No, Mr. Netanyahu, the Israeli media is not like North Korea's

Why does Benjamin Netanyahu think so ill of the media here?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consults on coronavirus with world leaders on July 29, 2020 (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consults on coronavirus with world leaders on July 29, 2020
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
In North Korea, journalists have government minders and report only what the regime of Kim Jong Un permits. He has an absolute grip on the flow of public information, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Treatment of media is characterized by brutality and censorship. If you don’t toe the line, you can be disappeared or sentenced to death.
For some reason Israel’s prime minister has likened Israel’s media to those of North Korea. This in contrast to his usual talking points about how Israel is a thriving democracy with a free press, and that Israel’s democratic successes are what link us to our US and Western allies.
For many years the discussion in Israel presented us as the lone democracy in the Middle East, the one place where Arabs and Muslims could speak freely without a regime like that of Assad or Saddam Hussein, who invaded Kuwait 30 years ago this week, disappearing people.
So why does Benjamin Netanyahu think so ill of the media here? He claims that media are trampling democracy. Netanyahu has long been at war with Israel’s media, which he portrays as beholden to the Left. One of the cases that he is on trial for is even tied to this obsession with shaping the media narrative.
Netanyahu slams protesters who dare to gather outside his residence, the first major sustained protest in more than a decade of his endless grasp on the leadership of the country.
Netanyahu accuses the media of “enlisting” people to protest, when in fact the weeks of protests initially began with almost no coverage by major media. “They are making a desperate effort to brainwash the public, with the goal of taking down a strong prime minister from the Right.” He accuses the media of fueling the protests “by a media mobilization” the likes of which he cannot remember.
He perhaps has forgotten that in the 1990s he rode a wave of protests against Yitzhak Rabin. He infamously incited those protesters at the time, a fact that some in the Israeli media have not forgiven him for.
Netanyahu is correct in asserting that some in Israel’s media despise him. But he has done a great deal to dig his own hole through a decade or more off attacks on the media, including Facebook rants, and various personalized criticism of leading news personalities.
Like US President Donald Trump, he has tried to go around the gatekeepers in media by using social media. It appears to have paid off.
Some in the media also may feel offended that Netanyahu’s son has used his platform, seemingly with a rubber stamp of approval from the prime minister, to also harshly slam the media in unprecedented attacks that are found in no other democracy.
All of the above points to a leader who feels threatened by the possibility of losing control of the country and seems unable to accept criticism or cooperate with anyone who might usurp some of that power.
Strong leaders form strong governments with others and prepare the way for a successor and the next generation. Netanyahu’s government is the opposite. He has systematically pushed away every rival and hollowed out the state, so that he can portray himself as the country, and every critic as an enemy. That’s not strong leadership.
Arguing that the television stations in North Korea could learn from our media here is a slander. It is typical of the kind of attacks on the press in this country that now come daily.
We used to hold up Israel as a shining beacon of press freedom and democracy in the region. It still holds those virtues, but every time Netanyahu goes on the attack, the foundations are chipped away little by little.
Tragically, Netanyahu has become his own worst enemy. Rather than strengthening Israel as a powerful democracy, praising the vibrant, diverse press the country has cultivated, and trying to understand the pain, anger and frustration that the protesters are feeling, his tendency remains to resort to base propaganda against key institutions.