ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Minister suggests sanctions on Haaretz for ‘false propaganda,’ but action unlikely

Cabinet not expected to review proposal; Union of Journalists slams it as ‘harmful to freedom of the press’ and a ‘populist’ maneuver to curry favor with political base

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi attends a hearing of the Knesset Economy Committee, November 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi attends a hearing of the Knesset Economy Committee, November 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi has proposed a government resolution to halt any state advertising, subscriptions or other commercial connections with the Haaretz daily newspaper, citing what he described as the publication’s “defeatist and false propaganda” against the State of Israel during wartime.

The Times of Israel understands that the proposal will not be brought for a vote in the cabinet, however.

In a letter to Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs on Thursday, Karhi denounced Haaretz for its editorial stance on the war and proposed in his resolution that the state not enter into any new commercial agreements with the newspaper, halt all advertising in it even if it has been paid for, and halt any outstanding payments from being made.

Karhi spearheaded the drive to pass emergency government regulations allowing his ministry to shut down news broadcasts deemed to be harmful to national security and cause incitement, although it was reported that his initial draft of the regulations included domestic media as well.

It was The Marker, a business daily newspaper published by the Haaretz Group, which first reported on that early draft.

The Communications Ministry has shut down the broadcast in Israel of the Lebanese Al Mayadeen news channel associated with Hezbollah as a result, but has yet to shutter the Qatar-based Al Jazeera channel, the original target of Karhi’s regulations. This is seen as a result of Israel’s reluctance to antagonize the Qatari government as it serves as a mediator in hostage negotiations with Hamas.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi signs the orders to shut down the Lebanese satellite news network al Mayadeen, November 13, 2023. (Courtesy: Office of Shlomo Karhi)

“Since the beginning of the war, my office has received numerous complaints that the Haaretz newspaper has taken a harmful line which undermines the goals of the war and weakens the military effort and societal resilience,” Karhi wrote in his letter to Fuchs about the famously left-wing publication.

He alleged that some of Haaretz’s articles may even have “crossed the criminal threshold” and said he was sure that this would be “examined by the relevant authorities.”

The minister quoted a few select lines of some recent Haaretz articles published since October 7, including one line from an opinion piece by controversial columnist Gideon Levy where he wrote: “Behind all this stands Israeli arrogance: our belief that we can harm everyone and that we will never be punished for it… we will gouge out eyes… we will smash faces.”

He also cited a line from an article by another columnist, Amira Hass, who wrote: “In one day, Israeli citizens experienced what Palestinians have experienced and experience for decades as a matter of routine: military invasion, death, cruelty, children killed, bodies left in the streets.”

Notably, both examples were from opinion pieces that do not represent the paper’s general editorial line, which has been largely supportive of the war effort, though highly critical of the government leading it.

“Stopping the purchase of services from the Haaretz newspaper by government bodies will reduce the severe harm that Israeli citizens feel not only from the publications in the newspaper, but also from the fact that they are obliged to pay for it with their tax money,” wrote Karhi.

“The State of Israel is a client of the Haaretz newspaper, and the government has the authority to decide that it is not interested in being a client of a newspaper that undermines the State of Israel in wartime and undermines the spirit of Israeli soldiers and its residents by standing up to the enemy.”

Among the clauses of his proposed government resolution are a requirement that the state not enter into new commercial agreements with Haaretz, including not buying subscriptions for state employees; halting existing agreements and subscriptions; halting advertising by state bodies; halting all payments to Haaretz for services that have not yet been provided.

Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken posted on X (formerly Twitter) in response that the paper remained “committed to reporting without fear or favor” despite Karhi’s proposed resolution.

The Union of Journalists in Israel strongly criticized Karhi’s proposal, saying it harmed the freedom of the press in Israel.

“His new proposal to stop all the government’s commercial agreements with the newspaper is a populist proposal, devoid of all logic and any possibility [to be approved], and its entire purpose is to garner likes from [his] political base, at the expense of dedicated journalists who are working day and night covering the war, and in a deliberate and blatant assault on the freedom of the press and the public’s right to know,” said the union.

“We support the journalists of the Haaretz Group and are confident that they will continue to do important work for the benefit of the State of Israel and its citizens, and will not be deterred by Minister Karhi’s idle threats.”

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