The Israeli media’s negative stance on Netanyahu can be traced back to the 1990s believes his former media advisor. Blamed for the killing of peace with the Palestinians, the PM is also slammed for his “dictatorial tendencies” and his desire to cling to power.
Most Israelis are satisfied with the conduct of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in managing the coronavirus crisis, a joint survey by The Jerusalem Post and Maariv finds.
According to the poll, some 70 percent said they were “happy” with the way the PM handled the spread of the pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 190 Israelis.
For Israel’s media, however, the spread of the coronavirus was just another opportunity to lash out at the PM. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in Israel at the end of February, the country’s media has published dozens of articles and reports slamming Netanyahu’s conduct.
AP Photo / Sebastian Scheiner
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, Israeli Former Defense Minister and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) right-wing party Avigdor Lieberman, center, and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, are shown on a billboard wearing masks in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Sunday, March 29, 2020.
In March, for example, Haaretz, one of Israel’s biggest and most respected newspapers and associated with left-wing circles critical of the prime minister, wrote that Netanyahu is using his typical scare tactics when handling COVID-19.
“The failures [of the PM in handling the crisis] are already clear but Netanyahu has found a way to avoid the confession of their existence: apocalyptic intimidation”.
Another news website, Walla, slammed Netanyahu for dragging his feet in introducing an exit strategy and reminded readers that the PM’s conduct is more reminiscent of dictatorships rather than democracies.
The nation’s biggest TV channels have also joined the chorus of outlets slamming the prime minister by hosting an array of guests who voiced their concern over the way the PM is handling the crisis.
Deep Roots of Media Dissatisfaction
There are an abundance of examples and Aviv Bushinsky, the man who served as Netanyahu’s media adviser, traces the media’s obsession with the prime minister back to the 1990s and says it was the assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that served as the trigger for the explosive relationship.
Back then, Netanyahu was the head of Israel’s opposition and as such he expressed strong objections to the Oslo Accords signed by Rabin and the former chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation Yasser Arafat in 1993.
Netanyahu could not accept an agreement creating the Palestinian Authority and giving territorial concessions to the Palestinians and it was this that prompted him to participate in several mass rallies against the Rabin government.
The most notorious took place in 1995 in Jerusalem where thousands took to the centre of the disputed city calling Rabin a “traitor” and carrying banners of the prime minister wearing an SS officer’s uniform.
Netanyahu claimed he never saw the banners but he did urge protesters not to call Rabin a traitor. “He was wrong, he made a mistake but he was not a traitor”, he was caught saying on camera.
That, however, was not enough for the media. “When Rabin was assassinated in 1995, many pointed the finger of blame at Netanyahu saying it was his incitement that led to the tragedy. For them, Bibi was not only guilty in contributing to the murder of the premier but also in driving the last nail in the coffin of the peace agreement with the Palestinians”, said Bushinsky.
Although in 2009, during his famous Bar Ilan speech, Netanyahu expressed his commitment to the two-state solution, in reality, he did little to turn this into reality.
According to Peace Now, an Israeli NGO that advocates for peace with the Palestinians, during the ten plus years of Netanyahu’s tenure, Israel has constructed about 20,000 units in the predominantly Palestinian West Bank, much higher than any other prime minister before him.
Much more recently, Netanyahu worked out the “deal of the century” peace plan with US President Donald Trump presupposing the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley that makes up some 30 percent of the West Bank and which is considered pivotal for the economy of a future Palestinian state.
Bibi’s Clinging to Power Drives Media Mad
But Netanyahu’s approach towards the Palestinian issue was not the only factor that contributed to the Israeli media’s hostile attitude. His tendency to cling to power played an important role too, thinks the former adviser.
“At some point, Netanyahu realised that in order for him to get re-elected, he needed to slam the media that in the past tilted towards the left and that tended to discriminate against the country’s right-wing supporters. Netanyahu touched that nerve and stressed that he too, just like ordinary right-wingers, was discriminated against”.
AP Photo / Ariel Schalit
An Israeli medical worker wearing protective gear takes a swab from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man for a coronavirus test, as part of the government’s measures to stop the spread of the virus, in the Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Those tactics proved to be successful in 2015 when despite predictions, surveys, and polls Netanyahu managed to win the parliamentary race and ovetake his then-rival Buji Herzog, getting 30 seats in the 120-seat Israeli parliament.
In the last round of elections in March the same tactics brought him 36 seats despite being indicted in a series of graft probes that include buying positive press and receiving illegal gifts from a rich donor.
“Netanyahu truly believes that he is being treated unfairly and thinks he deserves appreciation for everything he has done for the country”, said Bushinsky.
It was during Netanyahu’s tenure that the number of Palestinian terror attacks significantly decreased, becoming the safest era in Israel’s history. It was also the PM’s foreign policy that got Chad to recognise the Jewish state after years of zero relations and it was the PM who thawed the ice with Sudan which has been hostile to Israel for years.
To correct what he believes is an injustice Netanyahu fights back.
“He is banning some reporters and objects to giving them interviews, opting for those who will go mild on him. More importantly, however, is the fact that he became the master of the alternative media – Twitter and Facebook, where he delivers his message without being challenged”, explained Bushinsky.
Netanyahu is far from being the only Israeli leader hounded by the country’s media. Menachem Begin, the prime minister who brought Likud to power in 1977, was a much-hated politician back in the 1950s and 1960s.
AP Photo / Jack Guez
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, holds a situation assessment meeting with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and others regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-2019), at the Health Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020
Ariel Sharon, known for his hawkish policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians as well as his role in the massacre in Sabra and Shatila was also slammed by the media.
With time, however, after they were gone, criticism turned into appreciation and disdain morphed into respect.
“It’s hard to tell whether the same thing will happen to Netanyahu and it will largely depend on what his legacy will be. Begin will be remembered for the peace with Egypt [in 1979]. Rabin — for the agreement with the Palestinians. What will Netanyahu do to get himself engraved in the memory of the masses?”