A close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced criticism Sunday for saying the Facebook posts of journalists showed they wanted to impose a “left-wing” agenda in public broadcasting.
A journalists’ union said his comments evoked the McCarthyism of the 1950s in the United States, when US senator Joseph McCarthy accused communists of infiltrating the government.
David Bitan, chairman of Netanyahu’s governing coalition and a member of parliament from the premier’s Likud party, said he did not want to see “left-wing people impose their agenda in the public service as they say” on their Facebook pages.
“We followed the messages of these journalists on Facebook,” he said.
Bitan, a firebrand right-wing politician who has made controversial statements in the past, declined to provide examples of such posts.
He made the comments at an event on Saturday and repeated his accusations on Sunday in an interview with Army Radio.
The Union of Journalists in Israel called on the attorney general to investigate whether Bitan had violated journalists’ privacy.
The claims come amid a dispute over the future of public broadcasting in Israel.
Netanyahu is accused of seeking to derail the formation of a new public broadcasting corporation because it will include journalists he sees as biased against him. Officially, though, the prime minister maintains that he wants to put the kibosh on the broadcaster out of budgetary concerns.
Bitan said the Facebook posts he found prove the new corporation would be left-wing.
The new corporation would replace the existing Israel Broadcasting Authority in a bid to make it more cost-efficient and effective.
Bitan also faced criticism for comments on Saturday to the effect that the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was “not political.”
Rabin was murdered on November 4, 1995, by Yigal Amir, an extremist Jew, during a peace rally in Tel Aviv, amid soaring national tensions over peace efforts with the Palestinians. Amir was opposed to the Oslo Accords and the handing over of control of parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians as a part of the Accords.
“This was not a political murder, and it had nothing to do with politicians. It was a murder committed by one individual who wanted to stop the [peace] process,” Bitan said during a gathering in Holon.
He also said that he would not be attending a rally on Saturday in Tel Aviv to mark the 21st anniversary of the murder because it was “a left-wing event.”
In October, Bitan drew the ire of politicians from across the political spectrum after he said that the head of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, Hagai El-Ad, should be stripped of his Israeli citizenship for criticizing Israeli’s settlement policy in a speech at the UN Security Council.
In addition to calling for revoking El-Ad’s citizenship, Bitan also proposed a bill that would bar Israelis from criticizing the country in front of international bodies that have the ability to levy sanctions. However, his bill has garnered very little support.
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