Tel Aviv Diary: Bibi Benefits From Alt-Right Propaganda Paper

The 10th anniversary took place at the weekend of the first issue of Yisrael Hayom, the free newspaper owned by American casino tycoon, Sheldon Adelson, which has become Israel’s leading newspaper.

In October, it will be 21 years since Fox News, owned by media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, first took to the airwaves in the US.

Both these media outlets have taken an extremely conservative view and both have had significant impact on their respective countries.

While Fox News is extremely profitable, Yisrael Hayom’s business-model makes profit unlikely — but that is not the goal. Yisrael Hayom was established, first and foremost, to promote the views of its owner, views that until very recently been identical to the opinions and goals of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

GettyImages-645118552 Miriam Adelson talks with her husband, Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, at the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on February 24, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty

While much has been written about the impact of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks on creating the greater divisions between leftists and rightists, in both the US and Israel — along with the new nomenclature of “fake news” — in fact, the real culprits have been and remain, Fox News and Yisrael Hayom.

As Gabriel Sherman wrote about Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News, in The Loudest Voice in the Room , “His channel is a self-contained universe, with distinctive laws 'fair and balanced' and sometimes its own facts. Ailes's audience seldom watches something else. They have been conditioned by Fox’s pundits to see the broadcast networks, CNN and MSNBC as opponents in a grand partisan struggle,” what is known today as “Fake News.”

Ailes and Fox News are widely credited with being the most important factors leading to the election of President Donald J. Trump.

Of the two media mouthpieces, Fox News is probably the more toxic. Yisrael Hayom seems less inclined to develop alternative facts than Fox has been. In addition, most studies show that television is a more powerful medium than print.

However, Israel is still a country in which the overwhelming majority of the population reads a newspaper each morning. Most people can be seen reading the free Yisrael Hayom, which is handed out on corners and available at every coffee shop, train station and bus station.

It's nickname has been the “Bibi-ton” (a melding of Bibi, which is the nickname of the Prime Minister and the word “iton” , which is the Hebrew word for newspaper), as Yisrael Hayom has almost always reflected Netanyahu's perspective and almost always publishes articles that reflect well on the prime minister and his wife and negatively on the left wing opposition.

Until two months ago, Yisrael Hayom had a columnist, Dan Margalit, a former Netanyahu supporter and one of the most respected names in Israel journalism, who was regularly critical of Netanyahu. It was inevitable, perhaps, that Margalit would be fired before long. And recently his column was canceled.

Yisrael Hayom has been so important to Netanyahu that two years ago he risked calling for new elections just to stop a law that threatened the paper's existence.  

Some will say, the story of Yisrael Hayom is nothing new. After all, America, too, has a history of Yellow Journalism which, in 1898, led to the US going to war with Spain.

But over the first three-quarters of the 20th century, journalism has evolved and tens of thousands of journalists have been trained to hone their craft based on the notion that the most important precept in journalism is truth.

Papers have learned to separate editorial comments from news. TV and radio stations, using rare public wavelengths, strived to prove that they were indeed fair and balanced.

Ailes threw those rules out the window, as he built Fox News into the powerhouse of alternative news. Israel, too, once had a tradition of  newspapers aligned to a political party, but they slowly died as their institutional support became too poor to pay for their publication.

In creating Yisrael Hayom to help his friend Netanyahu, Adelson put to one side good business practice and the pursuit of profit by giving away his newspaper to readers.  

The age of social media has only served to provide an additional echo chamber for Fox News and Yisrael Hayom. While there are many reasons for Trump's election victory in the US, there are also many reasons why the views of Israelis have moved steadily right over the past ten years.

If we want to address why people choose to live in an alternative news universe in the US and Israel, a study of Fox News and Yisrael Hayom would be a good place to start. Monday night marked the Jewish feast of Tisha B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans.

Jewish tradition states that the baseless hatred of one another brought about the sacred Temple's demise. We must find a way to stop the hate purveyed and shared by both Fox News and Yisrael Hayom.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

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