Tense excitement continues to rise in the lead-up to US President Donald Trump’s trip to the region next week, with newspapers reporting both on last minute arrangements and remaining disputes between Washington and Jerusalem, as well as the heavy shadow cast over the trip by Trump’s legal battles at home.
Tabloid Israel Hayom, which places a picture of editor Boaz Bismuth above the fold while relegating Trump to below that all-important line, leads off with an excerpt of an interview with the US president, in which he indicates a willingness to (maybe) allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accompany him to the Western Wall holy site on Tuesday.
“I still haven’t made a final decision about how my trip to the Western Wall will look. We have great respect for PM Netanyahu and we decided to go with the chief rabbi mostly because it’s the custom there. It can still change,” he’s quoted telling the Sheldon Adelson-financed tabloid, which is pretty much the only Israeli outlet the president will speak to. Trump, however, demurs when asked about a settlement building freeze or moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
While Israel Hayom has consistently acted as something close to a local propaganda arm for the US president, burying unfriendly news and pretending the visit is approaching swimmingly, the same cannot be said of Israel’s other major papers.
Similarities in their jaundiced looks at the clouds over the upcoming trip and the White House in general go beyond just the use by both of the image of Trump’s head on a fidget spinner toy.
Yedioth Ahronoth reports that journalists will not be allowed to ask Trump any questions during his visit here. As for the Western Wall visit, columnist Nahum Barnea sees it not as another hole dug by a president for himself, but instead one in which Israel did the work for him. He posits that Trump’s visit to the Western Wall was actually a bid to show Israeli sovereignty over the holy site which backfired.
“A more experienced president would have rejected the idea, claiming scheduling difficulties. But instead Trump’s people have come out with a series of statements that negate Israel’s rights to the Old City,” Barnea writes.
Haaretz’s front page, still playing catch up from late Wednesday US time, leads off with a report on the appointment of Robert Mueller. In an accompanying column, analyst Chemi Shalev notes that all of Trump’s troubles back home will cast a distracting pall over his visit here.
“Trump’s first foray into the complex world of foreign trips as president, which often requires tact, stamina and discipline, was going to be difficult for him in any case. He knows that, which is why he was getting increasingly edgy as the countdown to his takeoff neared, even before Mueller was appointed. But Trump’s rapidly deteriorating political situation back home is going to make it ten times harder for him or anyone else to concentrate on the business at hand,” Shalev notes.
As if the White House doesn’t have enough to deal with, Haaretz also reports that whether or not to move the embassy has also proved a vexing issue in the West Wing, with cabinet members (for the move) and policy advisers (against) battling it out.
The paper reports that the man at the head of the move camp is none other than Steve Bannon, but not because he suddenly cares deeply about Israeli sovereignty claims. Rather, he thinks it will play nicely in Whitefish.
“[Bannon] understands that many of the president’s voters want to see this promise kept,” an official is quoted telling the paper.
Reports on chaos in the White House shouldn’t surprise anyone and in Yedioth, Orly Azulay gives an inside look at how some of that is affecting the staffers charged with cleaning up after the president’s messes.
“In these early morning hours, when I’m on shift, I can feel why my hair is slowly going gray,” one staffer is quoted saying. “We never know where it’s going to come from, who tried to drag him, and into which fight.
“He tweets and talks to his friends from New York. Sometimes he’ll call them in the middle of the night to wake them and discuss one story or another, and that’s how he starts off his day. These mornings have become a challenge, and that’s before even talking about the workday.”
With not much nice to report on the Trump front, Israel Hayom focuses on more domestic stories, like the Hebrew University’s decision not to play the national anthem at all its graduation ceremonies, which sparked a political storm Thursday. Columnist Dror Eidar pouts that if they aren’t going to play the anthem, they should also get rid of “Hebrew” from their name, calling a school a “national symbol.”
“Silencing Hatikvah is a (temporary) moral victory for the descendants of those who wanted to wage the War of Independence not only to silence the hope of Israel rising from the ashes and to destroy the young Jewish state, but also those who opposed the creation of the very university, which now ‘takes into account sensitivities,’ and denies its own history,” he writes.
The paper also reports on a West Bank protest that turned deadly when rioters began stoning the car of a settler, who then shot and killed one of the protesters. Quoting heavily from the shooter, who recounts that “they had murder in their eyes,” the paper plainly takes his side, as does Yedioth Ahronoth (headline “I felt like they wanted to slaughter me”).
Haaretz also reports on the incident, but in a less tabloidy, more even-handed way. Writing about another divisive incident in the West Bank — a solidarity visit by leaders of the Zionist Union party to the Maale Adumim settlement — Ravit Hecht terms it on the paper’s op-ed page “misbegotten,” noting that it has split members of the center-left party.
“Ostensibly, the rift is between the hawkish wing and the dovish wing,” she writes. “But in reality, it is between those who are enabling the right’s continued rule and Israel’s accelerated gallop toward disaster, and those who could one day end it.”