Politics: The press against Netanyahu – again

Deja vu upon hearing of Romania helicopter crash.

311_Netanyahu at UN speech (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_Netanyahu at UN speech
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must have had a horrible feeling of deja vu on Monday when Yohanan Locker, his military aide, told him that a Yasour helicopter carrying six IAF airmen had crashed in Romania.
He was prime minister in February 1997 when two Yasours collided over the northern community of She’ar Yashuv, killing 73 soldiers who were on their way to Lebanon in the worst accident in the country’s history.
The helicopter crash added to a growing list of the worst memories of Netanyahu’s first premiership that – much to the prime minister’s chagrin – he, and the rest of the country, have had to relive in his second.
First came the bitter struggles with an American administration, then another conversion crisis and now a helicopter crash. But nothing feels like deja vu more than the battles between Netanyahu and the media.
Ma’ariv’s front page on Wednesday offered a stark contrast that made Netanyahu look extremely irresponsible.
The overwhelming majority of the page was a black background with white words articulating the tragedy of the six airmen who died. Underneath was a brief black-on-white headline: “The party.”
The newspaper’s diplomatic correspondent, Ben Caspit, reported that as news came in about the crash, Netanyahu was hosting a birthday party for his 19-year-old son Yair at his official residence in Jerusalem.
The report questioned the prime minister’s judgment for not canceling the party and returning to the Prime Minister’s Office to deal with the situation.
Follow-up stories accused Netanyahu of treating the disaster nonchalantly and lying about when he had heard about the crash.
The Prime Minister’s Office responded that the guests were already at the party when Netanyahu was informed of the crash and that if he had left mysteriously, word would have spread quickly, and it could have caused nationwide hysteria.
Netanyahu’s associates said security officials had told Netanyahu not to tell anyone about the incident until the families of the victims were informed.
They stressed that the party was a modest affair, planned two months ago, and that the prime minister did not need to take immediate action beyond receiving the briefings he heard at his residence, which has an office fully equipped with secure telephones.
One official close to the prime minister did not flinch when faced with a comparison of Netanyahu’s behavior to that of US president George W. Bush on September 11, 2001, who continued reading a book called My Pet Goat to Florida kindergarteners even after he was informed that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. The official said that Bush did the right thing then and Netanyahu did the right now by keeping their cool.
“It happens all the time that a world leader receives information when he is in public,” Netanyahu’s strategic adviser Shaya Segal said. “What he is supposed to do in such situations is show a poker face and move on. He acted the way a prime minister should, and the people of Israel understand.”
Netanyahu’s associates called the negative coverage “obsessive hounding by people with a vested interest in harming the prime minister.”
Unlike in Monday’s Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting when Netanyahu accused anonymous elements on the left – later identified as Kadima council chairman Haim Ramon – of undermining efforts to initiate direct talks with the Palestinians, this time the anonymous people blamed were press, not politicians.
In fact, Kadima made a strategic decision not to react to the reports about Netanyahu’s party, because it believed the reports would be taken more seriously by the public and have a greater impact if they weren’t tainted by the usual political attacks.
Sources close to Netanyahu attributed Ma’ariv’s report to a personal vendetta of the reporter. They connected that report and a much smaller, more lowkey report in Yediot Aharonot the same day to frustration at the two newspapers with their drop in circulation in favor of Yisrael Hayom, a newspaper seen as pro- Netanayhu.
Netanyahu’s associates downplayed both his influence on Yisrael Hayom and his current problems with the press.
They said his relationship with the media had vastly improved since his last term and suggested that the rightleaning Yisrael Hayom could turn against Netanyahu if he makes concessions to the Palestinians.
But for now, the fact that Yisrael Hayom has surpassed both Yediot and Ma’ariv in circulation certainly makes it easier for Netanyahu to get out his side of a story in a way that he could not do when he was prime minister the first time.