In a brazen new attack on the Israeli press, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called Israel’s two largest television news broadcasters, Channel 12 (Hadashot) and Channel 13, “propaganda channels” seeking to “brainwash” the public into ousting him and installing a “left-wing regime.”
In a Hebrew-language video posted to his Twitter account, Netanyahu said “Propaganda Channels 12 and 13 will try to brainwash you every night with unending false and distorted leaks” from his criminal investigations.
“Leaks from investigations are a criminal offense with a maximum three-year sentence!” Netanyahu said, but added: “For the media, all means are justified to force [the installing of] a left-wing regime against the will of the public. It won’t work if you don’t let them.”
The public’s response, he said, should be “at the polling booth.”
At the same time as 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.
They said those leaks “have lost all restraint in recent days, and every night we are astounded to see newscasts open with ‘new and sensational revelations.'”
They maintained such revelations regularly featured “partial, distorted, warped and biased” information relating to the investigations “in a clear attempt to create negative public opinion of the prime minister ahead of the elections…and to create improper pressure on the attorney general.”
The attorneys demanded that any leakers be found and prosecuted.
Also Wednesday evening, associates of the prime minister launched a new attack on State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who is working alongside Mandelblit on the Netanyahu cases.
The associates told Channel 13 that Nitzan was pushing the attorney general to indict the prime minister, and to announce the charges ahead of the election, in order to “be remembered” as the man who brought down Netanyahu. The sources claimed Nitzan was trying to “subvert democracy” through his actions. They did not provide backing for their claims.
The Justice Ministry, in response, rejected the accusations, and said Mandelblit had full trust in law enforcement officials “and particularly in the state prosecutor,” all of whom “carry out their duties only out of professional considerations.”
Amid mounting reports that Mandelblit is leaning toward indicting Netanyahu, pending a hearing, on charges of bribery — and that the announcement could be made as early as next month — Netanyahu has intensified efforts to portray such a decision as illegitimate.
He has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that the probes are part of a left-wing conspiracy to depose him and that the media and left are engaged in an attempt to “steal” the upcoming April 9 election.
On Saturday, he released a video accusing them of pressuring Mandelblit to indict him “at any cost.”
He then attacked Mandelblit in a Facebook post for what he called a “setup” after the broadcast of a TV profile of Mandelblit, saying brief comments the attorney general made in the piece were “unprecedented” and accusing him of launching investigations without hard evidence against the premier.
On Sunday, the prime minister’s Likud party took responsibility for a billboard campaign that targeted a number of journalists who have reported on criminal investigations against Netanyahu.
An initial poster, which was put up at the Glilot Junction on Route 5 not far from Tel Aviv, showed pictures of reporters Amnon Abramovich and Guy Peleg from Hadashot TV news, Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker, and Ben Caspit of the Maariv daily. Above them was written: “They will not decide” — apparently referring to the results of the April 9 elections.
On Sunday, the same image appeared in Likud posters plastered on the sides of highways in the center of the country, along with the slogan “You will decide.” Images of the posters were also uploaded to Netanyahu’s and Likud’s official social media platforms. The posters also added a slogan calling for Netanyahu’s reelection.
One of the probes relates to gifts Netanyahu received from billionaire benefactors and the other two cases involve suspected quid pro quos he is alleged to have provided or considered providing in exchange for favorable media coverage.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.