No Choice but to Indict Netanyahu

Given recent reports about Netanyahu's alleged negotiations with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher for favorable coverage, it is clear he cannot, at the least, remain communication minister.

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An illustration of a ship named "The Media" hitting an iceberg in the shape of Netanyahu's head. People are jumping ship, like in "Titanic."
Illustration. Credit: Amos Biderman
Haaretz Editorial

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has no, and has never had, any connection of control or an organizational relationship of any kind with Israel Hayom that would constitute influence over the paper’s editorial judgment or its content, or on its establishment, founding or ongoing management.” That’s the affidavit that was submitted by Likud campaign chairman Shlomo Filber – now Communications Ministry director-general – in response to a petition filed in 2015 with the Central Elections Committee asking it to forbid Israel Hayom from publishing election propaganda to promote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s candidacy.

Given the recent reports about a meeting between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes after the last Knesset was dissolved and their discussions about a deal to curb Israel Hayom in return for favorable coverage of Netanyahu by Yedioth Ahronoth, it seems that the affidavit was inaccurate. Moreover, there is no other way to interpret the negotiations between the two as anything other than bargaining between the publishers of two newspapers – except that one of them was also communications minister and prime minister.

More details casting a heavy pall on Netanyahu’s ability to remain in his position emerged on Tuesday. According to the reports, Mozes promised to do everything to assure that Netanyahu would continue as prime minister for as long as he wanted, including positive coverage and the hiring of journalists of Netanyahu’s choosing. Netanyahu promised in return to advance a bill that would prohibit the free distribution of Israel Hayom after the March 2015 elections.

As more details are uncovered, it becomes even clearer why Netanyahu insisted on retaining the communications portfolio and made all his coalition partners sign a commitment to support any bill he would submit relating to the media. More than anything, Netanyahu seems to be afraid of how he is portrayed, and he wants to control those elements responsible for how he is covered. The enormous power he wields serves as a bargaining chip when dealing with media outlets.

Netanyahu’s comprehensive control of the media is destructive; he exploits crises in commercial television to trample on the independence of its franchisees; he has seized control of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and has been doing all he can to delay the launch of the new broadcasting corporation, all while controlling the telephony, internet and cellular markets. Thus, we have nearly all of Israel’s telecom providers dependent on the good graces of a single person.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog was correct in demanding that the attorney general remove Netanyahu from the Communications Ministry. But given the latest information, it seems as if the attorney general will have no choice but to file charges soon against both Netanyahu and Mozes.

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