Will Foreign Coverage of Israel Deteriorate as Incoming Government Takes Office?
Netanyahu charges that New York Times demonizes his coalition as a ‘threat to Israel’s democracy’
A moment before Wednesday night’s deadline, designated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he had completed coalition negotiations to form Israel’s new government. Amid the tense political horse-trading that produced the most far-right government in the country’s history, Netanyahu paused to refute the accusation by The New York Times that the latest election has terminally threatened Israel’s democracy.
On Sunday, Netanyahu accused The Times of delegitimizing and demonizing Israel, after the prominent American newspaper published an editorial titled: “The Ideal of Democracy in a Jewish State Is in Jeopardy.” The paper strongly criticized Netanyahu’s inclusion of two ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition and the appointment of their ultra-nationalist leaders as senior ministers in sensitive posts.
In response, Netanyahu tweeted on Sunday: “After burying the Holocaust for years on its back pages and demonizing Israel for decades on its front pages, the New York Times now shamefully calls for undermining Israel’s elected incoming government.
“While the NYT continues to delegitimize the one true democracy in the Middle East and America’s best ally in the region, I will continue to ignore its ill-founded advice and instead focus on building a stronger and more prosperous country, strengthening ties with America, expanding peace with our neighbors, and securing the future of the one and only Jewish state.”
After burying the Holocaust for years on its back pages and demonizing Israel for decades on its front pages, the New York Times now shamefully calls for undermining Israel’s elected incoming government. pic.twitter.com/CqqAoN7lSX
— Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) December 18, 2022
Perhaps coincidentally, on the same day that Netanyahu tweeted his charge, The Times published a crossword puzzle that appears to be in the shape of a swastika, sparking wide criticism. However, Dr. Gadi Taub, of the Federmann School of Public Policy and Government at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Media Line he believes the incident was a coincidence. “I would not make a big deal out of it,” he says.
The New York Times is a liberal newspaper and reflects liberal views in America, including the ones of the liberal Jews in America. I would say that The New York Times is right and Netanyahu is wrong.
More substantively, Prof. Gadi Wolfsfeld, of the Sammy Ofer School of Communications at Reichman University in Herzliya, told The Media Line he considers Netanyahu’s statement unfair. “I think that The New York Times is a liberal newspaper and reflects liberal views in America, including the ones of the liberal Jews in America. I would say that The New York Times is right and Netanyahu is wrong.”
Wolfsfeld described the extended period of coalition negotiations since the election as “very frightening to everyone in Israel that values having a liberal democracy.” He expressed concern about the possibility of the incoming government “neutralizing the Supreme Court,” among other foreseeable policies.
“The New York Times is basically saying what many in Israel are saying,” he argued. “Many in Israel are very concerned with what’s going on and they are certainly not demonizing our country,” he says.
Democracy is in danger because of the corruption of journalism
Taub says that it is the other way around, and that “this kind of journalism” is what is endangering democracy. “Democracy is in danger because of the corruption of journalism, which is true in both Israel and the United States,” he claims.
“The main news media, instead of being the watchdog of democracy, have become the attack dog of the state apparatus. So, we are left in the dark in a Soviet-like condition where both Israeli and American newspapers are not reporting reality but cooperating with law enforcement in the service of one political side.”
The New York Times, he says, “has a very bad history, beginning with the way it has marginalized news of the Holocaust at the time.” Taub adds that “The media in the West are now mostly anti-Zionist, which is to say antisemitic, in the same BDS-style that academia is.”
Wolfsfeld disagrees. “You can say every attack on Israel is antisemitism, or that every criticism of Israel is demonizing Israel. I think that’s nonsense,” he says. He notes that the foreign news media have never been very sympathetic toward Israel. “Most of the foreign media is hostile to Israel, except under unusual circumstances,” he says.
He posits that foreign coverage of Israel usually depends on the political circumstances in Israel. For instance, he cites the coverage of the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, announcements of new settlements, or whenever Palestinian terrorists are shot by Israeli soldiers: “Reporters report it in a sense that blames Israel,” he says.
When we seem to be doing stuff the world wants us to do, then we get better coverage than when we do things that the world doesn’t. It’s not rocket science.
On the other hand, he adds, when the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was negotiating the Oslo Accords and it seemed the peace process was moving forward, and during the 1991 Gulf War when Saddam Hussein was launching missiles into Israel, “we got a lot of positive coverage.”
Israel also garnered positive coverage under the outgoing Bennett-Lapid government, particularly for its inclusion of an Arab party in the coalition. “When we seem to be doing stuff the world wants us to do, then we get better coverage than when we do things that the world doesn’t. It’s not rocket science,” Wolfsfeld says.
Another factor on which the foreign media coverage of Israel depends is the political climate in the country of origin. Wolfsfeld stresses that it is not the foreign media that decide how to cover Israel critically, but “the news media in every country reflects the opinions of the elites in that country.”
Obviously, he says, “the Arab media are more hostile to Israel, that’s inevitable. However, if you go country by country around the world, the question is what their government’s stance toward Israel is.” For example, Germany, “usually gives us more sympathetic coverage; while France, less so, and Britain is usually pretty negative toward Israel,” he notes.
Considering the current political climate in Israel and foreign opinion concerning it, he believes the foreign media coverage of Israel will become more hostile once the upcoming government takes office, presumably next week. “My assumption would be that the coverage is going to get worse because there’s going to be more international antagonism that leads to hostility in the international media,” he says.
“It has gotten worse in the last couple of months and it’s probably going to get even worse as we move along,” Wolfsfeld asserts, arguing that the foreign media reflect the concerns of their countries’ governments and elites.
I think we should mostly ignore the hysteria in the leftist press
Taub argues that the nature of the coalition comes as a reaction to the elites’ attacks. “This is happening now all over the West – globalist elites are trying to suppress national identities, and then get a democratic backlash in the form of alliances between the center, right, and far-right. Netanyahu’s coalition is no different,” he says
While the experts are undecided on how the foreign media’s coverage of Israel might change once the new government is in place, Taub is sure of one thing: “I think we should mostly ignore the hysteria in the leftist press.”