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Hebrew media review

Heads will troll

While the right continues to scream incitement over a cardboard guillotine, others see a cynical attempt to distract from more serious issues

A squirrel with a guillotine. (iStock by Getty Images/Hardeko)
A squirrel with a guillotine. (iStock by Getty Images/Hardeko)

Two days after a fake guillotine appeared at an anti-corruption rally in Tel Aviv, the press is still fixated on it to a certain degree, in particular the question of whether it constitutes incitement or if the right wing is just using it as an excuse to distract attention from bigger problems.

It’s certainly not the top story, with the silence of MK and recently resigned coalition chief David Bitan in his own corruption probe garnering more real estate among a dog’s breakfast of front page stories in the country’s major newspapers. But it seems everyone has something to say about the appearance of the neck chopper and what it means, from the right wing crying incitement, to the left wing crying.

Foremost among these is Israel Hayom, a tabloid that stridently backs Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is more than happy to jump on the guillotine as a form of incitement showing the true intentions of these so-called anti-corruption protesters.

ההפגנות כשלעצמן – לגיטימיות, אבל את הטירוף הזה צריך לעצור לפני שיהיה מאוחר מדי.עם ישראל מוקיע הסתה זו.Ishay Fridman

Posted by ‎נפתלי בנט – Naftali Bennett‎ on Saturday, 23 December 2017

The paper covers what it calls “wall-to-wall condemnation” of the guillotine, and includes a column by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein who says the man who brought it out, Amit Brin, isn’t just just sick of Netanyahu, he’s sick of democracy.

“The guillotine is a dangerous toy and we need to stop it before it’s too late. The venom and incitement filling social media are becoming a threat to Israeli democracy before our eyes. We must not wait until the threat is actualized to call out Enough! Enough incitement and division,” he writes.

Wall-to-wall may be a bit much. A day after totally ignoring the guillotine, left-leaning broadsheet Haaretz explains why it’s no big deal, and not even close to incitement. Instead, the paper’s lead editorial whatabouts its way into accusing the right-wing of whataboutism, saying threats to Netanyahu don’t actually exist, whereas they did with slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“The right wing is making cynical political use of the discourse about incitement. While before Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination there was a sense that his life was in danger, there is no danger to Netanyahu’s life today; at most, it’s to his continued rule. The fear of assassination is a fiction, a lie,” it reads. “The right wing and its representatives pounce eagerly on any image in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone: to retroactively shake off responsibility for the incitement to the Rabin’s murder, and to divert discussion from the corruption investigations of the prime minister. What must stop is the willingness of the left wing to play into the hands of the right and join the hypocritical, childish denunciations as if there were symmetry between then and now, or between right and left in this context.”

Populist Yedioth Ahronoth also isn’t totally on board with the incitement tag, with even right-wing columnist Shlomo Pyoterovsky writing that the display was “disgusting, but not inciting.”

Meanwhile Meirav Batito in the same paper engages in some whataboutery of her own, writing that while the guillotine will give the protest a black eye, it’s nothing compared to what the right-wing government is doing.

“As much as it’s impossible to ignore the strong metaphor with beheadings in the artist’s creation, it’s no easier to ignore the politicians on the right living it up by running to point fingers, raising a hue and cry over the provocation and saving for themselves any judgment to be passed by the public,” she writes. “The cardboard guillotine gives them a great excuse to divert attention from more important questions, and shamelessly turned the steering wheel right, veering the speeding car into a side alley without any clear point.”

Not everyone was yapping about the guillotine. Bitan, at the center of one of the graft probes spurring the anti-corruption drive, is apparently staying mum, at least with police. Haaretz reports that Bitan kept silent during hours of questioning and that police even tried to set up a meeting with alleged partner in crime Moshe Yosef in a hallway, though it’s unclear if anything came of it.

Yedioth reports that the meet-cute was just one of several new ploys the police are being forced to try with Bitan refusing to say boo.

“The assessment is that now investigators will have to find new avenues of investigation, relying less on the MK’s answers and more on outside evidence, like recordings, WhatsApp messages, witness testimony and pictures,” the tabloid writes, making it seem as if the police have not been doing that until now.

Israel Hayom’s lead story reports on Arab states finding new ways to deal with another wayward actor — in this case US President Donald Trump — after they say Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas screwed things up by taking too hard a line over Jerusalem and complicating ties. The paper writes that the Arab League is creating a new body to devise a new strategy on Jerusalem rather than following Abbas’s lead of abandoning the US altogether.

“This is a super-committee that is headed by the secretary general of the Arab League, and it effectively puts the Arab League in charge of the policy on Jerusalem, taking it away from the Palestinians,” the paper quotes a senior Jordanian official saying. “The Palestinians’ efforts to sway public opinion have been a complete failure, and as a result, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has created a rift between us [the Arab world] and Trump. We are once again left with the demagogic, hollow and inflammatory rhetoric of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

Meanwhile, Haaretz’s token righty Moshe Arens writes in the broadsheet’s op-ed page that Trump should not be dealt with but celebrated for his blatantly pro-Israel stance on the conflict.

“The United States should not be a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. It cannot and should not be neutral in a conflict between its ally Israel and those who are in conflict with Israel, just as it cannot be a neutral mediator in a dispute between democratic Japan and autocratic Russia,” he writes. “There is no need for a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. There is no substitute for direct negotiations. Yet, as has been shown time and time again, the Palestinians are not interested in carrying out direct negotiations with Israel that could lead to the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas, because it openly seeks Israel’s destruction, and Abbas because he knows he does not have the authority to agree to any sort of compromise, nor the ability to enforce an agreement if it were to be reached.”

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