Opposition leader Isaac Herzog slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, accusing him of leading “a coup” against Israeli democratic institutions, and especially its media.
“You are leading, with a relentless discourse of hatred and incitement, a coup,” said Herzog, speaking at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset.
“You do not cease from meddling with the free press, which is the heart of a democracy. You are toying with it, tagging and diminishing it,” he said during a scathing, wide-ranging indictment of the prime minister.
“A prime minister who is also the communications minister is an anomaly. It is a built-in conflict,” he said.
Herzog also accused Netanyahu of seeking to intervene in the freedom of the judiciary, the arts, the army and other pillars of democracy. He said Netanyahu champions “a relentless discourse of hatred and incitement,” and legitimizes “racist sentiment…
“It starts with hatred of the other, the Arab, and moves on to artists, journalists, the legal system, IDF commanders and political officials,” Herzog charged. “But when it comes to social and moral issues, your voice is silent.”
At the heart of his criticism were Netanyahu’s recent attempts to reform Israel’s public broadcasting. In 2014 the Knesset authorized the closing of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and replacing it with with a new Broadcasting Corporation. Now, with the new public broadcaster poised to go on air and millions spent, Netanyahu is seeking to preemptively shut it down.
While the government maintains that it is seeking to roll back the new broadcasting body to cut costs, critics say the real reason is Netanyahu’s fear of the corporation’s political independence. That assessment is buttressed by statements from Netanyahu expressing fear that it will be left-leaning.
“For years you have abused the Broadcast Authority to try and bring it crashing down,” said Herzog.
Critics, from both the coalition and the opposition, say Netanyahu is attempting to stifle press freedoms by staffing the public news media only with friendly journalists and exercising greater control over the content of the broadcasts.
Netanyahu rejects the charges, saying that he is trying to “rehabilitate” the authority. He says the move is necessary to open up Israel’s media industry to greater competition.
The prime minister looked amused and repeatedly smiled and rolled his eyes during parts of Herzog’s speech, which had followed Netanyahu’s own address to lawmakers.
Netanyahu, for his part, presented Israel as a haven of prosperity and relative tranquility in an otherwise chaotic region, crediting his own cautious, pragmatic leadership.
Herzog, however, disagreed.
“You are leading Israel to a bad place,” he warned. “And if you don’t do something about it, it will all end in tears.
“There is no doubt that you are a patriot, but your path is leading us all to the abyss. Change your ways or do the honorable thing and resign,” the opposition chief said.