On Sunday the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, reached an agreement to eject Benjamin Netanyahu after twelve years, the longest time any prime minister has held power in the country. Coverage described a fraught legacy: the New York Times called him a “polarizing figure”; per the Washington Post, “he leaves a country more divided”; CNN reported that he made “a wealthier, more divided Israel.” Many outlets remarked on the strange cooperation among those who removed Netanyahu from office. “They lead an eight-party alliance ranging from left to right, from secular to religious, that agrees on little but a desire to oust Mr. Netanyahu,” Richard Pérez-Peña wrote, in the Times. For The New Yorker, Ruth Margalit noted that “under a government that delegitimized any form of dissent, traditional concepts of left and right have become somewhat meaningless.” Naftali Bennett, a hard-right nationalist who was once Netanyahu’s chief of staff, has now taken his place as prime minister; Yair Lapid, a centrist and former journalist, is set to take over in 2023.
Netanyahu’s relationship with the press has long been combative. For CJR’s global issue, Margalit wrote about his journey from a “master of television,” in his early career, to seasoned press antagonist. In 1999, after his first election loss, when Netanyahu sought to boost his media influence, his friend Ronald Lauder, the American cosmetics magnate, bought a majority stake in Israel’s Channel 10; in 2007, another ally, Sheldon Adelson, the casino-owning mega-donor, launched a free tabloid that amplified Netanyahu’s voice and views. By 2014, Israel got Channel 20 (“The Heritage Channel”), a mirror of Fox News with the motto: “Really Balanced Television”; soon, it was the only network with which Netanyahu sat for interviews. The same year, he sidelined his communications minister and took over the role himself. “Among analysts of Israeli politics,” Margalit observed, “the most common word used to describe Netanyahu’s view of the press is ‘obsession.’”
Then, in February of 2019, ahead of his next bid for reelection, Netanyahu was slammed with three major corruption cases; the most serious alleged that a media executive had taken down a story criticizing the First Lady in exchange for Netanyahu’s approval of a merger that would offset the executive’s corporate debt. Netanyahu fought to maintain his grip as long as he could: through indictments for breach of trust, accepting bribes, and fraud; through a bid for immunity; through an extended trial. By the end of December, the Knesset dissolved, and Israel’s election became a campaign to unseat him.
While lawmakers scrambled to form a new coalition, Netanyahu took aggressive action against Palestine. In May, Israel went on a bombing spree; when missiles hit press offices in Gaza, Netanyahu insisted that Hamas had an intelligence office in the building. Soon after, Haaretz reported that, amid protests, Netanyahu had proposed a social media crackdown. Even as his tenure as prime minister spun out of control, the press had trouble resisting his hold over messaging; as Jon Allsop wrote in a recent newsletter, “Much of the top-line coverage in the United States has used fuzzy, passive language—‘warlike violence erupts’; ‘the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, reignited’—that obscures who has done what to whom.” In an open letter last week, a group of media professionals called for more strongly worded coverage of Israel’s hostility against Palestine.
Under Bennett, the outlook for the press remains to be seen. From Jerusalem, Noga Tarnopolsky, who covers Israel and Palestine as a freelance reporter, tweeted that “much of the media is breathing a sigh of relief with the exit of a PM who referred to us as enemies of the people & treated journalists with sneering contempt,” calling Bennett’s administration a “breath of fresh air.” Still, Mairav Zonszein, a writer and analyst for the Crisis Group, noted that the new administration “does not mark a defeat of the right.” And Al Jazeera observed that, as Bennett replaces Netanyahu, Palestinians are “not counting on change.” Reporters like Givara Budeiri—who, according to the International Federation of Journalists, was arrested and assaulted by Israeli police, then released with a broken hand, even after a cease-fire was declared—can only hope for better days. They can’t count on them.
Below, more on news coverage and Israel:
- “Israeli media’s one-woman show”: For CJR last summer, Zonszein interviewed Or-ly Barlev, an independent journalist and activist in Israel who broadcasts via Facebook Live to hundreds of thousands. Barlev described living in a media landscape dominated by Netanyahu—or “Bibi,” as he’s known. “He has planted people in every panel, every studio; there is always someone speaking on behalf of Bibi,” Barlev said. “Not representatives of the right. Not right-wing intellectuals. Mouthpieces. Propagandists. And he feeds the media spins, which some journalists eat up.” Still, in August, she saw some signs of hope: “One of Bibi’s tools is to divide and fracture, and people are uniting. The contra has started.”
- “All stick, no carrot”: For the Canadaland podcast, Jesse Brown spoke with Dalya al-Masri, a Palestinian writer and researcher based in Vancover, about media coverage of Israel and Palestine. They agreed that ambivalent coverage of Israel and Palestine is overly governed by fear (in Brown’s words, “all stick and no carrot”). “Journalists have the obligation and the duty to morally and ethically represent the truth and to represent the communities they cover,” Masri said. “There is a rightful fear. But most of this fear is driven by the silence. When we stay silent, and when journalists and newsrooms don’t really cover these issues, it starts to get really pushed under the rug.”
- Out in the open: In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Yousef Munayyer wrote that Bennett’s policies “won’t mean justice or peace for Palestinians,” citing Bennett’s shameless opposition to a Palestinian state. “Bennett will not only continue to act as Netanyahu did, he is unafraid to tell the world about it too,” Munayyer argued.
Other notable stories:
- Reality Winner, the former NSA contractor who was sent to prison for leaking documents about Russian hacking to The Intercept, was released early from prison yesterday.
- Barbara Starr—a CNN Pentagon correspondent and one of the eight reporters whose emails and phone records the Trump Justice Department attempted to access in 2017—wrote yesterday that the Biden administration’s promises to stop the seizure of reporters’ records fall short of the necessary protections for a free press.
- Yesterday afternoon, Attorney General Merrick Garland met with executives from CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post about the Justice Department’s surveillance of journalists and plans to restrict—even forbid—monitoring them in the future. Though the conversation was off the record, Garland said in a statement that he planned to put anti-surveillance measures into regulation. Also yesterday, the Times reported that John Demers, a Trump DOJ holdover—who would typically have been briefed on matters like the surveillance of journalists—is stepping down next week.
- Roman Protesavich, the Belarusian opposition journalist who was recently abducted from a flight and detained by the Belarusian government, appeared yesterday at a press conference in Minsk. Jonah Fisher, a BBC reporter present for the event, observed that Protesavich was under duress. “In recent weeks Mr Protasevich has been put several times in front of TV cameras to toe the official line, confess to his supposed crimes and deny that he’s been mistreated,” Fisher wrote. Fisher and other members of the press walked out in protest of Protesavich’s treatment.
- A court in Myanmar released Nathan Maung, one of two US journalists detained while reporting. The charges against him were dropped, and Maung’s case was dismissed. Maung’s colleague, a Burmese national, remains in detention, as does Danny Fenster, an American journalist working for Frontier Myanmar.
- When it debuted on Sunday, the UK’s new GB News channel—which offers right-leaning commentary, but, thus far, insists that it is unlike Fox News—had more viewers than the BBC.
- On Friday, legislators introduced five bills to break up monopolistic behavior by big tech companies. For ArsTechnica, Tim De Chant writes that the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, which would raise filing fees for mergers and direct the money to regulators, is the likeliest of the five to pass, since it has the most bipartisan support. The fact that the legislation has attracted even modest support across party lines, De Chant believes, “suggests that a major overhaul of antitrust law may be imminent, even if these specific bills don’t survive.”
- BuzzFeed will begin paying “Community” members for content—quizzes, rankings, and other posts—using a pay scale dependent on virality. Interested contributors must apply; posts surpassing 150,000 views will receive $150; those with 500,000 views will earn $500. The highest payout is $10,000 for four million views or more.