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First Israel Hayom, Now Bibi TV. Is Likud Court Next?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in a cyber conference, Tel Aviv, January 29, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in a cyber conference, Tel Aviv, January 29, 2019. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

At last, the prime minister can breathe easy: Now there’s a television channel that broadcasts only the shows he likes, starring the person he likes best: Benjamin Netanyahu. He chose the location of the studio (Tel Aviv, because even Bibi TV would rather not broadcast from Jerusalem); the interviewers (just no journalists, got that? If I see one journalist around here I’m putting you all on cleaning duty at the prime minister’s residence!) and the set design (a huge Israeli flag, bigger than yours).

He needn’t plea for a taxi to be sent to ferry him to the studio: The official convoy drives him there and back, police and Shin Bet security service officers clearing the way, blocking downtown streets and questioning innocent passersby on their way home from work while he gets made up for the camera on one of the top floors of Metzudat Ze’ev, Likud party headquarters on King George Street.

Even so, Netanyahu’s joy is not complete. How could it be, when this marvelous channel, his own private-but-publicly-funded “Big Brother” house is only shown on Facebook Live, like Eldad Yaniv’s low-budget videos? That’s not as it should be. Netanyahu’s loathing of the media is all due to simple jealousy: He wants it too.

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Think big, think Berlusconi: Enormous studios with revolving stages, comely women to dress up the set and a massive sound system. How can anyone expect the guy who has regaled the United Nation with all kinds of audiovisual aids, including sketches of Auschwitz and pieces of Qassam missiles, to limit himself to an interview with Eliraz Sade? That’s like using a rocket booster to heat a cup of tea.

Twelve years ago, the free newspaper Israel Hayom debuted. It loses hundreds of millions of shekels a year, and Sheldon Adelson is prepared to lose much more. This financial suicide move was meant to return Netanyahu to power, forever if possible. The paper — whose first issues, ironically, called for the immediate resignation of a corrupt prime minister — is still here, but attempts to copy the model for television only yielded Channel 20, which has a 1-percent rating on a good day.

It took Netanyahu longer than usual to realize this wasn’t enough. If “the Arabs are going to the polls in droves” video worked so well, despite the grainy images and lousy lighting, why not extend the concept to a daily format with high production values? In the last election, Netanyahu only opened his door to the media at the last minute. Sadly, everyone took the bait and gave him valuable screen time. Now he doesn’t need them. He will broadcast, he will direct — and they will report on it second- or thirdhand.

No more requests for a response, no more phrases dictated in the middle of the night to the eunuch of the moment. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit can go pluck his beard while Netanyahu broadcasts above his head, the law and beyond the Central Election Committee’s ethics rules.

Freedom and power are addictive substances, and forced withdrawal can lead to desperate measures. If Netanyahu prevails in the election, his appetite will only grow, as will his fears. It’s possible that what began with Israel Hayom and continues with Likud TV will ultimately lead to the repudiation of the legal system, to the establishment of a Likud police force and a Likud court. Who knows, maybe like Pablo Escobar, who convinced the Colombian government to let him build his own prison-fortress — to serving his prison sentence at the villa in Caesarea.

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