Opinion

Yes, the Media Are Also to Blame for the Sorry State of Israeli Politics

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an interview with Rina Matzliach of Israel's Channel 12 ahead of general elections, April 7, 2019.
Channel 12

It may in fact not be fair to shoot the messenger, but one cannot ignore the strange conduct on the part of the media in the 10 days leading up to the election, including Election Day itself. Print and broadcast journalists certainly tried to do their best to cover reality as they understood it. Most acted professionally, although some were too eager to play partial and maybe even unimportant information. Others continued to analyze the political reality as if they were the Oracle of Delphi, whose obscure language provided an opening for a multiplicity of interpretations.

Such a situation is tolerable when the rules of the game are set in advance, when commentary doesn’t appear in the guise of objectivity and doesn’t purport to tell viewers and readers a single “truth,” and instead gives them various possible understandings of the situation. To do a measure of justice to reality and deal fairly with difficult controversies without unnecessarily deepening rifts , it’s usually sufficient to provide interpretations from various points of view on important events – in addition to narrow reporting of facts.

When it comes to the April 9 election, however, the system didn’t work as it was supposed to. Not only did broadcasters make do too often with one-sided interpretations. During the week before the election, it again turned out that the media, particularly the main television channels, shifted to the well-known practice of actively shaping the picture of reality itself.

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How can one forget, for example, in the 2015 election how they seated Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog in the studio with an image of Benjamin Netanyahu hovering behind him on a huge screen. Herzog, in an embarrassing slip of the tongue, promised to “keep Netanyahu united,” making the Zionist Union leader the subject of widespread ridicule. It happened again this time around.

In a transatlantic interview with Benny Gantz, Yonit Levy of Channel 12 managed to present the Kahol Lavan leader as either deaf or foolish, not paying attention to what he was saying.

On the other hand, the opulent Kremlin ceremony in which the shoes and jumpsuit of poor Zachary Baumel, were handed over to Prime Minister Netanyahu, shortly after the body was returned to Israel. This not only presented the Israeli leader as an emperor. It also rehabilitated his image and transformed him into the redeemer of Israeli missing soldiers, despite the fact that the bodies of two soldiers from the war in Gaza in 2014, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, remain unrecovered.

And another example: the important news conference in which senior defense officials demanded a thorough investigation of suspected wrongdoing in the purchase of German submarines by Israel was almost completely ignored on the news broadcasts. In other words, during the week of the election, the program editors began to cede the power to set the narrative to one side alone – the side of the sitting prime minister, of course – while the other side was shunted to the sidelines, in reporting that nearly had the flavor of amusing anecdote.

The media cannot of course be blamed for the major disagreements that split Israeli society, but nevertheless, the ability to shape the conditions under which political reality is presented to the viewers remains in the hands of the established media outlets. Even if the owners of the various stations are businesspeople who are interested in cultivating ties with the prime minister in power at the time, it’s not acceptable that, in the current reality of a monarchical, all-controlling leader like Netanyahu, the huge segment of the population that gave Kahol Lavan 35 Knesset seats (equal to what Netanyahu’s Likud got) would be ignored and discounted as if they were simply marginal and ridiculous. (I repeat, the two parties received the same number of seats).

Such chutzpah when it comes to half of society is intolerable, and the television industry should know that this large segment of the population could rebel and desert the television stations just as they deserted these people.