JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling for Israelis to boycott one of his country’s most popular television channels for producing what he has termed an “anti-Semitic” TV series.
The Israeli leader is facing an indictment pending a hearing in three criminal cases that center on fraud, bribery and breach of trust. He is also in the midst of a reelection campaign, fighting to maintain a tenuous lead in the polls as Israelis head to their second general election Sept. 17.
Channel 12’s owner, Keshet Media Group, is the same company that co-produced an HBO series called “Our Boys,” the first show entirely in Hebrew and Arabic to air on the cable network.
The 10-part series, which began Aug. 12, focuses on the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, by three Jewish extremists in the summer of 2014.
Three Israeli teenagers were also kidnapped and murdered that summer by members of a cell belonging to the militant Islamist group Hamas. The discovery of the bodies of Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, in a field near the Palestinian city of Hebron after an intensive 2½-week search was the impetus for Abu Khdeir’s murder.
The show’s Israeli creators — Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar and Tawfik Abu Wael — have already received death threats online from right-wing Israelis.
“The propaganda channel 12 has produced an anti-Semitic series called ‘Our Boys,’ that is distributed internationally and besmirches the good name of Israel,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook, posting Channel 12’s logo and a banner reading “Fake News.”
“I am not surprised that Channel 12 slanders Israel, I am used to them blackmailing me on a daily basis,” he wrote.
Over the past week, Channel 12’s legal reporter, Guy Peleg, has aired excerpts from one of the graft cases against Netanyahu. Testimony from a former-official-turned-state-witness, according to Peleg, says that the prime minister intervened in Communications Ministry regulatory decisions that financially benefited one of his tycoon friends.
In a letter to the Central Elections Committee, Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party requested to bar news outlets from further publishing leaked material relating to the investigations ahead of the upcoming elections. Their request was rejected Friday.
A statement from the Likud party earlier this past week had called Peleg’s reports “a false blood libel” and the state witness account “lies.” On Friday, local media said increasing personal attacks against Peleg, including by the prime minister’s son Yair, had prompted the journalist to hire a bodyguard.
In his Facebook call to boycott “Our Boys,” Netanyahu said he had been approached by a group of Israeli families whose loved ones were killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks who found the show objectionable.
They pointed out, he said, that “Israel has worked with determination to apprehend and punish Abu Khdeir’s murderers. In contrast, the Palestinian Authority rewards and glorifies Jewish murderers.”
Since the series aired, “many of you have contacted me and asked what could be done. I have made my recommendation clear: Do not watch Keshet or its shows,” Netanyahu wrote. “This is the real answer in democracy, freedom of choice to watch and freedom of choice not to watch.”
There was no immediate comment from HBO or Channel 12.
In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Levi — who with Cedar and Abu Wael wrote, directed and produced “Our Boys” — said he expected a backlash from right-wing Israelis upset that an Arab victim was spotlighted over a Jewish one.
“For me, I already knew about Arab terror, but the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir created more questions than answers. I just couldn’t believe that Jews could do this, and I wanted to know why they did,” Levi said.