The free daily newspaper Israel Hayom has announced that Boaz Bismuth is stepping down as editor-in-chief, thereby opening the bidding to the right-wing leadership. It was Bismuth who placed the newspaper at the disposal of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and turned him into the editor-in-chief in practice. Netanyahu dictated the newspaper’s headlines and policy, and for years conducted his relationships with his rivals on the pages of the newspaper.
Now, when Netanyahu is the chairman of the opposition and is engaged in contacts for obtaining a plea bargain that will distance him from the political arena, the paper’s controlling shareholder, Miriam Adelson, is seeking a somewhat different policy – right-wing but less Bibi-ist. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will benefit from the change, but senior Likud officials who are interested in the leadership of the country will also receive preferential treatment. The newspaper was a right-wing publication from the outset and will remain so, but that’s not the problem.
What’s the problem? Israel Hayom played a decisive role in Netanyahu’s criminal entanglements. The newspaper provided him with the dream of every politician: unbounded admiration and affection without criticism, total support on every issue, as well as a bonus of aggrandizement for him and his family. But this service turned out to be intoxicating and addictive. It wasn’t enough for Netanyahu, and he took steps to get it from other media outlets too. That’s how he ended up in relationships and incriminating discussions with Arnon Mozes, the editor of Yedioth Ahronoth, and with Shaul Elovitch, the former controlling shareholder of Bezeq/Walla.
Netanyahu’s desire to duplicate the treatment he received from Israel Hayom with other media outlets is understandable, but it’s hard to understand how such a cautious, suspicious, intelligent person was carried away by this desire to the point of crossing red lines, which led him into investigations and indictments.
His desperate need for friendly, ego-stroking media drove him crazy and destroyed all his supposed precautions.
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He had a mafia-style conversation with Mozes even while knowing it was being recorded; he planned blatant quid pro quo transactions with Shaul Elovitch, and in two instances he was willing to sell out the public interest for his personal benefit. That was the case when he conveyed to the owners of Israel Hayom Mozes’ demand to curb the competition from the free newspaper and cut back on its distribution, and that was the case when he instructed Shlomo Filber, then-director general of the Communications Ministry and now a state witness, to restrict the reduction of Bezeq fees. In both cases the main victims were the lower-income population.
At the starting line for leadership of the right on the day after Netanyahu, in addition to Bennett there are other players like Ayelet Shaked, Nir Barkat, Yisrael Katz, Yuli Edelstein, Miri Regev and perhaps a few other political figures. At the winner’s disposal will be a newspaper that is willing to grant him or her strong backing like Netanyahu received. But the competitors would do well to remember the cost of the newspaper’s unreserved support. There is something intoxicating and addictive about it. It’s deceptive, it feeds the ego and it increases one’s appetite to get more and more of it.
Israel Hayom gave Netanyahu the most precious gift he ever received. The newspaper played a part in his success in becoming Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. But the newspaper also played a part in distorting his thinking when it came to his preoccupation with media outlets. He concealed his friendly ties with Elovitch, he intervened and tried to find buyers for Yedioth Ahronoth, he tried to organize the TV market and bring in players who would support him, and of course he also behaved as he did toward Yedioth Ahronoth, Walla and Army Radio.
Whoever wins the leadership of the right must be aware of the course of events that dragged Netanyahu from a minor addiction to a newspaper that supported him unreservedly to an unbridled obsession with engineering the communications market for the benefit of his own status and personal interests.