Editorial

Netanyahu Doesn’t Learn

An anti-media campaign is a new low in the politics of the prime minister and his fellow Likud members

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a handover ceremony for the new Israeli chief of staff on January 15, 2019 at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.
JACK GUEZ / AFP

On Friday a new anonymous campaign was launched against the media, in effect “the beginning of another campaign of incitement in the election campaign,” as the Israel Press Council put it well. A big billboard at Glilot Junction, north of Tel Aviv, features photographs of journalists Ben Caspit, Amnon Abramovich, Raviv Drucker and Guy Peleg, alongside the slogan “They won’t decide.”

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A post by the administrator of a new Facebook group by the same name says: “The media have been trying for years to systematically feed us hate messages ainst Netanyahu. But they won’t decide.” Likud activists also received a survey in which they were asked whether they would support “legislation defining political commentary in the media (Caspit, Drucker, Abramovich, etc.) as electioneering and as such, prohibiting its publication for 60 days before Election Day.”

Although it is not clear who is behind the billboard and the Facebook page, it is known that the page is sponsored and designed to appear on the feed of users who follow the prime minister’s Facebook page. The campaign and the survey are a new low in the severe politics of Benjamin Netanyahu and his fellow Likud members. It seems that there is no red line they have not crossed in their efforts to retain control of the government; there is no institution or principle they have not crushed in their campaign for survival. The judicial and law enforcement systems, the presidency and, of course, the media and human rights organizations — all are legitimate targets for political persecution; smashing them to bits is justified in order to keep Netanyahu in power.

It comes as no surprise that Likud is the only party that came out against the ban on publishing anonymous political advertising online during election campaigns. Under the cover of anonymity, people can be made to set upon anyone who hinders Netanyahu’s road to electoral victory, whether Arab citizens, journalists or the justice system.

For years Netanyahu has been fighting media freedom, a necessary condition for democracy. He wants Israelis to see and hear only his version of reality. To this end, he founded for his patron Sheldon Adelson a free newspaper to serve as his mouthpiece. Does whoever is behind the billboard and the Facebook group also propose that Israel Hayom suspend publication 60 days before Election Day?

Of course not. Netanyahu’s media obsession has embroiled him in legal affairs whose outcome is not yet known. According to the Israel Television News Corporation, the attorney general is expected to recommend indicting Netanyahu (pending a hearing) for bribery in the Bezeq-Walla case. But Netanyahu doesn’t learn and is not deterred. On Saturday evening he even openly joined this incitement campaign, posting an anti-media video. He and his silence prove that he has not given up the goal, he has only changed the means to achieve it.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.