of the press, it is the media’s responsibility to uphold its role as a watchdog and report on such developments with impunity.
Perhaps the prime minister should be reminded of the words of one of his heroes, Ze’ev Jabotinsky: “Today, the test of democracy is freedom of the press: The most liberal constitution is a lie if the press is muzzled, but where the press is free, there is hope.”
To keep that hope alive, we urge Netanyahu once again to look inward, take stock and heed the voices of Israelis and people around the world who love Israel and are worried about its future.
A good example is Tamir Pardo, the former Mossad chief who was appointed by Netanyahu and served under him. “If someone had told me even a year ago, or two or three, that the state would look like this, I’d have said they were hallucinating,” Pardo told Ilana Dayan on Channel 12’s Uvda program last week. “We’ve reached the greatest existential danger that we’ve faced since the War of Independence.”
It’s time for the prime minister to cease his attacks on the media, show true leadership, and put the good of the country ahead of all other considerations.