Fake freedom, real freak-dom
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Hebrew media review

Fake freedom, real freak-dom

Catalonia's independence is seen as little more than a joke in Israel's press, while the emotional 'problems' plaguing Sara Netanyahu are taken seriously

A flag with the text in Catalan "The people lead" is held up as people gather to celebrate the proclamation of a Catalan republic at the Sant Jaume square in Barcelona on October 27, 2017. (AFP/PAU BARRENA)
A flag with the text in Catalan "The people lead" is held up as people gather to celebrate the proclamation of a Catalan republic at the Sant Jaume square in Barcelona on October 27, 2017. (AFP/PAU BARRENA)

For a country born on paper only 69 years ago, forced to carve itself a piece of a territory against not-great odds, Israel and its mainstream media are surprisingly down on Catalonia’s own bid for independence, even as the Spanish secession fight gets top billing in the Hebrew-language print press Sunday morning.

All three papers play up the Catalans bid to declare themselves a free country, but they just as quickly laugh off the idea that there is any semblance of actual independence.

“Five hours of independence,” reads the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, while Israel Hayom’s A1 is emblazoned with “Independence on paper.” Haaretz is a bit less trollish and more informative, its top headline noting that “Catalonia declares independence, Spain takes it over.”

“Anyone who comes to Barcelona now might be greeted with ‘Welcome to the republic of Catalonia’ but for now, nobody is taking it seriously,” writes correspondent Asaf Ronel in Haaretz.

In Israel Hayom, Catalan columnist Sal Amergi also doesn’t think his land becoming independent is realistic, but notes that Catalonia was forced into this situation because Madrid refused to heed Catalan concerns, and even if there won’t be a republic of Catalonia, the underlying problems still need to be addressed.

“Some ideologues from the independence camp have admitted that right now an independent Catalonia is impossible because there is no outside support, something which has a definite effect on the economy. To be outside of Europe would be a disaster,” he writes. “The problems won’t be fixed with a declaration of independence, nor with clause 155 (which dissolves the partial autonomy), and not even with elections. The politicians need to do their jobs.”

Even if independence isn’t real, the crisis over it is, and Yedioth correspondent Maya Mahler asks where the government will go from here and what will happen on the fateful day of December 23, when the clash will suddenly become a global concern because of a little black-and-white ball.

“On December 23 Real Madrid will host Barcelona FC, one of the most widely supported clubs in the world, which has turned into a symbol of Catalonia, for the Super Classico. Over the last few weeks a number of scenarios have emerged for the team if Catalonia secedes, including Barcelona playing in a league of its own, or joining the French or English leagues,” she writes. “However, chances are Barca will continue to play against Real Madrid in the Spanish league, since economic and sporting interests are too large. Either way, the Super Classico will this time have wide interest not just for soccer fans, since it will be especially political.”

The mixture of politics and sports was also present in another story over the weekend, as Israeli medalists at the judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi were forced to compete without their national colors or anthem. Yedioth, the only paper to play up the story, focuses on the successes more than the politics, as Israelis won five medals at the tourney. Yet, columnist Itzik Shaso also looks at the diplomacy, or lack thereof, seeping in, and the battle between the “patriots” who would rather Israelis boycott the tourney that would boycott them, and the “pragmatists,” who are happy to kick some butt.

“According to them, the elevator music that was played instead of the anthem for gold medal-winner Tal Flicker was indeed embarrassing, and the flag on the athletes’ backs indeed looked like some scribbling, but if they are already letting us slam some goyim on the mat without the UN condemning it, wouldn’t it be a shame to waste the opportunity?”

Somewhat surprisingly given the tabloid’s penchant for trying to be the most patriotic and gung-ho about defending Israel, the judo ballyhoo barely makes it into the pages of Israel Hayom, perhaps a sign that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration (which the paper is often seen as a mouthpiece for) is more concerned with keeping secret ties with the UAE intact than with embarrassing Dubai.

Then again Haaretz, which is most definitely not Netanyahu’s mouthpiece, also plays down the judo story. And for proof that Haaretz is not in bed with Netanyahu, one need look no further than a front page column by Yossi Verter, in which he goes to town against Sara Netanyahu over allegations of abuse by yet another worker in the Prime Minister’s Residence, writing that Mrs. Netanyahu “has problems.”

“She’s a neat freak, as her husband once told someone, but at levels that are light-years away from the common expression. Her tantrums are documented not only in the stories of employees, but also on tape,” he writes. “These recordings are not for the faint-hearted. When we look at the situation over the 20 years of Benjamin Netanyahu’s four terms as prime minister, in 1996-1999 and from 2009 until today, it turns out that the situation is escalating and the symptoms getting worse. The apparent ‘problem’ is not being dealt with.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara wait for the arrival of the Ethiopian prime minister and his wife ahead of a welcoming ceremony at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

Not surprisingly, Israel Hayom’s coverage of the case is mostly focused on trying to discredit the worker who complained about Sara Netanyahu, with a headline quoting the prime minister saying everything is lies.

“The fact is that every time Mrs. Netanyahu is sued in court over these allegations she wins, or the appeal is rejected,” the paper quotes Netanyahu saying untruthfully.

In Yedioth Ahronoth, Sima Kadmon writes sadly (or perhaps sarcastically) that the automatic defense mechanism that dismisses every claim as lies is only hurting Sara Netanyahu, as she clearly needs professional help.

“I feel pity for them. Pity for someone who is not getting the help she needs, and pity for the person who has to live with her and defend her all the time,” she writes. “Or maybe, because of some sort of internal dissonance, he himself has started to believe that it’s all lies. In either case it’s sad. Sad and dangerous. Also for us, the public, there are reasons to worry. The Prime Minister’s Residence can’t operate this way. Somebody needs to intervene.”

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