Hebrew media review

A ‘lynching’ that wasn’t and a ‘liar’ who wasn’t called one

A Jenin riot becomes the sum of all fears for a press that remembers an actual deadly attack, and an imprecise translation helps make Netanyahu’s bust-up with Trump even worse

People in Jenin surrounding a car with two Israeli soldiers in it, on February 13, 2018.
People in Jenin surrounding a car with two Israeli soldiers in it, on February 13, 2018.

The two main stories in Israel’s press Tuesday morning carry echoes of the past, but also show how much has changed in a short time. Between tensions with the White House and soldiers being attacked after wandering into a Palestinian city, there’s a sense of deja vu.

Only this time around, the tensions with Washington, once ho-hum, are remarkable in an era of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bromance. And unlike a Ramallah riot in 2000 in which two soldiers were killed while in Palestinian police custody, in front of TV cameras, this time the troops escaped with their lives thanks to close security cooperation with the Palestinians.

Despite the incident ending without any serious harm and the fact that it will probably be forgotten by tomorrow, both Haaretz and Israel Hayom lead with the soldiers getting caught in Jenin. That decision may be a direct result of how reminiscent the case is of the 2000 Ramallah riot, the bloody hands of one killer forever ingrained in pretty much every Israeli’s mind.

Aziz Salha waving his bloody hands after the lynch of 2 IDF reservists in Ramallah in 2000 (photo credit: screen capture, YouTube)
Aziz Salha waving his bloody hands after the lynch of 2 IDF reservists in Ramallah in 2000 (photo credit: screen capture, YouTube)

Israel Hayom’s front page is also plenty bloody, even with the beaten female soldier’s face blurred under the headline “An almost-lynching in Jenin.” The use of the word lynching in this and other papers — not to belittle the horrifying incident or the soldiers’ injuries — likely says more about the press’s penchant for hyperbole than what actually happened.

Yet it was no walk in the park. The paper writes that had Palestinian security forces not stepped in to rescue them, “it could have been a serious tragedy.”

“Every Israeli that saw the pictures from north Jenin yesterday was reminded of the lynching in Ramallah, which began the Second Intifada. The critical difference: This time Palestinian police saved the troops from the lynching and didn’t take part in it,” the paper writes, driving the point home and throwing some shade at Ramallah as well.

Adding drama into the mix, the paper quotes the female soldier yelling, “I don’t want to die,” as “dozens of Palestinians began to attack the car, throwing stones from point blank and hitting them with everything they could find.”

Haaretz’s treatment is less dramatic, though it does quote an army official saying that “without the Palestinian preventive security, this would have ended in a lynching with a serious threat to the soldiers’ lives.”

Yedioth Ahronoth also calls it a near-lynching — the second in two weeks — but notes that Jenin is different now, with anti-Israel sentiment “at a peak” since an army operation in the city last week that killed the terror suspect wanted in the shooting death of Raziel Shevach.

“I’ve been in the security forces since they were founded and I’ve never seen such an atmosphere of extremism you see on the Palestinian street these days,” a Palestinian security source is quoted as telling the paper. “Even in the Second Intifada there wasn’t a hostile atmosphere in the West Bank like this.”

As is de rigueur in cases like this, someone or something has to be blamed, and the Waze navigation app gets a chunk of it, though Haaretz also reports that the army thinks the driver may simply not have been paying attention.

In Israel Hayom, columnist Yoav Limor notes that the failures were many, and says Waze shouldn’t get a pass just because drivers are lazy.

“Their reliance on Waze is understandable, but problematic: It’s not a substitute for straight thinking. It also doesn’t excuse the IDF from going to Waze executives and warning them about the problem,” he writes. “It’s understandable that the company will defer responsibility, but that doesn’t mean they should get off easy. They have to fix their algorithm so that the system will at least warn Israelis that they are about to enter a forbidden area.”

In Yedioth, columnist Shlomo Pyutrekovsky writes that the problem isn’t the army going too easy on Waze, but rather the existence of forbidden areas and troops going too easy on the Palestinians. He notes that in the good old days Israelis were supposed to be able to enter Area A unimpeded and did so until the army made it illegal to enter those areas following the Ramallah killing.

“In this situation, with PA areas free of Jews, at least de facto, attempted lynchings like this are almost inevitable,” he writes. “To this adds, and it’s not nice to write, a lack of credible deterrent from the army. The Jenin rioters who attacked the soldier are not afraid of what will happen to them. They don’t really think someone will knock on their door in a day or two and haul them in front of a judge. The IDF is no longer scary and these soldiers paid the price.”

The other main story in the press is the strange exchange between Jerusalem and Washington that occurred after Netanyahu claimed he had been talking about annexing parts of the West Bank with the Americans. The White House swiftly denied it and the prime minister was forced to eat his words.

Yedioth — with the front page headline “What Netanyahu said is a lie,” an imprecise quote from White House spokesman Josh Raffel — calls the back-and-forth “unprecedented.” Which is true for Netanyahu-Trump relations, but would have been nothing to write home about had it occurred under Obama, whom Netanyahu famously bickered with.

“Netanyahu didn’t expect a slap in the face like this. Especially when the president of the US is Trump, who loves to describe Netanyahu as his good friend,” reads the lede in the paper.

Tourists walk past a graffiti by street artist Lushsux, depicting US President Donald Trump kissing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drawn on the Israeli security barrier separating the West Bank town of Bethlehem from Jerusalem, on October 29, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Musa AL SHAER)

While the statement from the White House was certainly not friendly, the paper’s decision to translate “The reports… are false,” as “the reports… are a lie” makes it sound even worse than it is.

“Few world leaders, if any, have been treated to an official White House statement calling them liars. Netanyahu is seemingly the first,” reporter Orly Azulai writes in an accompanying column. “Obama may have thought similar things, but he never put out a statement saying it.”

Both Israel Hayom and Haaretz are more careful with their wording, in the former’s case likely to soften the blow. Still, Israel Hayom calls the incident “the first harsh public confrontation between the two leaders.”

Could Israel Hayom side with Trump should he ever split up with Netanyahu? In Haaretz’s op-ed page Uzi Baram hopes not, and says the paper’s seeming willingness to even put the two on the same footing is problematic. Baram writes that he could understand why someone might support Netanyahu, but Trump should be beyond the pale — even for the right.

“Trump is a weed, growing in a flowerbed of chauvinism, populism, of aggrandizing the powerful and of contempt for the free media and free society. He’s a democratic wreck. Anyone who looks at him sees this, ” he writes. “Donald Trump is a disaster for democracy, for tolerance and for solidarity between people. Will you, people of the right, continue to build him up just because he is burying every chance for a future deal with the Palestinians?”

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