How Netanyahu Lies to and Manipulates the U.S. Media
As U.S. interviews with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proliferate, so do his half-truths and duplicitous bluffs – as well as revealing glimpses of the next moves in his constitutional coup.
Aug 7, 2023
“Simpleminded though his critics found his ideas and remarks, cynical and manipulative as he may have been in actuality, he seemed to believe every word he said” – Arthur Miller on Ronald Reagan, 2001
Benjamin Netanyahu loves American television. So much so that in the last few months, he has given no fewer than 22 interviews to U.S. news outlets. During that same time, he granted just two TV interviews in Israel: both to Channel 14 – a sycophantic, right-wing Israeli hybrid of Newsmax and RT (Russia Today).
For many years, he was a darling of the U.S. media. He speaks “American,” is a master of one-liners, sounds forceful and presents doomsday scenarios that are always good for television ratings.
His talent was natural, embellished by the late Lilyan Wilder – in her prime a TV broadcasting and public-speaking guru, author of “7 Steps to Fearless Speaking” and “Talk Your Way to Success.”
She was a great coach. I know, because she was my coach too, and after losing the 1999 election to Ehud Barak, Netanyahu kept on using her services and we bumped into each other on several occasions.
But now there is the “Strange Case of Dr. Benjamin Jekyll and Mr. Netanyahu Hyde,” to borrow from Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel. The Netanyahu who rarely speaks in Israel is not the same Netanyahu who frequently speaks in the United States. Why? Because his image in America is far more important to him; because he believes that whatever he says there will reverberate in Israel; and, most importantly, he feels he can comfortably manipulate American interviewers with immunity and impunity – so much so that it has been remarked that any U.S. TV show getting an interview request from his office should ask itself critically: Why is he approaching us?
Analyzing the things he has said sheds light on two somewhat contradictory themes: On the one hand, he constantly manipulates his interviewers, disseminating with ease half-truths and selective and partial facts, knowing that even the most knowledgeable, savvy and prepared American interviewer cannot conceivably master the legal intricacies and political nuts and bolts of the constitutional coup he launched seven months ago.
On the other hand – perhaps carelessly, perhaps deliberately – his U.S. interviews provide clear glimpses and signs on his next moves. While in Israel he talks sanctimoniously about “dialogue’ and “broad consensus,” on U.S. television he vows to plow on with his legislation, even detailing the specifics: The next target is a major change to the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee, as he indicated to Bloomberg TV on Sunday.
While in Israel he and his cohorts talk about “halting” the judicial overhaul, on American TV he explains that, in the absence of agreement and consent, he will continue thanks to a Knesset majority.
Here is a sample of some of the duplicitous and manipulative things he said across those 22 interviews to various U.S. media outlets:
■ He falsely and casually says to his American interviewers – and, through them, the American public – that Israel’s “reasonableness standard” is the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down an amendment to the U.S. Constitution on grounds of unconstitutionality.
Wrong. To the undiscerning U.S. viewer, this of course sounds ludicrous. But he conveniently and manipulatively neglects to mention the critically important part: According to Article V of the U.S. Constitution, a constitutional amendment requires approval of two-thirds of Congress – both the House of Representatives and the Senate – and then a three-quarters majority of state legislatures. In other words, 329 representatives, 66 senators and 38 states.
Does Israel have such checks and balances, or anything remotely similar? No.
Furthermore, in Israel, changing a Basic Law is relatively easy. There have been 60 such amendments legislated since the year 2000, and the Supreme Court did not intervene arguing “unconstitutionality.”
Unlike other constitutional democracies, Israel does not have “eternity clauses” – those core fundamental laws that constitute and reflect society, and are much tougher to amend. Did Netanyahu bother to mention that? Of course not.
■ He falsely claims that amending the unreasonableness standard is done because the existing law enables the Supreme Court to “strike down Knesset decisions.” Wrong. The law (in the Basic Law on the Judiciary) has nothing to do with judicial review of the legislature. It is part of an administrative law pertaining to unreasonable decisions and appointments made by the government, i.e., the executive branch.
■ He falsely claims that critics contend that amending the unreasonableness standard is “the end of democracy.” If that’s the case, he says, “then there are no democracies” as this clause does not exist in any democracy. Wrong. This very law exists in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, to name but a few countries. As for the “end of democracy” argument – true. But the criticism relates to the whole of his constitutional coup.
Open gallery view
■ He falsely claims that Supreme Court justices “select themselves.” “You hit the nail on the head,” he gleefully complimented Fox News’ Mark Levin when the latter uttered this nonsense. This is wrong, misleading and plain disinformation.
The Judicial Appointments Committee is comprised of three justices, two lawmakers, two ministers (including the justice minister) and two representatives of the Israel Bar Association. This composition ensures mutual veto power, and justices most certainly do not “select themselves.”
■ He falsely claims that he wants his corruption trial to be televised. Wrong. Other than trying to imitate his soulmate victim Donald Trump, this was never requested. His lawyers never asked that the trial in Jerusalem District Court be televised. In fact, they objected to Israeli media outlets asking that segments be made public.
■ He falsely claims in the U.S. media that the Israel Defense Forces is intact and its readiness levels are high. He knows this is not true. He knows what is happening in the air force, Military Intelligence units and special operations units, which are heavily reliant on reserve commanders volunteering on a weekly or monthly basis.
He then falsely cites a petition by “100,000 reservists” who support the “judicial overhaul” and object to the “several thousands” who refuse to serve. Wrong on many levels. Let’s break that down. First, no one refused service. Reservists said they will no longer volunteer if he proceeds with his assault on democracy. Second, there are not “100,000” but 60,000 – including many bogus names (e.g., “Arafat,” “Leo Messi”) and duplicate signatures. Most importantly, they never expressed support for his judicial coup. All they legitimately said was that they object to those who say they will not volunteer.
Why he is doing this defies logical explanation. Maybe it’s a character issue, maybe what he sees as political expediency, maybe a realization that he has lost America.
It is also possible that the explanation for the glaring disparity between the Hebrew Netanyahu and the English Netanyahu lies elsewhere: he just doesn’t care anymore and has adopted a Putin-like stance – I already paid the price in Washington and Tel Aviv, I can defy you. Say what you want, see if I care.
Either way, after 22 interviews, it should not be expecting too much for U.S. interviewers to be equipped to call his many bluffs.