The Masses - Not Netanyahu - Are the Real Censors of Israel's Free Press

If Israeli media is leftist, why are they only lashing out at Haaretz? The answer is that it's not, it serves the occupation.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reads a copy of TheMarker, Haaretz's economic sister publication, in the Knesset. 2010.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reads a copy of TheMarker, Haaretz's economic sister publication, in the Knesset. 2010.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Israel’s left-wing media is right-wing. Its heroic freedom struggle against the forces of evil on the right — that is, Benjamin Netanyahu — is not really a struggle, it isn’t heroic and it certainly isn’t about freedom. The Israeli media has sufficient freedom, regardless of Netanyahu and Israel Hayom, but it chooses not to use it and to betray its mission.

It’s not the government that dictates the content and commands the fear and ingratiation of the media, but rather the masses — readers, listeners and viewers.

The current media battle is nothing but a trick. Not only is it over marginal broadcasters — Army Radio, the Knesset Channel and Kan, the new name of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation — but even if Sara Netanyahu were to personally hire all editors and reporters, Kan would not be substantially different from today’s Channel 1, or from its purportedly free near-clones.

A first-time visitor to Israel would surmise that an impassioned battle was taking place, that journalists were fighting for Israel’s liberty, for the very soul of its democracy — freedom of expression. As if Israel were Turkey. As if they fulfilled their mission before the government’s blatant interference, but now a malicious administration was trying to silence them. The New York Times has already announced “How Benjamin Netanyahu is crushing Israel’s free press” (July 30) as if the prime minister is why there’s no freedom of the press here.

Let’s get back to reality. It’s possible that the views of most Israeli journalists are concentrated on the center-left. That’s entirely unimportant: They are creating a submissive media of the mainstream, limp and cowardly. It serves the accepted narrative and does not dare to challenge it, much less to undermine it.

Journalists fight courageously against salmonella in breakfast cereal, high home prices, traffic and construction accidents, even against Netanyahu — anything, as long as they don’t irritate — but they would never come out courageously against their true master: the masses.

It’s not the government that threatens them, but rather the Moloch of ratings, before which they cower. Everything they do is aimed to entertain public opinion (which is mainly right-wing) — to distract, thrill and incite it, but not to irritate it.

The media will even “courageously” investigate government corruption and cause cabinet members and presidents to face prosecution, all the while taking care not to anger its customers. It doesn’t report on the occupation — the masses don’t want to know — and isn’t properly critical of the army, lest those masses turn against the media.

The masses are the censor in Israel that the media answers to, though a sort of shameful self-censorship.

The media is therefore the big collaborator in the occupation, allowing it to exist without raising questions. It is the senior partner in the demonization of the Palestinians, and it aids in the concealment and denial of the crimes of the occupation. The leftist journalists don’t want to irritate, so they don’t report the truth about the occupation or don’t report on it at all.

The Israeli media is right-wing and ultranationalist. One only need see the savage attacks being directed against the country’s only liberal newspaper, with a relatively tiny circulation — the one you are reading now — including a “special headquarters” of reservists set up to fight it.

If the media is leftist, why are they only lashing out at Haaretz? The reservists want a media in which the army is above all suspicion and the military correspondents parrot press releases, a press that wallows in a sense of Israeli victimhood ad nauseam and entirely obscures the other victim.

Of course, that’s not a courageous or left-wing press. This dance is meant only to perpetuate the status quo. The right shouts Leftists! in order to extort more right-wingers — not only Channel 2’s Roni Daniel, but also right-wing lawyer and commentator Nadav Haetzni. At the same time, the media shouts Freedom! in order to portray itself as a freedom fighter.

If that were really the case, things would be very different.

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