Hebrew media review

Cry, the beloved airport

While one paper gushes over Netanyahu’s visit to Entebbe so much that it accidentally publishes a censored photo, others focus on possible faux pas by the prime minister

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara surrounded by IDF pilots and officers (blurred out), in Entebbe, Uganda, on July 4, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara surrounded by IDF pilots and officers (blurred out), in Entebbe, Uganda, on July 4, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Combine an Israeli prime minister heading to a continent that is still viewed like a Joseph Conrad novel in some corners of the Israeli imagination with a press that can be famously tone-deaf to cultural sensitivities, and you have the sheet music for a face-palm orchestra.

Yet somehow, even as Israel’s newspapers cover Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic trip to East Africa to mark 40 years since the raid on Entebbe and boost diplomatic and economic ties, they avoid the puns and pitfalls they so often descend into, even as one truckles to the prime minister (Israel Hayom), one largely ignores him (Yedioth Ahronoth) and one gently chides him (Haaretz).

Nobody plays up the Africa visit bigger than Israel Hayom, which is natural for a paper largely seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu. Unfortunately, in its zeal to portray the prime minister in the best light, it also portrays him in a GPO-supplied photo standing among a group of people including Israel Air Force pilots, their faces unpixelated, in a breach of IDF censor regulations.

News outlets are strictly forbidden from publishing pictures “or any identifying information of any kind” of Israeli pilots, a representative of the censor’s office told The Times of Israel when asked about the picture, which includes government officials, soldiers and two IAF pilots, who can be clearly seen and identified in the picture.

What the paper doesn’t have a picture of — in what is probably a first — is foreign editor Boaz Bismuth, who is dispatched with Netanyahu to Africa and manages to pen an article without accompanying it with a selfie of him at the airport, as he is wont to do.

“On the wings of history,” reads both the headline and the lede of the news/commentary penned by Bismuth, the phrase making about as much sense in Hebrew as it does in English.

Bismuth’s news dispatch is filled with pathos over the visit, and that extends to his breathless commentary, where the Hebrew word for “excitement” and “emotion” appears eight times in various iterations.

“During the ceremony marking 40 years since Operation Yonatan in Entebbe, next to the magical splendor of the green Ugandan vistas, it was hard not be excited,” he writes. “The ceremony had all the ingredients to make the Israeli visitors feel proud, sad, optimistic, happy, excited. There was everything there. Even the watchtower stood there like a witness, with its scars bearing testament to that night 40 years ago.”

Haaretz’s Amir Oren was also along for the ride to Entebbe, but is less taken in by all the pomp, circumstance and memories and provides a less adulatory account of the ceremony.

Yes, he notes, fears that Netanyahu would make the event all about himself and his brother who was killed during the raid were unfounded. But while he was sure to mention all the Israelis caught up in the crisis, he is scolded for forgetting the feelings of his hosts.

“Netanyahu didn’t have the basic decency to express sorrow over the deaths of Ugandan soldiers during the operation. They were enemies that night, but as citizens of the host country, 40 years later, common sense and manners require some nod to circumstances that caused them and the IDF to be on opposite sides of the barricade. What Netanyahu chose to omit was included by [Ugandan President Yoweri] Museveni, who swallowed the bitter pill of an attack on [former Ugandan dictator Idi] Amin’s army – were it not for the stupidity of the soldiers and commanders, he said, the IDF would not have been successful.”

But leaving out respect for the dead Ugandan soldiers may not have been the worst discourtesy extended by the Israelis, as a camera caught Netanyahu snoozing during Museveni’s (admittedly long and confusing) speech. The 10-second clip, complete with Sara Netanyahu nudging him awake, is enough for Yedioth TV columnist Einav Shif to pen a whole piece on the nap.

Shif admits that on the whole, Netanyahu’s short journey to dreamland, and the fast and frenetic response to the clip on social media, amounts to a whole lot of nothing. But she says it does speak to something rotten.

“This short moment was a tiny symbolic pin poked in the position the prime minister and his people were so eager so blow up into something large and glorious. Much effort and money was invested into this memoryfest in which Netanyahu was able to be photographed squaring the ultimate circle, in the exact place where his brother died. And here, moments before the peak, with the cameras turned exactly as he wants them, the prime minister is nodding off.”

How the mighty have fallen

As Netanyahu was falling asleep, another man was falling from the heights of Israeli tycoonery: Nochi Dankner, at one time a billionaire and now possibly heading to jail for stock manipulation of his firm IDB. The Dankner conviction gets major play in all three papers, even Israel Hayom, which places it on its front page just below its Netanyahu coverage.

With a two-page spread, Yedioth tracks Dankner’s fall from Israel’s most powerful businessman in 2011 to his conviction in 2016, and also delves into the complicated dealings he was found guilty of, noting the chore it was for the court to spell them out.

“It took no less than an hour for judge Khaled Kaboob to read out the summary of his decision in the case of IDB and its former owner Nochi Dankner – but even if he wanted to speak at greater length, he would not have been able to hesitate on his final decision.”
In Haaretz’s financial supplement TheMarker, Eitan Avriel notes that the conviction sends a message not only to Dankner but to some of his buddies in the business world as well:

“There’s no doubt that the conviction of Dankner, who was the biggest tycoon in Israel and the most important person in the finance-government-media club (it sounds better in Hebrew) that rules the country, sends an unmistakable message that nobody in the business world is immune to investigations, indictments and convictions.”

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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