Whatever happened to our election debates?
Hebrew Media Review

Whatever happened to our election debates?

Israel reacts to the first US presidential face-off, the PM-DM spat gets serious, and we get some new citizens

A Druze resident of the Golan Heights looks out onto Syria in July 2012 (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
A Druze resident of the Golan Heights looks out onto Syria in July 2012 (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

The first presidential debate occurred too late for the Israeli papers to cover it on Thursday, so the Friday papers more than make up for it with pictures of Romney and Obama splashed across the front pages.

All four main Hebrew papers agree that Republican Mitt Romney bested President Barack Obama in the first debate, and each paper analyzes what it thinks that means for the election. Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth stay in the center with “Everything is open” and “The loss and excuses” respectively. Republican donor Shelly Adelson’s paper Israel Hayom goes predictably more pro-challenger with “Romney’s victory” (its news article title calls the debate “Romney’s knockout”). Strongly left-leaning Haaretz — back on the newsstands following Thursday’s strike action no-show — goes with “Romney defeated Obama in the debate, but still trails in him in the race.”

The papers don’t offer much analysis on the debate’s connection to Israel. Yedioth does include a small article about debates in Israel and how politicians try to avoid them — including, the paper adds sneakily, “in the 2013 elections.” The reason? If you’re leading, you could say something to lose it. Though there have been some landmark debates: the most famous was Shimon Peres debating Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, where, according to the paper, the face-to-face was a turning point in Bibi’s campaign.

While it is indeed doubtful that there will be any debates in 2013, it is looking more and more as if there will be elections in the next few months. Haaretz’s front page has a lengthy lead-in to its article about why elections are on the way: “The prime minister and the defense minister are having an odd quarrel, the speaker of the Knesset warns of a circus of populist ideas and the budget still isn’t ready on the eve of the opening of the Knesset — all the signs indicate that elections are already here.”

Israel Hayom jumps on that quarrel between Netanyahu and Ehud Barak with its front-page headline from those close to Netanyahu, “Likud officials: ‘Netanyahu is considering firing Barak.’” The article states that Netanyahu is considering dismissing his defense minister because of the growing crisis between them; Netanyahu believes that Barak undermined his authority on a recent trip to America. The paper also reports that Barak requested two months ago to join the Likud and be placed in the top 10 members for the Knesset list, which Netanyahu rejected. Barak denied this charge and, in an effort to patch things up, his aides have sent a message to Netanyahu that says, “I didn’t undermine you.”

Turkey stands down

Turkey and Syria’s latest flare-up seemed to have calmed down for the moment, but the tension between the two countries is top news in Israel. “Shoot then apologize,” is how Yedioth characterizes Syria’s actions over the past week. The article states that Turkey’s military response to a Syrian mortar attack, in which five Turkish citizens were killed, struck deep into Syria and killed 14 Syrian soldiers. Hoping to avoid a major conflict with Turkey, Syria responded by apologizing for the attack and said that it would investigate the incident.

Maariv includes in its coverage of the Syrian situation a full-length article about the Druze of the Golan Heights, who traditionally have aligned with Syria and refused Israeli citizenship. It says they are beginning to reverse that stance. The article states that, in the last few months, there have been increasing numbers of Druze who have applied for Israeli citizenship, as a direct result of the Syrian civil war. One resident of Majdal Shams told the paper, “It’s mostly the youth. People are coming to the conclusion that Israeli citizenship is better than Syrian citizenship.” The paper puts the number of people requesting citizenship in the hundreds.

A sad story on the roads of Israel as a 9-year-old boy was killed Thursday returning from a vacation with his family in Eilat. Israel Hayom reports that the father lost control of the car and overturned the car in the desert. The boy was thrown from the car and killed, while his family — his parents and three sisters — were lightly injured. It is unclear what caused the father to lose control of the vehicle.

Hostile opinions

In the opinion pages, Dan Margalit writes in Israel Hayom on the possibility of Israeli elections in the coming months. Margalit sides with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin’s idea to dissolve the Knesset immediately, which would pave the way to elections in February. The reason: just have the parties pander to the people directly, rather than via the Knesset. “With the scent of elections in MKs’ noses, there’s no stopping irresponsible legislation,” writes Margalit. Margalit adds that, by dispersing the Knesset immediately, the political parties could convene primaries and get their houses in order before the election, which Margalit feels is necessary for “Labor and Likud especially.”

Ben Caspit of floundering Maariv rails against Adelson and Israel Hayom, and its effect on the Israeli media landscape, in a long piece titled “Hostile takeover.” He compares Adelson’s funding of Israel Hayom (which is given away for free every day) to a hostile takeover or an alien invasion. “Those protecting the home front are: Maariv, Haaretz, Channel 10, and Globes, the next spot is Channel 2, and at the back of the line is Yedioth.” But can this ragtag media group protect Israel? Well, not without regulation, argues Caspit, who wants some protection against foreign intervention into the media market.

Caspit writes, “Suddenly a foreign billionaire comes along, who doesn’t live here and doesn’t pay taxes, and dumps millions of shekels in donations to a friend (who just happens to be the prime minister), and after all that gives it away for free, shoving this contemptible result into the reader’s home.” While Caspit rambles on against Israel Hayom, he concludes his piece with a plea to those politicians close to Netanyahu, who hear the despairing voices of disappearing media outlets, to intervene and save them. Don’t hold your breath.

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