(April 15, 2019 / JNS) As pundits and pollsters reiterated all last week: another re-election, another case of media bias against Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, 69, won his fourth consecutive and fifth overall term on April 9 that, pending him forming another right-wing coalition, will make him the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history, surpassing its founding father and first premier, David Ben-Gurion.
Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, told JNS that the press viewed Netanyahu’s platform incorrectly.
“Almost all media coverage of Netanyahu and the election makes the same mistake, presenting his victory as another triumph of the political right,” he said. “But in reality, Netanyahu is more of a centrist than a right-winger. It’s why Gantz’s policy positions were so similar to Netanyahu’s, why there are restive factions to Netanyahu’s right, and it’s the reason he keeps getting re-elected—because he represents the large center/center-right consensus of Israeli society.”
Hence, continued Pollak, “liberal reporters are too ideologically blinded to see this; plus, they are eager to present Israel as a far-right country deserving of liberal contempt. The result is they keep being surprised by Netanyahu’s popularity and they keep misinterpreting his electoral victories.”
Simon Plosker, managing editor for HonestReporting, a non-governmental organization that monitors anti-Israel media bias, told JNS, “Throughout this election cycle, you could sense the wishful thinking from significant parts of the mainstream media as they reported the campaigns through their own framing of the story, rather than through an understanding of the issues that concerned ordinary Israelis. So we see Netanyahu’s victory through the prism of what it means for the Palestinians. A potential Bibi government is presented as further to the right than the last even though the relative weakening of the likely coalition partners makes this objectively untrue.”
Sean Durns, senior research analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, told JNS, “There was some good reporting, and some not so good. And there were, of course, specific issues with the various outlets.”
“Or consider The Washington Post’s coverage of Israeli and Palestinian politics, which continues to be tremendously lopsided,” said Durns. “In the last few months, the newspaper ran no less than 20 reports and articles on the Israeli elections.”
“By contrast, the Post filed zero reports on the recent appointment of a new Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, and has failed to detail other recent moves by P.A. [chief] Mahmoud Abbas,” he continued. “This imbalance has carried over to the paper’s editorial side, with Post World Views columnist Ishaan Tharoor grimly hinting that the re-election of Israeli [prime minister] Bibi Netanyahu would lead to the death of a ‘two-state solution.’ ”
However, said Durns, “in four years and numerous articles on the peace process, Tharoor has not once noted that it is the Palestinian leadership alone that has continually rejected offers for statehood in exchange for peace.”
‘Divisive’ and ‘bombastic’
Rich Noyes, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center, told JNS that the media coverage of the election was identical to the previous one, with a dose of hypocrisy this time around.
“In many ways, liberal journalists are recycling the scripts they used in covering the 2015 Israeli elections. Back then, they scolded Netanyahu for ‘hardline’ or even ‘racist’ rhetoric that “went for the gutter,” he said, quoting New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.
“But the media were largely uninterested in the fact that the Obama administration had actually used U.S. government funds to aid a group opposed to Netanyahu,” Noyes continued, referring to the U.S. State Department giving the controversial group OneVoice $350,000 to influence the election against Netanyahu.
A U.S. Senate subcommittee report concluded that the organization didn’t misuse the taxpayer dollars in a direct attempt to unseat the prime minister even though it supported the anti-Netanyahu campaign by the V15 grassroots movement.
Noyes also noted that “this time around, the media are still distressed by the ‘divisive and bombastic’ Netanyahu, but also seem upset by the close relationship between the Trump administration and the Israeli government, as if that’s somehow a bad thing.”
“Even before the Trump era, many reporters identified Netanyahu and his party with American conservative Republicans, and treated them with the same reflexive disdain they employ in covering our domestic politics,” he said. “Trump’s affinity for Netanyahu—and the steps he’s taken on the Golan Heights and moving the U.S. embassy—has only made liberal reporters more suspicious of the Israeli leader, although these elections results, like those of 2015, show that the liberal media’s wrath is not what it used to be.”