Opinion by Jotam Confino.
In his recent video message to the world, Netanyahu slams CNN, The New York Times, The Guardian and Al Jazeera by accusing them of spreading ‘fake news’. It’s hardly a surprise that Netanyahu doesn’t see eye to eye with these media, but using Donald Trump’s term in this context is simply distasteful, not to mention predictable. The Prime minister is waiting for the police investigations against him to end, so in the meantime he is preparing his next election campaign.
First, Netanyahu issued an incredibly patriotic video on the eve of the Israeli Independence day, where he comes off as the savior of Israel. Then he reiterates the prevalent paranoia in large segments of Israel, which is that the world is against Israel. According to Netanyahu, CNN, The New York Time, The Guardian and Al Jazeera were all responsible for spreading fake news, when they covered the news of Hamas’ updated charter.
Granted, one can disagree with the real content behind Hamas’ updated charter, and continue to see them as a terrorist organization, which is still seeking to destroy Israel. But to label CNN’s coverage of the updated language in the charter as fake news, is dangerous and simply false. It’s a fact that Hamas has updated its charter, in which they now accept a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, at least theoretically. That is not the language of CNN, but the direct words from the charter. Whether this is true or not, is not up to CNN or any other news agency to decide. If the media started deciding which statements from political organizations are true, Netanyahu would be in more trouble than he already is.
It’s not the first time Netanyahu has used fake news as a tool to influence public opinion, only this time he accuses foreign media of distorting reality by lying to people about Hamas’ real intentions. If CNN, The Guardian and Al Jazeera decided to hold Netanyahu accountable for spreading fake news himself, they wouldn’t have to dig deep to cover those stories. The difference is that Netanyahu’s fake news mislead a whole nation and wasted valuable time for its best friend, the US. John Kerry worked like a mad man to create a framework for Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate under, only to find himself wasting his time.
‘The Arabs are voting in droves’
In the last election, Netanyahu was fighting a fierce battle for votes against HaBayit HaYehudi, which at the time seemed to be stealing votes from Likud. On election day, Netanyahu decided to go on national television and issue a false and racist statement about the ‘Arabs voting in droves’. He further promised that there would be no Palestinian state under his leadership. The first statement was meant to scare the Israelis more than they already were.
On election day, the polls suddenly showed a bigger support of Likud than expected, which took most experts and the media by surprise. Netanyahu once again managed to outplay his opponents, by spreading fake news about ‘Arabs voting in droves’. He didn’t even have the courtesy to phrase it in a more political correct way, which of course had the outcome he expected; getting votes from the far right wing. His last statement about promising that there will be no Palestinian state was true. However, in his famous speech from Bar Ilan University in 2009, Netanyahu came off as a man of peace, ready to negotiate with the Palestinians and the Arab states;
‘I appeal to you, our Palestinian neighbors, and to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Let us begin peace negotiations immediately without prior conditions. Israel is committed to international agreements, and expects all sides to fulfill their obligations. I say to the Palestinians: We want to live with you in peace, quiet, and good neighborly relations. We want our children and your children to ‘know war no more’’.
The speech from Bar Ilan in 2009 centered around peace with the Palestinians, whereas the election statements from 2015 reflected the hostile atmosphere Netanyahu had helped created. If CNN and The New York Times were to live up to Netanyahu’s ‘standards’ of news, they should have called out his outright lies and distortion of reality countless times over the years. Of course, he would have slammed them for doing so, possibly accusing them Antisemitism.
There is no doubt that it remains to be seen whether Hamas will behave differently now that they have an updated charter. It is striking, however, that Netanyahu ridicules one of Hamas’ principles, which is that they believe ‘every inch of Israel belongs to the Palestinians’. True, this destructive stand will not help bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
What Netanyahu seems to forget is that he is own government is filled with ministers who have similar extremist and religious views to Hamas, only reverse. HaBayit HaYehudi, for example, believes that all of Palestine belongs to the Jews, and they are literally doing all they possibly can to annex the West Bank and fulfill ‘God’s promise’.
Netanyahu seems to forget that he filled his cabinet with people who take religion just as serious as Hamas does, and who are doing all they can to impose religious laws on people who aren’t religious. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to affect Netanyahu, as long as he stays in power. By adopting a well-known strategy from his dear friend, Donald Trump, Netanyahu is now waging a war on the media abroad. Trump is due to visit Netanyahu soon, and it should come as no surprise if they hold a joint press conference in which they continue to accuse the media of spreading ‘fake news’.
Jotam Confino is the editor of Republic Paper and has written extensively about the Middle East in the Danish media. He holds a BA in International Relations and an M.A in Security & Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.