The Israeli media have reported ad nauseam Binyamin Netanyahu’s so-called binge in London during the Second Lebanon War. But what has not been considered is the media’s despicably unethical behavior in feeding Netanyahu to the lions for sins he never committed. It could qualify them as a textbook case study of journalistic bias and application of double standards.
The story was initially broken by TV journalist Raviv Druker of Channel 10, who after “obtaining” invoices relating to Netanyahu’s visit to London 15 months after the event, accused him of having lived it up like a fat cat while fellow Israelis were undergoing a war. Most of the Hebrew press jumped gleefully onto the bandwagon, assailing Netanyahu with such epithets as “greedy politician,” “King Bibi the First,” and a “regular Scrooge.”
The contemptible lengths to which the media performed as a lynch mob is evidenced by the fact that some of the more mature journalists also associated themselves with the Bibi-bashing campaign. That even included the doyen of Hebrew journalists, Nahum Barnea, who is no provincial bumpkin and understands the ways of the world. Aware that there were no grounds for accusations of corruption, Barnea depicted him as a greedy, insensitive “hedonist”; but his primary objective was reflected in his call to Israelis to “punish” Netanyahu at the polls.
Netanyahu’s political opponents in the Knesset, usually at the forefront of any effort to discredit him, remained singularly silent, realizing that the allegations against Netanyahu were malicious nonsense and could just as well be applied against them.
True, the cost of Netanyahu’s trip – 15,000 pounds sterling – was high. But aside from London today being one of the most expensive cities in the world, the Connaught Hotel, where Netanyahu stayed, is far from being the top London deluxe hotel. In addition, a suite for any statesman on a mission is mandatory. The former prime minister could hardly be expected to hold interviews or meet journalists or opinion makers in the lobby or a hotel bedroom.
The most outrageous aspect of this media offensive against Netanyahu was that far from being a personal luxury jaunt, the visit was in fact a genuine contribution to the welfare of Israel and Anglo-Jewry. Moreover, the journalists trying to discredit him were all aware that Netanyahu did not receive any remuneration or personally benefit in any way from the visit. He went once to the theater and his wife used a hairdresser – all of which Netanyahu paid for from his own pocket. The Israeli taxpayer did not contribute a single shekel toward defraying his expenses. Netanyahu was thus fully justified in telling the media: “I acted for the state, not at the expense of the state.”
To be certain of the facts, I contacted Joshua Rowe, the Manchester philanthropist who sponsored the visit. Rowe is a stalwart of Jewish education and a major fundraiser for Israel. He has no political ambitions and nothing to gain from Netanyahu. On the contrary, his friends assure me that he is modest, unassuming and detests being in the limelight.
Rowe informed me that he had appealed to an initially reluctant Netanyahu to come to London in order to respond to the media demonization of Israel during the Second Lebanon War and attempt to raise the spirits of Anglo-Jewry, which was deeply depressed and desperately needed a boost.
Rowe assured me that arrangements for Netanyahu were fully in accordance with former visits by other prominent Israeli personalities. In fact he had happily assigned the Israeli Embassy to take care of all the arrangements for the visit, including selection of the hotels.
Rowe personally covered the bulk of the costs for the visit. He told me that he had also intended to pay Netanyahu’s personal expenses, but that Netanyahu adamantly refused and insisted on reimbursing him with a personal cheque for over NIS 12,000.
Those involved in the visit testified that it exceeded all expectations. Netanyahu worked day and night. He had multiple encounters with all segments of the media, including what has been described as a “brilliant” interview with BBC’s Hard Talk which was televised worldwide. He raised substantial funds for Israel Bonds and his address to the Jewish community dramatically lifted its self-esteem.
Netanyahu’s mission to Britain was recognized as one of the most successful visits of its kind in recent times. Rowe told me: “If it had cost me double or triple the amount, I would still gladly have underwritten the trip.”
It was not only the provincial mind-set and abominably distorted reporting of the facts that reflected adversely on the Israeli media. Also exposed was the media mob instinct in face of Netanyahu’s growing political popularity, to which most journalists could not reconcile themselves.
Over the past year I have been critical that Netanyahu seemed to be deliberately adopting a low profile at a time when the nation desperately needed a vigorous and vocal opposition. His advisers allegedly urged him to adopt this approach in order to deny the media an opportunity to defame him. Clearly this failed to deter them, and the latest revelations in Yediot Aharonot indicate that this campaign is only the first of a series of similar efforts to discredit him. To quote Netanyahu: “The closer we get to the elections, the more mudslinging there will be against me.”
Netanyahu is a complex personality and he is surrounded by many bitter enemies. He deeply disappointed those who initially believed that he would become a great prime minister and some of them will never forgive him. But compared to prime ministers who preceded and succeeded him, history is likely to treat him more kindly than his critics.
Whatever deficiencies and errors in judgment Netanyahu made as a prime minister, he did succeed in reducing terrorism to the lowest level and was the first to demand reciprocity in return for concessions to the Palestinians. And few will deny that he subsequently proved to have been an outstanding finance minister.
Today, given the broad contempt toward Olmert’s government, Netanyahu is clearly emerging as the frontrunner, and he may well be granted a second opportunity to show his mettle as a prime minister.
It is utterly unethical for a clique of journalists to divert attention from the real issues confronting the nation by indulging in the systematic defamation of a man who does not find favor in their eyes or those of their employers. In these very difficult times, instead of indulging in sleazy efforts to personally discredit the leader of the opposition, the media has an obligation to convey, analyze and either praise or criticize the policies Netanyahu has undertaken to implement if elected as prime minister. It will then rest with the people to determine whether or not they will support him.
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