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Beating down Netanyahu to save Israel: How media continues to distort facts

Ramzy Baroud

Published: Updated:

This is what US and Israeli mainstream media are essentially telling us: The problem is not Israel and its occupation of Palestinian land – it is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli leader, who has galvanized American elites in favor of Israel for decades, is being thrown under the bus by the very media that once idealized him and validated his numerous mischiefs and under-handed showmanship.

But the media, Israeli and American alike, are only defaming Netanyahu’s image to save Israel’s. Nothing personal. For them, Israel comes first. It always does. This means the truth must be twisted: facts must be bent, and reality misrepresented.

In a recent New Yorker article, Ruth Margalit, held no punches as she listed all of Netanyahu’s alleged crimes, his massive corruption racket, four open investigations and requests for indictments. More are likely to follow: bribery, quid-for-quo dirty dealings, nepotism, favoritism, cliquism – the list is endless.

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Yet, somehow, she spared Israel. Her information, views and conclusions were all the outcome of her interviews with Israelis and based on Israeli media reports. Palestinians, Netanyahu’s prime victims, were rarely a factor.

“It is an irony of no small proportions that Netanyahu may, in time, be viewed as the instigator of his own undoing: by neutering political debate in Israel, he has made the focus personal, drawing attention to the murky underside of his governing,” she concludes.

Israelis refer to their country as “the only democracy in the Middle East” – a defense mechanism used to divert from the fact that apartheid, racially-structured political systems, are inherently undemocratic

Ramzy Baroud

Degree of corruption

But how personal is this affair really? How could this degree of corruption, so involved and convoluted, reaching many individuals, media companies, commercial interests, politicians, judges, lackeys and advisors, be discussed in isolation from Israel’s own corrupt political system, predicated on ruthless neoliberal economics, rich oligarchs, powerful lobbyists and more?

In the Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor discussed Netanyahu’s corruption within the context of US foreign policy, the Israeli prime minister’s close ties with US President Donald Trump, and Netanyahu’s recent speech at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC’s) annual policy conference in Washington.

Yet again, the issue is Netanyahu only. AIPAC, a group so powerful it largely determines US foreign policy on Palestine, and the rest of the Middle East, is mentioned as background fodder for the story.

There is no intimation whatsoever that perhaps Netanyahu, a favorite among AIPAC’s rightwing constituency, is but a natural outcome of this vastly corrupt system split between two entities, one that rules Israel (and subjugates Palestinians) at home, and another that relentlessly advocates the Israeli agenda abroad.

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It is this two-headed creature that produced Netanyahu and will continue producing others, as it did in the past. Yes, corruption in Israel is endemic, and Netanyahu seems to have utilized the crooked system to his advantage better than any previous leader.

It is quite telling that the first police recommendation to charge Netanyahu with corruption was back in March 2000 but went unheeded – the then-attorney general ordered the case shut and Netanyahu returned a few years later to the helm of Israeli politics to serve as Prime Minister of Israel for three more terms.

Despite his corruption in the last decade being common knowledge, he still managed to secure Israeli votes. In fact, if elections take place today, Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud Party will win even more seats, despite all that has been divulged about him.

Netanyahu’s enablers are an army of corrupt officials, businessmen, media moguls and the likes. Their degenerate apparatus is like an octopus whose outreach can be felt in every aspect of life.

Larger phenomenon

But there should be no denying that the corruption racket is, in fact, a microcosm of the larger phenomenon that has afflicted Israel as a whole, as articulated by columnist Brant Roberts in a recent article. “That he is being charged is far from surprising,” he wrote.

“What is surprising is that his tenure has included indiscriminate bombing raids and a decade-long blockade of Gaza, violations of international law, massive deportations of African refugees, imprisonment of Palestinian children and countless human-rights violations against Palestinians.”

None of that is the work of Netanyahu alone, but also the by-product of the collective moral corruption of a highly militarized society held unaccountable for its own destructive ideas about racial and religious supremacy.

But only a few are making this obvious connection. Worse, some journalists are erecting pseudo-journalistic smokescreens to divert from the discussion altogether. In an article published in Al-Monitor, Israeli journalist, Shlomi Eldar, went to unprecedented lengths to divert attention from the corruption in his country.

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He spoke of Palestinian journalists – all speaking on condition of anonymity – who “applauded” and “admired” Israeli media coverage of Netanyahu’s corruption scandals.

This same “admired” Israeli media has largely supported Netanyahu’s devastating wars on Gaza, relentlessly defending the illegal occupation of Palestine and serving as a shield for Israel’s stained reputation on the international stage.

This is hardly praiseworthy even if it arguably provides decent coverage for the Netanyahu investigations. But Eldar’s journalism aside, one would think that seeking Palestinian admiration for Israeli media should be the least urgent question to address at this time.

What Israelis are trying to tell us is that, despite all of its problems, Israel is an admirable, transparent, law-abiding and democratic society. This is precisely the motivation behind Eldar’s article. The outcome was a familiar act of intellectual hubris that we have grown familiar with.

Many of Israel’s friends in western governments and corporate media have also contributed to this opportunistic style of journalism; they come to the rescue during trying times to find ways to praise Israel and chastise Palestinians and Arabs, even if the latter are completely irrelevant to the discussion.

Diverting from the argument

This Israeli obsession with diverting from the argument is an old tactic as Israel fashions an Arab enemy to beat down, chastise and blame whenever it is in the dock for whatever problem. In the final analysis, Israel somehow maintains the upper hand and self-granted moral ascendency.

For this reason, Israelis refer to their country as “the only democracy in the Middle East” – a defense mechanism used to divert from the fact that apartheid, racially-structured political systems, are inherently undemocratic.

In some strange way, corruption is one of few things that is truly normal about Israel, for it is a shared quality with every country in the world. What is not normal, and should never be normalized, is that Israel is the only country in the world that continues to practice Apartheid, many years after it was disbanded in South Africa.

Israeli, and US media would rather delay that discussion indefinitely – a gutless act that is neither admirable nor praiseworthy.

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Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London, 2018). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.