Analysis

Netanyahu Has Been Warned Over Media Intervention, but Leaked Audio Reveals He's Possessed

No issue has elicited as much passion from the Israeli leader as the media, and even after being forced to drop the title of communications minister, he returns to the crime scene like an addict. But will it affect his support base?

Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, attend an official ceremony in Jerusalem, June 2, 2019.
Emil Salman

Over the past decade, no government office and no public, diplomatic, economic or security issue has elicited the passion, the emotion and the anger from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the media does.

Because of the media, he has feuded with all the ministers appointed to run the Communications Ministry (Yuli Edelstein, Ofir Akunis, Gilad Erdan, Tzachi Hanegbi and, most recently, Ayoub Kara). Because of the media, he called early election in 2013. And the criminal cases he’s now up to his neck in are the poisoned fruits of his sick relationship with the media.

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The word “obsession” has often been used to describe Netanyahu’s attitude toward the Israeli media, which has no mercy on him. Some viewed it as an exaggeration by hostile journalists. But what we heard Monday on Channel 13 News encapsulates the entire story: This isn’t just an obsession; it’s a dybbuk, it’s madness. And in this case, it’s also recidivism. Prima facie, of course, only prima facie.

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Like an addict incapable of kicking the habit, he could be heard (in a tape obtained by Sefi Ovadia) returning to the scene of the crime. Even after he was forced to give up the Communications Ministry, and even after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit forbade him to deal with issues related to Channel 10 television or to Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, he ordered Kara: Abolish it! Dissolve it! Speed it up! Do something!

And when a media report linked Kara to the subject of the Netanyahu family’s legendary hatred, Ayelet Shaked, he lost it completely. “Have you gone mad?” he screamed at the wretched Kara, who was only trying to speed up some bill his boss wanted passed. And what can you do? Shaked was justice minister at the time. It wouldn’t move without her.

That “Have you gone mad?” proves the anti-Shaked lunacy isn’t solely the province of Netanyahu’s wife. But that’s just a side issue here. The main issue is that despite his ostensible separation from the ministry, he continued to run it through two agents – Shlomo Filber, the once loyal director general who later turned state’s evidence, and Kara, the minister who at times was almost ridiculously close to Netanyahu.

He never stopped meddling for a moment. On one hand, he sought to undermine the commercial television channels that weren’t his mouthpieces. On the other, he tried to make life easier for Channel 20, the television version of Pravda, which employs numerous professional toadies who embarrass the journalistic profession and whose lifework is sucking up to the government.

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Netanyahu offered a defense: Mendelblit, despite forbidding him to deal with Channel 10 or Elovitch, allowed him “to continue dealing with the media industry in his role as prime minister.” That seems like a contradiction in terms. It must be checked with Mendelblit or the state prosecutor.

So what have we learned?

1. Nothing has changed. Nothing can change. Not his desperate meddling, which is of dubious legality, in the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council and Channel 10; not his wife’s abuse of employees of the prime minister’s official residence of the billing of private expenditures to the state.

2. We’ll probably never know who made the tape and who gave it to Channel 13. But we’ve learned something about the people Netanyahu employs and appoints, some of whom he then offends and insults: They record him and wait for the right moment. One turns state’s evidence, another contacts a television reporter.

3. The irony was overwhelming Monday night. Over the weekend, Netanyahu told his supporters to boycott Channel 12 for publishing transcripts of Filber’s interrogations. Some of his supporters might have obeyed and switched to Channel 13 – only to hear him “fight like a lion” for Channel 20, as he said later.

4. Two weeks before the election, this will probably make no difference. Truthfully, it may even help him. He won’t fall in the polls. The attacks he’ll suffer on Tuesday from the left and the free press will strengthen him among his base, and his future partners – Shaked, Naftali Bennett and all the rest – won’t utter a word of criticism. That too, hasn’t changed and won’t change.