Opposition: This is the media he wants - obedient, castrated

Dogged by press, Netanyahu launches own news outlet to ‘throw the fake out’

Bypassing traditional media, PM kicks off LIkud TV on Facebook to try to directly persuade voters that he is innocent of graft accusations and worthy of another term

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and reality TV celebrity Eliraz Sadeh poke fun at Channel 13 crime reporter Moshe Nussbaum on a promo for the new Facebook-based Likud TV, February 2, 2019. (Facebook screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and reality TV celebrity Eliraz Sadeh poke fun at Channel 13 crime reporter Moshe Nussbaum on a promo for the new Facebook-based Likud TV, February 2, 2019. (Facebook screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a Likud Party TV channel on Facebook, in his latest attempt to bypass the traditional media and appeal directly to voters to believe that he is innocent of corruption allegations and worthy of a fourth term as prime minister.

In a move reminiscent of Donald Trump’s online election campaign broadcasts, Likud TV will air each evening at 7 p.m. on Netanyahu’s official Facebook page and on a new Likud TV page from a studio within the party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.

The slogan: “We’re throwing the ‘fake’ out of the news.”

Netanyahu, alleged to have been involved in three separate graft cases, has accused the media, as well as the police and law enforcement agencies, of hostility toward him.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control committee meeting in the Knesset on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

He recently battled unsuccessfully to have Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit postpone any decisions about indictments until after national elections set for April 9.

Since then, he has accused Mandelblit of caving to the left.

On Saturday evening, his new TV campaign was unveiled via a humorous clip featuring Netanyahu and Eliraz Sade, winner of the “Big Brother” reality show. Now a celebrity, Sade is married to model and TV presenter Ilanit Levy.

מעיפים את הפייק מהניוז

מעיפים את הפייק מהניוז! הליכוד TV, כבר מתחילים. אתם מוכנים?

Posted by ‎Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו‎ on Friday, February 1, 2019

“You’re asking me for positive coverage?” asks Sade.

“Truthful coverage,” replies Netanyahu.

“But if I present truthful coverage, it might come out positive,” retorts Sade.

“Wow,” says Netanyahu, winking at the camera.

“You will present only what’s real and I’ll continue to make sure it’ll only be positive,” the prime minister continues.

“And what’s in it for me?” asks Sade.

“I’ll give you a like,” Netanyahu replies.

Sade then turns to the camera and says, “When all the stations are creating their own news, we’re here to tell you the truth.” To provide “positive coverage, that’s true.”

At the end of the clip, Netanyahu and Sade shake their heads at a broadcast by Channel 13 crime reporter Moshe Nussbaum, whose voice has been dubbed over to announce that another probe has been opened against the prime minister over him giving Sade a “like.”

Shelly Yachimovich leads a State Control Committee meeting in the Knesset on December 31, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich reacted by saying that the clip was not funny. Rather, it reflected how Netanyahu wanted the real media to behave — “obedient, castrated, humiliated, and fawning towards the leader. Without tough questions, without investigations, without confusing people about upright behavior and the rule of law.”

The first “interview” with Netanyahu on the Likud TV channel was to be broadcast Sunday at 7 p.m.

But already on Sunday morning, Netanyahu was broadcasting from the studio, calling on voters in Tuesday’s Likud party primaries to support leaving three places open on the party’s list for members from other right-wing parties who may agree to form a right-wing bloc.

It was important, he said, to help the party to defeat the “parties of the left.”

“These alliances endanger us,” he conceded.

On Saturday, it emerged that Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, was holding talks with Benny Gantz, leader of Israel Resilience and that a decision would be made in the next two weeks.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (L) and Israel Resilience party chief Benny Gantz. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90, Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Gantz is already in an electoral alliance with fellow former IDF chief and ex-Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.

Polls released the day after the formal launch of Israel Resilience last Tuesday showed the Likud leading with around 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, followed by Israel Resilience with 21-24 seats. One survey indicated Gantz was polling neck-and-neck with Netanyahu as the public’s preferred choice of prime minister.

That same poll also said Gantz could defeat Netanyahu if he led an alliance with Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid — with 35 seats to Likud’s 30.

Netanyahu rarely appears on regular TV, and if he does, on Channel 9 — mainly aimed at Russian speakers — and on the right-wing Channel 20.

Instead, he is extremely active on social media, posting several times a day.

His Facebook page records 2,386,913 likes and 2,346,182 followers and his Twitter page registers 1.5 million followers.

On Friday night, Channel 13 News reported that according to transcripts of discussions held by Mandelblit with his state prosecution team,  prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari had said she had no doubt the prime minister should be prosecuted over Case 4000, reportedly the most serious of the three cases.

In that case, Netanyahu is suspected of advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, despite opposition from the Communication Ministry’s career officials. In exchange he is alleged to have received positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in Case 4000, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors in exchange for favors. Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases.

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