With the announcement of early elections, the political bug has hit Israel hard and none are more susceptible to the ailment than the Hebrew media. Aryeh Deri, Yair Lapid, Avigdor Liberman, Shelly Yachimovich…. Best get familiar with their names quickly because for the next three months they will be the mainstays of news headlines. Their faces will be spread across front pages and their every utterance or deed will be reported and analyzed to oblivion. Think coverage of US elections, only instead of having two candidates as focal points, you have dozens, each with spokespersons, aides and associates clamoring for attention, each trying to make a mark that will enable them to stand out from the herd.
The inevitable outcome is a media frenzy. Journalists who may have been snubbed for months are suddenly given unlimited access to politicians. Every Tom, Dick and Reuven who calls himself a source familiar with X, gets a front page headline. Every political has-been can get a moment back in the sun with an insider analysis. Civil war in Syria, economic crisis, natural disasters… forget about it — it’s election season baby.
Maariv and Haaretz heat things up by publishing the first post-elections announcement polls. With no major surprises in the projected party seat count (Likud is easily the largest party with 29 seats compared to Labor’s 17 [Maariv] or 19 [Haaretz]) the polls’ main contribution is in deflating the comeback aspirations of former prime minister and convicted criminal Ehud Olmert. Yesterday’s headlines spoke of his possible return to politics as the left wing’s savior, but today’s poll results may get him to think twice about a return to the political jungle. Both polls show him to be a marginal force, trailing behind Benjamin Netanyahu in the Haaretz survey which asked who among the potential candidates would be best suited to lead the country and having little effect on the mandate tally if he returns to lead Kadima or heads a new party.
With no poll to offer, Yedioth Ahronoth leads the paper with a breakdown of the major challenges and opportunities facing the country’s largest parties leading up to elections. The article focuses on internal power struggles (several parties still have primaries to deal with before they can even begin campaigning in earnest) and predicts the next Knesset will be filled with new faces.
Israel Hayom‘s lead story reminds us that though campaigning has begun, an election date has yet to be set. According to the report, party representatives are trying to agree on the date which will likely fall somewhere between Jan.15 and 29. While the prime minister said he wanted elections as soon as possible, other parties require more time to prepare and would like to see the date pushed back.
Putting everything in perspective is a story on Yedioth’s page 4. The report states that because of the election hiatus, the Knesset — the holy grail that lies at the end of the enshrined democratic process — will only be in session for four of the next 12 months. How’s this for a campaign slogan: “Vote for us today! We’ll get things done…. in 2014.”
The biggest non-election news story of the day is the revelation of a major illegal online gambling ring. All the papers feature stories on Wednesday’s major police operation that saw dozens of people arrested and businesses shut down for suspicion of involvement in a network that handled over a billion dollars over the past two years alone.
Yedioth reports on page 10 that Israel will hold its first ever earthquake preparedness drill later this month. The country’s emergency services, local governments and military will be expected to deal with a scenario that includes 7,000 people dying, 70,000 wounded and 170,000 left homeless in the wake of a major tremor. The drill will simulate a 7.1 magnitude earthquake striking the north of the country and will take place over five days.
Haaretz reports on a mock trial over public housing held in Bat Yam. In the case of the people versus the government on the issue of subsidized living, the defendants went unrepresented while a long line of plaintiffs took to the stand to testify of their battles with bureaucracy, ignored pleas to housing companies and life in tents. The ‘trial’ was conducted over eight hours. The defendants will receive the verdict in the mail.
Like the news pages, the opinion pages are also packed with election fodder. Today’s offerings include reminders of the democratic ideals behind the messy business of elections by Israel Hayom columnist Haim Shine, urging citizens to get out and vote by Yael Gvirtz (in Yedioth) and Yael Paz-Melamed (in Maariv), and a dose of early cynicism by Yonatan Yavin.
Aside from that, Guy Bechor notes in Yedioth that it’s a good thing that Israel and Turkey are no longer friends, because Ankara would have dragged us into the Syrian conflict along with it.
Haaretz’s Gideon Levy laments the passing of fact-checking as a journalistic standard after news website rotter.net posted an article about his father being a Nazi collaborator based on a bogus Wikipedia entry.