Trump and Netanyahu’s War on Media Aims to Conquer and Occupy Truth Itself

Targeting of journalists in U.S. riots stems from brutish presidential incitement – and Israel could be next

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Donald Trump and Benjamin Neytanyahu  in Jerusalem, 2017.
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, 2017. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

They shoot journalists, don’t they, in Minneapolis and throughout a riot-ridden U.S.

After at least 30 documented incidents of arrest, violence, tear gas and rubber bullets directed at reporters, photographers and TV camera crews – mostly by police – Reuters declared on Sunday that it’s “Open Season” against members of the working press.

Old timers claim that it’s just like 1968, the last time America was so acutely polarized and divided. Many Americans who still put their trust in politicians and generals saw the tragically accurate press reports from Vietnam as enemy propaganda, on the edge of treason. But there were no smartphones then to broadcast attacks against journalists on social media throughout the world. There was no police force, trained and equipped, in no small measure with Israel as inspiration, as a crack army unit employing brute force.

But mainly – even with Richard Nixon around – there was no president who incited so consistently and so brutally against the media in general and professional journalists, in particular.

Hardly a day goes by – including these troubled and turbulent times – without Donald Trump accusing the media of lies, fabrications, fake news, collaboration with enemies inside and out and, mainly, of conspiring against America, to wit, against Trump himself.  “Enemies of the people” he calls those still clinging to the principles of a free press, and the message has trickled steadily down, not least of which to the police itself.

The differences between Trump’s harangues and Benjamin Netanyahu’s parallel private war against the media are a matter of nuance, no more. The Israeli prime minister incessantly tells Israelis that journalists are leftist agents, their reports lies and their blood libels plenty. The media, in his descriptions, is a ranking member in The Protocols of the Elders of Leftism against the People of Israel, the Land of Israel and mainly against their embodiment, i.e. – himself.

Small wonder that Israeli journalists face ever-increasing intimidation and threats of violence in public and particularly political forums. If Israel ever experiences violent riots like those currently wracking the U.S. – in the wake of annexation, for example - journalists could find themselves in the center of crosshairs as well.

Trump’s and Netanyahu’s motives are similar, as are their modus operandi: They don’t incite against all media, only those that probe their deeds, critique their actions, decline to toe the line and refuse to worship their unique greatness.  Unlike leaders of most countries still considered democratic, many of who also contend with an inquisitive and sometimes vicious press, Netanyahu and Trump have launched a scorched-earth war of total destruction, with troublesome journalists serving as convenient ducks on the shooting range.

The two populists incite against the media in order to undercut news reports, well documented and amply-sourced as they may be, that portray them in a negative light. They defame the media, stamp it with a mark of treachery and then throw choice morsels as red meat for their voracious bases, both of which feed on a steady stream of concocted demonic enemies. Trump and Netanyahu want to scare the press, deter it, subjugate and control it and, if all else fails, silence it altogether.

Make no mistake: The battle being waged by Trump and Netanyahu isn’t limited to their dangerously brutish efforts to silence dissent. Their aims are even more ambitious than a concerted effort to constrain freedom of the press - or the protections of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment - in order to weaken democracy and undermine the rule of law.

Their war is over truth itself. They want to remove obstacles from their path – investigating journalists, critical pundits, obstinate editors and publishers along with all other heretics – in order to own the truth themselves. Listen only to me and believe only in me, they’re telling supporters, and those who repeat after me.

Trump and Netanyahu are creating a world in which the difference between truth and falsehood is no longer objective but a function of power, propaganda and infinite repetition. They seek a world in which simplistic but consistent conspiracy theories replace complex and often confounding realities. They want a world in which the media is either complacent or non-existent, and their own words are, as Israelis say, like Torah from Sinai.

For those interested, a more detailed and elaborate description of Trump and Netanyahu’s final destination can be found in “The Origins of Totalitarianism” by Hannah Arendt.

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