Donald Trump’s incitement and lie-filled campaign that led to his surprising victory in the American election, and prior to that the surprise of the British Brexit vote, have once again raised the discussion and the use of the term “post-truth.” Last week, Oxford Dictionaries declared post-truth to be its international word of the year, explaining it as “an adjective relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
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Although mentioning Trump and Brexit, they forgot to note another major related event: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in Israel’s most recent election.
As in the case of Trump, Netanyahu’s surprising victory was achieved on the backdrop of a media and political era of post-truth. An era in which Israelis have less time, patience and desire to read news reports and delve into complex commentaries; in which there is an infinite supply of free media which diverts attention from facts; and in which everyone can choose the media outlet that tells them exactly what they want to hear.
In the era of post-truth, the post on Facebook has replaced the truth: For hundreds of thousands of Israelis social media and search engines are replacing the traditional media outlets, which are fighting for their survival and have declined in power.
In this alternative news space there is no clear hierarchy between truth and fiction, professional writers and self-appointed thinkers – and between personal opinion and fact. In these spaces conspiracy theories, lies, inventions and any material that spurs hatred and anger are flourishing, and along with them populist leaders who arouse them.
In order for this cycle to succeed it has to be fed regularly, and this is exactly where Netanyahu comes in. After all, post-truth politics helps him far more in the war he waged on the Israeli media, and his desire to control and weaken it, than any reprimand to an executive director of a television channel or implied threat to a newspaper publisher.
Netanyahu provides on a regular basis half-truths, populist declarations and alternative news, while his main objective is almost always to demonize Arabs and the left-wing camp. Among the prominent examples are the way in which he created an alternative news agenda with the declaration that it was the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini rather than Hitler who had the idea of annihilation of the Jews, statements such as: “In the environment in which we live we have to protect ourselves from the wild beasts around us,” and the use of dozens of video clips on Facebook, including a shameless one claiming that the Israeli left will allow ISIS into the country.
His declaration on election day that “right-wing rule is in danger. The Arab voters are moving in droves to the polls, the left-wing NGOs are bringing them by bus,” included all the materials that the Netanyahu propaganda is made of. Netanyahu, who only in the past week tried to evade accusations of incitement surrounding the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin 21 years ago, has in effect never abandoned his life’s work: inciter-in-chief.