Even though I've never voted for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I feel obligated to defend him when others do him an injustice, as they frequently do. He's not Putin, not Trump, and certainly not Erdoğan. Such foolishness usually comes from the camp that regales us with warnings of "the end of democracy," "the budding of fascism," and "the 1930s."
In the framework of this parade of foolishness, the New York Times published an op-ed last week called "How Benjamin Netanyahu Is Crushing Israel’s Free Press." Just in the past fortnight, I've published three articles in Hebrew that have justified part of the claims from the right, and I refuted allegations expressed against the prime minister. I intended to write another article in this never-ending debate, this time in response to the American piece, and I started checking the factual allegations published there.
But this time, unfortunately, it was a bit different. It turned out that one fact—a very significant one—was correct. According to the article, the prime minister applied pressure to get a certain piece taken off a news site. The piece remains, but the pressure produced a result: The title was changed, and Netanyahu's name was removed. Now, imagine that Netanyahu's connections with the tycoons who control the media are causing him to exert pressure. This is a free market?
When somebody applies pressure of this sort, more than damaging the freedom of expression, there's an extraordinary level of stupidity. Because instead of not very damaging headline, Netanyahu—and Israel—earned a defamatory article in one of the world's most important newspapers. This harm outweighs the dubious benefit in a superfluous semantic headline modification.
You don't need to be an avid Netanyahu aficionado to know that he's also had considerable achievements. I've covered them, and I will continue to do so. So I'm allowed to directly address Netanyahu: Hey, are you crazy? Your speech on Jabotinsky and the free press was honey-lipped, but the pressures that you're exerting are the antithesis to what you preach. Isn't it obvious to you that that any involvement from you will reach the world's leading media within hours or days? Is it worth it to you?
It's not you who's making the phone calls. It's beneath you. It's two of the people nearest to you. You know whom I'm talking about. It's possible that they're doing things here and there of their own volition, but the responsibility is yours. If a serious journalist in Israel, not one of your haters, has to deal with pressures coming from your direction, then the "end of democracy" camp will have to thank you. You're trying to prove him right.
I'm a strong advocate of fair and balanced public media. Some of the right's claims, I have written and I will continue to write, are correct. But when they're not matter-of-fact allegations, but rather the communication minister, who is also the prime minister, who is applying pressure on the media, the matter-of-fact becomes less relevant. It's not just a blow to freedom of expression. It may just be marginal. The problem is with your judgment or with that of those acting in your name. And if we're not careful, this marginal harm may become serious.
And it is definitely worrying and raises the concern that initiatives such as that of MK David Bitan to close the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) are actually your suggestions. Closing the IBA at this stage is not a repair and not the free market, but rather an attempt to intimidate. If your model for a free press is a press that is dependent on your decisions, then there's a problem here.