Opinion

Netanyahu's Gifts: Suddenly the Israeli Right Is Quiet

Are there no reporters from the right who have anything to say about a prime minister who gets hundreds of thousands of shekels in benefits from tycoons?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and business magnate Arnon Milchan in 2005.
David Silverman/Getty Image

During the last general election campaign journalist Hanoch Daum had a television program called “Hamitnahel” (“The Settler”) that aired on Channel 10. For the last show Daum filmed a debate between me and right-wing journalist Erel Segal on the familiar claim that the media is leftist. Segal argued that people like him hold less prestigious positions in the media, while people like me and Amnon Abramovich get the more important jobs.

I wanted to reply politely that yes, and that should be corrected, but instead I asked him how many investigative reports he had done in his journalistic career and how many times he’d sweated to get a story or confirm one.

Perhaps the difference, I argued, is not our differing views on the territories, but that he expects to achieve senior positions without working, on the strength of his commentary and opinions. I proved my point by noting that a journalist like Amit Segal, whose positions on political issues are presumably closer to his than to mine, is prepared to really work and is already in a far more influential position. The debate was filmed, but wasn’t broadcast.

This past Friday the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper did not report on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s second round of police questioning the previous day. Editor Hagai Segal wrote that when the subject of the investigation becomes clearer, obviously the paper would not stand idly by. We won’t be like you, Segal wrote, bringing quotes from journalists from the opposing camp admitting that in the past they’d gone easy on prime ministers whose policies were consistent with their own worldviews.

OK, so there were journalists who went easy on Ehud Olmert and coddled Ariel Sharon. But the journalists who published the most painful investigative reports against them were not exactly from Hagai Segal’s camp. Gidi Weitz in Haaretz published a report on Olmert’s meddling in the Investment Center when he was industry, trade and labor minister, while I, on Channel 10, revealed a document that reflected the benefits he gave to Likud members; both these reports evolved into criminal investigations that led to a conviction. Moti Gilat of Israel Hayom, together with Weitz, was largely responsible for the police investigation into the cash envelopes allegations involving Morris Talansky.

Ofer Shelach and I – even before the disengagement from Gaza – published a book with details on the link we found between the criminal investigations against Sharon and his decision-making process with regard to the disengagement, and Baruch Kra, writing in Haaretz, exposed the Cyril Kern affair and the millions that were given to Sharon’s sons.

The five journalists mentioned above are not part and parcel of the right, to say the least. Are there no reporters from the right who have anything to say about a prime minister who gets hundreds of thousands of shekels in benefits from tycoons and does them favors from time to time?

And what about the politicians? It’s true that when Olmert and Sharon were under investigation there were also embarrassing silences among ministers and MKs. Even Tzipi Livni kept quiet. But as far as I can recall, there were no MKs like David Amsalem who said outright that there’s nothing wrong with accepting gifts.

More importantly, Olmert’s downfall came when his defense minister, Ehud Barak, announced that he and his party would not stay in a government led by him. It’s clear that in Netanyahu’s coalition there isn’t anyone who’ll come anywhere near following this precedent. Naftali Bennett says that everything’s fine, Arye Dery and Avigdor Lieberman can’t exactly be objective on this issue, and Moshe Kahlon apparently won’t go to the barricades over this.

Hagai Segal is correct in that it really is too early to draw conclusions. The conversation with Noni Mozes was only reported yesterday. But even so, Erel Segal and his ilk, who have been advancing up the media pyramid, ought to have something to say, and it shouldn’t be too hard for Likud MKs to make even mealy-mouthed statements like, “If it’s true, then it isn’t right.”