At least three messages attacking Channel 12 were posted on Netanyahu’s Facebook page on 30 and 31 August alone, one of them directly targeting Guy Peleg. It was accompanied by a photo of him with the words “Fake news,” alluding to his publication of leaks from criminal investigations into alleged corruption involving the prime minister.
“By participating in this way in a smear campaign against a media outlet and by targeting a particular journalist, the Israeli prime minister is helping to foment a climate of hatred against the media,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “Comments and behaviour of this kind are not only appalling but also prejudicial to the electoral process and Israeli democracy as a whole.”
The newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth has reported that Channel 12 had to assign a security detail to Peleg because of the threats against him on WhatsApp and other social networks. One of these messages said: “You are inciting hatred against Bibi [Netanyahu’s nickname], God will make you pay.”
Netanyahu called for a boycott of Channel 12 on Facebook on 30 August, just hours after the electoral commission rejected Likud’s request for the TV channel to be banned from broadcasting further leaks from a corruption case in which he is allegedly implicated. The prime minister accused Channel 12 of “attacking Israeli democracy” and trying to influence the results of the parliamentary elections scheduled for 17 September.
The prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, has meanwhile been urging Peleg’s detractors to refer to him as “Pinocchio” instead of “Dumbo” in order to make fun of his physical appearance. In reaction, many journalists and hundreds of Israeli citizens have voiced support for Peleg by sharing the slogan “I am Guy Peleg” on social networks.
According to the tally kept by The Seventh Eye, an Israeli NGO, Netanyahu and his son attacked Peleg more than 60 times on social networks from May to June, and attacked Channel 12 more than 140 times.
Israel is ranked 88th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.