PM hints he could shut Army Radio if right-wing not given more of a voice

Netanyahu says station has no right to exist without more conservative broadcasters, backs anti-Gantz talk show host as only one not toeing the line

Illustrative: Radio broadcasters at Army Radio headquarters in Jaffa, on March 27, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)
Illustrative: Radio broadcasters at Army Radio headquarters in Jaffa, on March 27, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his war on the media to Army Radio Thursday, accusing the military broadcaster of campaigning for his ouster and seemingly threatening to shutter it if it does not bring in right-wing voices.

The premier, who is facing charges of bribery and breach of trust over alleged attempts to buy favorable coverage, has accused the media of waging a campaign against him in concert with the left-wing, drawing comparisons to US President Donald Trump.

“There is a limit to the leftist thought police and silencing of voices,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter. “We aren’t in North Korea. If there is no expression given to the right — Army Radio has no right to exist.”

Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, wields considerable control over Army Radio, which is technically part of the Israel Defense Forces, though it has a civilian director and is staffed by both soldiers and civilians.

He accused the station of working on behalf of his chief electoral rival, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party, and backed one of the radio station’s hosts, Yakov Bardugo, who has repeatedly aired vehemently critical views of Gantz in the run up to April 9’s national elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech launching his Likud party’s election campaign in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan on March 4, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“On Army Radio there is one broadcaster who is not prepared to step into line with the left and the clique,” Netanyahu wrote, in apparent reference to Bardugo.

He accused Blue and White, which has three former IDF chiefs at the top of its slate, of applying pressure to have Bardugo thrown off air and said other commentators were campaigning on behalf of Gantz.

Yakov Bardugo. (Screen capture: YouTube)

On Tuesday, Blue and White accused Bardugo of slavishly serving Netanyahu, after several weeks of attacks from the commentator, who complained that Gantz refused to be interviewed.

“Blue and White has no interest in answering Bardugo’s questions or going on his program, just as we do not go on programs in North Korea. Bardugo, Netanyahu’s representative at Army Radio, uses public air time to serve his master,” it said in a statement.

On Thursday, Blue and White candidate Avi Nissenkorn cautioned Netanyahu against politicizing the station, which broadcasts news, entertainment and music.

“There are excellent right-wing broadcasters on Army Radio, and there are excellent left-wing broadcasters on Army Radio,” Nissenkorn said in a statement. “It just needs caution that Army Radio doesn’t become a one-sided campaign device.”

An Army Radio studio seen on February 4 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Army Radio began its broadcasts in 1950, taking over for the pre-state Haganah’s broadcasts.

It has served as a breeding ground for some of the country’s most famed journalists, including Ilana Dayan, Yonit Levy and Nitzan Horowitz.

Given its dual role as a news broadcaster and a military unit, the radio station has regularly been criticized by lawmakers for appearing to take sides on political and cultural issues.

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