Ne­tanyahu: Stop at­tack­ing jour­nal­ists

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONTLINES -

The Likud’s big Hanukkah event, with Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu ad­dress­ing a crowd of sup­port­ers, was much like any of the party’s other ma­jor events. Crowds waited in long se­cu­rity lines and schmoozed with Knes­set mem­bers; pop mu­sic gave way to the Likud jin­gle as Ne­tanyahu took the stage amid cheers.

But there is one thing that has be­come ubiq­ui­tous at Likud events in re­cent years that was not al­ways present: ha­rass­ment of the press.

In his ad­dress, Ne­tanyahu de­tailed his de­fense against charges in Case 4000, in which the po­lice rec­om­mended he be in­dicted for ac­cept­ing a bribe in the form of fa­vor­able cov­er­age in Walla! News – although, as he pointed out, sev­eral sources, in­clud­ing me­dia watch­dog The Sev­enth Eye, con­ducted stud­ies and found that the web­site’s ar­ti­cles about Ne­tanyahu were not par­tic­u­larly pos­i­tive.

Ne­tanyahu took that as an op­por­tu­nity to rail against “hos­tile cov­er­age” in Walla.

“They’re bi­ased against me, and ev­ery­body knows it,” he said.

Ne­tanyahu’s lament in­cluded po­lice-press re­la­tions, like what he called the “end­less flood of bi­ased leaks,” col­or­ing cov­er­age from the start as an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that would in­evitably bring an in­dict­ment.

The mes­sage was re­ceived by the at­ten­dees. When Ne­tanyahu fin­ished his speech, some swarmed the press area to ha­rass jour­nal­ists.

“You are the de­scen­dants of An­ti­ochus,” one Likud­nik bel­lowed, in a Hanukkah-themed in­sult. Tele­vi­sion re­porters re­ceived the brunt of the abuse, as they’re the most rec­og­niz­able. But most of the jour­nal­ists seemed con­cerned, and one, whose me­dia out­let was sin­gled out for crit­i­cism by Ne­tanyahu, left in a hurry be­cause she felt she was in dan­ger. In fact, some of those shout­ing at jour­nal­ists asked where she was.

One brave Likud­nik con­fronted the ha­rassers and was in­tim­i­dated into back­ing off. Most ig­nored the melee, which con­tin­ued even while for­mer chief Rabbi Yis­rael Meir Lau lit the Hanukkah can­dles.

This was far from the first such oc­cur­rence at a Likud event.

Ne­tanyahu’s in­vec­tive against the me­dia started long ago. Some have com­pared Ne­tanyahu to US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has called jour­nal­ists “en­e­mies of the peo­ple.” They both seem to love the phrase “fake news.”

Ne­tanyahu has been hos­tile to the me­dia at least since his first term as prime min­is­ter from 1996 to 1999. Some of that hos­til­ity is jus­ti­fied – for ex­am­ple, the ac­cu­sa­tions that are dredged up each year that Ne­tanyahu in­cited against for­mer prime min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin be­fore Rabin’s as­sas­si­na­tion, when, in fact, he re­peat­edly ex­horted the Right not to call Rabin a traitor. Ne­tanyahu’s fo­cus on the press led him to in­clude in the coali­tion agree­ment that he has veto power over any new me­dia-re­lated poli­cies.

With the ad­vent of so­cial me­dia, Ne­tanyahu re­peat­edly crosses a red­line in his re­sponses to crit­i­cal press cov­er­age. He has a ten­dency to at­tack spe­cific jour­nal­ists, such as in the lengthy re­sponse he is­sued after a re­port by award-win­ning jour­nal­ist Ilana Dayan in 2016. He said that Dayan “does not have even a drop of pro­fes­sional in­tegrity” and is “one of the lead­ers of the or­ches­trated at­tack against the prime min­is­ter… meant to top­ple the right-wing gov­ern­ment.”

“An­a­lysts on TV were de­lighted by the anti-Is­rael de­ci­sion in the UN, al­most as much as the Pales­tinian Author­ity and Ha­mas,” he wrote on Face­book an­other time.

It’s un­der­stand­able for Ne­tanyahu to want to de­fend him­self when he’s crit­i­cized – this is why pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ists give the top­ics of their re­ports the right to re­spond. Be­yond that, it is rea­son­able for him to write on Face­book when he thinks a re­port is fac­tu­ally wrong.

But it would be­hoove Ne­tanyahu to re­mem­ber that a free press is the beat­ing heart of democ­racy. With­out a crit­i­cal me­dia, in­jus­tices in gov­ern­ment, busi­ness, ed­u­ca­tion and all other ar­eas would be far more ram­pant. No one knows this bet­ter than Ne­tanyahu him­self. Case 4000, for which the po­lice rec­om­mended he be charged with bribery and fraud, was first un­cov­ered by the me­dia.

For­mer Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill, whom Ne­tanyahu so ad­mires, once said: “A free press is the un­sleep­ing guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dan­ger­ous foe of tyranny… Where free in­sti­tu­tions are in­dige­nous to the soil and men have the habit of lib­erty, the press will con­tinue to be the Fourth Es­tate, the vig­i­lant guardian of the rights of the or­di­nary cit­i­zen.”

Ne­tanyahu would be wise to heed Churchill’s words.

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