On its front page, a right-wing newspaper widely considered to be a mouthpiece for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu castigated a TV comedy show writer for a recent Facebook post jokingly comparing the premier to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
It its Monday edition, the free tabloid Israel Hayom blasted Ruth Elbaz’s post as the “height of incitement.”
Elbaz, a writer for comedian Assaf Harel’s satirical nightly talk show, over the weekend posted a photo of Hitler standing on a balcony overlooking an assembled crowd with the caption: “A lot of people attended today’s briefing,” a reference to a recent spate of off-the-record briefings held by Netanyahu for the Hebrew press.
“I so don’t mean this as a comparison, just that Hitler holding a press conference made me laugh,” she added.
The post elicited swift censure from lawmakers in Netanyahu’s Likud party, with Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev calling it “a new low for the knights of humanism,” and MK Anat Berko branding Elbaz an embodiment of a “decline in morals and principles.”
Elbaz swiftly removed the post, and on Sunday issued an apology to those offended by her “tasteless joke.”
“I do apologize to anyone I offended. This was a joke that was misunderstood. At no point did I intend to compare Netanyahu to Hitler; I was simply pointing out the absurdity of accepting the dictates as they are,” she wrote on Facebook. “I removed the post as soon as I realized people were offended.”
In her apology, Elbaz also slammed Israel Hayom, which is Israel’s most widely-read daily, for publicly castigating her instead of covering more pressing stories.
“It isn’t surprising that our in-house newspaper chose to address my joke, tasteless as it may be, posted by a comedy writer on her personal page, rather than addressing more serious issues,” she said.
Later she wrote, “I suppose this isn’t a good time to say that I’m having a Holocaust of a day.”
Earlier this year, Israel’s press was downgraded to “partly free” by a Washington think tank in its annual report, which in part cited the “growing impact” of the existence of Israel Hayom, which rarely offers anything but favorable coverage of the prime minister.
In its report released in April, the Freedom House cited the increasing negative influence of the daily tabloid distributed for free on busy streets and public transportation.
The paper, which Freedom House estimates has cornered 40 percent of the Hebrew news market, is owned and subsidized by American billionaire and staunch Netanyahu supporter Sheldon Adelson.
The Israel Hayom business model, the Freedom House said, has forced other media outlets to “slash advertising rates, thus threatening their sustainability.”
The think tank also cited the increase in unmarked advertising in major Israeli media outlets and Netanyahu’s decision to serve as communications minister following national elections last year as a detrimental development to Israel’s free press.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.