All the king’s horses walk into a bar
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Hebrew media review

All the king’s horses walk into a bar

With the news providing a vision of society sundered, Humpty sure seems beyond the help of both horses and men — though a prize, even for a lefty author, at least provides some glue

In this Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015 photo, Dr. Gal Kelmer, head of the department of large animals, unties a horse after its operation at the University's Koret School of Veterinary Medicine in Rishon Lezion, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
In this Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015 photo, Dr. Gal Kelmer, head of the department of large animals, unties a horse after its operation at the University's Koret School of Veterinary Medicine in Rishon Lezion, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

It’s nothing new for divisions to be on display in the press. Papers naturally accentuate differences to ramp up drama. But what reverberates through Israel’s print media Thursday morning, the day after a shooting attack on a congressman in the US and with peace efforts moribund and some unwilling to let go of the past, is how hard it is to bridge the gaps between groups of people.

The clearest example of that is the shooting in Washington, DC, of GOP Representative Steve Scalise, and given the political nature of the assassination attempt, all three major Israeli dailies rightly play up the fact that the shooter was no big fan of Republicans. Both tabloids Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom run variations of the same headline: “He asked if we were Republican and shot,” riffing off a description of the scene from Congressman Jeff Duncan, who spoke to the shooter before he opened fire.

Israel Hayom calls it “a miracle” nobody was killed, and both papers play the story pretty straight, highlighting the would-be assassin’s political statements on social media and support for Bernie Sanders (with Yedioth actually putting in a picture of Sanders, which some might see as a step too far toward guilt by association.)

“His accounts on social media show political activism on the left side of the map and enthusiastic support for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign,” Israel Hayom reports.

Both papers also seem to take extra note of the location of the shooting, with Israel Hayom strangely reporting that the baseball game Scalise and others were practicing for will still go ahead and Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Yossi Shain calling the incident a “Nightmare on a field of dreams,” a reference to the great baseball movie.

“On the baseball field is where there is a set ritual that every American kid knows well: handshakes between the winners and losers,” he writes, referring to the Little League post-game lineups that are actually more high-fives than handshakes. “This is a central part of the American ethos that symbolizes humility, equanimity, mutual respect and mostly unity. But that’s exactly where James Hodgkinson chose to open fire yesterday and sow the seeds of wild factionalism — seeds that must be quickly suppressed.”

Haaretz’s lead story reports that the same baseball-loving country is making another run at sowing Middle East peace, with White House adviser Jason Greenblatt headed back to the region for talks with top officials to try and draft a framework agreement for the renewal of final-status talks.

“The Americans have ideas and drafts for principles for the renewing of the negotiations,” an Israeli source is quoted saying. “The White House made preparations and held consultations with a number of people in order to map the positions of the sides and the talks with Netanyahu and Abbas are a part of this process.”

The paper makes the impossible seem only a few meetings away, but Greenblatt indeed has his work cut out for him, with even the one place where progress was seemingly made — Israel’s pullout from Gaza — being again called into question, 12 years later. Israel Hayom’s lead story quotes former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Naveh, who helped carry out the evacuation of some northern West Bank settlements, calling the moves a mistake.

“There is no doubt we got no security benefit in Gaza and Samaria. Even if the disengagement from Gaza contributed to the historical understanding that proved that terror is not linked to there being settlements and proved that you can’t carry out an evacuation like that, which nobody wants to see again — in northern Samaria we didn’t even get that. There was no benefit from the evacuation. Zero. Nothing. No good change came of it,” he’s quoted saying in a preview for a longer weekend piece in which he also calls for settlers to return to Homesh and other evacuated settlements there.

US translator Jessica Cohen (L) and Israeli author David Grossman (R) pose for a photograph with his book A Horse Walks Into a Bar at the shortlist photocall for the Man Booker International Prize at St James' Church in London on June 13, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Daniel Leal-Olivas)
US translator Jessica Cohen (L) and Israeli author David Grossman (R) pose for a photograph with his book A Horse Walks Into a Bar at the shortlist photocall for the Man Booker International Prize at St James’ Church in London on June 13, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Daniel Leal-Olivas)

The one place where there seems to be almost no dispute or division is over Israelis’ love for books (even if literature and cultural matters have become highly politicized) and Yedioth Ahronoth celebrates author David Grossman’s winning of the International Booker Prize for “A Horse Walks Into a Bar” as a victory for the whole country, its rah-rah coverage missing only a “#BDSfail” in the headline. In a sign of how important literature is to the country, it’s two political columnists, not cultural critics, who are enlisted by the paper to wax heroic on the win: Nahum Barnea and Sima Kadmon (though it’s difficult to call Barnea’s three-sentence ode much of anything).

Kadmon, meanwhile, who just interviewed Grossman, writes glowingly of the author and his books, saying that the accolade should come as no big surprise and noting that the novel is the product of a very Israeli author.

“The book that won represents not only a writer with extraordinary writing ability, compassion and humor, but also the place where Grossman grew up: his childhood in Jerusalem as a son of Holocaust survivors,” she writes.

Even if Israelis roundly appreciate Grossman the writer, he and other writers have come under attack for taking sides politically, thrusting them into a battle with the right-wing government run by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Columnist Dan Margalit, whose position as the only critical voice of the Netanyahu government at Israel Hayom recently got him fired from the tabloid, finds a new home on Haaretz’s op-ed page, where he becomes another voice taking aim at government ministers for boycotting voices they don’t like.

“The government has waged a boycott attack since the 2015 elections. The father of all the sins was Netanyahu, who before the election booted members of the Israel Prize selection panel. This was intervention in the style of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, and a sign of things to come. Boycotts have become a daily matter for the culture minister and now the prime minister is competing with her,” he writes. “The damage is not just being caused inside Israel. In parts of the world where Israel is still being judged by criteria of democracy and equality, Netanyahu and Miri Regev are serving those who oppose Israel — both those who find in the actions of the two justification to support an open boycott like BDS and also those making a de facto boycott, keeping author Amos Oz from the Nobel Prize because of his Israeli citizenship.”

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