By: Tal Schneider, Noga Tarnopolsky
Despite evident pressures, Benjamin Netanyahu is not betraying any tendency to cancel his Congressional address scheduled for March 3rd.
Israel’s ho-hum media has started covering this issue, mostly in desultory mentions of the critique of Jewish organizations in the US. But for now, Netanyahu remains on-message. On Sunday night, to a gathering of francophone Likudniks, and on Monday night, with Russian-speaking Likudniks, Netanyahu repeated his determination to carry his Iran message to Congress.
This morning, Israel Army radio reported on a possible solution to the crisis, whereby Netanyahu would go ahead and meet members of Congress from both parties in closed meetings, reserving any public pronouncement for AIPAC; Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel, also hinted at a lowering of tones but no change is in the offing.
2. It is remarkable to follow the unfolding coverage of Boehnergate. Netanyahu’s previously most covered scuffle with American royalty was with the Clintons (to be fair, Bill started it when he interfered in the elections on behalf of Shimon Peres) and Netanyahu’s subsequent loss at the polls (amid a sharpening public conflict with the Democratic party) led to the then-perception that a public fight with the president of the United States hurts the image of Israel’s prime minister.
But the fact that Netanyahu was basically in open battle with the White House between 2009 and 2013, while keeping a steady hand on his administration, and that he subsequently won the 2013 elections with relative ease, seems to have dented that assumption. To the contrary, it came to appear that an open clash with the White House doesn’t hurt, and may even help an embattled prime minster.
3. Meanwhile, Netanyahu also launched a bare-knuckle frontal battle with one of the most powerful media moguls in the State of Israel. As part of his campaign messaging, Netanyahu has long claimed the Israeli media hounds him personally and is trying to overthrow his government. Netanyahu, it must be noted, is the current Minister of Communications and thus the man responsible for public TV and radio since he fired the six Yesh Atid ministers.
In addition, he has at his disposition Israel’s most popular (and free) newspaper, Israel HaYom, and elite right wing paper Makor Rishon, both funded by the casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson. He further holds the authority to regulate the condition of Ch10 future franchise.
In short, he whole-handily controls Israeli media market, yet whining about coverage.
Netanyahu’s central campaign message, working so far, is that he is the victim. He claims that he and his wife are unfairly pursued as part of a personal agenda driven by certain journalists and by the media as a whole—and Israelis, who do not on the whole trust the media, basically seem to believe him. This, in spite of the fact that they follow the saga as it is reported by the very same media that is supposedly so adversarial. Today, Yedioth Acharanoth columnist Nahum Barnea, who is universally admired despite working for Arnon Mozes, the media baron attacked by Netanyahu, said the prime minister “should be hospitalized” and “is paranoid.”
Regarding the above, it should be noted that Netanyahu maintains long-standing contentious ties with the Israeli media. He declined all interviews in Hebrew for a period of 411 days and did not hold a press conference for two full years. When he did accede, about eight months ago, the questions were naturally limited to Operation Protective Edge, aka the Gaza War, that was the only subject on anybody’s mind. So much for the social-economic issues.
Not that the Likud is a bowl of cherries, but all the other campaigns appear to be faltering. Despite our early appreciation for Naftali Bennett’s witty campaign ads, Jewish Home is fast losing its oomph. FM Lieberman may not even pass the very electoral threshold he so arduously supported. Herzog and Livni’s Zionist Camp lacks flight. Former finance minister Yair Lapid is working assiduously to climb in the polls.
The most interesting survey of the day focused on likely voters rather than all eligible voters, and found a trend of declining esteem for Netanyahu and a growing inclination to vote for Herzog/Livni. Many, of course, remain undecided.