Black and blue flag: What the press is talking about on July 26
Israel media review

Black and blue flag: What the press is talking about on July 26

Fewer protesters get beat up by the cops, to one minister’s possible dismay, but they still face attacks by vigilantes as rallies spread across the country

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his home in the northern coastal town of Caesarea, July 25, 2020. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his home in the northern coastal town of Caesarea, July 25, 2020. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

1. Protesters under attack: Anti-government protests took place across the country Saturday night but unlike previous rallies, coverage isn’t (only) focused on police violence toward the demonstrators, but rather attacks by vigilantes.

  • Media reports count three separate incidents of protesters being attacked, at an interchange in Sha’ar Hanegev, at an interchange in Ramat Gan and in Jerusalem, just outside the main protest area.
  • It’s not safe here,” reads a headline on Channel 12 news’s website, quoting a protester in Jerusalem who spoke to Army Radio.
  • The channel reports that in Jerusalem, “one man reported to police that six men dressed in black attacked another protester on Lincoln Street in the capital. According to him, the six yelled at the protester that he has no right to protest, hit him with a helmet and broke a glass bottle on him.”
  • Haaretz reports that “two other protesters testified that they were attacked by three right-wing activists after they left the demonstration. According to one of them, “Three young men asked my friend: ‘Are you [with] Bibi or against Bibi?’ He didn’t answer, and then one of them started beating him. Then he came in front of me and punched me in the face and threw my glasses down the road.”
  • While others just hint at it, Channel 13 comes out and identifies the group as right-wing members of La Familia, a gang of soccer hooligans partial to Beitar Jerusalem, who are also known for their propensity for racist and homophobic attacks.
  • The channel reports that the group tried to get into Paris Square but was turned away by police (which likely explains why they went to nearby Lincoln Street).
  • Haaretz’s Ariana Melamed notes on Twitter that among those who helped push the group away from the protesters was Jerusalem police chief Doron Yedid, who was thanked for his trouble with chants of “won’t be police chief.”
  • In Sha’ar Hanegev, Nir Sa’ar, who was treated for stab wounds, tells the Ynet news site that some 15 to 20 young people showed up in a group of cars and attacked the 30-odd demonstrators gathered on the overpass, which included children.
  • “They attacked the protesters with kicks and punches, tore up the signs and pushed us onto the road,” he says, adding that his friend was beat up as well in front of his kids.
  • The news site also publishes video of another attack, this one at Ramat Gan’s Aluf Sade interchange, where a man reported he and his son were pepper-sprayed by someone in a car that crawled by.
  • The site quotes the attacked man saying he told police that “there must be CCTV footage, it’s impossible to miss.”
  • However, the video actually comes from a photographer who had shown up to document the protest and didn’t realize until later what he had.
  • “Suddenly I felt burning in my eyes and realized that someone sprayed something at us. I went to the cops and reported that we were maced. Only when I went over my pictures did I see it happen.”

2. There will be batons: The attacks come after a Channel 13 report over the weekend that Public Security Minister Amir Ohana had protested to interim police chief Moti Cohen that police were being too gentle with the protesters, even amid complaints of heavy-handed tactics and indiscriminate use of water cannons.

  • “I’ll ask you a question, and I don’t expect an answer,” Ohana reportedly told Cohen. “If this was a protest by ultra-Orthodox people, Arabs or Ethiopians, would you have acted the same [way]?” Cohen then said: “I’ll answer you — you cannot say such things.”
  • On Saturday night, Ohana told Channel 12 that he expects police to treat all protesters equally, though he doesn’t mean lowering the flame against the ultra-Orthodox, but rather bringing down the hammer on the anti-government protesters. “I don’t support police violence and I expect commanders to act against it. But how do I explain that in a Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] protest, police act in one way, and in this protest, they act another way?”
  • The channel reports, though, that police did not intend to ratchet up enforcement against the protesters, and indeed as ToI’s Aaron Boxerman notes, the use of water cannons only came at the way end, and only 12 people were arrested, six of them from the group attacking protesters on Lincoln Street, as opposed to 55 at the last protest.
  • Speaking to Kan radio Sunday morning, Ohana says there was still plenty of violence … by the protesters. “Blocking roads, which has become a fashion, is also part of violence against the public,” he says. (If that’s the case, one wonders about police blocking roads leading to the protest using heavy armored police vehicles.)
  • Ohana also predicts that “this will end in blood.”

3. Rally round the rally: Saturday night also saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuse Channel 12 news of inflating protest numbers in order to fuel the protests and make them seem bigger than they are.

  • While there is no evidence of this, there does seem to be a media tendency to at least identify with the protests. Yedioth Ahronoth for example, runs “From Balfour to Caesarea” as its front page headline, accompanied by a series of stories — columns really — offering full-throated support for the protests.
  • “I have no love for the left,” writes Ben Dror Yemini in the paper. “But aside from one red flag, there was a sea of Israeli flags. One can question the groups hitching a ride on the protest. But those who were at the interchanges and those who protested yesterday, and not just in Tel Aviv, are people who want a better country.”
  • Another reporter writes about the “impressive sight not to be missed” of the black flags on overpasses of people identifying with the protesters.
  • Walla’s Amit Slonim writes that readers should not believe the various versions of events but come out to see it themselves. “Anyone who was there [in Caesarea] knows exactly how many people were there, and how big, boisterous and optimistic it was. Come next week and see for yourselves, listen to the voices, see the numbers, look the protesters in the eyes and see if they are anarchists or patriots, downtrodden or full of hope.”
  • A post online by a former member of Netanyahu’s security team bashing the prime minister as selfish and calling on him to quit also gets massive coverage in the press, with some news sites essentially just reprinting his words. “Criticism of the prime minister has come from large parts of the public, and also from his political opponents. But extraordinarily, this criticism came from his former bodyguard,” gushes Channel 12 news.
  • One news outlet that won’t be accused of overplaying the protests is Israel Hayom, which gives it six paragraphs on page 9.

4. Revenge, but not too much: What Israel Hayom does lead with are northern tensions, which remain high on the news agenda, especially after an exchange of fire in the Golan Heights over the weekend.

  • “On the brink of an escalation,” reads a top headline in the tabloid.
  • Online, it leads its news site with the matter-of-fact headline that “a decision has been made in Beirut: Hezbollah is planning a terror attack in the coming days.”
  • The headline, though, appears to not be based on any actual intelligence but rather columnist Yoav Limor assuming that Hezbollah has taken revenge on Israel in the past for its members being killed and will do so again. (The theory may be based on an IDF briefing based on who knows what, though don’t expect an Israeli military reporter to bother with a silly thing like sourcing if the army tells him not to.)
  • “It’s reasonable that [Hezbollah head Hassan] Nasrallah will try to walk between the raindrops. To respond, but with the bare minimum possible. Were he able to just kill one soldier, he would suffice with that. Eye for an eye. One can assume that’s what he is looking for: a convenient target that will allow an attack from Lebanese soil, via an anti-tank missile, sniper or explosive device.”
  • Yedioth reports that Israel is sending both messages of calm and threats to Lebanon, and the paper’s Yossi Yehoshua also writes that the IDF is expecting an attack, albeit a “minor one,” though he makes do without the bombastic headline of his colleague.
  • He adds that “Israel’s policies are to avoid confrontations, but one can see in these soft messages weakness and a loss of deterrence.”
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial also criticizes Israel, but for running buckwild with its attacks on Syrian soil and elsewhere that are liable to up tensions: “This is a dangerous policy that could drag Israel into a violent confrontation or even war.”
  • Walla news reports that northerners are not getting too worked up about the tensions: “There’s no need for panic, we just hope, for Hezbollah’s sake, that they will think hard before the next provocation,” local official Moshe Davidovich is quoted saying.

5. To be open or not to be open: On the coronavirus front, a New York Times report that places Israel as the country with the sixth highest infection rate per capita gets a good amount of negative coverage in the Israeli press.

  • But alongside it, epidemiologist Ron Balicer tells Channel 12 news that Israel is actually doing pretty good when it comes to deaths. While the death rate was 2.1 percent during the initial outbreak, it is now 0.8%, he says.
  • Balicer says possible explanations for this are that authorities are now detecting a larger number of asymptomatic carriers and are doing a better job of protecting at-risk groups. Hospitals have also improved their ability to treat those sick with the virus, he adds.
  • The channel also reports that policy makers are considering an all-or-nothing approach to lockdowns, since health officials believe the current half-measures are inefficient and create a sense of distrust among the public, and a feeling that government restrictions are random and irrational.
  • On Twitter, Channel 13 correspondent Nadav Eyal writes that “there is almost no place in the world under lockdown now. In Israel I don’t know of any expert pushing for a lockdown at this moment.”
  • Kan’s Yaron Dekel opines that despite all of Israel’s successes with ingenuity, it has been left with a government that sees only two options, “yes lockdown or no lockdown. So after five months and the creation of a broad government which calls itself an emergency government to fight the coronavirus, the feeling that accompanies the management of the virus leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth, not to mention severe embarrassment.”
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