Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced intense condemnation Monday night, with one top former ally accusing him of having “completely lost it,” after he assailed a respected investigative journalist and called her “a left-wing extremist” over a critical report into the inner workings of his office.
The profile story by Ilana Dayan of Channel 2’s long-running “Uvda” program included exclusive interviews with various officials who have been in Netanyahu’s inner circle, and inside information on the internal operation of his office.
The report depicted a shrewd and calculating politician who appears to be chiefly concerned with safeguarding his own rule, often valuing personal loyalty in his appointments above all other traits.
It also portrayed Netanyahu’s wife Sara as a problematic presence in the prime minister’s decision-making process, a power broker who is intimately involved in her husband’s work and decisions and who often has final say on government appointments. “At least twice,” Netanyahu’s former national security adviser said in the show, furthermore, the prime minister went into meetings with US President Barack Obama “without having spent so much as a second” reading the vital briefing materials prepared for him because his wife, accompanying him on his trips, had taken up all his time.
However, it was not the “Uvda” story itself that earned headlines in Hebrew media on Monday evening, but rather the prime minister’s response to the program: a three-page, 680-word tirade which was read out by Dayan in full, in a 6-minute segment toward the end of the program.
In it, the Prime Minister’s Office assailed Dayan’s character, calling her “a left-wing extremist” who “does not have an iota of professional integrity” and who is “one of the ring-leaders of the orchestrated attacks on…Netanyahu, which seek to bring down the right-wing government.”
The PMO claimed Dayan systematically went after the right while ignoring transgressions by the left, and called Monday’s report “a political propaganda broadcast against the prime minister and his wife, entirely comprised of recycled slanderous rumors and vile lies.”
It also accused her of fawning over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a recent interview she conducted with him, making donations to “radical left-wing” charities, and hounding IDF soldiers.
It went on to accuse the program of “stooping to the lowest of the lows” in its coverage of Sara Netanyahu and asserted that it was “a prime example of why the media market must be reformed…to allow a range and plethora of opinions” to be brought forth.”
Netanyahu, who also holds the post of communications minister in the current coalition, is a frequent critic of parts of Israel’s diverse print and electronic media, and has been deeply involved in ongoing controversial efforts to reform Israel’s state broadcasting authority.
“We sent the PMO in advance 32 detailed questions regarding the report,” Dayan told her viewers after the main part of her documentary had aired. “We wanted to get comments on the documents, the testimonies, the claims. We did not get a relevant response to any of them.” Instead, she said, the PMO sent its extensive, furiously critical response in writing, which began with what amounted to a dare: “It will be interesting to see whether Ilana Dayan, who professes to be a champion of freedom of speech, will read out our response in full, uncensored. She then read out the entire text, and concluded by saying: “What do we have to say? We have nothing to say,” she stated.
Netanyahu’s scathing attack on Dayan, considered one the nation’s top investigative reporters, was quickly met with outrage by politicians.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, who served as defense minister under Netanyahu between 2009-2013, wrote on Facebook: “He’s completely lost it.
“Psychologists would say it begins with a ‘P’,” he added, apparently meaning “paranoia.”
The opposition’s Zionist Union said the premier’s statement was “incitement, pure and simple” which could “fall on attentive ears and lead to harm to a journalist doing her work.” It accused Netanyahu of turning Israel into “a KGB state in which the regime seeks to hinder the work of the guardians (of democracy) in the media and the justice system.”
Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid said Netanyahu’s response was beneath the stature of his post. A prime minister’s obligation, he said, was “to show a statesman’s restraint” and his response to criticism “should befit his status, his position and the respect we hold for the state.”
MK Ofer Shelah of Lapid’s party said the prime minister was fanning the flames of intolerance and divisiveness in all directions. “This is not how you run a nation or lead a society. This is shameful, not for Dayan but for all of us.”
MK Michal Rozin of the Zionist Union called the comments “a peek into the mind of a paranoid, feeble and terrified individual.
“This is not the behavior of the leader of a nation, but at best the leader of a street gang.”