The Israeli media is controlled by radical leftists disconnected from the political mainstream, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair told attendees at a media conference in Budapest on Wednesday at a college considered close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party.
“The curtain has risen and everyone already knows what is going on here,” the younger Netanyahu told the gathering of conservative media figures and academics at the three-day conference at Mathias Corvinus Collegium on “The Future of Publishing.”
The proliferation of online platforms has made it harder to brainwash people and easier to identify propaganda, he said, according to Hungarian media reports, describing what he called a “democratization” of the media. He went on to explain that much of the media in Israel is dominated by radical leftists who make up less than 10 percent of the electorate.
On Thursday, at another conference event, Netanyahu slammed the “global elite” and declared that “‘Sorosization'” (referring to the ongoing campaign by Hungary’s Orban government against philanthropist George Soros) is not antisemitism, because of the serious damage Soros has cause to “the only Jewish state,” by funding what he termed as anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian NGOs that destroy Israeli society from within.
Netanyahu reiterated his claim of a “left-wing dominance” of the media in the Western world, “especially in Israel,” its demonization of conservatives, and berated the fact that the “most radical, craziest” left-wing ideas (including that countries don’t need borders) are becoming mainstream, while the ideas held by the majority are dismissed as extremist. He concluded that only “the right represents real democracy.”
Described by critics as an internet troll, Yair Netanyahu is known for his incendiary rhetoric. He was recently fined 400,000 shekels ($117,000) for libeling a journalist at the Walla news site and has called for prosecutors and police who investigated his father to be tried for treason — forcing the prime minister to repudiate his comments.
His social media posts have repeatedly sparked controversy, such as when he posted an image on his Facebook page, laden with antisemitic imagery, which seemed to suggest that a conspiracy backed by Soros was behind his family’s growing legal problems.
The Israeli embassy promoted Yair Netanyahu’s visit, tweeting in Hungarian that the “host of The Yair Netanyahu Show Podcast, came to Hungary at the invitation of @MCC_Budapest” and met with the Ambassador Yacov Handelsman.
MCC has been tapped by the Orban government to be a key forum for shaping a new conservative elite, both in Hungary and abroad. Hungarian academic Andrea Peto describes the MCC, now wealthier than Oxford University, as a key international nexus for “illiberal knowledge transfer.”
In 2020 and 2021, Hungarian parliament – controlled by Orban’s Fidesz party – passed legislation transferring control of several universities and other public institutions to foundations run by people close to the party.
Though MCC isn’t a public university, it received over a billion euros – one percent of Hungary’s gross domestic product – in cash, shares and real estate as part of the move.
MCC’s chairman of the board is Balazs Orban, who is Viktor Orban’s political director, though the two aren’t related.
Hungary has come under international criticism for efforts to neuter the independence of the media and the courts. Addressing the conference, Balazs Orban explicitly claimed western governments controlled 70-80 percent of their countries’ media while unfairly criticizing Budapest for doing the same.
“Whoever controls the media, controls the mindset of that country and through that, the country itself,” he asserted, criticizing how the western press was “the handmaiden of certain ideologies” such as “wokeness” based on “neo-Marxism.”
Budapest appears to be keen on building ties with the Israeli right, which is pushing a radical judicial overhaul which many Israelis see as an effort to create a Hungarian-style “illiberal democracy.”
Both Orbans recently met with Amiad Cohen, director-general of the conservative nonprofit Tikvah Fund Israel, with Balazs Orban later tweeting that “one of the reasons for Mr. Cohen’s visit to Hungary is to get to know the work of @MCC_Budapest. We are looking forward to a productive cooperation with Tikvah Fund Israel based on our shared ideals.”
Another Israeli who has close ties with MCC is Dr. Gadi Taub, a right-wing political commentator who was a visiting fellow at the college in December. He participated in an MCC podcast and gave a lecture for the general public titled “How the Israeli Supreme Court became an uber-government.”
After Taub, who occasionally wrote opinion pieces in Haaretz, received a letter ending his column on Wednesday, Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi threatened to halt government funding for advertising in this newspaper — stating that the firing provided a “tailwind to my position that a comprehensive reform is needed in the media market.”
“We’ll act to stop government funding by advertisements in this Bolshevik abomination,” Karhi tweeted, referring to Haaretz.
Two reasons were given for Haaretz cutting ties with Taub – the newspaper’s need to protect itself from the Netanyahu-led government’s proposed judicial reforms that Taub supports and his ties to the MCC.
Regarding the MCC, the letter said “It’s difficult for us to accept that someone who agrees to be part of such an institution, that praises all the values we think are dangerous and threaten democracy, receives a platform at Haaretz, which is fighting an open battle against these stands,” Haaretz explained in its letter to Taub.
Since returning to power, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies have already taken steps to put pressure on the independent media in Israel.
Karhi has already announced his intention to close national broadcaster Kan and to Shut the Second Authority for Television and Radio as well as the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, and set up a new supervisory body for the commercial channels.
Meanwhile, Likud lawmaker Boaz Bismuth, who previously worked as the editor-in-chief at the pro-Netanyahu free tabloid Israel Hayom, has tabled a bill aiming to prohibit the release of a recording that includes “sensitive” or “personal” information.
Such a law would have prevented the publication of a recent recording of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich calling the prime minister a “lying son of a liar” and would, critics contend, have a chilling effect on the ability of the media to engage in investigative journalism, not least of those in positions of power.