Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi threatened to halt government funding for advertising in Haaretz following the termination of columnist Gadi Taub’s employment.
“Thank you Haaretz for the tailwind to my position that a comprehensive reform is needed in the media market,” Karhi tweeted. “We’ll act to stop government funding by advertisements in this Bolshevik abomination.”
Taub, who occasionally wrote opinion pieces in Haaretz, received a termination notice on Wednesday. Two reasons were given for the termination – the newspaper’s need to protect itself from the Benjamin Netanyahu-led government’s proposed judicial reforms that Taub supports, and the latter’s recent appointment as a visiting fellow in Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest, Hungary, which supports and is close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“The desire to weaken the justice system by radical moves carried out unilaterally and with no restraint forces us too, as a media outlet, to defend ourselves. In this sense, we find great difficulty resolving the dissonance: on the one hand to be the spearhead against this revolution, and at the same time to publish articles that give it a tailwind. In terms of a defensive democracy, we believe that this is a time to be on the defensive,” the notice to Taub said.
Regarding the MCC, the notice said “It’s difficult for us to accept that someone who agrees to be part of such an institution, that praises all the values we think are dangerous and threaten democracy, receives a platform at Haaretz, which is fighting an open battle against these stands.”
The letter ended with thanking Taub for his contribution to free expression in Haaretz, which enabled exposure to other positions. He published essays as a guest columnist at the newspaper since 2001, and from 2016 has been writing more frequently, but not continuously or every week in recent years.
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Taub tweeted in protest: “The real reason Haaretz closed my column: telling the truth is forbidden.”
Taub posted the column he had intended to publish in Haaretz on the online Mida site. In it, he criticizes the “legal reform” – not for its harm to democracy or to the balance among the governmental branches of power, but for leaving in “too may loopholes that will enable the elite to disrupt the voters’ will.”
Taub argues that Likud voters won’t forgive Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if he tries to block the wave of protests against the move.
He calls all the current and former judges and the academics opposing the “legal reform” “senior members in a junta,” who hold an “anti-democratic viewpoint.”
Other ministers joined Karhi’s offensive. Diaspora and Social Equality Minister Amichai Chikli wrote in his Twitter account: “The right won in the election and heaven forbid is implementing its declared policy – in response Haaretz decides not to enable Dr. Gadi Taub, of the few conservative writers in the newspaper, to publish his articles. A weak and wretched decision.”
The new Public Diplomacy Minister, Galit Distel-Atbaryan, charged that “there’s no more place for truth in the totalitarian garden-bed of ‘democracy’s guardians.’”
Karhi’s spokesman told Haaretz that the minister had acted already in the previous Knesset to stop state funding to advertisements in all newspapers. TheMarker reporter Nati Tucker checked and reported that if such a move was implemented the main newspapers to be harmed by it would be Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth. After them, with a considerable economic gap, came Globes and in the fourth place Haaretz.
One of Viktor Orban’s means of changing Hungary’s media map over the last decade was funding advertisements to private pro-government media, while other private media closed down or were taken over by business people seen as friendly to the government.
A report published in 2020 by the majority U.S. government-funded organization Freedom House, has stated that Hungary can no longer be called a democracy.
In recent months Taub tweeted about Hungary and Orban several times. In December, he said he was in Hungary “to bring home a few helpful recommendations on how to save democracy from the left. Orban knows how to work, say what you will.” Later he cited another research fellow in MCC, conservative writer Rod Dreher, who said “We have to learn from Orban. The right’s achievements worldwide won’t be sustainable if the right continues to abandon legal and cultural power centers to the left. That’s the lesson. The left will obviously scream about losing its privileges, but so what?”