It’s not quite “Dewey defeats Truman,” but Israeli headline writers show a predilection to project certainty where there is none in Friday’s papers, giving a somewhat skewed sense of both the British elections and the testimony of fired FBI head James Comey.
With an exit poll estimating the results of the British elections coming out at midnight, as most papers are scheduled to be wrapping up their editions and sending them to the printer, writers and editors likely had mere minutes to put together a package on the battle, and headlines in both the Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom tabloids indicate Conservative Theresa May is on her way to defeating Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, showing an inability to fully parse the results in real time.
(This writer, raised a corn-fed, red-blooded American, admits to also initially misreading the results, which gave the Tories 314 seats and Labour 266, though he managed to correct himself before hitting the “publish” button on a Times of Israel news piece at 12:11 a.m.)
“Theresa May will seemingly continue on for another term,” reads a subheadline in Yedioth, under a “bitter victory” headline, which shows some understanding of what is really going on. Israel Hayom’s headline “May is leading,” is technically correct, but somewhat misleading, as it does little to express the difficulties she’ll have putting together a coalition and her clear inability to bolster her mandate, which had been the point of the election, though a subheadline does make clear that “her gamble did not pay off.”
Luckily for readers, those who delve beyond the headline are likely to get a fuller picture, even though those who really want to know whats up are more likely to check the internet than rely on an hours-old printed dinosaur.
Offering a bit of commentary, Israel Hayom’s Eldad Beck notes that the results are the product of global instability and that May can only hope Brits will be so attracted to “extremist” Corbyn that they’ll allow her to stay on.
“Something deep is happening to Western democracies. A blurring of ideological lines between right and left and growing mistrust of traditional political parties are causing more and more voters to teach the establishment a lesson and search for alternatives. Populism isn’t just the domain of the right in Europe but also the left,” he writes.
Broadsheet Haaretz, the thinking man’s paper, is the only one to capture what is really going on with its front page headline, writing that “May has lost control of parliament.”
A column by Yakir Tzur, admittedly written before any results are in, goes off the correct assumption that Labour would gain and there would be no clear majority, noting that Britons aren’t as averse to Corbyn’s socialist-minded policies as one might think and praising him for a “successful campaign.”
“It’s impossible to ignore Corbyn’s ability to manage a more successful campaign, against all expectations, when he was confronted with a biased media and an establishment with endlessly deep pockets, when he represented a socio-economic and diplomatic alternative based on an ideology few thought would survive in the 21st century,” he writes.
But even as the broadsheet shows a deeper understanding of British politics, some might say its headline on the Comey hearing, surely the biggest show in town across the pond, is lacking a bit of nuance.
“Trump tried to obstruct the probe into links with Russia,” the headline cites Comey as saying, though it takes some Talmudic exegesis of his words to reach that conclusion, as the former FBI head, careful and measured in his testimony, refused to say whether he thought there was any actual attempt to obstruct justice.
Indeed, as analyst Chemi Shalev makes clear in his write up of the dramatic hearing, “Comey didn’t land a knockout punch, but left Trump bruised and bleeding.”
“To a layman’s ears, it certainly sounds as if Trump was somewhere between asking and ordering Comey to stop an open investigation, without any connection to whether the evidence justified such a request,” he writes. “Given that the president is, in the final analysis, the FBI director’s boss, he may have leeway in instructing him about ongoing investigations, There’s an appropriate Jewish saying, of course: It may be kosher, but it certainly stinks to high heaven.”
Yedioth’s headline focuses on what Comey did clearly say, and that is that the administration told lies. Columnist Nahum Barnea meanwhile notes that there are some takeaways for Israel to learn from the hearing, Comey’s firing and the whole Russia scandal.
“Firstly, the gatekeepers must act while they still have power in their hands, and not afterward. The attorney general in Israel has power similar to the FBI head. Is Avichai Mandelblit able to deal with the investigation into the prime minister? Can he deal with the investigation into the prime minister’s wife? I fear the answer is clear,” he writes. “Mandelblit can be a hero when it comes to Aryeh Deri and his wife. That’s where his heroism ends.”
The Trump Benjamin Netanyahu similarity is also tacit in Israel Hayom, which buries the bad news about Trump as it would for Netanyahu and spins it in the president’s favor as much as it can, putting his half-response that “we will emerge stronger” in the headline alongside Comey.
The paper instead leads off with a report that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is dropping his demand for a settlement freeze as a precondition for talks. The paper touts the decision as an “achievement for Israel” and says the PA “folded,” but the story makes clear that Israel will still need to scale back settlement building significantly to a limited amount in the blocs as part of the agreement.
Columnist Eyal Zisser credits Trump with making the move possible, claiming that unlikely Comey, Abbas is afraid of the US president.
“The Palestinians are worried that Trump will leave them behind and will present them a deal as a fait accompli, based on understandings reached between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This is where the charm offensive and good will in Ramallah is coming from,” he writes. “It’s not worthwhile to mess with Trump, and with his very willingness to push along a regional agreement he has done Abbas a huge favor, bringing him back to life and giving him newfound relevance.”