Silencing Is Not the Way

If fair-minded people on the right really think about it, they'll realize they don't really want a too-strong regime forcing too-weak media outlets to ingratiate themselves.

The truth must be said: There is nothing new about what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to do to the media.

When David Ben-Gurion was prime minister, Teddy Kollek ran Israel Radio for him. When Levi Eshkol was prime minister, the media didn't report that he was about to die. Most of the Israeli media was at the service of Golda Meir, at least until the Yom Kippur War disaster. All media outlets worshipped Yitzhak Rabin and did their best to hide the Oslo failures from the public. When both Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon were doing the "correct" things, they were treated with kid gloves.

Ehud Olmert was pretty much in control of two and a half newspapers and two and a half television channels. The media always forgave anything Shimon Peres said or did. It was only when we had right-wing prime ministers implementing right-wing policies that the media really started to bite. So Netanyahu's effort to tame the media isn't new. What's new is that the prime minister doing it is on the right.

I can testify to this from experience. Once I wrote for a liberal newspaper whose editor was a close associate of the prime minister. During that period all the newspaper editors were close associates of the prime minister. They made sure not to write a single negative word about the prime minister.

I, as is my wont, was undisciplined. I thought the prime minister was wrong about something, and I wrote that he was wrong. It wasn't long before my liberal editor called me in and clarified that there was no place in our newspaper for journalists like me. If the winds hadn't changed, I wouldn't have been able to write this article, and you wouldn't have been able to read it.

Other journalists weren't as lucky and lost their jobs. But no one signed any petitions or called any assemblies about freedom of expression. When the prime minister was "one of us," it seemed totally natural for him to silence his critics.

I can also testify from personal experience that what Netanyahu is trying to do to Channel 10, Channel 10 did to me. Gideon Levy, Dan Margalit, Dov Weissglas, Yifat Ehrlich, Gadi Taub, Eldad Yaniv and I were appearing on the channel's public discussion program. The program had a lot of problems, but it was the only television program in the country that gave expression to the radical left, the radical right and the radical center. It cost almost nothing to produce and it made a real contribution to the country's democratic discourse.

Channel 10 didn't try to cancel it, but harassed it and in the end buried it. Again, no one signed any petitions or organized any gatherings to defend freedom of expression. Since the people appearing on the program were not part of the media's ruling establishment, no one said a word. We just faded into the night.

The hypocrisy screams to the heavens. And when the right sees the hypocrisy, it goes crazy. Those who were silenced become violent; those who were excluded become vindictive. After 30 years of the media running roughshod over Likud, Likud is tyrannizing the media. That's why it's trying to take control of Channel 1, close Channel 10 and emasculate Educational Television. That's why it's trying to force the dismissal of three veteran journalists whose agendas are perceived as hostile.

But that's not the way, my friends. About this I can also give personal testimony. One of the three was actively pursuing me, and the other two weren't making it easy for me, either. But I don't want to live in a country where media outlets are closed, screens are darkened and journalists are silenced. I don't want to live in a country where the prime minister meddles with what goes on in newspapers' editorial offices. I don't want a too-strong regime forcing too-weak media outlets to ingratiate themselves.

And if you fair-minded people on the right really think about it, you'll realize that you don't really want this, either. Totalitarianism is totalitarianism is totalitarianism.

So leave Channel 10 alone, leave Educational Television alone and leave Keren Neubach, Raviv Drucker and Ben Caspit alone. Don't do to them what was done to you. No matter how much your rivals' voices grate on you, we must all assure their right to be heard.