How the World Loves Netanyahu - and Other Posts From the PM's Facebook Page

In an effort to compensate for what Israel’s prime minister sees as the hostile mainstream media he has taken to social media in a big way, with 556 Facebook posts in 2016 and almost 2 million followers.

Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel
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PM Netanyahu in the market. Likudniks worried about embarrassing reactions.
PM Netanyahu in the market. Likudniks worried about embarrassing reactions.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a leader who is beloved and admired the world over, he defends Israel’s security and fights against world terror. But the Israeli media don’t appreciate him and are plotting to bring down his government and to harm his family. I know that because I read 556 posts and 50,000 words published on Netanyahu’s personal Facebook page this past year.

Anyone who visits the prime minister’s very active Facebook page is likely to reach similar conclusions. A perusal of the reactions of those who visit it indicates that this impression is shared by many people.

A few days ago Netanyahu’s Facebook page reached 1.9 million followers. He has about another 740,000 followers on Twitter, and about 130,000 on the official Facebook page of the Prime Minister of Israel. A large percentage of them rely on the posts — which are presented as though they are uttered directly by the prime minister — as a source of news of what’s happening in the country.

The staff in charge of the prime minister’s page writes a new post almost every day, and often several posts a day, at a frequency reminiscent of news flashes in the official media. These posts including updates of his meetings and activities, and sometimes those of Sara Netanyahu too.

Netanyahu often derides his rivals who use the social networks ("Ehud Barak is tweeting himself to death”). But in the past year he has significantly increased his own social media presence, and recently started posting direct broadcasts of speeches and meetings on his Facebook page. He even starred in live broadcasts during the Knesset budget discussions.

Number of posts Netanyahu made on Facebook in 2016, by topic.

For Netanyahu this is a media outlet under his control that compensates for what, in his view, the hostile mainstream media outlets hide from the public. His posts reveal what he chooses to convey to the public, and the subjects that preoccupy him. For example, he found it important to explain how much he is admired worldwide.

The prime minister’s Facebook page deals mainly with extolling his name, and is full of pictures of him and his wife in meetings with VIPs in Israel and elsewhere. He focuses on a few main and simple messages: How greatly he is admired in the world – thanks to which Israel is also greatly admired — and expresses disdain for concern about diplomatic isolation; preserving Israel’s security; concern about international terror; questioning the reliability of Israel’s principal media outlets (except for the daily Israel Hayom and the Walla website); and presenting Israel’s Arabs and the Palestinian Authority in a negative light.

Most of the posts on Netanyahu’s Facebook page were about Israel’s foreign relations — about 10,500 words in the past year. In about 30 percent of the posts Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, wrote about meetings with foreign statesmen and politicians and visits abroad. He wrote two posts about the UN Security Council resolution against Israel. Two days before the UN resolution he publicized his meeting with the prime minister of Swaziland, and many updates were about his meetings in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and African countries.

Netanyahu also boasted several times about his ties with the United States and his meetings with outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. But he changed his policy after the UN anti-settlement resolution and began attacking the countries involved, mainly the United States, in public speeches and on his Facebook page. He explained: “Not only will our relations with the countries of the world not suffer, they will improve over time, because the countries respect strong countries that stick to their guns, and not weak countries that ingratiate themselves and lower their heads.” That post received over 5,000 likes and many favorable reactions.

The UN resolution increased Netanyahu’s Facebook presence even more, and his staff began writing several posts a day attacking the resolution and its supporters from every angle.

In one post he quoted the words of Simon the Hasmonean from 2,000 years ago, and in another there was a picture of the area where the Hasmonean revolt broke out.

Netanyahu harshly attacked the media and the “left” after the vote, and wrote that they “were almost as pleased with the anti-Israeli decision as were the PA and Hamas.” One commenter replied: “Now that you’ve turned the leftists into lepers, what do you say? Should they all be released from reserve duty? They can’t be trusted.”

The main subject is Israel’s security: About 17 percent of the posts are about the Israel Defense Forces, the security issue and terror attacks in Israel and worldwide.

Netanyahu is seen by his supporters as “Mr. Economy,” but he barely discusses the subject on Facebook. Only 15 posts (2.7 percent of the total) dealt directly with the economy and with employment, quite superficially, mainly enumerating the government’s achievements, such as increasing the employment rate, without touching on the challenges confronting the Israeli economy. Another 11 posts (2 percent) were about high-tech, innovation and cyber, and another four about tourism.

Netanyahu’s speech of last week, in which he boasted of the fact that already years ago he recommended buying homes, was broadcast directly, but the recommendation to purchase homes didn’t receive a separate post.

There were only three short posts about welfare, two of them about the “savings account for every child” plan. Only one post referred directly and exclusively to the ultra-Orthodox, including part of a speech that he gave at a business conference of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel.

Education in Israel is in bad shape, but there was no mention of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests (in which Israel ranked relatively low) and only five posts about education and higher education.

There was only one post about Iran, and only one about the health system. The world “governability” was not mentioned at all.

Netanyahu wrote extensively about the Israeli media, mainly negatively, including his famous attacks against the media and journalists. Netanyahu’s staff is very preoccupied with the subject, and they included posts against journalists Raviv Drucker and Amnon Abramowitz. Netanyahu writes about “false propaganda against me and my family, in order to bring down an incumbent Likud prime minister,” or about “leading sources in the media and the left who are waging an all-out personal war against me and my family.”

Sometimes Netanyahu responds to comments, mainly when they are positive.

Many surfers continued to praise Netanyahu. “You’re the strongest and best prime minister that Israel has ever had,” wrote one. But another had more sober words, writing: “Only through the eyes of a child can one admire your activities and think that we’re safe.” Another wrote: “Bibi answers and posts what suits him.” “You’re the only politician who constantly has to prove that people love him, because you have no accomplishments," wrote another.

Netanyahu published about 20 posts related to Arab citizens, most of which presented them in a negative light. He mentioned illegal construction in Arab communities, noise from the mosques, illegal weapons, criticism of the Joint Arab list and wayward MKs (on the other hand, there is no reference to suspicions of sexual harassment by a Habayit Hayehudi MK, or the investigation against Likud MK Oren Hazan). There were only two posts about the battle against racism in Israel, six about new immigrants and Ethiopians, and two about the rights of the LGBT community.

Netanyahu sometimes mentions the desire for peace, but when it comes to Palestinians he writes mainly about terror attacks they committed, and blames the PA for “constant incitement against the existence of the State of Israel.”

Sometimes Netanyahu writes about historical events connected to Israel, such as the 96th anniversary of the San Remo Conference, the 60th anniversary of the Sinai Campaign, the 43rd anniversary of the Yom Kippur War and the 99th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. And sometimes about archaeological findings: “This week a 1,900-year-old inscription was found in an underwater dig in Israel, and it mentions Judea. Our deep roots that express our right to the Land of Israel are found in every corner of our country — even underwater.”

After the UN Resolution Netanyahu posted a picture of an archaeological find in Jerusalem with the word “Hyrcanus” engraved in Hebrew. He wrote: “So we’re occupiers? As far back as 2,100 years ago we were here, and here we will remain.” The post received over 12,700 likes and over 2,000 shares.

There were over 19 long posts about historical events. And what about the future? Discussion of that is less prominent. “The key to the future lies in growth, and therefore I will continue to strengthen our economy.” “Next year we’ll continue to build the country, to spur the economy, to maintain security, to work for our future here in the State of Israel.” “Anyone thinking of destroying us places himself in existential danger – that’s an essential condition for guaranteeing our future.”

Do you see a common denominator? Maybe it’s only me, who after two entire days of burrowing through the 50,000 words Netanyahu posted this year, can no longer imagine that without him there will be a state or that it has any future.