Dread and Donald in the wake of Orlando
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Hebrew media review

Dread and Donald in the wake of Orlando

Islamist terror strikes a gay nightclub, leaving the Hebrew press shocked… and worried about November

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Orlando Police officers direct family members away from a multiple shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Orlando Police officers direct family members away from a multiple shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Another day, another terrorist shooting, on a yet larger scale.

Just a few days have passed since Tel Aviv was rattled by terrorists’ gunfire slaying innocents who were enjoying an evening out, and again a bloody spectacle is the front page story in the Hebrew press. This time Orlando, Florida, was the target and a gay club the venue. The Islamic State claimed it was behind the attack that left at least 50 dead and scores more wounded. Coverage in the papers runs as deep as the pain.

Israeli condemnations and Tel Aviv’s illumination of city hall with the American flag and pride flag get their due mention in the Hebrew papers. So do the gruesome details of the shooting that are readily available in more thorough reports closer to the source. The headlines, particularly in the tabloids, focus on the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the attack. The ultra-Orthodox papers have no problem highlighting the shooter’s Islamic faith, but make Herculean efforts to avoid mentioning that the nightclub was gay and the attack essentially a hate crime.

Between the headlines, however, Israeli pundits and editors ruminate over how the Orlando night club shooting will impact the US presidential elections.

For Israel Hayom, the shooting is all about the Islamic connection and drawing comparisons with attacks in Israel — to the degree that it shows a photo of Nashat Milhem, the shooter from January’s attack on Dizengoff center, alongside that of Omar Mateen with the caption “Chilling similarity.” Any superficial likenesses aside, what are readers meant to glean from this nugget of unadulterated racist wisdom? In a stab at Islam the paper’s headline reads “His hate, his belief.”

Israel Hayom's graphic showing Nishat Milhem (left) and Omar Mateen with the caption "chilling similarity" on June 13, 2016. (screen capture: Israel Hayom)
Israel Hayom’s graphic showing Nishat Milhem (left) and Omar Mateen with the caption “chilling similarity” on June 13, 2016. (screen capture: Israel Hayom)

Surely Israel Hayom’s soothsayer-in-chief Boaz Bismuth, whose column is graced with the graphic mentioned above, can provide some wise words to help explain this horrible tragedy.

Instead, like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Bismuth makes this about US President Barack Obama and how this is “another Islamist terror attack in Obama’s America.”

“The 29-year-old man lived in America, held an American passport and worked in security for a company providing services to the government, but on the day of judgment he was first and foremost a jihadist, a murderer, a terrorist, and only afterwards, if at all, American,” Bismuth says.

Radical jihad of the Islamic State brand, he says, “doesn’t need a permit to enter the US. Ideology doesn’t need a passport. And there are enough clients with the ideology in America and Europe.” Bismuth tactfully avoids mentioning Israel (the parallels are implicit to his readers) and Trump. Nonetheless he tacitly endorses Trump in saying, “in the election campaign heating up one must assume that [Democratic Party candidate Hillary] Clinton, who was part of the government who refused to recognize Islamist terror, and carries on her back the question of the attack in Benghazi, needs to give answers.”

“American citizens need to be aware of this, that the next president will be forced to fight terrorism,” he says.

In Yedioth Ahronoth that same issue is at the fore after Trump made comments on Twitter saying he didn’t need “congrats” for being right about Islam. The Orlando attack “comes exactly in time for Donald Trump,” the paper’s analyst Orly Azoulay writes.

“The Republican presidential candidate, who built his campaign on fear and xenophobia, didn’t expect, of course, to celebrate the bloodshed following the murders, but he understands well that in politics even tragedies can yield immediate gains,” she says.

Azoulay sums up the argument Bismuth makes: “In the heat of the presidential campaign [Trump] can again claim that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic rival, is the continuation of President Obama and her policies, just like those of the current president, are based on attempts of dialog and appeasement that only brought the weakening of America’s position in the world.”

“While America trembles from fear… it’s not far-fetched to say that on this blood Trump will rebuild his strength, which started to flag a bit in recent days,” she says.

The top op-ed in Haaretz‘s constellation of front page commentary also deals with “The battle of the narrative.” Chemi Shalev writes that the narrative “will determine the legacy of the attack and the lessons that it will impart,” and potentially influence the outcome of November’s election.

Trump and the Republicans jumped on the Islamist terror bandwagon, he says, while Democrats drew a comparison to mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and Aurora, Colorado.

“Terror attacks usually work to the Right’s benefit, as Israelis know better than others. The Right knows to cultivate the fear felt by civilians, and intensify their hatred and ensure a strong and outstretched arm, while the Left fumbles with its enlightened explanations,” he says. (Curiously, Haaretz’s English version of the article inserts this clause about the Right’s efficacy: “especially when placed in the hands of a master manipulator such as Benjamin Netanyahu.”)

“One way or another, the memory of the Orlando victims will inevitably and regrettably be intertwined with the 2016 election campaign. The media coverage will accord them due respect and honor but dive at first opportunity into the potential political ramifications of their deaths. The extraordinarily stormy political season ensures that Orlando will be marked more for its effect on history than for its destruction of human lives. That’s the way of the world.”

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