It’s a macabre fact of life (or death) that in the files of pretty much every Israeli news organization, and every major international one, there is an obituary for Shimon Peres, ready and waiting to be published the minute the elder statesman dies, along with obituaries for other major figures in the twilight of their lives.
In the Israeli press, where opinions, analysis and colorful personal reflections are seen as just as important as the news — if not more so — there are probably more than a few of those as well waiting in the wings to be published once the 93-year-old passes.
The news that Peres had suffered a stroke Tuesday night, therefore, presented a bit of a conundrum, as papers needed to decide whether to go ahead now with the memorials and eulogies, or save them for when the inevitable comes.
For two of Israel’s major dailies – Haaretz and Israel Hayom – the answer was to leave the remembrances on the shelf and just go with the news, which came as the kicker to what was already a very busy news night, with the US and Israel agreeing to the largest defense aid package in history, Israel launching a new satellite, increasing tensions on the Syrian border, and claims that Hamas had turned down a prisoner swap.
For Yedioth Ahronoth, though, there is no time like the present to start remembering the giant of Israeli politics, the last link to the country’s founding fathers.
“Peres is one of those people about who it is said that God made just one mold, and afterward broke the mold so he could never be copied,” columnist Eitan Haber writes in one such pre-eulogy.
Haaretz’s coverage is matter-of-fact and dry to the point of being stilted, and it almost seems as if the dovish paper, whose readers are certainly closer to Peres’s ideological camp than those of the two tabloids, has already entered the first stage of grief: denial.
The tabloids, on the other hand, crank the pathos up to 11, with the words “fighting for his life” prevalent in the pages and pages of coverage.
“After long hours and many tense moments, one sentence uttered by Shimon Pere’s son showed more than any the severity of the condition of the 9th president, who suffered a severe stroke. ‘We will need to make decisions soon – it depends, of course, how things go,’ Chemi Peres said,” begins the news story in Israel Hayom, which is frankly a strange way to lede a non-feature about one of the country’s most important figures nearly dying.
Yedioth, meanwhile, fills its main news story not with quotes from doctors but a painstakingly detailed play-by-play of the moments leading up to Peres’s stroke, starting with the headline “I don’t feel well, is there a paramedic.”
The paper recounts that Peres uttered those words after giving a talk with high-tech businessmen, leading his aides to call a doctor, who said that as he was leaving for Poland that night, Peres should be brought to the hospital right away. After arriving at the hospital, Peres became annoyed and at one point ripped out the tubes he was hooked up to and declared he would go home.
“His aides calmed him and he went back to the machines and his mood improved. In the meantime, the tests continued and Peres and his aides started joking around. Peres then said, ‘I’m sick of this hospital,’ and asked for some chocolate and they brought it,” the paper reports. “After 7 p.m. his aides suddenly noticed that something wasn’t right. He continued to speak, but wasn’t looking at them. Something looked off so they called a nurse.”
If Peres comes across as an ornery old man in the story, an accompanying column by Nahum Barnea makes sure readers know he was so much more.
“In his people’s eyes he ceased to be a politician. He became a historic figure, larger than politics, larger than everyday affairs, a figure in a league of his own,” Barnea writes.
The two tabloids also use the opportunity of Peres suffering a stroke with brain hemorrhaging to educate readers about the medical event, and what the former president’s chances of making it through are.
In Israel Hayom, Dr. Sagi Har Nif calls the type of stroke the most serious and most deadly, saying even if he does pull through, he’ll have extensive neurological damage, like coma-ridden Ariel Sharon. In Yedioth, health writer Sarit Rozenblum is a bit more sanguine in answering whether he can make a full recovery.
“Theoretically, yes. Practically, the chances aren’t good,” she writes.
While Haaretz leads off with Peres, it spills more ink over news that Israel is accusing Hamas of spurning two deals to free Israelis and Israeli bodies held in Gaza in a swap for Hamas prisoners.
Columnist Amos Harel writes that the claim from negotiator Lior Lotan were designed to indicate that talks have reached a dead end, which he may be using as a negotiating ploy to send a message to several involved parties.
“One is Hamas, which he wants to pressure into returning to effective negotiations. There have barely been negotiations since the end of Protective Edge over two years ago,” Harel writes. “Lotan is also aiming over the heads of Hamas to groups that may believe Hamas is representing them faithfully. Israel, through Lotan (and it can be assumed that his statement was approved by the highest echelons), is telling the Palestinian families in Gaza that the organization is the one preventing the return of the prisoners and the bodies of their sons, as few as they may be. At the same time, Israel is sending a message to the Hamas prisoners it holds that, given the way the organization’s leadership in Gaza is acting, there is no chance that even a few of them will be released.”