Netanyahu, Louis XIV and Israel’s 'Greatest Enemies'

If Netanyahu did say that Haaretz and the New York Times are Israel's greatest enemies, then he would be somebody who would prefer that there be no media that criticize him.

Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu has expressly denied saying to Jerusalem Post’s editor Steve Linde that Haaretz and the New York Times are Israel’s two greatest enemies. If Mr. Netanyahu says so, we must believe him. After all we cannot join people like Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Nicholas Sarkozy and a number of other world leaders who have said that Mr. Netanyahu is, let’s say, not always one hundred percent reliable.

Mr. Linde now says that his original statement was his personal interpretation of a private conversation. The original statement is reported to be: “Netanyahu said, ‘You know, Steve, we have two main enemies'. And I thought he was going to talk about, you know, Iran, maybe Hamas. He said, ‘It’s The New York Times and Haaretz.’ He said, ‘They set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world. Journalists read them every morning and base their news stories … on what they read in The New York Times and Haaretz.’ ”

Benjamin Netanyahu - Emil Salman - 9.1.2012
Emil Salman

Even though we of course assume that Mr. Netanyahu has not said any of the above, let us see what might have led him to say (which, as he says, he didn’t) that Haaretz and The New York Times, rather than Iran and Hezbollah, are Israel’s greatest enemies.

Let me start with a few words about the people whom I know at Haaretz. My distinct impression is that most of them care greatly for Israel. Many of them are quite invested in Herzl’s original Zionist dream of Israel as a progressive, democratic homeland of the Jewish people.

In fact, they care so much about it, that they expend a considerable amount of their time and energy to argue that Israel should make sure that it maintains a Jewish majority to preserve Herzl’s dream. Since they believe that Mr. Netanyahu’s policies have disastrous consequences for this dream, they indeed tend to be critical of his policies.

It is probably fair to say that both papers, by and large, take the position that Mr. Netanyahu’s actions have been enormously detrimental to Israel’s standing in the world. Both papers have repeatedly argued that Mr. Netanyahu is doing great damage to Israel’s democracy by not taking a forceful stand against anti-democratic legislation initiated by members of his own party and of his coalition partners.

Both papers have, by and large, taken the position that it was not a very good idea for Mr. Netanyahu to appoint Mr. Lieberman as foreign minister. They think that Mr. Lieberman has done great damage to Israel by being profoundly undiplomatic, to put it mildly, and by offending politicians and diplomats of countries that are traditionally said to be friendly to Israel.

And they think that Netanyahu’s preference of Mr. Lieberman over Mrs. Livni as major coalition partner may have been motivated by his fear that Mr. Lieberman might be his main competitor for the title of "Israel’s most determined right-wing politician," and not necessarily by serving Israel’s long-term interest.

I guess we’ll have to concede that both papers have been very critical of his policies (or the lack thereof) and his modus operandi.

But what kind of person would Mr. Netanyahu be, if, based on these criticisms, he had indeed said that Haaretz and the New York Times are Israel’s greatest enemy?

He would be a bit like King Louis XIV who reportedly said (to the best of my knowledge he hasn’t denied it, so far) “l'etat c'est moi” (freely translated as “the state is me”). Netanyahu would believe that his interests and the state’s are identical, that he is infallible and that anybody who thinks that Netanyahu as prime minister is bad for Israel, must by this very fact, be an enemy of Israel.

Netanyahu would also have to be somebody whose commitment to democracy is, let us say, slightly limited by his personal interest. He would be somebody who would prefer that there be no media that criticize him (there are reports that the threat to close Israel’s Channel 10 is connected to its having aired reporting critical of Mr. Netanyahu, but that is certainly untrue, too).

This would, of course, be extremely disquieting, and might explain why Haaretz has warned repeatedly that Israel’s democracy might be endangered.

But fortunately it is all false: after all, Mr. Netanyahu has denied it.