How Bibi is attempting to brainwash the Israeli public – Mazal Mualem/Al-Monitor
The one who benefits the most from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to cancel all the holiday interviews to the media outlets is Netanyahu himself. On Sept. 8, the prime minister made an unexpected announcement canceling all the interviews that had been pre-arranged with the newspapers and the three television stations (Channels 1, 2 and 10). The reasons given by his office were his busy schedule and his need to plan for his upcoming visit to London.
The cancellation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of all his scheduled Jewish New Year’s interviews is just another step in his strategy, portraying him as an eternal victim of the leftist press, thus freeing him from responding to criticism even when legitimate.
Inevitably, criticism over this move quickly followed. The prevailing allegation among most of the commentators and journalists is that the prime minister is simply leery of facing the media and exposing himself to questions for which he has no good answers. He has no impressive achievements to display, they feel, but only foreign policy failures. His critics rightly contend that a prime minister is obliged — at least occasionally — to account to the public not only directly via the social media networks, but through question-and-answer sessions with journalists who can directly challenge his arguments.
Netanyahu’s political opponents accused him of cowardice. Together with the journalists, they mocked his video clip of achievements publicized by the prime minister a short time after he canceled the interviews, under the heading of “Things you won’t hear in the media.” This production is 2½ minutes of swaggering and boasting of his security achievements (“I protect your security”) and economics (“We reduced taxes, we will extract the [natural] gas from the depths of the sea”), which are transmitted via short, precise messages the way Netanyahu likes. “And there’s lots more as well, but you won’t hear it in the media. Check out my Facebook page for more,” he says at the end.
This final, seemingly incidental remark perhaps conveys the most important point of all in the entire clip. It ingeniously places the prime minister in the category of victim vis-a-vis the supposedly one-sided media that acts only out of the desire to wreak harm on him and his wife. This is exactly the picture that Netanyahu likes to paint for the public.
According to a study performed by Vigo Social Intelligence, a company that specializes in social network information monitoring (for Israeli news site Walla), it emerges that the prime minister scored a tremendous public relations coup by calling off the holiday interviews. Of the responses on the network in regard to this, 72% were in favor of the cancellation or even denigrated the “left-wing media” that ostensibly persecutes a successful prime minister from the right. An analysis shows that the video clip was viewed by half a million Internet users. This means that Netanyahu has again succeeded in sidelining the journalists via his Facebook page.
Netanyahu’s love-hate relationship with the media is well-known. He hates the media because he feels persecuted by what he portrays as a left-wing, one-sided media, and loves it because he is infatuated with its power and influence. The spark ignited between the young Netanyahu and the media was instantaneous. He was exposed to the media after the death of his brother Yoni in Entebbe (in a 1976 commando operation to save hijacked airplane passengers), and when he was ambassador to the United Nations (1984-88). Netanyahu created productive, friendly professional relationships with senior journalists in the United States and Israel, and knew how to exploit these contacts when the time was right. He was the first Israeli politician who knew how to speak to the camera and invested much time and effort in learning the tricks of the trade. This even included deciding which side of his face photographed better, learning the importance of makeup and how to use correct intonations.
During Netanyahu’s first term in office as prime minister, and after his defeat to Ehud Barak in the 1999 elections, he began to cultivate the mythical theory that the media is controlled by the left and persecutes him. One of the main tools he has used to spread this message and raise awareness was the unremitting use of expressions such as “one-sided media” and “left-wing media.” To this very day, these expressions are bandied about by him and large swathes of the right as expressing a self-evident truism that needs no proof or explanation.
This strategy worked on large portions of Netanyahu’s traditional electorate from the Sephardi (of Middle Eastern origin) periphery and the right in general. By pressing this button, the Likud chairman succeeded in hooking up with ethnic and class-based perceptions of victimhood; this is the way he consolidated a strong, stable electoral base. This success was no less than astonishing, considering the fact that Netanyahu is the son of an elite Ashkenazi (of European origin) family and grew up in an affluent, intellectual Jerusalem neighborhood. He is the son of a history professor, was an officer in the Israel Defense Forces’ finest unit and is a graduate of the world’s most prestigious universities. This is the biography of the man who belonged to the strongest sectors of society, as far away as possible from the residents of the development towns who worshipped him when he arrived from the UN.
So how did it happen? As strange as this may sound, despite Netanyahu’s stellar CV he imbibed a sense of discrimination from infancy. His father, Benzion Netanyahu, who had served as assistant to revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, lived with the feeling that the Mapai establishment (the mother party of the Zionist Camp that governed Israel for many years since the country’s establishment) persecuted him and thwarted his advancement in academia due to ideological differences of opinion. Thus, this personality trait of Netanyahu’s is authentic, and he is able to transmit it to the public successfully. Netanyahu succeeds in arousing identification among underprivileged, weakened populations and large segments of the right who share similar feelings.
But the truth is that those days, when the right was able to claim media discrimination, have long since become a relic of the past in the current era of Yisrael HaYom, the free newspaper that supports Netanyahu, and the social media networks. The Likud chairman controls Yisrael HaYom, the most widely disseminated newspaper of the country, thus his argument regarding a one-sided media no longer has a real basis in reality. Even the other newspapers include numerous voices that support him, including popular reporters such as Hanoch Daum of Yedioth Ahronoth daily and Moshe Arens and Benny Ziffer of Ha’aretz daily. And this is only a partial list.
Beyond the traditional media outlets are the social networks, and Netanyahu is one of the Israeli politicians who discovered its power and rules this medium with an iron hand. His Facebook page, with almost 1.5 million followers, elegantly circumvents those who until recently ruled the network: Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid and Education Minister HaBayit HaYehudi head Naftali Bennett. Netanyahu uses the network to disseminate his victimization messages that — as discussed here — do not testify to a true picture of the situation but constitute a sophisticated, effective campaign. Despite the fact that he was re-elected for the fourth time at the beginning of the year to the premiership and even attained an impressive achievement of 30 mandates in the recent elections — nevertheless, Netanyahu continues to depict himself as the underdog. His persecution allegations also serve him well in spurning all charges against him or his wife.
If, in the not-so-distant past, Netanyahu was careful to hold his punches in his attacks on the media, all hell broke loose after the recent elections. The campaign he waged on his Facebook page against Yedioth Ahronoth and its publisher Noni Moses turned out to be a truly brilliant move, judging by the results. At first it seemed that Netanyahu was losing traction and was out of balance when he claimed that Moses had decided to eliminate him due to the competition with Yisrael HaYom. But the election results proved that this was a good bet. Since then, the prime minister’s self-confidence with regard to his convoluted relations with the media only increased, to the extent that he does not bat an eyelash at canceling interviews with all the media outlets at the last minute, then attacking them verbally immediately afterward. Apparently, the prime minister cannot be forced to give interviews. However, it must be kept in mind that his attitude toward the media as being one-sided and left wing is not based on reality, but is an attempt to brainwash the public in order to retain his political power and increase it.