Analysis

Netanyahu Seeks to Silence Critical Media by Hitting Their Revenues

After failing to prevent channel from publishing leaked materials from his corruption probes, PM tells Israelis they should boycott it for producing show that 'slanders Israel'

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cornerstone-laying ceremony for Mobileye's center in Jerusalem August 27, 2019.
Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS

Since “Our Boys,” coproduced by Israel's Channel 12, began airing on HBO earlier this month, right-wing activists have harshly criticized the series.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined them on Friday. Netanyahu, who lectures others unceasingly against boycotting Israel, wants to use that tool in Israel itself – to silence the opposition. Netanyahu wants Channel 12’s shareholders to understand that if they allow the channel owners to act professionally, without involving political considerations, he will try to hit them in the pocketbook.

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The prime minister called for a boycott of Channel 12, calling "Our Boys" anti-Semitic and saying it slanders Israel's internationally.

Netanyahu said the series devotes just “few minutes of cold archival footage” to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in 2014 and the rest of the time, “the plot … focuses on one case – the murder of an Arab boy from Jerusalem – which is shocking but rare.”

Hagai Levy, one of the show’s creators, addressed the right-wing criticism in an interview with conservative Israel newspaper Makor Rishon. Asked why the series focuses on the kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Jewish minors, Levy said, “It’s a political series, and it investigates the events not just artistically … The portrayal of the Abu Khdeir family is not a portrayal of a grieving family, but a broader story of a private person who sunk into grief and almost reluctantly became a political figure, a symbol.”

Also on Friday, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition by Netanyahu’s Likud party to block Channel 12 from broadcasting leaked investigation materials from his corruption cases.

A few times a week on Channel 12’s news broadcast, anchor Guy Peleg reads, in a straight-faced monotone, the testimony of state’s witnesses in the investigation into corruption affairs which allegedly involve the prime minister. Peleg reads the materials that he obtains that are of interest to the public, usually without commentary. If he didn’t broadcast the material, he would not be doing his professional duty.

Still, Netanyahu called him “the prosecution’s spokesman,” and “the world champion of fake news.” He abandoned all semblance of the statesmanship he prides himself on and mocked Peleg over the shape of his ears. This is one of the reasons that Peleg has received threats on his life over the past few days.

However, that wasn’t enough for Netanyahu. He called on Israelis to boycott a private company in Israel. What Netanyahu failed to do through regulation and legislation, he’ll do through social media, where he doesn’t see himself as prime minister, but as a celebrity who can call on people to boycott commercial entities.

Two weeks before the election, Netanyahu is determined to do anything so the media will stop reminding Israelis of the suspicions of corruption hanging over him.