As all hell broke loose in Virginia over the weekend, with torch-wielding white supremacists chanting “Jews won’t replace us” (among other choice racist taunts), brawls, and a deadly car-ramming assault using methods seemingly borrowed from Jerusalem Palestinians, one might think the Israeli press would take more than a glancing notice, especially after a weekend that saw little in the way of domestic news. But one would be wrong.
The United States is indeed on the minds of the Israeli press Sunday morning, but while the Charlottesville donnybrook is barely a blip on the radar (save a picture and smallish item on the front page of broadsheet Haaretz), ongoing tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, as well as a possible fresh attempt at peace efforts, lead off the news agenda.
The North Korean crisis is the top story in both Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz, with Yedioth making liberal use of comparisons to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
The paper leads off by casting doubts on any efforts that could be made to calm tensions — including reports of secret backchannel talks — given the proclivity of US President Donald Trump for rash statements on a certain microblogging platform (though oddly North Korean Marshal Kim Jong Un seems to get a pass).
“On both sides of the Pacific Ocean they know that any calm, if it is achieved, could be broken at any second thanks to a tweet from the new president,” the paper reports.
In a column, humanities professor Yoav Fromer looks at when John F. Kennedy went toe to toe with Nikolai Khrushchev and determines that diplomatic moves are best given more than 140 characters.
“Only thanks to diplomatic channels, both open and secret, did [the US and Russia] manage to save face domestically and climb down from their positions. But Trump’s Twitter diplomacy does not allow that kind of compromise,” he writes. “On the contrary. His aggressive and haphazard tweets spread like wildfire on social media and create facts on the ground from which there is no return.”
Haaretz’s coverage of the goings-on in the US is mostly taken from foreign services the paper subscribes to, and Israel Hayom seems to take the issue less seriously than the other papers, putting its North Korea story way back on page 10, under the silly headline “Shh, we’re threatening.”
But to columnist Avraham Ben Tzvi, there’s nothing silly about Trump’s tweets and angry messages, to which he ascribes great importance, especially because they are coming from a man otherwise relaxing on the golf course.
“Even though it seems like the series of warnings coming from New Jersey are the latest in a long line of improvised presidential actions, one cannot discount the possibility that it’s exactly his disconnect from the Oval Office and the depth of the ongoing problems which have focused attention on the White House that allow Trump to formulate a new comprehensive strategy, which includes updating and completing George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil doctrine,” he writes. “Indeed, beyond the current context, embedded in the president’s threats are significant warnings for other bothersome regimes who are overstepping the bounds of normal international activity. This means Iran, which can learn a warning from the American stance toward Kim, as well as more junior players, such as Venezuela, which can find itself exposed if it continues to crush democratic institutions and processes.”
It was Ronald Reagan who said if you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat, and while Trump has moved on to the second part with North Korea he seems stuck on the first when it comes to Middle East peace efforts.
“When you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat.” – Ronald Reagan
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2015
Thus there’s a bit less tweeting and a bit more diplomacy when it comes to Trump’s push for Middle East peace, and his dispatching of three high-level envoys also gains media attention.
Haaretz reports that the addition of the Dina Powell to the delegation, which will also visit Arab states in the region, is important as she is seen as a “key player in Trump’s ties to the Arab world,” noting her Arabic fluency and experience (something which both Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt lack, though the paper is too classy to point that out).
Israel Hayom, though, reports that Palestinians are not putting much faith into the effort and have pretty much given up on Trump.
“According to a senior Palestinian source, Ramallah is convinced that Israel and the US are working with Arab states to push a regional plan at the expense of the two-state vision, and the Palestinians fear that Israel, with American backing, will come to understandings with countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt that will be presented to the Palestinians as a done deal,” the paper reports.
If the paper, close to both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump, can still be read as a stand-in for government thinking in Washington and Jerusalem, then the Palestinians aren’t far off the mark, with editor Boaz Bismuth pumping something close to that very idea in a column he pens.
“The old dialogue put the Palestinians in the center. The new dialogue has a different lesson. The Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt are broadcasting apathy, each for their own reasons. Nobody expects to see an outpouring of celebrations in Jeddah, Riyadh or even Bahrain in favor of a peace deal with Israel,” he writes. “The incident at the embassy in Amman shows how much the Arab street still operates according to the old international order, but something good is happening behind the scenes.”
One place where Trump, Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are operating on the same wavelength is their shared hate for the media (Israel Hayom notwithstanding).
Haaretz reports on Abbas’s moves to clamp down on critics in the media by threatening to throw them in the clink.
“The new decree stipulates prison terms ranging from one year to life for those who use digital means for a range of all-encompassing offenses. The list includes endangering the safety of the state or the public order as well as harming national unity or social peace,” the paper reports.
While Netanyahu isn’t sending journalists to the big house, Yedioth’s Ben-Dror Yemini worries where “incitement” against the media could lead, citing a spate of murders against reporters in the Philippines.
“No, we’re not there,” he writes. “But if this campaign of incitement against the media continues, if a journalist is turned into a poisonous spider that must be exterminated at a rally in support of Netanyahu, it’s not just journalism that’s in trouble. Democracy is in trouble. Israel is in trouble.”