Channel 14 can stay right-wing, but it needs to behave - opinion

Channel 14 should at least try to behave a little more like Israel’s other public TV channels, without giving up its exclusive right-wing character.

 Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening broadcast of Channel 14, November 27, 2021. (photo credit: MEIR ELIPOUR)
Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening broadcast of Channel 14, November 27, 2021.
(photo credit: MEIR ELIPOUR)

I am a regular viewer of TV Channel 14, even though I find many of its presenters deliberately offensive toward anything smacking of center and left-wing positions, and unreliable when it comes to factual accuracy. I continue to watch the channel because, despite my reservations, it represents conservative to extreme Right-wing points of view, which are not always presented in full on the other news channels.

The flag program of Channel 14 is undoubtedly The Patriots – a talk show which is currently run by Yinon Magal, who served for a little over seven months in the 20th Knesset, as a member of HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home) under Naftali Bennett. He resigned from the Knesset against the background of accusations of sexual harassment.

To a large extent, the atmosphere in the program is dictated by Magal’s brazenly disparaging style, and his extreme debasement and demonization of such figures as former prime minister and chief of staff Ehud Barak, and former president of the Supreme Court Aharon Barak, both of whom (aged 81 and 87 respectively) are viewed as the intellectual and/or organizational leaders of the “despicable” anti-judicial reform movement.

Channel 14: A right-wing channel with a token left-wing view, until they chase it off

It should be noted that Channel 14 in general, and The Patriots in particular, include token left-wing or centrist participants on their panels. On the program, they are frequently mocked, and have relatively short survival rates. Most recently, former Meretz MK Mossi Raz resigned from The Patriots’ panel in protest, after Magal had delivered a live statement to the effect that the violent reaction of right-wingers to Yitzhak Rabin following the Oslo Accords, which ended in Rabin’s assassination, resulted from the fact that right-wingers had been silenced. He added insult to injury by basing his statement on explanations given to him in interviews with Rabin’s assassin – Yigal Amir.

Magal totally ignored the fact that, back in 1995, legitimate ideological opposition to the Oslo Accords was driven to extremes by certain inciting Rabbis, who applied din rodef (a halachic rule that allows killing people for certain alleged acts, without trial) to Rabin, and unbridled incitement by various right-wing politicians and activists, including the then-leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu.

 MK Mossi Raz at the ceremony marking the Armenian Genocide, in Armenia,  April 24, 2022.. (credit: Spokesperson For MK MOSSI RAZ)
MK Mossi Raz at the ceremony marking the Armenian Genocide, in Armenia, April 24, 2022.. (credit: Spokesperson For MK MOSSI RAZ)

The left-wingers and centrists who have the best chances of survival in The Patriots are those who are capable of ignoring much of the inciting and libelous rhetoric around them, and of concentrating on the messages they wish to resonate. Raz was one of these, but came across a situation that even he could not ignore.

Up to a certain point, the liberal daily, Haaretz, used to publish opinion pieces by Channel 14 reporters and panelists, but by the beginning of 2023, this practice was stopped, and last June the paper instructed all its staff members not to appear in any capacity on Channel 14. I can see why Haaretz would take such a step in an increasingly hostile atmosphere, in which there isn’t even a semblance of “fair play,” but I am not sure that, on balance, the center and left benefit from such a boycott, even marginally.

On August 28, on The Patriots, Itamar Fleischmann, one of the regular panelists who also occasionally takes over the helm from Magal, spoke of an event that had taken place on the campus of Tel Aviv University that very same day. The event was a protest against Education Minister Yoav Kisch by academics who accused Kisch of destroying the non-religious national education system, and denuding it of its liberal values. A photograph taken during the demonstration shows one of the protesters holding a handwritten, homemade banner stating (in Hebrew): 1926 Hitler-Jugend, 2023 Kisch-Jugend.

Kisch himself had protested the same day against his being compared to Hitler. Fleischmann declared that it was shameful that no one reprimanded the woman holding the banner. He compared this event to the infamous demonstration on Kikar Zion in Jerusalem against the Rabin government, back on October 5, 1995 – exactly one month before Rabin’s assassination – in which one of the demonstrators held a banner on which Rabin is seen in an SS uniform. At the time, Knesset speaker Shevah Weiss (Labor), and others demanded that Netanyahu, as leader of the opposition, who had spoken at the demonstration on Kikar Zion, condemn the banner, but to no avail.

Since in both demonstrations – in October 1995 in Jerusalem and August 2023 in Tel-Aviv – the banners were, in all likelihood, the private initiative of those bearing them and not of the organizers of the demonstrations, both are condemnable, though that of Rabin in an SS uniform is more shocking in my eyes, given his subsequent assassination a month later.

But Fleischmann took the comparison one step forward. Ignoring the fact that the demonstration at the Tel Aviv University campus was an unofficial sideline of the demonstrations against the judicial reform, he stated that if “those bearing such banners had lived in Nazi Germany, they would certainly have joined the SS.” Fleischman chuckled while he made this statement, and no one bothered to reprimand him. The Patriots claim to include satirical material in their programs. Perhaps what Fleischmann said is considered satire in certain right-wing circles.

Incidentally, I am totally opposed to comparisons being made between present-day Israeli politicians and Hitler, or any other senior personality in the National-Socialist Party of Germany. Consequently, I felt uncomfortable with the video film, posted by Ehud Barak on Facebook last week, in which professor Ichak Adizes – an expert on the characteristics of business managers – states that Hitler, Slobodan Milošević (from Serbia), Donald Trump, and Netanyahu are in a category of leaders, who would do anything to stick to power, even if this endangers their states.

Barak concluded that this observation strengthens his assumption that Netanyahu might currently be mentally unfit to run the State of Israel. Though I feel that Barak seems, at times, to be unbridled and hyperactive in his activities in support of the anti-government demonstrations these days, it should be noted that he did not state that Netanyahu is a Nazi leader, but only pointed out that according to Adizes, he shares with Hitler, and other controversial leaders, certain worrying personality traits.

On August 28, the Patriots also made hay of this news item, taking the opportunity to repeat their demand that Barak, who they regularly describe (as do certain Likud spokespersons) as “the friend of the pedophile Jeffrey Epstein,” should be put on trial for incitement. Incidentally, August 28 was the last appearance of Mossi Raz on The Patriots – two days before he decided to resign from his participation in the program’s panel due to Magal’s statement about “the cause” for Rabin’s assassination.

As I stated in the opening of this article, I am a regular viewer of Channel 14. Unlike Yair Lapid, who as prime minister called for the closing down of Channel 14, which regularly mocks and besmirches him on the basis of false information, I do not think that the answer is to close down the station. However, I believe that as a station that claims to represent the opinions of well over half the population of Israel, Channel 14 – which presents itself as an Israeli version of Fox News – should at least try to behave a little more like Israel’s other public TV channels, without giving up its exclusive right-wing character.

The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members - A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge last year.