Of all the enemies facing the State of Israel, or more specifically Bibi Netanyahu (but why distinguish between the two–aren’t they identical?), who do you think he would single out as the most dangerous: Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Turkey? None of the above. His worst enemies are two newspapers. Two “extreme leftist” newspapers to be sure, but newspapers nonetheless. Apparently, words are more powerful than Qassams and Shihabs.
The Jerusalem Post editor heard Bibi made precisely such a statement, and told this to an audience at an international Zionist conference:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s two greatest enemies are The New York Times and Haaretz, the editor of The Jerusalem Post said in a speech.
Steve Linde, addressing a conference in Tel Aviv of the Women’s International Zionist Organization, said Wednesday that Netanyahu made the remark to him about the newspapers at a private meeting “a couple of weeks ago” at the prime minister’s office in Tel Aviv.
“He said, ‘You know, Steve, we have two main enemies,’ ” Linde said, according to a recording of the WIZO speech provided to JTA. “And I thought he was going to talk about, you know, Iran, maybe Hamas. He said, ‘It’s The New York Times and Haaretz.’ He said, ‘They set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world. Journalists read them every morning and base their news stories … on what they read in The New York Times and Haaretz.’ ”
Linde said he and other participants at the meeting asked Netanyahu whether he really thought that the media had that strong a role in shaping world opinion on Israel, and the prime minister replied, “Absolutely.”
One of the shrewdest things Bibi has done, and the most damaging to Israeli democracy, is that he’s focussed on controlling the media. His chief ally, Sheldon Adelson, bought himself a paper, Yisrael HaYom, which Bibi credits not just with winning him the last election, but maintaining overall rightist dominance of Israeli political discourse. This is why Bibi’s threats to destroy Channel 10 should be taken dead seriously. Bibi wants to win. And the best way to do so is to control the channels of distribution of information (eg. propaganda).
Note also that Israel’s “greatest enemies” are not external enemies, not forces seeking to kill Israelis; but rather journalists who try to cover Israel for a world audience. These are the true enemies in the eyes of the paranoid far-right. It’s not that their words kill, but they present an image of Israel to the world that enrages ultranationalists.
There are at least two avatars of dissent in the media. One in Israel is Haaretz. The other in the U.S. is the NY Times. These are organs he cannot control. Haaretz is outside his control because it has foreign financing that supports its independent editorial position (as opposed to Channel 10, which has foreign investors like Ronald Lauder, who are vulnerable to pressure from the Israeli right and figures like Adelson, and will not stand up for an independent editorial position). The Times, of course, is a U.S. publication and as such Netanyahu can do little more than gnash his teeth at the vitriol he perceives as emanating from correspondents like Tom Friedman and Roger Cohen.
It’s ironic that Bibi doesn’t credit the Times Israel correspondent, Ethan “Eytan” Bronner as being one of his assets. Bronner’s largely softball reporting gives Bibi plenty of leeway and undeservedly so.
The Post’s editor is regretting his candor (Hebrew). In a telephone interview with 7th Eye, he’s claiming he thought there were no journalists present when he made what he intended to be “private” remarks. Remarkable that a newspaper editor would speak in a public setting and expect his remarks to remain private. If he had a reporter at a similar event who didn’t report this story he’d likely fire him. Steve Linde, the doltish newspaperman in question, also claimed that JTA took his remarks out of context, though he couldn’t tell 7th Eye what the proper context would be, nor what words Bibi used that might’ve been different than those reported by JTA. You see, Bibi’s remarks were “not for publication,” Linde explained. Which is precisely why Linde quoted them in a public setting. Got it?
My friend, Sol Salbe posted a link to this story on Facebook to which he appended the famous quote from Greek drama:
He who the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.
I don’t know if Bibi is mad or stone cold sober. But I do know that Israel, under his leadership, is rapidly sliding down a slippery slope towards destruction.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.