Netanyahu's Vengeance Sends a Message to Israeli Journalists

Coalition members bring down the ax on the channel, sending its workers to the unemployment line because of a minor technicality.

A typical 40 minutes late, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a group of his advisers entered the Likud faction's room in the Knesset on Monday, smiles of victory on their faces. In the nearby Knesset Economic Affairs Committee room lay the metaphorical body of Channel 10.

A short while earlier, coalition members had brought down the ax on the channel, sending its workers to the unemployment line because of a minor technicality, refusing to postpone a debt of some NIS 45 million.

Benjamin Netanyahu - Olivier Fitoussi  - 05122011
Olivier Fitoussi

This is social justice in the Netanyahu era: There will always be work for 38 ministers and deputy ministers, but for a news company that dared to annoy some of those ministers - particularly the prime minister and his wife, who, as we know, are beyond reproach - there is no future and no hope.

After the routine photo-op at the start of the faction meeting, someone asked Netanyahu for his response to the closing of Channel 10. The prime minister wrung his hands, looked coolly at some distant point, and said nothing.

Less than 24 hours earlier Netanyahu and his minions were working their tails off to tie and tighten the noose around the crushed channel. On Monday it didn't seem to interest him. (The Prime Minister's Office response: The office was not involved with issues connected to the channel. )

The plan to shut down Channel 10 was drawn up in the Prime Minister's Bureau several months ago. If anyone doubts that, note there was an order to impose coalition discipline during both Economic Affairs Committee votes.

But the process actually started more than a year ago, when there was meant to be a rotation of chairman between the economics committee and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee - the former was to be given to the opposition, as had always been the case in the past, and the latter was to revert to coalition control, as had historically been the case. Netanyahu, however, wouldn't hear of it. There are 12 statutory Knesset committees but only one of them deals with the media. Netanyahu preferred to entrust the sensitive and prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to a political rival, Shaul Mofaz of Kadima, who drives him crazy, than to relinquish the very committee that gave him power over the commercial channels. He knew exactly what he was doing. Monday was the day he had been waiting for.

The move to shut down Channel 10 was executed without mercy or restraint. The coalition members of the committee - Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas MKs - were happy to obey the order from on high.

The official grounds for the decision were that the channel had to pay its debts, which had been deferred time after time. This is an ostensibly reasonable argument. But when the sum at issue is so small - NIS 45 million, not 450 million; and when the Second Television and Radio Authority itself admitted Monday that it didn't need the money right now; and given the media's difficult economic straits, making it unlikely that other outlets will hire almost any of Channel 10's workers, the decision was not inevitable, it was an act of vengeance - simple, transparent and horrifying.

Even if by some miracle the channel is saved and continues to operate, the message has been conveyed: There is a sword hanging over any media outlet whose oxygen supply is in government hands - the commercial channels, Channel 1 and Educational Television. Anyone who dares cross the line, publicly criticize, or broadcast a lethal investigative report will meet a bitter fate.

There aren't only judges in Jerusalem. There are also hangmen.

Read this article in Hebrew