Much of the Israeli press has spent this week slamming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for his decision not to fly to Pretoria for Nelson Mandela's funeral – a decision prompted by budget and security considerations. But veteran journalist and public figure Uri Elitzur says the press would have lynched “Bibi” Netanyahu if he had gone to the funeral, too.
"If Netanyahu had flown to Mandela's funeral, the flight and security would have cost 7 million shekels and the press would have crucified him for the expenses,” Elitzur wrote. “Now that he has not flown, it is biting him for lack of respect for the occasion. It is not really criticism because no matter what he does, whether this or the opposite, the media gobbles him up.
"The press is currently in the peak of a huge wave of Bibiphobia, and the prime minister can do nothing against it. They'll bite him no matter what he decides. During his first term he would sometimes jokingly say that if he holds a press conference on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and shows reporters that he can walk on water, the next day's headline will be: 'Netanyahu can't swim.'”
Elitzur was Netanyahu's chief of staff during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, which ended in 1999.
Elitzur, who is deputy editor of Makor Rishon newspaper, notes that it appeared for some time that the press had matured and “had been weaned, at least partly, from the primitive Bibiphobia that possessed it in the 90s.” The establishment of Yisrael Hayom, which was “a kind of punishment for the Israeli press for the sin of its reckless and biased criticism of Netanyahu,” taught the press a small lesson and created some balance, he opines. Yisrael Hayom is owned by Sheldon Adelson, who is a supporter of Netanyahu. It tends to be less critical of the prime minister than the rest of Israel's mainstream media.
"But today it turns out that the Bibiphobia is still here, and it only goes up and down in waves according to some unknown internal rhythm,” he adds. “The criticism and the demands for transparency regarding the Netanyahu's household expenses, which are justified in and of themselves, are as if some chain has been undone, and the biting dog again burst into the street gleefully.”
If it hadn't been Prime Minister Netanyahu who did not go to the Mandela funeral, but another prime minister – like Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak or Ariel Sharon – no press outlet would have made a big deal out of it, Elitzur says. “But Netanyahu did not go to the event, and he told the truth about the reason, too: because of the expenses. In other words, only last week you pounced on me and bit me so hard because of expenses of 3 million shekels per year, what will you do to me for 7 million shekels a day? Why should I put my head into your cement mixer when you are in the middle of one of your fits?”