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Directly addressing his nationalist base, a beleaguered leader accuses the news media of obsessively promoting a liberal agenda, conducting a “witch hunt against me and my family,” and trying to overturn unpalatable electoral outcomes through sinister legal machinations.
This is the case Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu made to his supporters Wednesday night.
Netanyahu has always had a thorny relationship with Israel’s prominent media outlets, where top writers, broadcasters and editors are generally more open to peace-seeking concessions to the Palestinians than the prime minister’s nationalist Likud Party is. But his comments at a Likud Party rally Wednesday evening — days after police revealed he is a suspect in several corruption cases — were an escalation.
With hundreds of adoring supporters cheering wildly, Netanyahu launched into a tirade, accusing the media and political opposition of conspiring to topple him when he cannot be defeated at the ballot box. He carefully avoided any mention of the police and prosecutors who are conducting the actual investigation.
“The thought police in the media work full-time to set the agenda, and woe to anyone who veers away from it,” Netanyahu said. “We know that the left and the media — and we know that it’s the same thing — is on an obsessive witch hunt against me and my family with the goal of achieving a coup against the government.”
The crowd chanted “Down with the Media,” and one member held a large placard with a vulgar English expression against the media in front of the TV cameras. A reporter from the Times of Israel news site said Netanyahu supporters hurled insults and epithets at him, while a Channel 10 TV reporter was surrounded by a group of people who taunted him.
Other leaders attack media
The tactic of attacking the media to deflect attention from political and legal trouble also seems part of an emerging zeitgeist in authoritarian-leaning countries these days.
In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, independent media have been taken over by Kremlin-friendly figures and muckraking reporters have faced dismissals and even death. In Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, scores of journalists are in jail, and in Viktor Orban’s Hungary, the independent media is regularly vilified.