Freedom of the Press Isn’t Dying in Israel. So Why Say It Is?

August 3, 2016 | Liel Leibovitz
About the author: Liel Leibovitz, a journalist, media critic, and video-game scholar, is a senior writer for the online magazine Tablet.

Last weekend’s New York Times included an opinion piece by Ruth Margalit—a New York-based Israeli writer—titled “How Benjamin Netanyahu Is Crushing Israel’s Free Press.” As the Israeli prime minister is doing nothing of the sort, Liel Leibovitz wonders how Margalit came to this conclusion:

You would hardly believe the depraved things Jerusalem’s demonic despot would do to solidify his grasp on power. Bibi, Margalit solemnly informs us, appoints people who agree with him politically to key positions in government. Shocked yet? Get this: he also has his office call newspapers and websites and try to spin the news in his favor.

If such benighted moves fail to shake you to the core, if you still don’t feel the chill of fascism’s shadow, Margalit has one last bit of damning evidence for you. Take a deep breath: to crush the precious freedom flower that is Israel’s press, Bibi, that monster, is opening up the media market to more competition. . . .

Rather than dignify the assertion that Israel’s press is under assault—an uproarious proposition to anyone who actually consumes the Israeli press and knows it to be largely dedicated to fierce criticism of the prime minister, his cabinet, his worldview, and anything associated therewith—I’ll try to consider why so many of Israel’s reporters, enjoying robust liberties as they do, still nonetheless imagine themselves under attack.

The reason, Leibovitz writes, has something to do with the fact that the Israeli press is overwhelmingly left-wing, even as the Israeli people lean rightward:

Out of ideas, out of time, and out of touch with reality, the small cabal that huddles in Tel Aviv’s newsrooms can hardly believe that the unwashed masses could be so impudent as to demand media that faithfully reflect reality, or that at least offer more than a singular and rigid point of view. With no one left to listen [to them] in Israel, they turn to the New York Times, which . . . is quickly becoming the refuge of the blame-Israel-only crowd. It’s sad to see a reporter who should’ve known better abandon any attempt at insight or nuance and turn instead to the Times for the most banal sort of affirmation, and it’s sad to see the Times continue to publish such drivel without attempting any real depth or understanding.

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