Herzog Netanyahu
Herzog and Netanyahu. (photo credit:REUTERS)


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog took turns volleying back and forth over the connection between government and media, in a stormy debate on the final day of the Knesset’s summer session on Wednesday.

The debate was supposed to be about the Likud’s ideological mentor, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, in honor of Thursday’s anniversary of his death in 1940.

But Netanyahu took advantage of the stage to advance his idea of adding competition to commercial television in Israel.

“Jabotinsky believed in a free market, competition, and the right of every citizen to make choices,” Netanyahu said. “There has been a fierce struggle here to prevent competition in the communications market, and it may be difficult, but we are determined to overcome it.”

Netanyahu noted media outlets in the United States and United Kingdom that have different points of view, singling out The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal in the US and theThe Times of London and The Guardian in the UK.

“No one there is being accused of taking control, but in Israel, God forbid if there will be a different opinion,” he said, over heckling from opposition MKs.

Netanyahu bashed Channel 2 and the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, mentioning the latter by name, accusing them both of lack of balance.

He questioned why opposition MKs want to maintain the status quo.

“The opposition is working against opening the communications marketplace to competition, claiming it is for the cause of freedom of expression,” Netanyahu said.

“This of course is not pluralism or liberalism. It may not be fascism, but it is closer to Bolshevism.”

Herzog responded that had Jabotinsky been alive today, he would be ashamed by the behavior of his ideological heirs. He singled out Netanyahu’s efforts against the press and Culture Minister Miri Regev’s against cultural outlets, and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin’s against the legal establishment.

“We need more true followers of Jabotinsky in his political camp in Israel today,” Herzog said. “You who claim to be continuing his path, who praise his legacy, act the opposite! You besmirch and violate his legacy!” In a rare step, Netanyahu then asked to return to the Knesset rostrum, where he dared Herzog to come out in favor of competition in the media industry.

Herzog responded that he is indeed in favor, but not if Netanyahu remains communications minister and continues to act in a way that harms freedom of expression and the press.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin responded by mocking Herzog for portraying himself as the true heir to Jabotinsky. Elkin said Israel’s first prime minister and the Labor Party’s mentor, David Ben-Gurion, was likely turning over in his grave.

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich accused Netanyahu of “pathetic, shameless cynicism” for using Jabotinsky to justify his policies against a free press.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post