Media Microscope: Bye-Bye Bibi
Jun 30, 2021 | Allon Lee
The end of Binyamin Netanyahu’s 12-year reign as Israeli prime minister – at the hands of an unprecedented power-sharing coalition of eight parties representing the full complement of Israeli political views – was a magnet for the media, especially the ABC.
On ABC News Radio (June 3), AIJAC research associate and academic Dr. Ran Porat said the new Government – which includes the Islamic Ra’am party led by Mansour Abbas in a breakthrough for Israeli Arab political participation – was “a true revolution”, especially given “all the riots and tension between Arabs and Jews, just a few weeks earlier.”
Likewise, in the Canberra Times (June 7), US columnist Trudy Rubin said, “coming on the heels of the latest Israeli-Hamas war, which sparked serious clashes between Arab and Israeli citizens of Israel, Abbas’ pivotal role is all the more vital.”
In the Guardian Australia (June 7), Israeli analyst Daniella Peled said the “disparate” coalition was motivated by “the burning desire” to remove Netanyahu but added snarkily that its leaders are “unite[d]” by the “consensus that… the conflict with the Palestinians can be managed in perpetuity.”
On ABC Radio National “Religion & Ethics Report” (June 16), Haaretz writer Noa Landau explained that it’s not only the inclusion of an Arab Islamist party that makes the new Government special, but the inclusion of women, migrants from the former USSR and Ethiopia and “a minister with disabilities” as well.
ABC Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner’s online analysis (June 4) played down the role of Alternate PM Yair Lapid – who commands 17 seats to new Israeli PM Naftali Bennett’s six in the new coalition and did most of the hard yards in negotiating it. Joyner name-checked Lapid only twice but Bennett 21 times, giving the latter the lion’s share of credit for assembling the coalition.
In contrast, left-wing Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar questioned Bennett’s popularity, noting on ABC Radio “PM” (June 14), that he secured only “6% of the vote.”
An Australian editorial (June 15) said Bennett “is on the hard right of Israeli politics” and he “explicitly rejects a two-state solution,” but stressed that the new coalition Government “shows how wrongheaded assertions are that Israel is an apartheid state.”
But on ABC News Radio (May 31), AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro qualified Bennett’s reputation, explaining that, since last year, he agrees “in principle… Palestinians should be able to have a state, but” Bennett has conditions regarding “what kind of state that will be.”
ABC reporter Matt Bevan’s June 14 backgrounder on Radio National’s “Breakfast” used clips from a 2013 interview with Bennett and said he has a “vision and mission [that] absolutely does not include a Palestinian state.”
However, when shown evidence Bennett had denied a controversial quote attributed to him, Bevan added a correction on the ABC website.
Assessments of Netanyahu’s legacy were mixed.
Bar Ilan University Professor Gerald Steinberg told ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (June 4) that “Netanyahu gets a lot of credit” for Israel’s economic success based on its hi-tech industries, but noted he presided over an increase in economic inequality.
The Age editorialised (June 4) that “for those who support a tough line against the Palestinians, he has certainly delivered, backing the expansion of Israeli settlements into the West Bank and slow-walking any progress on a two-state solution.” On June 15, the Age ran Bloomberg’s Timothy O’Brien who compared Netanyahu to former US President Donald Trump and claimed Netanyahu’s removal “offers an example of how to fight authoritarians run amok.”
Speaking to ABC Radio “PM” (June 14), New Israel Fund Australia’s Liam Getreu said “there’s no way that I think we could call Netanyahu’s 12 years of premiership [a] success.”
The Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan offered a more nuanced analysis (June 5), questioning Netanyahu’s hardline reputation. He praised Netanyahu’s “pioneering” success in strengthening relations with Asian nations and using shared concern over Iran to negotiate “four new peace treaties with Muslim nations: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.”
On ABC TV “Mornings” (June 14), academic Mark Baker predicted that US President Joe Biden is going to find it difficult to “re-engage…with the peace process because Netanyahu effectively… killed the Oslo peace process along with Hamas and others.” This is grossly unfair, given the strides Netanyahu made in the US-mediated 2013-14 negotiations that were ultimately spiked by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.