Benjamin Netanyahu has launched his own TV channel to bypass mainstream media and ensure positive coverage ahead of the upcoming General Election. "Likud TV" was launched yesterday on the Israeli Prime Minister's official Facebook page and will air every evening at 19:00 local time (17:00 GMT) until the election on 9 April. Sporting the slogan "we're throwing the 'fake' out of the news," the channel has been interpreted as a bid by Netanyahu to bypass traditional media outlets which he claims have engaged in a coordinated attack against him.
Netanyahu used his first appearance on the channel to lambast the media. "Whoever the media praises is bad for Likud and usually whoever it crucifies is good for Likud," he claimed, according to the Times of Israel.
The Israeli leader also used the opportunity to criticise Benny Gantz, the head of the Israel Resilience (Hosen L'Yisrael) Party currently polling as his main electoral challenger. He slammed Gantz as left-wing, claiming he "can only be chosen [as Prime Minister] with a blocking force of left-wing and Arab parties," referring to rumours that Gantz is currently engaged in talks with the head of Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid.
The channel's launch was coordinated with the unveiling of Netanyahu's campaign video this weekend. In the video, he appears alongside Israeli TV presenter Eliraz Sade in a mock secret meeting to arrange positive media coverage. Sitting in a high-backed office chair with his back to Netanyahu.
"You're asking me for positive coverage?" Sade asks the Prime Minister.
"Truthful coverage," he replies.
"But if I present truthful coverage, it might come out positive."
"Walla ['really']," says Netanyahu before winking at the camera.
This was a not-so-subtle nod to Case 4000 in which Netanyahu is accused of providing regulatory benefits to Shaul Elovitch, the owner of telecom giant Bezeq, in return for favourable coverage on Elovitch's Walla news site.
In December, Israel's State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan suggested that Netanyahu should be indicted, saying that Case 4000 constitutes "a clear case of bribery". The Prime Minister is also embroiled in two other corruption cases – dubbed Case 1000 and Case 2000 – and has been fighting with Israel's Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, to keep the indictment verdict under wraps until after the election.
Commentators have been quick to point out the similarity between Netanyahu's campaign and that of US President Donald Trump. The Jerusalem Post noted that Likud TV "seems to follow the model of [Trump's] Real News Update, a weekly webcast meant to back Trump's re-election campaign" ahead of the US elections due to be held in 2020. Trump has championed the "fake news" narrative, labelling journalists the "enemy of the people" and taking aim at some of America's biggest news outlets.
Benjamin Netanyahu has not tried to hide his personal friendship and professional alliance with Trump, but rather has actively tried to highlight the relationship. This weekend, a giant billboard depicting the two men smiling and shaking hands appeared in Tel Aviv, alongside Netanyahu's official campaign slogan: "Netanyahu. In another league." It is not clear whether Washington authorised the use of President Trump's image as part of the campaign.