Feeding the hand that bites: 6 things to know for September 15
Israel media review

Feeding the hand that bites: 6 things to know for September 15

Netanyahu’s attacks on the media continue unabated, and outlets respond by letting him use their studios and websites to tromp into Israelis’ homes and ask for votes

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interviewed on Channel 12, September 14, 2019. (Channel 12 screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interviewed on Channel 12, September 14, 2019. (Channel 12 screenshot)

1. Evade and conquer: If it’s a few days to go until elections, that means it’s media blitzing time for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who famously only speaks to the media when he is looking to flood the headlines with his visage and promises in the final stretch.

  • Appearing on Channel 12 news Saturday night, Netanyahu gave an extraordinarily combative interview to Rina Matzliach, resulting in the two mostly yelling over each other.
  • During the interview, he evaded questions on whether he would seek to gain immunity from prosecution by reining in the powers of the Supreme Court and would not commit to returning the mandate to form a government to President Reuven Rivlin if he failed to build a ruling coalition in the wake of the election, as happened after April’s vote.
  • He is similarly slippery with Ynet when asked about the chances of a third election. “That depends on them, on whether I win,” he answers when asked if he will tells Israeli voters that there won’t be a third round, in what sounds like a threat.
  • In an interview with Channel 13, Netanyahu insists he will not seek legislation granting him immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases he faces if he forms the next coalition, calling it “a bluff.” He made the same promise before the last election, but sure enough such a measure was still advanced, thanks to a little help from his friends.
  • Asked by Kan about something related to one of the graft cases against him, he avoids the questions completely and accuses the media of failing to present his side, which he refuses to present.

2. Blitz and giggles: While Netanyahu’s media blitz always raises eyebrows, this time they are especially elevated after months of what many see as unprecedented attacks on the press. That includes a call for a boycott of Channel 12, which he then went ahead and appeared on.

  • “Rather than take his foot off the gas in deference to his hosts, he shifted his anti-media campaign into high gear,” notes Raoul Wootliff. “Fighting perhaps his toughest election since taking office for the second time over a decade ago, Netanyahu assailed the media in a diatribe of indignant criticism Saturday night while using it to disseminate that very message to voters.”
  • “He behaved like a man who breaks into a house, robs everything and destroys anything he can’t take with him, and then complains about how heavy the load is,” writes Yossi Verter in Haaretz, chiding the channels for inviting him in.
  • While the blitz was not unexpected, it still elicited a perverse sort of excitement from media watchers, like watching a hurricane make landfall.
  • “The blitz is upon us. It begins,” tweets Kan ombudsman Dedy Markovich with a picture of the control room while Netanyahu was being interviewed.
  • “Mr. Prime Minister, what are you doing here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here??? #Interview_Blitz,” a Twitter user named Matan Amir jokes.

3. Meet-awkward: Netanyahu wasn’t the only one making his presence felt on TV, as channels and other outlets try to give everyone a chance to speak their piece, leading to a clusterfudge of successive candidate interviews rather than a normal debate (which Netanyahu refuses to take part in, hence the reluctance by most news outlets to stage one).

  • Often the best moments produced by these marathons are during the handovers, as candidates bump into each other. (In 2015, Channel 2 engineered one such virtual encounter between then Zionist Union chief Isaac Herzog and Netanyahu, leading to a flustered Herzog promising to keep “Netanyahu united” instead of Jerusalem, as the premier’s giant head floated behind him.)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Channel 2 as Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog sits in the studio, March 14, 2015 (Channel 2 News)
  • This time around, it led to a nice little kerfuffle between right-wing leader Ayelet Shaked and further-right leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, which was akin to the awkwardness of watching your friend’s parents get in a fight.
  • As Shaked came in and out of camera after blaming the Otzma head for the failure of unity talks, Ben-Gvir demanded, “Tell them about Naftali … why aren’t you saying what I said during the talks? Ayelet, look me in the eye, why aren’t you saying what I said during talks?”

4. Have your say (no matter what): Israel Hayom tackles the give-everybody-a-voice challenge by publishing answers to a set of five questions, mostly on domestic issues, provided by each party, from Likud to Otzma. “Just before the vote, the parties give answers to the hard questions.”

  • That’s true with every party but one. According to a small note appended to the end of the answers, only Likud didn’t deign to provide answers to the paper. Rather than leave the party with an embarrassing blank, the paper (regarded as Likud’s house organ), does the faction a solid and fills in the answers for it “based on what heads of the party have said during the campaign.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth, meanwhile, has them all write a little essay, slapping those from Netanyahu and Blue and White chief Benny Gantz on the front page.
  • “On Tuesday, you will have the awesome chance to choose one of two paths: an extremist government with Itamar Ben-Gvir as justice minister and Bezalel Smotrich as a cabinet member, or a broad-based secular unity government headed by me,” Gantz writes in his stump essay. “After years of exploitation and caving to small parties that only are about narrow interests, we will create a government that represents the majority and looks out for all Israelis: 80 percent of the citizens who agree on 80 percent of the issues.”

5. Reading the tea leaves: Tellingly, Gantz does not directly attack his chief rival but only his partners, and in Netanyahu’s essay as well, there is no actual mention of Gantz, which may be a precursor to a unity bid.

  • Polls published Friday, the last day they can legally go out, show neither party able to form a coalition without reaching across the aisle.
  • “Somebody is going to need to break their word and sit with someone they promised they wouldn’t,” Mati Tuchfeld writes in Israel Hayom. “Otherwise we’ll be dragged into a third round of elections, and it won’t be funny anymore.”
  • Channel 13’s Sefi Ovadia notes that with the right-wing bloc nearing 60 seats, it’s actually in a pretty good position, but it can’t admit it for fear of voters getting overconfident and staying home. “The results will be decided by who manages to get more voters out of the house on Tuesday.”
  • Abandoning analysis for open campaigning, Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz that “Israeli voters have only three days left to snap out of their stupor or forever hold their peace about the sad fate that awaits them.”

6. Diplomatic disaster: Much of Netanyahu’s campaign in recent days has focused on him pushing hard for an agenda that focuses on diplomacy and security, as they are both regarded as his traditional strong suits.

  • But some take note of the fact that this time around, his attempts to show his close ties with US President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin have borne little fruit.
  • “Putin didn’t give him any tiny nibble to take home. Trump, soft against Iran but tough when it comes to real estate, has never been generous when it comes to a renter whose contract is up. If he renews, maybe. Too early to tell,” Amir Oren writes in Walla.
  • Haaretz’s Noa Landau cites the lack of help from his buddies in high places to “leader fatigue,” and a distaste for losers. “Leaders like Trump and Putin are famously failure-averse. They hate losers, and they don’t hesitate to say so, repeatedly. So it’s hard to imagine that Netanyahu’s failure to form a coalition after the April election particularly enthused them,” she writes.
  • They aren’t the only ones with fatigue. Giving the most nebbishy portrait of Netanyahu yet, ToI’s Shalom Yerushalmi describes the prime minister on the return trip from Russia heading to coach for a bit of shut eye next to the reporters he reportedly hates, only to be thwarted at that as well.
  • “The idea, however, didn’t sit well with his Shin Bet bodyguards. On Tuesday evening, they had led Netanyahu off the stage at an election rally in Ashdod, to the sound of sirens warning of rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza,” he writes. “Being required now to protect the premier from the madding crowd of journalists, ready to fire questions on all cylinders, was too much for the security detail, and they made this clear to him.”
  • “So Netanyahu turned around, apparently disappointed, and went back to his cramped seat at the front of the plane.”
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