Netanyahu has chosen to go to war with the media
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Op-edAs elections loom, Netanyahu pulls out all the stops

Netanyahu has chosen to go to war with the media

Rather than confront Hamas or Hezbollah, the PM battles the press, proving he will stop at nothing to ensure his political survival

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on April 14, 2019. (RONEN ZVULUN /AFP)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on April 14, 2019. (RONEN ZVULUN /AFP)

With two weeks left before the September 17 elections, it seems that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced a dilemma: go to war with Hamas and Hezbollah or go to war with the media.

War on a real-life battlefield is effective, yet dangerous (to Netanyahu). War on the media is also effective and equally dangerous — but mostly to the media and to democracy. Predictably enough, Netanyahu opted to wage war on the media, as fighting this type of enemy could potentially yield more Knesset seats and would not entail dreaded military funerals.

The recent volatile security situation plays in Netanyahu’s favor, as it would for any leader facing elections. The public trusts those who lead them, and would prefer not to embark on political adventures during this uncertain time. The opposition also remains silent at times like these, as it is forced to play along with the government and present a united front so as not to be accused of being disloyal in a time of war.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz understood that, and, in the wake of Sunday’s event on the Israel-Lebanon border, offered Netanyahu his backing, as did the other generals at the helm of Blue and White, with their tacit consent.

Only Yair Lapid, whose military background leaves something to be desired, defied the party line and accused Netanyahu of undercutting Israel’s deniability in Syria, which Lapid said contributed to the flare-up on the northern border.

Netanyahu has no interest in a full-scale war or even a flare-up — not before the elections, and not ever. He would prefer waging a careful, considered and controlled war, as he knows all too well what price a military or security failure can exact when coupled with governmental and personal corruption. This was, after all, what brought down Mapai’s left-wing rule after nearly 30 years in power.

That is why Netanyahu and his people rushed on Sunday to announce that the security flare-up with Hezbollah on the northern border had concluded, and will now do anything to keep the calm. It is also why Netanyahu is willing to essentially buy peace with Hamas with Qatari dollars, despite the criticism the move earns him on both the right and the left.

Netanyahu is likely to focus his efforts from now until the elections on fighting the media. Sunday marked the beginning of the last stretch before the ballots are cast and it seems that in 2019, journalists play the part the Arabs did in 2015.

Nowadays, the media is the enemy Netanyahu needs to present his base.

The media is also the most convenient enemy Netanyahu could hope for at this time — one that evokes negative connotations among Netanyahu, his associates, and his supporters. The media is also a familiar enemy, one Netanyahu has been sparring with since 1995 and usually successfully — even if this obsessive war could potentially see him face criminal indictments (subject to a hearing).
Netanyahu is the man who once said, “If 90% of the media are against me it’s no good — I need them to be 100% against me.” Currently, he seems to be riding this wave — calling out everyone, without exception — from entire media outlets he accused of undermining the state, to individual journalists he accused of falsifying items against him. For Netanyahu, everything is personal.

Netanyahu has never before stooped to this level of shaming, then again, his current circumstances are worse than ever. As far as he is concerned, the media is the long arm of the Israel Police and the State Attorney’s Office, all of which have conspired to remove him from power.

But who is buying what Netanyahu is peddling? Sunday’s polls showed no change in the projected division of the political blocs after the elections and still predicted that Netanyahu would fare better than his rivals, saying that he stands a better chance of forming a government than Gantz and Lapid.

If Netanyahu does decide that slamming the media will yield more votes he will step up the mud-slinging to a rate of two videos a day, no doubt starring Channel 12 reporter Guy Peleg and commentator Amnon Abramovich, and Channel 13 investigative reporter Raviv Drucker.

Much like in 2015, when Netanyahu called on voters to rush to the polls to stop the Arabs coming in droves, he will again call on his supporters to flock to the polls – but this time, it will be to save his life.

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