The prime minister, who has attacked individual reporters and media outlets for reporting ‘fake news,’ has abandoned any pretense of respect for freedom of the press.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today described the Israeli print and broadcast media, almost in its entirety, as “fake news” and “liars.”
The prime minister posted a list of nearly all the Israeli mainstream media outlets and platforms on his Facebook page today, with the following caption:
Here is an example of daily fake news: self-important journalists and analysts like Moshe Nussbaum reporting on confrontations with state’s witnesses — something that never happened and to which there is not a grain of truth. They keep lying to you, evening after evening.
This is what their reporting is worth — just one big fake news.
Moshe Nussbaum is a veteran reporter and analyst for Israel’s Channel 2 News, covering police matters and criminal investigations. Specifically, he is the reporting face of Channel 2’s ongoing coverage of the police investigations into Netanyahu on suspicion of criminal corruption, graft, and bribery.
Police investigators questioned Netanyahu and his wife Sara today for the second time under caution, in separate locations, in connection with Case 4000, otherwise known as the Bezeq Case. The case involves allegations that Netanyahu traded favorable regulatory laws with Saul Elovitch, the CEO of the giant telecom, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his wife in Walla!, the Bezeq-owned popular news and entertainment portal. According to information reported about the investigation, Netanyahu’s wife Sara is suspected of communicating directly with Saul Elovitch’s wife Iris, sending her text messages with specific instructions regarding the nature of the favorable coverage she wanted in Walla!.
Two weeks ago the prime minister’s former chief communications advisor and intimate aide, Nir Hefetz, turned state’s witness in exchange for complete immunity from prosecution. Hefetz reportedly saved communications that implicate the Netanyahus in the Bezeq case, including tangible evidence that Sara Netanyahu tried to subvert the investigation by deleting text messages. Last week one Israeli newspaper reported that Netanyahu was hoping for “a miracle” to save him from a criminal indictment. Police investigators have hinted that they intend to have Netanyahu respond directly to evidence provided by Hefetz, with the two men seated at the same table.
This is not the first time Netanyahu has targeted Moshe Nussbaum, the Channel 2 criminal affairs reporter. Last year during a speech, the prime minister mocked Nussbaum’s mannerisms and his bushy eyebrows. He later apologized in a phone call, with Nussbaum responding that he was not offended.
Notably missing from the list of media outlets that Netanyahu describes as “fake news” are Israel Hayom and Makor Rishon; both are daily publications owned by Sheldon Adelson, the American Jewish casino billionaire and Trump supporter who is Netanyahu’s patron. Israel Hayom is so overtly pro Netanyahu that it is widely referred to in Israel as the “Bibiton,” a portmanteau of the prime minister’s nickname (Bibi) and the Hebrew word for newspaper (iton). Also missing from the prime minister’s list is Channel 20, the newly launched television station that is national-religious Zionist, pro-settler and pro-Netanyahu.
For political observers who have been following Netanyahu since he was re-elected prime minister in 2009 (after a disastrous first term in the late-1990s), the similarities between the authoritarian tactics employed by the Israeli prime minister and by U.S. president Donald Trump are striking. Both men speak directly to their base via their social media accounts, circumventing the veteran media outlets. Both men make overtly racist statements via social media — a notable example is Netanyahu’s infamous 2015 election video, posted to his Facebook wall, in which he calls out his supporters to save his government because “Arabs are voting in droves.”
Furthermore, both men constantly undermine the credibility of the fourth estate, one of the essential pillars of a robust and functioning democracy, by describing them as ‘fake news’ and ‘liars.’ And both level personal attacks at journalists they dislike, or whose coverage worries them, by attacking not only their professional credibility but also their physical appearance.
Hence Netanyahu comments on Moshe Nussbaum’s eyebrows and mannerisms in a speech to his followers, while Trump mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski for his physical disability and claimed that Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her whatever” after she questioned him sharply during one of the Republican party’s primary debates.
Israel Hayom is financed by Netanyahu’s billionaire patron for the purpose of promoting and supporting the prime minister. It is a free newspaper that is distributed throughout the country, including home delivery. Since its launch in 2009, Israel Hayom has become the country’s most widely-read publication; its impact on the discourse has been notable, speaking to the power of the media to shape public opinion. Now Netanyahu is working methodically, in the absence of a miracle, to discredit veteran media outlets that might sway public opinion against him as the walls of the criminal investigation close in on him.