Israel media review

10,000 maniacs: What the press is talking about on August 2

Protesters fill the Jerusalem square outside Netanyahu’s official residence, leading to some gushing coverage, though predictions of a descent into deadly violence continue

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Protesters, mask-clad due to the coronavirus pandemic, gather for a demonstration against the government near the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on August 1, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Protesters, mask-clad due to the coronavirus pandemic, gather for a demonstration against the government near the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on August 1, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

1. Bibi, I got your numbers: Ten thousand people at a protest is not an especially impressive turnout in normal times.

But pack those 10,000 into central Jerusalem — where there are no big squares like in Tel Aviv or any other world capital — amid a raging pandemic that keeps many at home, sprinkle a few thousand more at ancillary rallies around the country and mix in a press many of whose members (let’s face it) share at least some of the protesters’ amorphous goals, and you have a media landscape that regards the 10,000 the same way it might a rally 40 times its size.

  • The protest leads almost all major media outlets Sunday morning, as it did Saturday night, adorned with pictures of large groups of people rallying for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to leave office, or being arrested as they refuse to leave the intersection outside his official residence.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth, whose publisher has refused to step down despite being caught up in the same graft scandal as Netanyahu, nonetheless goes balls to the wall with its coverage. “Balfour protest,” reads its top headline, alongside a full-page picture of the gathered masses.
  • The paper’s Meirav Batito compares the throngs coming into Jerusalem as the sun began to set to a “pilgrimage.”
  • “This was no ordinary Jerusalem Shabbat. Even if the residents of the most religious city in the country had only just woken up, and even if they did not make the whole journey from Tel Aviv and see the bridges filled with people along with Israeli flags and black flags, they could still easily hear the roiling noise of the protest as it started to swell from Balfour Street,” she writes.
  • “The protest is spreading: Thousands demonstrate at a series of spots across the country,” reads the top headline in broadsheet Haaretz.
  • The paper doesn’t have the 10,000 number, which is widely cited elsewhere, but it has another interesting figure: protests were held at over 250 bridges nationwide.
  • But wait, there’s more: The paper also reports that on Friday, some 150 Israeli expats gathered in San Francisco to hold their own anti-Netanyahu protest and more such events are planned in New York City, London and Berlin.
  • “We are here as patriotic Israelis who love our country,” says one demonstrator. “We want to express our support for the patriots in Jerusalem outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.”

2. Free press, free shove: There are no reports of major injuries or fighting, but the cops did need to come in to forcibly remove the demonstrators, leading to some tussling between protesters and police trying to drag them out kicking and screaming.

  • In comments widely carried in the media, police commander Ofer Shamir tells reporters that the ten thousand people acted in exemplary fashion and left in an orderly manner to go home, though, he added, “There were 200 who refused to leave — we let them stay almost until 2 a.m., but in the end we were forced to use reasonable force to disperse them.”
  • One protester named Ayala tells The Times of Israel that protesters were merely sitting and singing on their own without violence but were met with “a lot of aggression.“
  • The scrum, of course, also included camera people and journalists. A Haaretz reporter tweets out a video of him being shoved away from the protest by a cop, even after he identified himself as press.
  • During the press conference, Channel 12 reporter Moshe Nussbaum asks Shamir about the press being pushed away and is told that the cops were letting the journalists do their jobs. “There was a clearing process. If there was something out of the ordinary we will check it.”
  • Nussbaum pushes back, mentioning that he heard of several incidents: “I infer that there was some intentional order, by you all, to clear out the journalists by force.” Shamir’s doesn’t issue an outright denial but just restates what he already said and segues into complaints about the difficulties of protecting a march.

3. Reading the right: So what does 10,000 mean that 5,000 didn’t? Most think pieces are still percolating in the minds of Israel’s greatest thinkers, but some already have ideas.

  • Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea writes that Netanyahu “needs to be worried. Firstly, over the consistency. For now, this wave is refusing to die down. Secondly, because of the youths. They are coming in their masses. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, because of the right-wingers,” he writes, clarifying that he means ordinary right-wing voters.
  • “They were for him when they thought he was winning. Now, given the economic crisis and failing management against the coronavirus, they see him in a different light. They don’t like failures,” he writes, shoving 1 million voters into a simplistic, homogeneous box.
  • Haaretz columnist Carolina Landsmann also attempts a journey into the minds of the right-wingers, first envisioning them as longing for Netanyahu’s assassination so they can have a retort for Yitzhak Rabin’s slaying, and deciding that’s a good road to continue heading down.
  • “The right has no real way to pull free of Netanyahu, either. Maybe they’re too weak, too loyal, too obedient,” she writes, talking about people as if they were pets. “But in their hearts they certainly understand – even those who love him – that they’re sitting in a car with no brakes.”
  • As for a real live right-winger, Makor Rishon editor Hagai Segal makes clear that he thinks the protesters are idiots for going out and congregating, but in doing so, appears to imply that more right-wingers would be protesting if not for the virus (while doing some stereotyping of his own).
  • “Fact: skullcap-wearers gave in to the order preventing them from congregating en masse in synagogue because of the coronavirus. Liberals — surely not. Unlike Judaism, their religion does not allow them to skip a public mitzvah for reasons of saving a life,” he writes. “Even while the pandemic is at its heights, they hold firm to their right to protest all day.”

4. Crying wolf in sheep’s clothing: Like other papers, Israel Hayom also leads off with the protests, but with a caveat. This time it mixes its coverage with a survey it published days earlier in which about half of the respondents thought that the protests had the potential for violence. (Conveniently, the paper’s Gideon Allon does not bother to say if the respondents were asked about where the violence is emanating from, seemingly hoping that readers will assume it is from the protesters.)

  • “The unmistakable message from the survey is the public’s total revulsion from violence. The fact that just 27 percent of those questioned think that the protests are balanced should be a red light that illuminates the eyes of the protesters,” Allon writes. “The people’s protest is legitimate, but the voices of Netanyahu supporters who made themselves heard at the ballot box in three elections are no less legitimate,” he writes.
  • The tactic is the twin of one employed by Netanyahu and his entourage to deflect attention away from right-wingers attacking protesters: complaining about all the death threats he gets. And the media takes him to task for it.
  • “Of course we need to protect the prime minister, and the state has the mechanisms to do so. But with Netanyahu wanting to talk again and again about threats on his life — he diverts the conversation from actual violence on the street,” writes Dana Weiss on Channel 12 news’s website.
  • “Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s leading generator of violence. The prime minister is the superspreader who has infected an entire country with schizophrenia,” writes Haaretz’s Yossi Verter, cutting to the chase. “Another murder of an Israeli prime minister is almost science fiction. The murder of a demonstrator is a clear and present danger. The writing, scrawled in blood, is on the wall.”
  • In Walla, Avi Mizrahi notes that for much of Israel’s history, including the pre-state era, political violence has not been a stranger. Political scientist Yossi Shein tells him that the unrest was sparked by Netanyahu and Co. and being helped along by the rightist thugs. “The questions that were brought up recently undermining the authority of the law enforcement community — the police and courts — are sowing the seeds of anarchy. This subverts public order from within. A public sentiment that comes from above can put the reins on or take them off. The violence of thugs who get overt or covert backing from above is a serious problem. The claim by the regime itself that the law enforcement institutions are trying to carry out a coup is like a seal of approval for the brutes.”

5. The massage is the message: The protests weren’t all murder and mayhem. They might have even been a good time. As one 8 year-old dragged to the demonstration tells ToI, “I didn’t think it would be so fun.”

  • Or maybe even relaxing. That was the idea of Ohad, a 30-year-old Israeli from northern Israel who set up some massage tables for free rub-downs. The idea, he tells ToI, was to physically help people let go of their rage and stress, but also symbolically tell Netanyahu to let go already.
  • While he originally wanted to massage just cops who are “going through a very difficult period, I’m sure, on the personal level,” he wound up massaging protesters instead. “The responses were amazing. I didn’t expect anything like it, I thought we would be a weird sideshow.”
  • He has a lot to compete with. Take for instance this brass band that accompanied protesters downtown.
  • “Culture lives among us. We won’t let it die,” reads a placard held up by one dancing participant.
  • No band? No problem. This guy showed up with his own boombox, blasting out Lag Ba’Omer tunes, apparently already wistful for the May holiday.
  • And then there were those who went to the protest with their eyes on a bigger prize, like this girl who held up a poster reading: “Looking for a shidduch [arranged marriage].”
  • Let’s hope she finds Moshe, who held up two posters the other day declaring that he is still single but “ready for love.”
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