A terror attack in which one policeman is killed in the heart of Paris might not be front-page news in Israel, and ditto for the upcoming French elections, but put the two together and add in a swirl of the nationalist fever that may be sweeping a far-right leader to power and one has the makings of a top story leading the Israeli news agenda.
While Thursday’s attack itself is noteworthy, much of the coverage in Israel is refracted through the lens of how it may affect the upcoming vote, just a few days away, and particularly how it could lead to even greater gains by Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right, anti-immigrant and arguably anti-Semitic National Front (FN).
“This is the worst situation that the centrist candidates for the French presidency feared, which will focus the conversation on fears of terror and strengthens the candidacy of Le Pen,” reports the Paris correspondent of Yedioth Ahronoth.
Skipping the hard news and going straight for the upshot, the top headline in Haaretz reads, “Shooting in Paris could tip the scales,” and while it doesn’t detail for whom, former editor in chief and sometimes France analyst Dov Alfon makes clear in his piece that Le Pen is most likely to gain from the April surprise.
“It is clear that the shooting, during which the city’s most famous avenue was closed, and the chase after the Kalashnikov-armed assailant serves the agenda of the two rightist candidates, Francois Fillon and Le Pen. Commentators can already surmise that the main benefactor will be Le Pen,” he writes, adding that even before the shooting it seemed support for her on the street far outstripped the 22 percent she is getting in the polls.
In Israel Hayom, correspondent Boaz Bismuth manages to avoid adorning his column on the shooting (which is also apparently meant to double as a news story) with a picture of himself, but still makes sure to make sure readers know that the shooting just happened five minutes from the hotel where he is staying to cover the French election, a fact that somehow makes it into the lede of his story.
“My hotel is on adjacent Chateaubriand Street, and so it was fate that I was in the area just 15 minutes before. Luckily, I wanted to see the last debate between the candidates and so left early, and even stopped on the way to read a copy of Le Parisien. One of the headlines, on page two or three if I remember correctly, was ‘Campaign under the shadow of terror,’” he writes.
Bismuth isn’t the only one to get trapped by the “I was there (kinda)” pitfall. Yedioth runs an eyewitness color account from one Israeli who happened to be at the scene of the attack, that goes to show just how banal such attempts can be.
“Everyone was running away. We didn’t know what was happening or if it was a shooting or a bomb, everyone just ran like crazy,” Maya Schwartz writes breathlessly; her words could have sufficed as a quote or two in a larger story.
The paper comes through on that front with a large feature on Jewish attitudes in France toward the election in its weekend section.
Somewhat surprisingly, the paper finds a number of Jews who plan on voting for Le Pen, even before the terror attack, even despite the fact that she’ll “force them to take off their skullcaps,” in the paper’s telling.
Included in the feature is a lengthy Q and A with Michel Thooris, a local politician who is one of Le Pen’s most prominent Jewish supporters, who says that he and his buddies in the French Jewish conservative group he helped found, are okay with losing skullcaps, if it means FN can put down some Muslims.
“The authorities will never allow a law against a certain religion,” he’s quoted saying. “If we, the Jews, are stubborn about the skullcap custom, we’ll prevent the government, especially Marine, from fighting political Islam. I think, and this is the opinion of my group, that we need to sacrifice this, since it won’t actually impinge on our religion, since we can wear hats, if it will allow steps against radical Islam.”
‘Back from the pit of death’
What Jews can and can’t wear in Paris is redolent of an even darker time in Europe’s history, when all Jews could agree that the ideological forebears of Le Pen and her ilk were certainly a more dangerous threat than radical Islam, and with Holocaust Remembrance Day coming up on Monday as well, papers and politicians begin their annual parade of actually paying attention to survivors for a few days.
“These stories make one tremble. Stories full of horror and glory,” Israel Hayom quotes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying during an event with survivors, also reporting that new numbers show the number of Jews in the world in 2015 reached 14.4 million, over 2 million fewer than before World War II. “Each of these stories is a story, and together they form the story of our people, who climbed out of the pit of death.”
Yedioth also runs a parade of survivors’ stories as one of its top items, including pictures of victims who made it out of the Holocaust and their grandkids. But judging by its front page, the paper is mostly concerned with continuing fallout from Wednesday’s stormy Knesset hearing in which bereaved parents of fallen soldiers were yelled at by politicians.
The paper reports that parents are demanding that Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein issue a clear denunciation of David Biton and Miki Zohar. And while Bitan and Zohar have asked for a meeting with the parents to smooth things over, “the families say they are not ready for that.”
In the meantime, the tabloid does note that Zohar, at least, is sorry for how he acted at the meeting, or at least admits that he screwed up. In an accompanying column, though, Smadar Haran, whose two children and husband were killed by terrorist Samir Kuntar, who was later released in a swap, explains why what Bitan and Zohar did crossed the mother of all lines, writing that even when she very publicly disagreed with the government over releasing Kuntar, nobody treated her the way parents were treated on Wednesday.
“I have never experienced the type of coldhearted, crude, disparaging and condescending behavior as what happened two days ago in the Knesset,” she writes. “People, human beings, chosen by the public to be representatives, could not find compassion, empathy, restraint or the ability to restrain themselves. And worst of all, as they were doing it, the prime minister allowed it all to happen.”
In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that the hubbub over the parents and politicians sparring buried the real headline, which is that Netanyahu told the committee that Israel was basically forced into the 2014 Gaza war. Harel notes that the line of trying to avoid war dovetails with what a senior officer told him and other journalists that same day:
“The officer reiterated the General Staff’s approach, namely, that Israel is not required to launch an offensive just because of advances in the enemy’s capabilities — in this case, Hamas’s offensive tunnels — and that if it does, we could find ourselves in an ongoing war, a ‘hundred years’ war.’”