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Israeli Media Also Helped Itamar Ben-Gvir

Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz
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Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir talking to the media last year.
Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir talking to the media last year.Credit: Emil Salman
Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz

It is highly probable that Itamar Ben-Gvir will serve in the next government as a cabinet minister, the chairman of a Knesset committee and a central coalition partner, if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reelected as prime minister. Netanyahu can mumble from today to tomorrow that Ben-Gvir won’t be a minister, but if that’s what stands between him and the premiership, we can already prepare for the new title: Minister Ben-Gvir.

Netanyahu has long since become shameless, and will do everything possible to stay in power and conduct his trial from the prime minister’s seat. For him that’s the key to a long and slow trial, which will exhaust the judicial system and constituents until his investigations start looking like an old and petty matter. Alternatively, a stable right-wing coalition could create a trial-bypass route, by means of various types of immunity laws. That’s how Ben-Gvir will become one of the most important politicians in the next government.

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The responsibility for the appointment of the successor of right-wing extremist Meir Kahane would be Netanyahu’s, but he is not alone. He had collaborators in recent years. Long before Netanyahu turned Ben-Gvir into a potentially legitimate coalition partner the television and radio studios had already done the job. They made Ben-Gvir a regular guest in their studios, reacting on current affairs and representing the right in the circus of talk shows.

Netanyahu’s wooing of Ben-Gvir to join MK Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party is similar to how the studios courted him. For some reason, presenters of current affairs programs are entranced by him. They see him as a kind of cuddly bear whom they managed to domesticate after his years of runing wildly through the hills of Samaria and inciting racism.

Ifat Media, a company that gathers media information, examined the number of appearances of various politicians in the week before the September 2019 election. Netanyahu was in first place, of course, with 262 appearances, in second place was the chairman of Kahol Lavan, Benny Gantz, with 142 appearances, in third place came former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, with 109, and Ben-Gvir came in fourth, with 72. Ben-Gvir was not an MK, but headed the Otzma Yehudit party, which never won enough votes to make it into the Knesset. He had far more appearances in the broadcast media than senior party leaders and politicians such as Arye Dery, Avigdor Lieberman, Amir Peretz, Ayman Odeh and Ehud Barak.

What is the explanation for the enthusiasm for Ben-Gvir on current events programs? After all, he doesn’t represent the right-wing mainstream. His place is on the radical right, with members of the Price Tag gang, and the hilltop youth. There you’ll find the people who beat up Arabs, and sometimes Israel Defense Force soldiers too. In the March 2020 election he received a total of 19,402 votes, less than half a percent of the electorate.

Why do the editors and presenters of the current events talk shows get such enjoyment out of hosting him, joking around with him and turning him into a legitimate political figure, when time after time the public decides to leave him out of the Knesset? Is it only a matter of ratings, or is this the broadcast media’s twisted way of creating a “balance” – to invite in the greatest extremists on the right and the left, thereby constructing an appearance of “we brought in people from both sides”?

Whatever the case, it’s a dubious formula that distorts the public discourse, leaves the silent majority behind, gives center stage to people from the margins as well as a seal of approval. Ben-Gvir’s achievement of obtaining a realistic slot on the Religious Zionism Knesset list, in a process cooked up in Netanyahu’s bureau, is also a failure of the country’s leading TV channels, which gave him their stamp of approval, making him a legitimate politician. This took place as part of a prolonged and consistent process, without reservations and without any self-examination of the significance of their conduct. If he is appointed justice minister or chairman of an important Knesset committee – he already has the studios’ blessings.

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