Ya’alon and the newspaper wars
Hebrew media review

Ya’alon and the newspaper wars

Amid diplomatic fiasco, Israel Hayom calls defense minister 'very naive' for trusting Yedioth with his criticism of Kerry

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Outrage from the United States over statements by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon causes a splash in the press in Israel. Ya’alon lashed out at US Secretary of State John Kerry and railed against Washington-led peace talks in private conversations, according to a report Tuesday in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily. The aftermath of the report took the front page in every paper Wednesday.

It comes as no surprise that Yedioth Ahronoth leads with the Ya’alon snafu, reporting that the White House read the defense minister’s comments Tuesday morning “and the response was not long in coming.” It adds that Ya’alon met Tuesday night with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and said that his comments weren’t meant to be published, “but he also refused to deny them.”

According to Maariv, Ya’alon met Shapiro and in private contended that the basis of the leaks was “newspaper wars.” A senior American official was quoted after the conversation saying that “the US isn’t satisfied by the defense minister’s explanations, and expects the prime minister to explain publicly Israel’s commitment to the diplomatic process.”

Haaretz’s headline quotes US State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki saying that Ya’alon’s remarks were “offensive and inappropriate.” The paper reports that senior American officials said that the United States was not satisfied with the government’s initial response to Ya’alon’s remarks and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a public condemnation.

Israel Hayom runs the headline “It ended with an apology,” with its coverage focusing on Ya’alon’s eventual expression of regret to Kerry for the remarks quoted in the press. The paper quotes a source close to Ya’alon saying, however, that “in publishing the statements of Ya’alon, all the journalistic rules of ethics were violated, including the most basic rule of protecting a source and preventing its exposure.” Israel Hayom also called the United States’ condemnation of the defense minister’s comments “exceptionally harsh.”

Haaretz reporter Barak Ravid writes an op-ed/analysis of the Ya’alon comment brouhaha, saying it’s hard at this point to assess the damage it inflicted on the US-Israel relationship. He remarks that Ya’alon has stepped into Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s old shoes as the faux-pas maker, persona non grata in Israeli politics. He writes that “Ya’alon seems to have forgotten that Kerry is not a freelancer. The man he described as messianic and obsessive works for an American president who has given [Kerry] full support. The attack on Kerry is an attack on [US President] Barack Obama as well.”

“The problem with Ya’alon’s comments is not just style, but also substance. It is legitimate for Ya’alon to think Kerry’s plans are void of content, but much of the defense establishment disagrees with him,” he writes.

On the other hand, Israel Hayom’s Gonen Ginat writes that while Ya’alon was right to apologize (and was forced to), “Israelis free from diplomatic mores are permitted to clarify to the American what they know already,” that “a large majority of Israelis think that Ya’alon, before the apology, said the truth. He was right.”

He then launches into an attack on Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel Hayom’s largest competitor. Ya’alon was never known for his diplomatic tact, Ginat says, but “perhaps he was even a little naive. Actually, very naive: he even believed the guarantees of the people at Yedioth Ahronoth that he could speak frankly and that his words wouldn’t be published.”

“They promised him, but who trusts the world of Yedioth nowadays? Only a very naive person,” he writes.

Yedioth Ahronoth also runs a follow-up piece about reactions to Ya’alon’s comment. It reports that the center and left of the political spectrum condemned the defense minister’s remarks, but a Likud official paraphrased Genesis 27:22 saying “the voice was the voice of Bogie [Ya’alon] — the thoughts [were the thoughts] of Netanyahu.”

Iran takes second fiddle for Israel Hayom and Maariv, reporting on comments made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the Islamic Republic had “subdued the West” in the nuclear negotiations. Israel Hayom quotes the Iranian leader saying that the deal reached with world powers means a “breaking of the walls of sanctions unjustly levied against the dear and peace-loving nation.” Maariv quotes officials in the International Atomic Energy Agency saying that they still don’t have sufficient authority to investigate Iran’s nuclear program, that the authority granted to them by the interim deal signed by Iran and world powers in November is a far cry from that given to the IAEA in Iraq after the First Gulf War.

On Haaretz’s front page is a Reuters report quoting senior Egyptian security officials saying that once they crush the Muslim Brotherhood along the Nile, they’ll act to topple Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “We cannot get liberated from the terrorism of the Brotherhood in Egypt without ending it in Gaza, which lies on our borders,” an official was quoted saying.

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