Israelis who awoke this morning to read the front pages of Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom may have rubbed their eyes in disbelief, thinking they had perhaps been transported to a different country or a distant future. Even aside from the pictures of children frolicking in the snow, headlines reporting on health and education without a word about politics, regional conflict or global isolation are a rare sight indeed in these parts.

Looking at Maariv and Haaretz, however, would jolt readers back to reality. With headlines reporting on settlers in Hebron, Labor Party infighting and the foreign minister’s rather undiplomatic message to his European counterparts, readers can once again feel at home in the good old Middle East.

When it comes to reality checks, there really is no one better than Avigdor Liberman. The foreign minister and Yisrael Beytenu head gave a Hanukkah toast last night that could turn the sweetest donut into a bitter pill. Stating that for many European foreign ministers “the destruction of Israel is a matter of course,” comparing European UN delegates to members of Fatah and threatening a ground incursion into Gaza if another missile is fired from Gaza into Israel, Liberman really brought forth the holiday cheer.

Competing with Liberman for “Israel’s Top Grinch” award is Maariv’s Page 1 story on Israel’s academic ranking boost, which seeks to burst the bubble of what, only yesterday, was hailed as a magnificent achievement. The impressive jump in international test results — from 34th place five years ago to seventh place today — was achieved, the report claims, by leaving the weaker students out of the reckoning. Israeli schools reportedly fudged with the averages by failing to administer the test to nearly a quarter of the weakest students, triple the number of any other country participating in the ranking. The article charges the education system of being more concerned with international rankings and the buzz they produce than with actually educating the children.

The nurses’ strike continues to make top headlines today after the Labor Court refused to issue an injunction forcing the disgruntled employees back to work last night. Though they agreed not to further escalate their protest, after 10 days, the patients are losing patience.

Yedioth interviews a nurse who recently immigrated from Canada, who says she is considering returning to the cold climate and favorable working conditions and salary she had there. “I don’t understand how you can manage in Israel with such low salaries,” she says. “You do God’s work in the hospital and earn a non-subsistence wage. Because of the humiliating work conditions, we are considering returning to Canada.

If there were an award for sleazy story of the day, Israel Hayom would be hands-down winner with its front page story on a man who found pornographic photos and videos on his newly purchased cellphone. The “breaking news story” reports that the store he bought the phone from had accidentally inserted a used phone brought in for repair into the buyer’s box. The disgusted and outraged shopper decided in the meantime to hold on to the phone, while his lawyer negotiates a settlement deal with the office supply chain.

Keeping up the yuck factor, Haaretz offers a front page report that states that 56 percent of food items recently inspected by the Agriculture Ministry showed traces of pesticides, 11% of them in concentrations that exceed the allowed limits. The article states that while the ministry says the traces are not harmful, environmental groups claim it didn’t factor in the harm caused by the combination of several chemicals or allergic reactions in children.

Sara Netanyahu is once again producing headlines over her treatment of the Prime Minister’s Residence staff. Israel’s first lady, who has several times in the past been embroiled in high-profile disputes with housekeepers and nannies, is now facing off with the residence’s janitor. Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the employee quit his job after a disagreement with Netanyahu turned into a shouting match and the latter demanded that he take a lie detector test. Sara Netanyahu’s office denied the allegations and attributed the report to pre-elections smearing.

Political news roundup

Haaretz’s top story today reports on grumblings among Labor Party MKs over what they describe as pandering to the right by party leader Shelly Yachimovich. “Labor leaders: It’s time to talk about the territories,” reads the headline and the article reports that party members, some of them senior members (though all refuse to go on the record) are disappointed at Yachimovich’s decision to focus the elections campaign solely on socio-economic issues and all but neglect the party’s traditional security and diplomatic positions.

The article states that the party members attribute Labor’s recent slide in the polls (from 20 to 17 seats) to the failure of Yachimovich’s strategy to draw in any right-leaning voters.

Maariv reports that Yisrael Beytenu MK Faina Kirshenbaum is the most recent right-wing politician to call for the next coalition to be formed without the ultra-Orthodox parties. “We will strive to form a coalition between the left and right and in that way prevent Haredi extortion,” said Kirshenbaum. Her words echo similar statements by Likud hawks Tzipi Hotovely and Ze’ev Elkin.

In Yedioth, former national security advisor Uzi Arad, who was once considered a close aide and confident to Netanyahu, is reported as speaking up in favor of his old boss’s political rival Tzipi Livni. Arad gave a speech on Monday in which he praised Livni for standing firm against Palestinian demands when she headed talks with them as Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister.

“It was apparent that Livni presided over the talks and that her negotiating was proud, professional and authoritative, maintaining Israel’s vital principles,” said Arad of the Hatnua party head.