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Hebrew media review

Guns or butter

Pictures of thousands marching in Tel Aviv dominate front pages, but journalists are more concerned with the coming fight over Defense Ministry cuts

Secular and ultra-Orthodox residents of Jerusalem stand side by side at a protest in Jerusalem against the impending budget cuts proposed by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Saturday May 11. (photo credit: Yifa Yaakov/The Times of Israel)
Secular and ultra-Orthodox residents of Jerusalem stand side by side at a protest in Jerusalem against the impending budget cuts proposed by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Saturday May 11. (photo credit: Yifa Yaakov/The Times of Israel)

As the social protests make another attempt to re-jumpstart themselves, Israel’s major Hebrew dailies are only too happy to get on the bandwagon, with all four making major news out of the several thousand people who marched in Tel Aviv Saturday night to protest proposed tax hikes.

But while Sunday’s front page photos paint a picture of civil disobedience, the headlines are already looking ahead to Monday’s story lines of martial protest, with the impending guns-or-butter fight over cuts to the Defense Ministry taking center stage.

“Today: the battle over the defense budget,” Yedioth Ahronoth screams from its front page, while Israel Hayom’s headline, “On the way to being cut: A slash to defense,” makes it seem like the edict has already been signed.

Yedioth goes all USA Today or middle school textbook in its quest to make the story as simple as possible, devoting half of the page 2 and 3 double truck to the Defense Ministry side, and half to the Finance Ministry’s position, complete with numbered arguments. The upshot is within 30 seconds a reader understands that the Defense Ministry says it will only agree to the cuts if it gets a bridging loan (illustrated with a graphic of a rocket for some reason, perhaps indicating the loan will be delivered by rocket or be used to buy a rocket) belt tightening measures (a combat helmet) and a two-year plan that staggers the cuts (an arrow pointing up). On the other side of the fence, the Finance Ministry says if we don’t give up on guns, our butter, in the form of funding to hospitals, police, ministry annexes and transportation infrastructure, will not be available.

In Israel Hayom, Dan Margalit takes a picture of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon taking part in a race for the disabled and makes the not-at-all-ill-advised comparison of a person who doesn’t have full use of all his limbs to cuts to the Defense Ministry, saying the Defense Ministry will have a much harder time than A REAL LIVE PERSON WHO CANNOT WALK.

“Where will [these cuts] lead Israel? To give up on a submarine? On a stealth plane? On Israel-built rockets? Interested parties aren’t talking about giving up, just about slices. With a slice like this there wouldn’t have been Iron Dome during Operation Pillar of Defense,” he writes.

Maariv spends less time on the Defense Ministry cuts, and more on everything else on the chopping block, running a laundry list of what’s out, what’s likely in, and what’s on the bubble, but will probably also be cut. The paper also gives a good chunk of real estate to the Saturday night march, which it puts at 15,000 strong (5,000 more than everybody else). Despite the picture reminiscent of 2011 summer protests, the paper’s Eyal Levy warns not to get out the tents yet for this milquetoast bunch of posers and lacktivists.

“A protest that was supposed to express pain, anger and a lack of power – and somehow, even with all the good, it looked at the end of the day like a yearly meeting of the Scouts [youth group]. Two dudes with a megaphone organizing chants, and a cold wind blowing. The people, who demand social justice, were supposed to change their direction along with the frenzied percentage and march to city hall with fire in their eyes. The sky in Tel Aviv needed to be covered in the smoke of tire fires, and police should not have been able to stand posing boringly, but should have had a light hand on their clubs. Tension in the air. There’s no other way. It was also that way in Greece, in places where the sick man is in critical condition and the doctor forgot the anesthetic. The finance minister should have felt the cries of pain in his home, like a good director would demand of his young star.”

The finance minister might have heard the cries, but he was likely too far away in his North Tel Aviv homestead, busy surfing around on Facebook. According to Haaretz’s Eytan Avriel, it’s exactly Yair Lapid’s well-off neighbors, and other rich people from places like Savyon and Caesarea, who will reap the rewards by seeing little pain from the cuts.

“The truth is Lapid is doing exactly what we expected him to do,” Avriel writes. “He chose to benefit the top percentiles, that are numbered among his friends, advisors and supporters, and to push along the cost of the blockage in the [deficit], which will create a gap in the country’s bank account for everything else.”

The paper also reports on one of the more unexpected revelations from the release of the budget, which is not a cut, but a line item for Israel’s diplomatic corps to be expanded to the Persian Gulf, though it does not say where. Israel does not have official diplomatic ties with any Gulf states, but it shares a common enemy in Iran with many of them, which may be the main factor behind the initiative. The Foreign Ministry said it could not comment, according to the report.

How do you sleep at night?

Cuts aren’t the only thing in the air, but beds too, as all four papers make hay out of the “flying bed affair,” the revelation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent some $127,000 of state funds to have an El Al plane outfitted with a double bed for his five-hour flight to London last month for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. Maariv pokes gentle fun at the affair with a badly photoshopped pic making the social media rounds, of Netanyahu and his wife Sara being carried on sedans by tribal-looking black men away from an El Al plane.

Yedioth’s news story on the affair loses any semblance of subjectivity with this gem of a lead: “At a time when the economy is stormy from edicts and cuts and Riki Cohen [you remember her] from Hadera waits tensely to find out how much her monthly paycheck will drop by and what she will need to give up – there’s somebody who is not touched by any of it.”

But really, who can blame them? As Sima Kadmon notes in an opinion piece next door, President Shimon Peres, a spry near-90, traveled 11 hours to South Korea without a single special request.

In Israel Hayom’s opinion page, Yaakov Ahimeir takes aim at Prof. Stephen Hawking, noting (as everybody else has on Facebook already) that the computer chip that allows him to communicate was developed in Israel by “Jewish brains.”

“We take part, therefore, in calling for Prof. Hawking, if he still has any intellectual honesty, to boycott and even to disconnect from his essential machines which were made in Israel, which he is boycotting … If you boycott, boycott to the end.”

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