Bennett vows to boycott Army Radio over pundit’s suspension
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Bennett vows to boycott Army Radio over pundit’s suspension

Minister slams ‘selective infringement of free speech’ after Irit Linur received 7-day ban for diatribe against President Rivlin

Israeli minister of Education Naftali Bennett seen during an interview, in his office at the Ministry of Education in Tel Aviv, on August 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israeli minister of Education Naftali Bennett seen during an interview, in his office at the Ministry of Education in Tel Aviv, on August 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday he will not appear on Army Radio until a commentator, suspended over a rant against President Reuven Rivlin, is reinstated.

Bennett, who heads the right-wing Jewish Home party, posted on Facebook that he would boycott the station in protest at their “selective and unfair infringement of free speech.”

Commentator Irit Linur was suspended for seven days after she let loose with a rant against Rivlin for his expression Tuesday of apparent support for anti-government corruption protests, which have been calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ouster.

“She is a brave woman and a fascinating journalist who is not afraid to go against grain,” Bennett wrote. “She doesn’t go along with the ‘politically correct’ crowd, and that’s a good thing.”

Still, he conceded that Linur’s statement was “too blunt,” and that she was correct to offer an apology for her words. In his post, Bennett not that Rino Tzror, a host at the radio station, had not been sanctioned despite comparing Netanyahu to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In her tirade, Linur called Rivlin a failed politician.

“The only thing you’ve been able to do is serve as a junior minister, and as a president and national symbol you call on citizens to go out into the street? You insolent piece of work! Who do you think you are?” she said on the radio Tuesday.

“Irit Linur’s comments on the president were in appropriate, nor was the style in which they were expressed,” the station said in a statement announcing her seven-day suspension.

Irit Linur.(Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Her comments came after the president praised public protests against alleged government corruption that have taken place weekly, saying they were an important outcrop of online activism.

But Rivlin on Wednesday said his apparent support for the slew of anti-corruption and anti-Netanyahu demonstrations was “taken out of context.”

“To remove any doubt, I will say as clearly as possible: I never called on anyone, nor would I consider calling on any Israeli citizens, to join in this, or any other, protest,” he said in a statement. “It is inconceivable. I only regret that at this sensitive time my words were taken out of context in order to add fuel to the fire.”

Speaking at the Dov Lautman Conference on Education Policy on Tuesday, Rivlin had hailed social networks for mobilizing the masses, including 2011 mass demonstrations against the rising cost of living, gatherings in recent months protesting alleged stalling by law enforcement in corruption allegations against Netanyahu, and the more recent #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.

“The [online] social networks are really great, a wonderful thing, they raise awareness and tell what is going on around us,” Rivlin said, according to a Channel 10 news report.

“We have some wonderful examples of the influence of the social networks on reality: the protests of the summer 2011, demonstrations for and against [the social justice movement]; the demonstrations for and against in the recent months that went from the square in Petah Tikva to Tel Aviv and from there to other squares; [and the] MeToo campaign,” he said.

“Take note that all of the examples that moved from words to actions, went from the screen and took hold in the real world,” Rivlin added “There is no replacement for the real, physical city squares. We need to raise a generation that will remember that real democracy can perhaps begin on the web, but will never replace the need and the necessity of taking a real part in decisions, in debates, and in social action.”

Months of demonstrations by hundreds of protesters outside the Petah Tivah home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit swelled to demonstrations by thousands on four consecutive Saturday nights in Tel Aviv against government corruption. A right-wing protest against corruption in Jerusalem drew several hundred protesters on Saturday night.

At the most recent Tel Aviv event, held last Saturday night, one protester caused outrage by parading with a cardboard guillotine. That sign was condemned by Rivlin as “incitement.”

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