Photo: Kobi Gideon, GPO
Prime Minister Netanyahu: Ignoring IDF generals, working to silence media organizations
Photo: Kobi Gideon, GPO
Nahum Barnea

Netanyahu, Israel’s one and only

Op-ed: The system of checks and balances, which stabilized the prime minister, has collapsed. Only two restraining systems remain: The IDF General Staff and the free media. Both are under fire right now.

“Netanyahu has become a dangerous person,” says a man who is very familiar with the decision-making process in the top ranks of the government. The prime minister has become a dangerous person because the system of checks and balances, which stabalized him, has collapsed.



The party that elected him is no longer a party but rater a collection of Facebook posts competing for the most radical, insane element in the right-wing electorate. The opposition has disappeared. It is as significant today as the parties that oppose Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish parliament. The law enforcement system has grown weaker. Under the big headlines about examinations and investigations hides a great fear of the government and of the street.


Golden statue of Netanyahu placed by artist at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, last week (Photo: EPA)
Golden statue of Netanyahu placed by artist at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, last week (Photo: EPA)


Two restraining systems remain: The IDF General Staff at the one end and the free press at the other. It’s not by chance that these two systems are under fire right now. It doesn’t mean that the IDF is perfect, or that we journalists are completely innocent, but that’s what remains.


When Netanyahu is afraid of a defense establishment objection, he simply goes around it, like he did in the Navy ship and submarine affair. The troubling question is how will he act on the eve of his meeting with US President Donald Trump in February. The agreement with Iran will be the main issue of the meeting. The generals at the Pentagon have made it clear to their colleagues in our General Staff that they are against a cancellation of the agreement. The Israelis agreed with them. The Iranians are not suckers: If America withdraws from the agreement, Iran will launch a nuclear arms race. The question remains open: What will Trump’s America do then? What will Israel do?


The generals on both sides prefer to focus their efforts on curbing the Iranian effort on other fronts and on preparing for the agreement’s expiry date. The defense establishments in the United States and Israel are drawing closer together on this issue. The acronym ITN – Iranian Terror Network – has changed its meaning. It is being interpreted in the Pentagon today in a much wider manner as “the Iranian threat network.” Secretary of Defense-designate James Mattis is a great enemy of Iran and a great friend of Israel. He is not in favor of canceling the agreement.


Will Netanyahu plead with Trump to cancel the agreement with Iran? The Netanyahu of the previous terms would have been cautious. He would have entrenched himself behind the defense establishment heads’ objection. As for the new Netanyahu, the king, the one and only, it’s hard to know.


He doesn’t really meant it

In the war between Netanyahu and the free press, the street is mostly at Netanyahu’s side. That shouldn’t surprise us: The media is a convenient punching bag for politicians and populists around the world.


I was in Washington early last week and met some of our American colleagues. They are taking the attacks by Trump and his supporters very seriously. I told them that at least they are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. We have no constitution. We are protected by rules of a game which put down roots in 100 years of a Yishuv (the organized body of Jewish residents in the Land of Israel) and of a state. The rules of the game are now changing before our eyes, and there is not much we can do about it.


The main attack is taking place far from the public debate. Netanyahu, in his capacity as communications minister, seeks to silence the Channel 2 and Channel 10 news companies. He will do that by handing out licenses to everyone. Silvio Berlusconi did it in Italy, and he will do it here. There will be many channels, and everyone will see long-legged models, quiz shows and religious preachers. They will have no money for investigative reports, field reports or dealing with libel suits. There will be plenty of freedom of speech here, but there will be no journalistic work.


Those who behave themselves will receive exaggerated bonuses from the Communications Ministry; those who misbehave will be punished. Businessman Shaul Elovitch’s Walla website is behaving itself; Elovitch’s Bezeq company receives benefits. There is allegedly no connection, but the connection is seen by the owners of other media organizations. At the moment, they are ignoring it, but eventually, when their empty pockets become a burden, they will understand.


The immediate enemies are the journalists and media organizations that dare criticize the king: Ilana Dayan, Amnon Abramovich, Raviv Drucker, Channel 10, Channel 2, Yedioth Ahronoth, Haaretz. The statements issued by the Prime Minister’s Office against these people and bodies are filled with lies and incitement.


The goal is to silence through economic damage. The weapon is the incited street, the internet thugs, the free newspaper’s commentators. The result could be fatal. It’s true that Netanyahu does not really mean it. He didn’t mean it in 1995 either.


I have a lot of respect for colleagues like Drucker, Abramovich, Sima Kadmon and Dayan. Because of the courage, the credibility, the quality of the product. For now, the media in Israel is much better than the government trying to destroy it. I’m not sure however, that much comfort can be take in that.


פרסום ראשון: 12.11.16, 23:33
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