Top image from Haaretz: Yedioth Ahronoth left, Yisrael Hayom right
For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the last two years have been rather difficult. He has been embroiled in numerous corruption investigations which threaten his hold on power and come next week, with the result of the 2019 Israeli early elections, they may prove to be the end of his long career as head of government. During this time, however, Bibi has been crying foul, singing a familiar tune for many Americans who have heard similar claims by President Trump regarding how the media and their political opposition has treated them. “The media and the left, which serves it… contrive endless scandals, endless reports and endless headlines so that maybe, maybe something will stick,” Bibi said during a rally (Reuters). Is it true that the Israeli media is “leftist?” According to Freedom House, “The Israeli media collectively offer a diverse range of views.” What views are represented by Israel’s major media outlets? What are their political leanings? Who is the “FOX” and “CNN” of Israeli TV, or The New York Times and New York Post of Israeli newspapers?
Unlike America, Israeli televisions most prominent news channels are largely neutral and devoid apparent political bias. While news channels with specific political leanings do exist, they are not the main ones (unlike MSNBC, FOX, or CNN are). Freedom House’s 2017 Israeli Press Freedom Report says “The main television broadcasters, both commercial and public, are largely free of specific political biases.”
Channels 2 and 10
Israel once had three main commercial TV stations broadcasting under The Second Authority for Television and Radio: Channel 10, Reshet, and Keshet (the last two were both broadcast under Channel 2). In 2017, Channel 2 was shut down and Keshet and Reshet became separate stations: Channels 12 and 13. In 2019, Channels 10 and 13 merged with Channel 10 shutting down and some of its programming and staff joining Channel 13. Now all that remain are Keshet 12 and Channel 13 (Jerusalem Post;Haaretz). These channels are largely centrist and balanced in their coverage featuring both right and left-wing views in broadcast debate. While the content of their broadcasting may somewhat shift depending on factors such as if Israel is at war or if major protests are occurring, they generally maintain a neutral standing. While the channels do not tend to favor right-wing or left-wing viewpoints, this has not prevented them from criticizing Netanyahu. Channel 10 and the former Channel 2 stations have extensively reported on leaks regarding Netanyahu’s corruption cases and many of their journalists frequently criticize Netanyahu (Haaretz). Netanyahu has responded to this by attacking the news channels and their critical journalists (The Times of Israel). Indeed, many believe it was due to Channel 10’s investigative reporting on Netanyahu that the government allowed it to succumb to its financial debt (instead of continuing bailouts) (The Mercury). Journalists Guy Peleg of Channel 12 and Raviv Drucker of Channel 13 both appeared in a recent campaign billboard by Likud that stated “They will not decide” (Times of Israel).
Channel 1/Kan 11
In addition to these channels was the publicly-owned Channel 1, which began broadcasting in 1968 and was dissolved and replaced in 2017 with Kan11. Like channels 2 and 10, it also takes a largely balanced approach to news broadcasting. Like channels 10 and 2, Channel 1 engaged in critical investigative reporting, and was perhaps one of the underlying reasons for its closure and replacement (Haaretz;Haaretz). In its final broadcast, Channel 1’s staff expressed criticism of Netanyahu and the decisions that led to its closure. (The Times of Israel). Nonetheless, Kan 11’s editorial board remains largely independent of government control (Haaretz)
Launched in 2014, it plays to a conservative Jewish audience (Ha’aretz; Jerusalem Post; Times of Israel; +972). It was established as a “Jewish Heritage Channel” with the intention that it would focus on subjects such as Jewish religion and culture with a present but subordinate role to discuss news and current events (Jerusalem Post; Haaretz; Times of Israel, +972). According to its broadcasting license, 75% of Channel 20’s content is supposed to be focused on “heritage” while the remaining 25% is for current events, including one hour of prime time (Jerusalem Post). However since the start, it has slowly shifted its content production more towards news coverage. Throughout this, it has sought to maintain its conservative Jewish base which has shaped its framing of current events. It covers news from a distinct, Jewish-Nationalist, right leaning angle setting it apart from its larger, more centrist competitors. It is considered by many to be “the FOX of Israel” (Haaretz; Times of Israel). This shift from discussing Jewish heritage as laid out in its licence to producing more news content has gotten it in trouble with Israeli regulators. In late 2017, its successful bid to broadcast Knesset TV, which streams parliamentary sessions and other political events, was revoked, and was even threatened with being shut down (Times of Israel; Jerusalem Post). In late 2017, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, who took over Netanyahu’s role as minister and has close ties to him, promised to defend the Channel from being shut down saying, “Everyone has freedom of expression, not just the Left. We can’t just leave left-wing channels open and not the Right” (Jerusalem Post).
According to one recent olah (immigrant to Israel) I interviewed, political bias in print media “is much clearer” than in television. Indeed, while the major Israeli news stations are generally centrist and relatively balanced in the perspectives they air, Israeli newspapers are far more diverse and distinct in their political leanings. While all of the prominent Israeli newspapers engage in journalistic professionalism and their owners and editorial boards have limited influence from the government (with perhaps the exception of the first paper to be discussed) much like US papers, each cater to a different political base.
The English translation of the name is, “Israel Today.” A relative newcomer to the Israeli print media landscape, it was first printed in 2007. However in this time it has completely disrupted the Israeli newspaper market becoming the most widely circulated paper in only three years (Jewish Virtual Library; +972). It is printed by Haaretz via a contract however its editorial board (and political leaning) is completely different (Forward). A free-daily, it is funded and managed in large part from american billionaire, and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who invests in a large variety of Israel projects and programs (Opensecrets.gov; JTA). Sheldon Adelson is a strong supporter of Netanyahu and has close ties to the Prime Minister (Haaretz; JTA). The paper takes a strong, pro-Netanyahu stance, and as such is often referred to as “bibitun” (“Bibi-paper”) by Israelis (Reuters;The Times of Israel). When it does criticize Netanyahu, it is from a right-wing position (The Times of Israel.) Naftali Bennet has referred to the paper as “Pravda, it’s the mouthpiece of one man – the prime minister” (Reuters). Netanyahu’s support of Israel Hayom was so strong that a potential 2014 bill which threatened the paper was one of a few major issues that led Netanyahu to dissolve his government and call for early elections in 2015 (New York Times). In general, Israel Hayom takes a right wing stance on most issues such as security, social issues, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (+972).
The English translation of the name is “latest news.” Established in 1939, Yedioth Ahronoth was for many years the most widely read newspaper in Israel (Globes). It now polls slightly behind Yisrael Hayom in terms of readership and competes for market share (Jewish Virtual Library). However its website, Ynet, is one of Israel’s most popular websites (+972). A generally centrist paper, it has notably been strongly anti-Netanyahu. It was especially critical of the Prime Minister in the run-up to the 2015 elections. Netanyahu and members of his party regarded the paper’s owner, Arnon Mozes, as an “enemy,” who sought out to topple the Prime Minister (Times of Israel; Ha’aretz). One of its most prominent moves against Netanyahu at the time was to conduct and publish an interview with Meir Dagan, an ex-mossad chief who made fiercely critical statements against Netanyahu such as “The person that has caused Israel the most strategic damage when it comes to the Iranian issue is the prime minister” (Ynet). One of three major corruption cases being investigated involving the Prime Minister, “Case 2000” centers on an alleged meeting between Netanyahu and Mozes, in which Netanyahu offered to use his influence over Yisrael Hayom to curb its market share in return for more favorable coverage from the Yedioth Ahronoth (Washington Post). Despite being largely critical of Netanyahu, the paper is by no means leftist, while more open than papers such as Yisrael Hayom to left-leaning perspectives, it takes a largely centrist approach to matters such as security, the Supreme Court, and social issues (+972) (BBC).
“Maariv” is taken from the name of the Jewish evening prayer. Established in 1948, the same year as Israel declared independence, by former Yedioth Ahronoth staff (BBC). Its English site was pulled in 2005 (Haaretz). Once being Israel’s most popular newspaper after declining in the 80s, it now polls in readership below 4% (Jewish Virtual Library; BBC). While not as beholden to Netanyahu as Israel Hayom, Maariv takes a somewhat more right-leaning approach than Yedioth Ahronoth (+972). In 2010, Maariv published an explosive front page story attacking the New Israel Fund, a prominent Israeli human rights group, over a critical report of the IDF (NIF; Forward). In 2012, Maariv was sold to Shlomo Ben-Zvi, the owner of the far right Israeli paper, Makor Rishon in a move that was expected to shift the paper further to the right (Times of Israel; Forward). In response to fears of being shut down, Maariv received support from prominent Israeli right-wing figures such as from MK Ben-Ari from Israel’s then right-wing coalition, National Union who stated “Maariv stands out in a sea of biased journalism” (Times of Israel). In 2014, Sheldon Adelson, owner of Israel Hayom, purchased Makor Rishon, bringing ownership of the paper into his hands. This brought the fear that Maariv’s notable criticism of Netanyahu, despite its firm right stance would be jeopardized (JTA). However in 2014 the Jerusalem Post group purchased Maariv and rebranded it as “Maariv Haboker” (Morning Maariv) (Jerusalem Post). It is strongly hostile to Arabs, hawkish on security, conservative on social issues, and anti-supreme court (+972)
English translation is “The Land,” or “The Country.” It is the oldest major Israeli paper, established in 1919. It is firmly rooted in the left: It is extremely critical of Netanyahu, the Israeli religious-right Jewish-nationalist groups, settlements the military, and the state. It is generally supportive of minority rights, promoting Israeli secular democratic values (in response to what it views as too much imposition of religion), and is more sympathetic with Palestinians. It takes a relatively liberal line on economic issues as well (+972; BBC). While its readership in Israel is relatively low, falling behind Maariv in fourth place, it maintains a high degree of “prestige” as prominent Israeli elites and political figures fill its op-ed pages and policy-makers look to the paper to represent the wider views of the Israeli left (CJR; +972; BBC). It maintains a prominent English-speaking version available both in print and online (similar to Jerusalem post) which places it at a major advantage over papers such as Maariv (which has no such version) and attracts English speaking foreign readers. Indeed its English version is in many respects far more influential in that it engages western, readers, journalists, and policy-makers with Israeli news in ways other Israeli news outlets (even those with English websites) do not (CJR; Camera). Articles that would never be reported in other Israeli print outlets for being deemed too inflammatory or extreme such as “The Formation of an Educated Class Must Be Averted’: How Israel Marginalized Arabs From the Start” are commonplace in Ha’aretz. Its op-ed section is known for hosting a wide variety of views including those that most Israelis would consider fringe and far-left. These include pieces such as “I Feel No Sympathy for the Settlers” in which writer Gideon Levy expressed no remorse for the recent murder of a pregnant settler woman and her baby, or an op-ed by Yossi Klein in which he states the Israeli religious-right was “worse than Hezbolla” and drew harsh criticism from both Netanyahu and even opposition leader Isaac Herzogg (Israel Hayom).