Can you hear Obama now?
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Hebrew media review

Can you hear Obama now?

President’s warning that Netanyahu’s words against Arabs will have ramifications rings loud, but not necessarily clear

US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, soon after Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress, March 3, 2015. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)
US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, soon after Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress, March 3, 2015. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

When US President Barack Obama speaks to his favorite Jewish journalist, the Israeli press listens — though apparently not hard enough. The leader of the free world’s wide-ranging, Israel-centric interview to Jeffrey Goldberg published Thursday is covered in all three major dailies, though all three have a different central takeaway from Obama’s comments.

In Yedioth Ahronoth, Obama plays the role of a stern parent, warning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the headline that “There will be consequences to speaking against Israeli Arabs,” which isn’t exactly what Obama said, but catches the basic gist of it anyway.

While The Atlantic interview centered on Obama defending the nuclear pact with Iran, Yedioth focuses most of its attention on the president’s defense of his sometimes harsh-sounding rhetoric toward Israel, and specifically Netanyahu.

Unfortunately, the casualness the paper shows to using faithful quotes doesn’t end with the headline, but is apparent throughout the piece as well, such as where it misrepresents a paraphrase by Goldberg, about Obama’s hope that Israel’s “leaders, including and especially its prime minister, will come to understand Israel’s stark choices,” as a direct quote from Obama.

The paper then makes it worse by using the made-up quote to purportedly show an instance of Obama attacking Netanyahu directly.

Even if it’s not exactly what Obama said, the larger point still rings true, and Haaretz describes the interview as “harsh criticism” of Netanyahu.

The Israeli prime minister obviously doesn’t take this all lying down, but he’s smart enough not to stand up himself to respond to Obama.

Instead, Israel Hayom proves its worth as an unofficial mouthpiece for Netanyahu by leading not with Obama’s comments, but with the Israeli leadership’s fuming response.

“Obama is meddling in internal Israeli affairs,” reads the front-page headline in the tabloid, apparently a quote from Likud minister Yariv Levin. If that’s not enough, on page 2 readers are greeted with a giant headline heralding the assertion that Obama is “Disconnected from reality,” which runs as a banner atop a commentary from Boaz Bismuth.

Bismuth does little to hide his fury at Obama for daring to speak out against Netanyahu when the Middle East is being overrun by madmen in Iran and terrorists in Syria.

“Iran can be a terror state, anti-Semitic, destabilizer of Sunni states and at the same time put down the values of the US. But it’s possible to rely on it, on its rationality and to come to terms with it, even to the point of a deal that’s nearly blind(?!) But Netanyahu? That man, in the view of Obama, has a mark that won’t allow him to be invited to the White House any time soon.”

The king’s secret

If the papers thought Obama wasn’t happy with Israel last week, he’ll probably be even unhappier next week, after Haaretz’s front-page report that a Jerusalem city councilman is laying the groundwork for a secret new settlement in the southern West Bank. The paper reports that Arieh King has purchased an abandoned church next to the al-Aroub refugee camp, which will be able to house some 20 families, in an area between the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and Hebron, giving Israelis a foothold into an area that’s almost exclusively Palestinian today.

The paper reports that the move was not coordinated with the army and only with a few select officials even within the settlement movement, in order to give it the greatest chance of success, with organizers hoping the state will end up giving it the okay ex-post facto once settlers move in.

“Sources say King has not decided when to populate the compound. Even if settlers move in without coordinating the move with the army, sympathetic politicians are expected to quickly exert pressure to recognize King’s ownership of the site and allow the newcomers to remain,” the paper reports.

King’s decision to keep as many people as possible out of the loop was probably a smart one from his point of view, given the recent propensity of people to start yapping about subjects some would rather they keep secret.

Yedioth reports on two such stool pigeons — settler leader Gershon Mesika, who will turn state’s witness about the corruption scandal allegedly linked to the Israel Beytenu party; and Eren Malka, a former police officer who has begun telling all about how he got tangled up with lawyer Ronel Fisher in an alleged bribery scheme.

The paper, quoting from transcripts of Malka’s testimony, recounts how the somehow unsuspecting cop — a senior officer in the anti-corruption unit, mind you — first fell in with Fisher, in a passage that would be rife with sexual tension if not for the context:

“I started to understand that we are talking about a super-connected guy and he led me to believe that he really fell in love with me, and I was so excited that a first-rate lawyer, a famous man who is on TV, would pay attention to me, admire me and try to get close to me. The acquaintance grew into telephone calls and text messages that were loving and equanimous. Today I understand that it was a honeypot.”

Say cheese

It’s not just cops falling in love with lawyers in the papers Friday, but also Israel falling in love with its agricultural heritage, as the many-faced holiday of Shavuot — which begins Saturday night — nears. The holiday marks the giving of the Torah to the Israelites in the desert at Mount Sinai, the bringing of the first fruits in Temple times, and also has, in the last four decades, become an unofficial celebration of the Western Wall — it being the first time many Jews were able to visit the Old City of Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967.

Israel Hayom reports Israelis of many different stripes will be celebrating in different ways. On kibbutz collective farms, some 400,000 people are expected to take part in some 200 “first fruits” ceremonies, the paper writes, while in Jerusalem masses are expected at the Western Wall on Sunday morning.

No matter how Jewish Israelis choose to celebrate, it seems everyone has stocked up on cheese and other milk products for the holiday, which for some reason is traditionally marked with dairy foods.

That’s not to say Israelis don’t normally eat cheese, the paper reports, noting statistics released by the government in honor of the holiday.

“According to the stats, an average house spends NIS 290 (some $75) on dairy products a month: NIS 52 on milk, NIS 42 on yellow cheese, NIS 34 on white, soft cheese and NIS 5 on honey,” the paper writes. “Spending on dairy makes up 14.7% of all household food purchases on average.”

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