Media Comment: Liberman - the new etrog?

Whatever the reason, our mainstream media has thus far made life rather easy for Liberman. Why?

Liberman at press conference (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Liberman at press conference
Left-wing propagandist Amnon Abramowitz, a commentator for TV Channel 2, created the concept of the political “etrog.” Deciding that then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to evacuate the Gaza Strip needed to be promoted, Abramowitz urged his fellow journalists to do their utmost to safeguard Sharon from criticism and attack until he carried out the mission. Just as an etrog is cherished and protected for the eight days of Succot, so was Sharon of value – as long as he carried out left-wing policies. Have the past few months created a second political etrog? Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was never the darling of our media. Over the years, he was at the receiving end of quite a few not so complimentary titles. These included: racist, peace obstacle, bully, the big dictator, fascist, and much more. Liberman, who for many years portrayed himself as belonging to the Israeli Right, promoted the idea of re-drawing Israel’s boundaries, creating an exchange of population. He was promptly accused by the media of supporting ethnic cleansing.
His appointment as foreign minister in 2009 came as a shock. How could this person, considered by many in Israel’s media to be the epitome of reactionary politics, be the person whose job it is to represent Israel to the world? Liberman was foreign minister for the past five years, except for a period from December 2012 to November 2013.
Due to his being prosecuted, he had to step down and serve as chairman of Israel’s Knesset defense and foreign affairs committee. He was acquitted and promptly returned to the ministry.
Liberman’s refusal to enter a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties was the final straw that led to the end of the tenure of Netanyahu’s government. Liberman, in the midst of Israel’s war with Hamas this past summer, dissolved his ties to the Likud. Now he is running on a separate ticket, portraying himself as a valid candidate for the premiership.
One might think that with this background Liberman would be at the receiving end of the media’s political pundits. Indeed, most leading politicians have not been spared sharp and biting criticism ever since new elections were announced. Last week, we listed some of the harsh words aimed at Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. This past week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been repeatedly accused of playing politics with the economy in view of his support of zero VAT on fruits and vegetables and increasing the minimum wage of public sector employees. Even Moshe Kahlon was criticized on Army Radio for his performance as social affairs minister.
One person largely exempt from the media onslaught has been Liberman. Why should this be the case? Unfortunately, he has an inadequate record as foreign minister.
Israel’s standing in Europe is abysmal.
In the United States, Israel is at the receiving end of BDS campaigns, anti-Israel demonstrations, propaganda on campuses and much more. Our enemies are working hard to try to change the US attitude toward Israel.
Their strategy is to convince the young generation that Israel is the world’s pariah state. Has Liberman acted in an adequate fashion or even recognized the strategic threat? Liberman’s special status is perhaps best exemplified by Barak Ravid’s headline article in Haaretz yesterday, which read: “Netanyahu’s status quo approach has failed – Israel needs a peace deal.” The headline and article say it all. Liberman announced that Israel needs a regional peace agreement and Haaretz is delighted, viewing this as a real opportunity for unseating Netanyahu, and gives it prime attention.
Perhaps there is another possible reason for the media silence: Liberman is very harsh to his critics. Consider blogger Tal Schneider whose blog The Plog appears also on TV Channel 2’s Mako website. Schneider related to reported instances in which Liberman asserted that he was in contact with a very high-level personality in the Qatari government. Schneider claimed that this was part of an attempt by Liberman to convince the public that he had the ability to promote a regional peace agreement in cooperation with Arab states. This is the same Liberman who recently publicly condemned Qatar’s government for its funding of terrorism.
Schneider, claiming that her information was based on two independent, reliable sources, alleged that Liberman had not in fact met with any Qataris.
Liberman’s reaction was swift. He threatened Schneider with a libel suit and demanded that she retract her attack. Schneider, as of this writing, has not done so and it remains to be seen whether Liberman will go to court in the end. Israel’s journalist association stated that it would provide Schneider with legal assistance. But the true assistance she needs is for other journalists to confront Liberman an ask some tough questions, and such assistance has not been forthcoming.
Another journalist who dared criticize Liberman is Dr. Dror Eydar of Israel Hayom. The Seventh Eye media e-magazine also has taken up the issue.
Whatever the reason, our mainstream media has thus far made life rather easy for Liberman. Why? Is it because he severely criticized Netanyahu this past summer, or because his actions led to the present elections? Is it because he is considered to be someone who would support Herzog and Livni for the premiership as part of the “anyone but Bibi” campaign? Or is it because our media is merely lazy? We don’t know. We can only point out that Liberman seems to be our new etrog.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (