Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has always had a turbulent relationship with the Israeli press, but it’s now been over a year since his last interview with a local outlet.
In fact, he has not taken part in a single Q and A press conference, one-on-one chat, or round-table discussion in Hebrew since January 19, 2013.
Not that he doesn’t grant opportunities for foreign journalists. He has given numerous interviews over the years for a multitude of new agencies from around the world, and met off-record with representatives of Hebrew- and English-language Israeli newspapers. But for-the-record interviews for the Israeli press have declined to zero, without explanation.
This has prompted Maariv’s former Washington, DC, correspondent, now political blogger, Tal Schneider to launch a Netanyahu Stopwatch on her (Hebrew) site The Plog — a ticker with accompanying English and Hebrew text showing every passing second since Netanyahu’s last interview in Hebrew.
“As a political blogger, I don’t begin to imagine I’d get a sit-down with Netanyahu but I would certainly try to ask the prime minister questions at press conferences — if only he would hold them,” Schneider wrote on her website. “I would like to call the attention of the foreign press to the fact that in the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ (as Netanyahu mentioned again just recently), the prime minister holds no press conferences and grants no interviews to the local media. Perhaps my foreign colleagues, then, will ask him what he’s afraid of?”
Channel 2 reporter Amit Segal last week pointed up the unusual nature of Netanyahu’s media silence in comparison to other world leaders. In 2013 alone, US President Barack Obama gave 95 interviews to domestic media, German Chancellor Angela Merkel 52, Russian President Vladimir Putin eight, and even embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad gave five.
“There is no reason why the prime minister of a democratic country would go so long without granting an interview with local media,” Schneider said in an phone interview with The Times of Israel. And since the local journos don’t get the chance, “the foreign press should be asking him why employs such a policy.”
The ticker on Schneider’s blog is actually slightly inaccurate. Technically, Netanyahu might argue that his last Hebrew interview occurred last April on “Eretz Nehederet,” Israel’s version of “Saturday Night Live,” when during a brief cameo he was asked whether Finance Minister Yair Lapid would succeed in his new position.
But the prime minister dodged that question, too. Netanyahu quipped, “This is too serious a question for television; let’s talk about it on Facebook.”