The country’s leader stood in front of a large crowd of fervent supporters and denounced the media as “left-wing” purveyors of “fake news.” The media are “thought police,” he said, and “God forbid if you think differently from them!”
Currently under investigation, he pointed to “an obsessive, unprecedented witch-hunt against me and my family, seeking to overthrow the government.”
We’ve come to expect such statements from U.S. President Donald Trump whenever he holds a campaign-style rally for his supporters. But, it wasn’t Trump speaking at a rally in Tel Aviv on August 9. It was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to a crowd of Likud Party supporters bussed in from all over Israel.
Netanyahu is currently facing two corruption investigations – for allegedly accepting gifts illegally and bribery – which directly affect him, and there are two other investigations in which he could be implicated (see this JTA article). As well, his wife, Sara Netanyahu, is facing investigation for allegedly diverting state funds to pay for personal expenses.
Netanyahu’s response to these investigations, it seems, is to copy from Trump’s playbook of blaming the messenger and attacking the media. And, just as we’ve seen so many times at Trump rallies, members of the media attending the Netanyahu rally in Tel Aviv were subject to threats of violence from some of the prime minister’s more fanatical supporters.
Although their systems of government are different, the United States and Israel are both democracies and in democratic societies leaders must be held to account if they break the law and must face investigation if there is evidence they have broken the law. And, freedom of the press – to report the news and to offer commentary – is an essential component of any democracy. When leaders seek to divert attention from their problems by scapegoating or attempting to discredit legitimate media outlets or media practitioners, they are, in fact, attacking the institution of democracy itself.
Netanyahu insists there is nothing to the corruption allegations, that they are just a “fake news” conspiracy in the same way that Trump insists similarly about allegations of Russian collusion in his 2016 election campaign. And, maybe, that’s what the investigations in Israel and the United States will determine and put the issues and allegations to rest.
However, police and other investigative bodies must do their jobs and the media must report on investigations and findings. Democracy depends on it.
Sharon and Bram
In addition to my work in Jewish community journalism, I’ve had many decades of experience as an activist in the folk music community. In the 1970s, I watched several Canadian folksingers become stars making children’s music. Performers like Raffi, Fred Penner, and the Toronto-based trio of Sharon, Lois and Bram have been household names over the past 40 years in almost any Canadian household with children.
Sadly, Lois Lilienstein of Sharon, Lois and Bram passed away in 2015. But, Sharon Hampson and Bram Morrison have continued as a duo – Sharon and Bram – and will be here in Ottawa at the Soloway Jewish Community on Sunday, September 17, 3 pm, for a family concert as part of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Annual Campaign Kickoff.
Last summer, I was an MC at the annual Montreal Folk Festival on the Canal and introduced Sharon and Bram to an adoring crowd of thousands of kids and their parents (many of whom themselves had grown up on Sharon, Lois and Bram). I’m happy to report that Sharon and Bram have lost none of their magic and held the crowd enthralled for a delightful hour-long performance.
Sharon and Bram’s family concert on September 17 will be a treat, as they say, for kids of all ages.