Netanyahu: Attacking Israeli journalists on Facebook is ‘fun’

Netanyahu tells foreign journalists that using social media to attack local reporters is ‘the most entertaining.’

Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the owner the pro-Bibi newspaper, Israel Hayom, is seen embracing Benjamin Netanyahu. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the owner the pro-Bibi newspaper, Israel Hayom, is seen embracing Benjamin Netanyahu. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke honestly, perhaps for the first time, about what has been driving his recent attacks on Israeli journalists during a conference for members of the foreign press in Jerusalem Tuesday evening.

During the Q&A session, one reporter asked Netanyahu about whether confrontations with local journalists are the “best strategy” to engage with media outlets critical of him.

“I don’t know, it’s the most entertaining,” Netanyahu retorted. “It’s fun, I enjoy it.”

It used to be that there was the media, the media said what it wanted to, which is fine, and as far as I’m concerned it should keep on doing that. Because the element of a free press, you have to understand my views. I am an unreconstructed democrat with a small ‘d,’ I don’t want to get into trouble, but that’s the political philosophy that I inherited, that I grew up with. Very strongly oriented towards that. And that requires a free, robust press, which can and should criticize. In fact that’s what it does regardless of who is in power. It doesn’t always do that — it should criticize equally… even if they don’t it’s their prerogative. Okay?

Netanyahu, who also serves as Israel’s communications minister, has in recent years designated the media as his arch nemesis. He attacks journalists by name, and often issues long, belabored responses to investigative reports published on his alleged misdoings. Last month, for example, Netanyahu published an unprecedentedly scathing rebuke to veteran investigative journalist Ilana Dayan, after her show “Uvda” aired a segment criticizing the inner workings of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Following the report, Dayan stood before the cameras and read the entirety of Netanyahu’s response (which took over six minutes to read), in which the prime minister accused one of Israel’s most respected journalists of, among other things, being a “left-wing extremist” who does not have “an iota of professional integrity” and is “one of the ring-leaders of the orchestrated attacks on…Netanyahu, which seek to bring down the right-wing government.”

Raviv Drucker, another prominent investigative journalist, has also been the target of Netanyahu’s ire, especially on social media. Drucker has recently published stories on the role of the prime minister’s personal lawyer and relative in a highly controversial deal to buy German submarines, as well as the shady relationship between the prime minister’s son and Australian businessman James Packer.

While Netanyahu views the media as his enemy, his consolidation of power allows him to mold the media landscape to his heart’s desire. His repeated threats to shut down Channel 10, his habit of calling journalists and television executives to complain about coverage of his wife, Sara, his connections with owners of some of Israel’s biggest outlets, and the fact that the country’s most-read newspaper is essentially a daily dedicated to promoting Bibi’s worldview have all had a chilling effect on journalism in Israel. Or as Netanyahu would call it: fun.

Watch Netanyahu’s full response below: