Analysis |

Netanyahu's Hit List: Attacking Israeli Journalists Is Now Official Policy

Netanyahu’s reply to the television investigation into his personal life could prove to be an ugly pivotal moment in Israeli democracy. Journalists be warned: If you’re not from Israel Hayom or its ilk, you’re in the gun sights.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan.Credit: Hadas Parush / Flash 90, Tali Meir
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Last summer, Benjamin Netanyahu held a series of briefings with many of the country’s media organizations, big and small. As was reported on numerous occasions, at these gatherings he did his utmost to charm, impress, astound and leave a good impression on his guests.

The prevailing theory then as to the motive behind this carpet-bombing operation to which Netanyahu devoted many hours of his time was: a) He wants to turn over a new leaf in his bleak relations with the media, b) He wants to soften up the press ahead of possible new developments in police investigations against him, c) He wants to show the crowd of skeptics that there’s another Netanyahu – one who’s not a politician, not a sweaty survivor, not an agitator itching for a fight, but one who is a statesman, a reformist, an entrepreneur, a leader, a man of vision.

One option never occurred to anyone, not even to the wariest among us: that what the prime minister really wanted was to look right in the eyes of the people on the hit-list he was about to commence knocking off. There are hit men like that, you know.

It’s a campaign that’s at once coldly calculated and about losing one’s cool. Such an internal contradiction can evidently exist in certain people, in certain circumstances.

The source of the problem can be found in the residential section of the Prime Minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. The sense of paranoia, the lack of inhibition, the mood that has charitably been described as “nuttiness” have all been found there for years now. We used to think it was just “the Missus.” Not any more. The virus has spread.

Last week, and other times before that, we wrote here that in Netanyahu’s next election campaign he will run against the media, for lack of any other viable targets – Iran is no longer on the agenda, the “left” is dying, Hamas is irrelevant, ISIS is someone else’s problem and Yair Lapid, the seemingly emergent candidate of the center-left bloc, has become a mainly empty vessel with no significant actions or record to run against. In short – there’s not much to work with.

His violent reaction against Haaretz last week in wake of Gidi Weitz and Nati Tucker’s report on his relations with the media (the DuMont Schauberg publishing house, which acquired a 20-percent stake in Haaretz, distributed Nazi propaganda during World War II, he said) was an escalation of his already unreasonable anti-media conduct.

His lengthy response last night to the “Uvda” (“Fact”) piece on the workings of his office and residence – a fair and well-researched investigation that didn’t offer much new aside from Vered Swid’s gut-wrenching description of the circumstances that led to the end of her job as head of the Prime Minister’s Office’s Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women – will go down as a dark, ugly and nauseating episode in the history of Israeli democracy.

Netanyahu is on a campaign. That’s a fact. From now on, more than ever, any media organization that isn’t Israel Hayom or something the likes of Makor Rishon, is in his sights. Journalists who criticize him can expect to have a steaming pile of crap dumped on them. The kind of thing we’ve only seen so far in the posts of the most vicious and pathetic Facebook trolls will become normal fare for the prime minister. Slander, lies and witch hunts against journalists are from now on the open, official policy of Israel’s prime minister.

Until recently, he would hide behind his mouthpiece, the black stain on the world of journalism funded by the money lost by gamblers at casinos. No more. When Bibi and Sara wanted to lash out at the media, Israel Hayom listened, took note and wrote it up – page after page. From now on, we’ll just get the crap heaped on us directly from the source.

It’s no surprise that the only minister to come to Netanyahu’s defense so far is our so-called “minister of culture,” Miri Regev. Positioning herself for serious advancement in the next government, or maybe even the current one, the cynical Regev, who lacks any trace of culture, knew just where to direct her comments: At Sara, to whom she wished to “offer support” in a post Monday morning on her Facebook page.

Ilana Dayan’s reading of Netanyahu’s entire screed against her on Monday night’s program was one of the most seminal moments for Channel 2 in its 23-year existence. And it may well end up being remembered as a seminal moment in politics. The lunacy that exuded from every line of the PMO’s statement against a fair and experienced journalist with a centrist outlook, someone who could not be labeled as having any leftist tendencies, should horrify every reasonable person in this country, even lifelong Likud voters. At some point, this pot is going to boil over completely.

Next time around, if there were a moderate right-wing slate comprised of sane people who have thus far stayed out of the political system, it would surely draw the votes of right-wing voters fed up with Netanyahu.

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