Reality check: One rule for the Netanyahus, another for the rest of us

We all need to clamp down on the untrue and scandalous allegations that float around social media like untreated sewage.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his wife Sara (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his wife Sara
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yair Netanyahu is doing us all a favor by having threatened a libel suit against anti-Netanyahu political activist Abie Binyamin.
Last year, Binyamin posted a false story on Facebook claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, citing security reasons, had asked the head of the Mossad to issue his son a false passport.
According to the post, the “real” motive behind this request was to provide the younger Netanyahu with a false identity with which he could open foreign bank accounts and deposit the millions of dollars that the Panama Papers allegedly said the Netanyahu family was sitting on. Following a legal threat from Netanyahu’s lawyer, Binyamin deleted the post and issued an apology.
The Internet, and particularly the hand-in-hand rise of social media and the smartphone, has given rise to the “citizen journalist,” a phenomenon defined by New York University Professor Jay Rosen as “when the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.”
In other words, everybody can be a journalist now, if they want to be.
Obviously, as someone who first started in journalism when the sound of clanking typewriters filled the newsroom and “cut and paste” literally meant cutting up stories into separate strips and then rearranging the story by pinning the paragraphs together in a different order, I have reservations about my profession suddenly being seen as open to anybody owning a smartphone and a Facebook or Twitter account, with no apprenticeship, training or, crucially, editorial supervision required.
And the Binyamin post highlights the dangers of citizen journalism. Binyamin is one of the organizers of the weekly Saturday-night demonstrations outside Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in protest at the slow pace of investigations against Prime Minister Netanyahu. He has a clear agenda against the prime minister, which he doesn’t seek to hide.
Let’s be clear: there is nothing wrong in opposing Netanyahu. Most of my columns for this paper attack the prime minister for his failure of leadership, his destruction of any hope of peace with the Palestinians, and his self-indulgent lifestyle. But there are certain journalistic rules that apply to these columns: they are clearly marked as opinion and they avoid making unproven allegations of criminal wrongdoing against the prime minister.
The citizen journalist à la Binyamin has no such constraints. As Binyamin cheerfully admitted during a radio interview at the end of last week, if he sees an anti-Netanyahu “story” doing the rounds on the Internet which he likes, he’ll happily repost. In do so doing, Binyamin is sabotaging the cause for which he’s fighting.
First of all, he is undermining democracy, which relies on the free flow of accurate information. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deliberate and demagogic attempts to portray honest media coverage of the myriad police investigations into his alleged wrongdoings as a leftist attempt to bring down his administration is an example of the danger Netanyahu poses to our democracy.
And secondly, by circulating false stories about the prime minister, Binyamin plays right into the prime minister’s hands, providing him with “evidence” of a left-wing plot against him. One false story, spun expertly by Netanyahu, destroys the effects of the hundreds of correct stories concerning our prime minister’s legal problems.
Journalist Igal Sarna was guilty of a similar offense: posting on Facebook (presumably because his paper at the time, Yediot Aharanot, would not publish it) that Sara Netanyahu had once kicked the prime minister out of the car on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. The prime minister and his wife successfully sued Sarna for libel because he could not prove his story in court, providing the Netanyahus with a rousing war story to take back to their supporters.
So well done Yair for deciding to follow your father’s example in the Sarna case and taking on Binyamin. We all need to clamp down on the untrue and scandalous allegations that float around social media like untreated sewage.
Unfortunately, Yair, you’re guilty of exactly the same pollution. There’s the grotesque caricature you tweeted over the weekend, taken straight from the antisemite’s playbook, or your labeling the New Israel Fund the “Israel Destruction Fund” and ending your words of wisdom with emojis of a middle finger and a pile of excrement, gross as that is.
And “topping” all that is your racist, homophobic and untrue insinuation that one of former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s sons had an “interesting relationship with a Palestinian man” that affected national security.
But then, there’s a trait in the Netanyahu family to believe there’s one rule for them and a separate rule for others. After all, we don’t see Prime Minister Netanyahu living up to his comments regarding then premier Olmert back in 2008, a statement that rings just as true today: “This prime minister is sunk up to his neck in investigations and has no moral and public mandate to decide fateful issues for the State of Israel.”
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.