Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Yediot Achronot on Tuesday for suggesting that pro-Likud Twitter users, referred to as fake accounts or automatic bots, were somehow illicitly coordinating a propaganda campaign to help his re-election.
In an interview with Israel Hayom on Tuesday, Netanyahu vowed to prove the report wrong. “On April 9, the bots will vote in droves,” he said in the interview, which will be published in full on Friday.
“Yediot’s condescension toward Likud was clearly on display in this blood libel,” said Netanyahu. “They could not fathom the fact that Likud voters were real people, that they may be independent thinkers. Yediot does not view them as people. We were once called riffraff or baboons, and now people call us bots.”
When asked how he felt in the face of constant attacks, Netanyahu said: “If I cared what people thought about me, I would have not been sitting here. A person cannot survive in politics, in business or in journalism if you are a slave to what people think about you.”
When asked what role social media play in his communication efforts, Netanyahu said it is “the only electronic medium we have at our disposal.”
He explained that the mainstream media had effectively endorsed his chief rival, Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, leaving social networks as the only unbiased platform.
“Gantz has managed to rally an unprecedented number of media outlets behind him; Channel 11, Channel 12 and Channel 13, have all become Gantz TV. Everyone is in the tank for him,” said Netanyahu. “Just look at what happened when he screwed up in one interview, the channels scrambled to give him another interview as a do-over.”
Asked on the recent flare-up in the Gaza Strip and the ongoing efforts to reach a long-term truce with Hamas, he said: “You have to understand, we are surrounded by radical Islam. The big Islamic power is Iran, and it wants nuclear weapons — something I working to stop, but it is trying to move its military to Syria by taking advantage of the nuclear deal Gantz and [Blue and White co-chairman] Yair Lapid supported. I am stopping Iran there [in Syria], too.”
Netanyahu said that during the recent escalation, “Israel dealt Hamas a crushing blow, but the public is not aware of this.”
He said that the weekly protests on the Gaza border fence have forced Israel to react in self-defense. “Some 300 Palestinians have died in these protests because they tried to cross into Israel and abduct our soldiers,” he said. “We employed force with great might but also with much thought.”
Netanyahu noted that the latest provocations on the fence on March 30 — the one-year anniversary of the “March of Return,” which were supposed to be particularly violent because they took place on the anniversary of the protests — drew a relatively small number of people.
“The deterrence was clearly noticeable — much fewer than [the expected] million people showed up, and many of those who did were actually sent by Hamas to keep the calm. This is a sign of deterrence,” Netanyahu said, adding that he had a duty to “exhaust all options” before launching a ground invasion.