Israelis are paying, and they don’t even know it. Israeli society has been inundated by fake news for many long weeks, more than all this season’s floods combined. News that is foolish, twisted, detached from the truth and lacking facts is flooding the media, and no one is saying a word.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the Temple Mount. The Biden administration did not condemn National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to Judaism’s holy site, which contradicts the best commentators’ reports. International criticism of Ben-Gvir’s tour of the Temple Mount was not even “sharp.” There was one Jordanian reprimand, several hiccups in Arab capitals and the United Nations, and that was it. Routine construction in Judea and Samaria receives harsher rebuke from the West. Not to mention that not a single rocket fell in Israel, thank God, and this is what is most important.
Moreover, Ben-Gvir’s visit did not cause the postponement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United Arab Emirates—because such a visit is still in the planning stages. Generally speaking, the UAE has already invited Israel’s premier for a visit. The two states have a mutual desire for this visit, but the timing is still being coordinated. Ben-Gvir also did not “stand down” or postpone his visit to the Temple Mount after supposedly being urged by Netanyahu to do so, as media outlets reported on Monday evening. Therefore, they ate crow on Tuesday morning.
But not only regarding Ben-Gvir. The Haredi “Netzah Yehuda” battalion has been sent to the Golan this week to upgrade its abilities and to become an organic part of the IDF. In contradiction to reports by Haaretz, this was decided long before the incidents in Judea and Samaria that it was involved in occurred.
What else? Transportation and Road Safety Minister Miri Regev did not close the carpool lanes, as was claimed. Rather, she only stated she would examine the matter—a necessary move for a new minister who identifies a problem. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich did not have the Finance Ministry director-general remain in his position—this nonsense was also written this week—but instead brought in the brilliant lawyer Shlomi Heisler. And the list goes on.
The weekly chain of lies continues the pile of nonsense that has been written about the new government since the elections. What have they not said? That Israel will cease being a democracy, that the government will harm the LGBTQ community, that the police will become political, that the Israel Defense Forces will recruit 70 reserve battalions, that Smotrich ruined the IDF’s chain of command and that MK Orit Strock would endorse certain doctors denying medical treatment to homosexuals.
Lo and behold, the government was formed, and its first act was 30 Orthodox MKs, national-religious and right-wing, including the slandered Strock, voting in favor of a gay Knesset speaker. Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom, neither France nor Spain put an LGBTQ individual third in line in the governmental hierarchy. Even the Israeli left has not done this.
The Likud—a national-liberal party—was the one to initiate the precedent, and did not even need to argue over it with its religious coalition partners. But hey, why let facts ruin a good story?
The great tragedy is that many good people fall for these prophecies of panic. Even right-wing voters and Likud supporters have forgotten that the ones currently feeding them all this nonsense regarding “the most extreme government in the history of Israel” are the same ones who predicted a “political tsunami” a decade ago, or said in the current decade that “Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] will not procure even one vaccine.”
The bitter reality is that most of the Israeli media works for the opposition. This is how things have always been here. Last week, they were the ones that inflated Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount to alarming proportions. If not for this dramatic media coverage—which Ben-Gvir did not suffer from—the 13-minute trip on the tenth of the Jewish month of Tevet would have been relatively uneventful.
Take, for example, the U.S. response. First, U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides—who prays at the Western Wall every week—did not even respond to the visit. He did not tweet, send a message or initiate any other action. What did he do? He only responded to the media outlets that requested a response from him. In other words, the media outlets and the reporters decided to put Ben-Gvir on the front page after he visited the Temple Mount.
But what’s more, Nides did not condemn Ben-Gvir. Neither did the U.S. State Department. They indeed expressed their doubts, and praised the status quo. But they were cautious with their words. They knew Israel had not violated the status quo; Ben-Gvir was not the first minister to visit the Temple Mount.
What’s more, according to American values, opposing the right of Jews to visit the Temple Mount constitutes a violation of freedom of religion. So, according to their own codes, Americans have difficulty condemning a legitimate religious action. Therefore, they chose their words carefully, and even prepared to veto a United Nations Security Council, should the need to do so have arisen.
But there was no need. Neither was there a crisis. There was anticipated, calculated criticism, and that was the end of it. If only all diplomatic crises with Israel were like this. The thing is, in Israel the facts don’t bother anybody trying to write a good story.
An irresponsible opposition
The media’s reception of Netanyahu, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and their coalition partners contradicts those same reporters’ and commentators’ dedication to the previous government. When then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid held the reins, there were flattering articles about the excitement with which the government offices received them, and about the sweet tours the two held with the enthusiastic workers to show their interest. Wonderful.
The ministers who just took office also visited the government’s branches and departments. They, too, were received with starry eyes in several cases. I attended two ministry handovers last Monday, and spent hours at the Knesset. People’s enthusiasm was plain. After all, most of the public, especially the Jews, voted for the new coalition. None of this made it into the media. The headlines instead focused on “the Likud’s jobs”; how could they not?
Moreover, warped media coverage causes real damage. First, on the security level. Former MK Yehuda Glick warned on Twitter that “the incitement against Ben-Gvir in the media and across the globe is the tailwind to terror and a wink to all, hinting to throw him to the dogs!” Glick finished with an almost macabre joke: “Don’t ask how I know.” Glick, a prominent Temple Mount activist, was shot four times by a Palestinian terrorist in 2014 outside the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.
Second, the political level. Let’s imagine that instead of squeezing the already-dry anti-Netanyahu lemon, opposition leader Yair Lapid had instead taken a moral and responsible stance. What if he had said, “Freedom of worship is a basic right, certainly in democracies. Although I oppose this visit, it does not violate the status quo”?
A statement such as this from the former premier would have caused a regional and international domino effect. The UAE—a tolerant country that sanctifies the freedom of worship and has built a magnificent inter-religion complex, including a mosque, church and synagogue—could not have disagreed with his words. In the face of such a clear voice from the Israeli opposition, they might even have been embarrassed to act against Israel in the United Nations. The Western nations would have lessened their criticism even more.
A responsible stance on the part of Lapid would have echoed in the Israeli media choir and in the foreign media afterward.
But Lapid decided to attack, providing legitimacy to the anti-Israeli food chain, from the left of him (Lapid) to the Gaza Strip. This is the price we are paying for the fabrications congesting the biased public discussion. We are lucky that this round’s price was not too steep.
Ariel Kahana is Israel Hayom’s senior diplomatic commentator.
Originally published by Israel Hayom.