Fourth estate or fifth column? 10 things to know for January 24
Israel media review

Fourth estate or fifth column? 10 things to know for January 24

Netanyahu is stepping up attacks on the media, marking the press as enemy No. 1 even as he himself is seen employing the same manipulation he accuses journalists of, or worse

A large campaign poster showing senior TV journalists and the message "They won't Decide, You will Decide. Only Netanyahu., Likud" on January 21, 2019. (FLASH90)
A large campaign poster showing senior TV journalists and the message "They won't Decide, You will Decide. Only Netanyahu., Likud" on January 21, 2019. (FLASH90)

1. Trumpian attack: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never been seen as a great lover of the press, but his attack on Israel’s main two TV news channels Wednesday evening is seen as moving his attacks on the media into higher gear.

  • Netanyahu accused channels 12 (Hadashot) and 13 of being propaganda outfits hell-bent on brainwashing the public and subverting democracy to shunt him out of office, in a broadside that can only be called Trumpian in its brazenness.
  • His main beef seems to center around the leaks published by the channels about the investigations into him, for which he has already attacked the police and others in the law enforcement community.
  • At the same time Netanyahu’s video was uploaded, his lawyers announced they had filed a complaint with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, demanding he open a criminal investigation into leaks from the criminal probes into the premier’s affairs.
  • Despite the video’s seemingly unprecedented nature, there’s little coverage of his comments in any of the Hebrew press.
  • That includes the right-wing press, even Israel Hayom, a Netanyahu mouthpiece that normally revels in joining attacks on the media.

2. Bibi vs. the press: The video comes days after Likud started putting up billboards with pictures of journalists, accusing them of trying to decide the result of the election rather than letting the voter decide, and together they are the clearest sign that Netanyahu’s biggest bogeyman in the lead up to the April 9 poll won’t be the Arabs, the left, Benny Gantz or Naftali Bennett: It will be the media.

  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, veteran talk show host Yaron London writes of fears that “an assassination plot is already coming together in the head of some zealot who takes after Yigal Amir,” but says the journalists should be proud that their reporting has the regime in such a huff.
  • In a scathing attack on Netanyahu (published before the latest video), top jurist Mordechai Kreminitzer writes in Haaretz that Netanyahu and his cronies are being “shamelessly anti-democratic” in their attacks on the press.
  • “The prime minister and his associates make the false claim that the media have appropriated the power to decide who will be elected, as if there is no difference between presenting information and a particular position to the public and deciding for the public and in place of members of the public.”
  • The latest journalist to earn Netanyahu’s ire is Hadashot crime reporter Guy Peleg, whom Netanyahu recently accused in a Facebook post of peddling fake news.
  • While Israel doesn’t have fact-checking outfits like the US does, the Seventh Eye media analysis site accuses Netanyahu of claiming three big alternative facts, earning him one big Pinocchio.
  • “Netanyahu accuses the press of spreading lies, but in actuality, he’s spreading lies himself.”

3. Biting the hand that you buy ads from: Even as Netanyahu steps up attacks on the media, he still knows how much he relies on them (two of the most serious corruption cases against him involve suspicions he tried to trade favors for positive coverage in the press.)

  • Haaretz media analyst Nati Tucker notes on Twitter that while he was attacking Channel 13, he also used his war chest to buy ads from Channel 13, so his video accusing the channel of propaganda could be seen by anyone trying to watch online.

4. French connection: In a stunningly harsh column, Uzi Benzimann, founder of the 7th Eye, writes in Haaretz that Netanyahu’s creation of enemies to use as foils to prop up his rule, and inure the people into accepting new norms that engender authoritarianism, is reminiscent of processes that occurred in Vichy France.

  • “The seeds of this crisis lie in the erosion of what is the appropriate norm. Moral consensuses that held sway for decades in Israel and shaped people’s expectations of the leaders and therefore of the country are becoming objects of scorn. They are being usurped by a supposedly more worthy and modern set of values, but these values, too, are constantly changing based on the leaders’ changing needs. Essentially, the country is being subjected to a relentless conceptual shake-up in which the bar keeps getting lower and the public is left lost and confused,” he writes.

5. Quds Farce: Netanyahu is also being accused of spreading fake news for latching on to a dubious Kuwaiti report about Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani wanting to see his rule toppled (which allows him to say a vote against him is a vote for Iran).

  • Israeli journalist Shimrit Meir notes that the Kuwaiti paper, al-Jareeda, is known as a conduit for Jerusalem to get its messages to the Arab world. Meir herself launched al-Masdar, an Arabic website for Jerusalem to get its message to the Arab world, so she knows a thing or two about how this works.
  • The Seventh Eye notes that Netanyahu and his office are denying any connection to the paper or the story. The PMO tells the Israeli site that “the claim is false and illusory.”

6. Marking a killer: After weeks of gag orders, an Israeli court has indicted a teen on terror charges for allegedly throwing the rock that killed Palestinian woman Aisha Rabi as she traveled in the West Bank in October.

  • The suspect could face considerable jail time as a manslaughter conviction alone carries a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars. However, he avoided murder charges which would have put him at risk of life in prison.
  • The indictment came a day after a court filing revealed that the evidence the state has against the minor is DNA they got from the rock.
  • Though the teen claimed his DNA was on the rock because he spends a lot of time hiking in the area, an investigator tells ToI that police probed that claim and ruled it out.
  • “The official said investigators found no other stones in the area with the teenager’s DNA and that the strand found on the deadly stone was a perfect match. Moreover, the official said that testimony from the head of the Pri Haaretz yeshiva as well as fellow students refuted the suspect’s alibi from the night of the incident,” Jacob Magid reports.

7. Hitchhiker’s guide to Jewish terror: Little is known about the teen, whose name is sealed as he is a minor, but Yedioth Ahronoth reports that though the yeshiva he went to is in a West Bank settlement, he is in fact from the north of the country.

  • The paper also reveals details about the overly complicated trap the Shin Bet laid for the teen. According to the report, the teen would get rides between his home and yeshiva via a WhatsApp group and was offered a lift from someone who had recently joined the group. On the way, the conversation turned to Jewish terror, at which point a Palestinian car — filled with actors, but unbeknownst to him — passed by and the occupants threw rocks at the car the teen was in. The two cars stopped and the occupants started to brawl before they both took off. When he got to the yeshiva, police were waiting for him, though it took a few days for him to find out that he was arrested over the killing and not for the fight.
  • A lead editorial in Haaretz takes yeshiva head Shmuel Eliyahu, also the chief rabbi of Safed, to task for giving a lecture in which he seemed to defend the teen and his cohorts: “The content of his talk with the Pri Haaretz students amounts to explicit support for the terror suspects. The belittling of the stone-throwing that caused the tragedy is criminal disregard for human life and indirect incitement to murder.”

8. Money for blood: Right-wing Israel Hayom is the only major paper not to lead with the Jewish terror story, which it buries at the bottom of page 5.

  • Instead its main story is a supposed “expose” on the amount of money Palestinians in Israeli prisons receive.
  • “The PA’s blood money,” reads the paper’s top headline.
  • While the practice is generally condemned, it’s not exactly new, nor are reports about the exact sizes of the stipends which have been reported several times in the last few years.

9. Not quite bankrupt: Writing in the Lawfare blog, Andrew Miller takes apart the Trump administration analogy that the US peace plan will be a “Bankruptcy type deal” for the Palestinians, who will have to accept whatever they can get with Israel having the upper hand.

  • “This approach is unsurprising given the background of the president and his negotiators, all of whom come from the world of New York real estate. But a bankruptcy sale is a poor analogue for a national conflict, and international politics cannot be easily reduced to a commercial transaction,” he writes. “While the Trump administration can make life more difficult for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, U.S. pressure is highly unlikely to force the Palestinians to concede on their longstanding red lines for an end-of-conflict settlement.”

10. Beta-tester nation: The Calcalist financial daily, which now has an English edition, reports that whereas Israel used to get the newest technology late — being the only market in the world that speaks Hebrew — it’s now becoming Silicon Valley’s favorite lab for trying out new things.

  • In 2018 “More and more multinationals started operating services in Israel, at times much earlier than in other places, picking Tel Aviv as a sandbox for global expansion,” the paper reports.
  • The story does not really explain why, but days after Bloomberg names Israel the world’s fifth most innovative country, its editor-in-chief emeritus Matthew Winkler gives a clue why, praising the country’s robust economy to the rafters.
  • “For all the pessimism inside and outside the country, there is no question that Israel is outperforming most of Europe and the OECD with accelerating growth that has taken it from 15th-fastest growing in 2015 to No. 9 in 2017 and 2018,” he writes. “Even in the heat of a fractious nation’s political campaign, the country’s economic performance doesn’t provide much material to argue about.”
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