Lashing ‘propagandists,’ justice minister refuses to back bill protecting reporters

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Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Wednesday launched a verbal assault against two of Israel’s most prominent TV news stations, during a discussion of a law intended to protect journalists.

“They are propagandists who make propaganda, which has nothing to do with journalistic work,” Levin said of Channels 12 and 13, the two leading commercial mainstream news networks.

It was the latest attack on the media by a prominent member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, which has long accused the press of bias, portraying it as a leftist bastion in cahoots with authorities attempting to push Likud from power.

Journalists have defended their work and decried the criticism, accusing politicians of inciting attacks on reporters.

The legislation under discussion, proposed by opposition MK Idan Roll (Yesh Atid), would levy stiffer penalties for assaults on journalists.

Levin said he would not back Roll’s legislation and suggested that the Yesh Atid lawmaker focus instead on passing laws that will benefit the broader public

“I suggest you come and demand that there really be a free press here [in Israel] … not blatant propaganda,” he said.

Levin claimed that the media atmosphere in Israel is “worse than what exists in totalitarian countries.”

Illustrative: The Channel 12 TV studio, February 23, 2021, with a graphic showing the latest pre-election poll findings: In light blue, the anti-Netanyahu bloc at 62 seats; in dark blue, the pro-Netanyahu bloc at 47 seats; in white between them, Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party on 11 seats. (Channel 12 screenshot)

“There people know that the broadcasts are pure political propaganda. Here it is under the guise of cutting, professional journalism,” he continued.

Addressing the press, Levin said, “Who do you think you are working for? No one believes [your] stories.”

The justice minister’s remarks were condemned by the Israel Press Council, which said he gave a green line to attacks on journalists who don’t toe the government’s line.

“We are sorry that this is how Israel’s justice minister treats those without whom there is no true democracy even as attempts to harm journalists are on the rise,” the IPC said.

Last month, a news crew reporting in Tel Aviv was assaulted with pepper spray by a man who called them al-Jazeera, echoing a tweet from a government minister who fumed over a poorly-worded headline that appeared to accuse Netanyahu of ordering airstrikes on women and children.

At the time, Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, who has sought to strengthen the staunchly pro-Netanyahu Channel 14 at the expense of its rivals, decried the attacks on journalists. “Violence can’t be used and broadcasts can’t be disrupted, even if you don’t like them. Simply not. The only way to affect tendentious and slanted reporting in the media is with your remote control,” he said.

In late April, during a massive right-wing rally urging the government to unfreeze its highly controversial judicial overhaul plan, a glass bottle was thrown at Channel 13 reporters covering the demonstration, narrowly missing them.

A month earlier, ahead of another right-wing rally, a Channel 13 team was attacked by members of the far-right La Familia group, causing reporter Yossi Eli to be hospitalized with a broken rib and suspected damage to his spleen and dealing a head injury to cameraman Avi Cashman. Following the beating, the station said  it would provide news teams with two bodyguards when they cover demonstrations surrounding the controversial legislation.

On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters staged a fiery demonstration outside Levin’s home, as they vowed to ramp up protests over the advancement of a bill to curb the High Court of Justice’s power to review government decisions.

Opponents of the government’s judicial overhaul plans protest outside Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s home in Modiin, June 27, 2023. (Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)

Police arrested six of the protesters after they burned tires and attempted to block the road in Levin’s hometown of Modi’in, leading to scuffles as some demonstrators tried to prevent the police patrol cars from leaving.

Levin later released a searing statement in which he claimed that “fortunately or miraculously,” the protesters didn’t torch an apartment in his residential building, and seemed to accuse police of being intentionally slow in responding.

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