Israel media review

House of pain: What the Israeli press is saying about the US Capitol rampage

An anguished and curious Israel looks on in dread for its own democracy after the attack on the US Capitol Building, and some are not yet ready to give up on Trump

Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP)
Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP)

1. Capitol punishment: Israel’s media has been watching the events in the US with a mixture of concern for the future of its most important ally (the US, not Donald Trump), concern for its own future, due to both its own closeness with Trump and what mobs here could do after its own election), and a dose of old-fashioned rubbernecking.

  • The chaos in Washington has dominated headlines since it broke out late Wednesday, matched only by coverage of the country going back under lockdown, which began at midnight Thursday (though TV networks took a while to cotton to its importance). Much like in the US, where many Republicans who have stayed by Trump finally broke free, in Israel, where Trump has enjoyed a high level of support, there appeared to be a collective recoiling as well, at least by some.
  • “This was a moment of humiliation for America, which could not manage to protect its democracy,” writes Eyal Nadav in Yedioth Ahronoth. “But to the world, this was a very worrying moment.”
  • “The writing was on the wall and Trump is the one who wrote it,” writes Arad Nir for Channel 12’s website.
  • “It’s shameful that we are going to be left with a town called Trump Heights,” bemoans Dani Dayan, a settlement leader and former consul general to New York, on Army Radio.
  • “You can’t have a president who betrayed American democracy remaining in office, even for an hour,” former envoy Michael Oren tells the Kan broadcaster. “The attack on Congress was quite severe and places a huge stain on American democracy. But the fact that it failed after a few hours and members of Congress got back to work and continued the debate on certifying the Electoral College votes proves that democracy in the US is strong enough to repel any attempt to undermine its foundations,” Prof. Eytan Gilboa writes for Walla.

2. Good people on one side: Israel Hayom, among Trump’s most vociferous backers over the last four and a half years, calls the events a “stain on his legacy,” in its top front-page headline, and while it may look like criticism, it actually points to what the paper’s real concern is over. Not American democracy, but Trump’s legacy.

  • The paper’s editor Boaz Bismuth, who managed to leave his office to do a thing or two, like go to Washington to cover the pro-Trump rally that preceded the riot, decries the fact that all Trump supporters are being tarred by the deadly riot. The real victims are Trump’s supporters, including himself and his paper, which he says was shamed unfairly.
  • “The violent chaos is not just a dismal final chord that will badly damage his legacy, it’s also a punch in the face of many, who have already been tarred as insurrectionists, as enemies of democracy.”
  • His piece ends by claiming that Israelis will still remember Trump fondly “while sitting on a hotel balcony in Morocco.”
  • A day earlier, he wrote that it was a “sad day for America,” not because of the mob that stormed the Capitol and tried to violently overthrow the democratic process, but “because one side thinks the elections were stolen and the other side disrespects the good people who had descended on Washington.”
  • Bismuth is not alone. Appearing on Channel 13 alongside ToI’s Tal Schnieder, Republicans in Israel head Marc Zell says that Trump did nothing wrong and he remains in his corner. He dismisses the rioters as a few hundred people out of a million-man rally.
  • While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did condemn the violence, some journalists note that he made sure not to use Trump’s name. In fact, he did mention Trump, to thank him, but that part of his statement was only released later, which helpfully buried it so he could have his cake and eat it too, as ToI’s Judah Ari Gross notes.
  • “Netanyahu … tarried until the morning hours on Thursday, in the same way as he was late to congratulate Joe Biden on his victory in the election,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz. “This is a direct continuation of Netanyahu’s cynical attitude towards Trump, the man he crowned at every opportunity as the American president most friendly and beneficent towards Israel, ever.”

3. Nazis on the Hill: Among those good people that Bismuth and some others on the Israeli right were so enamored with defending and making league with were out and out neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, as many in the press note.

  • “It’s scary being a Jew here, I’m glad I have Israeli citizenship,” DC resident Mata Adler tells Army Radio.
  • JTA offers readers a guide to all the right-wing hate groups and their symbology among the “good people” at the riot: “A far-right activist known as Baked Alaska livestreamed from inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Another extremist, Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist who leads the far-right Groyper Army, was said to be in the room with him. Fuentes denies this but was outside the Capitol on Wednesday. “
  • “These are people on the American far right who miss the days of the Confederacy, before the victory of the liberal north in the Civil War, and miss the days of slavery,” writes Channel 13’s Or Heller in a broad overgeneralization. “They love guns, Hitler and Nazis.”
  • Ben Lorber writes for Haaretz that “the impact of Trump and the Right’s escalatory rhetoric will long outlast this election cycle, as right-wing populists will only become more emboldened to commit violent insurgent acts in pursuit of exclusionary and anti-democratic ends.”
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur writes that the riot wasn’t a failed coup, as many have called it, but rather more like an ad for extremism, much like terrorists recruit by publicizing videos of their own atrocities.
  • “Trump did not condemn the assailants who stormed the US Capitol in the middle of the certification vote until Thursday night, long after the mayhem ended. They were his army, and their very fervency was a message to Republicans,” he writes. “Wednesday’s events were … an attempted takeover of the Republican Party, and a recruitment ad for the most extreme elements of the American right.”

4. Could it happen here? Naturally, fears are rampant over whether such an outburst of political violence can occur here.

  • “Could we see it here, thousands of people ascending the Knesset, MKs and ministers hiding in offices and under tables?” asks Kan’s Moti Gilat. Public Security Minister Amir Ohana tells the station that he is preparing for that very possibility: “When you hear that some protesters are talking about needing to throw a Molotov cocktail at the Prime Minister’s Residence, it shows that there’s tons of incitement.”
  • “A glaring warning was written on the walls of the Capitol Wednesday of the dangers of populism … This is a widespread, global problem, so its dangers must be called out worldwide, including in Israel,” reads Haaretz’s lead editorial. “There are too many similarities between Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. For Netanyahu, incitement has changed from being a rhetorical tool to being a policy.”
  • “How are we different from them,” asks Yossi Verter in the same paper. “Will Benjamin Netanyahu and his cohorts behave differently if they discover after March 23 that they no longer hold power? He and Trump, members of a mutual admiration society, are shameless liars and instigators. Both lack values, norms and minimal integrity. They are contemptuous of the trappings of state, the rule of law, the gatekeepers. They despise anyone who doesn’t obey them. They surveil their rivals, ignite insane conspiracy theories and manage a low-skill work environment of pitiable yes-men who are required to lie in their name.”
  • ToI’s David Horovitz writes of his various worries as he watched the events go down in Washington, including: “Worries for the resilience of our own rule of law, born of the ongoing efforts by our leader — silent on Wednesday night — to discredit some of the pillars of our democracy. Not parallel concerns, but echoes and fears raised by the events unfolding in the distant capital city of our closest, most important ally.”
  • Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen tells Army Radio that “I can see a situation in which divisiveness, and marking others as traitors, from either side, will cause the other side to think that they are dealing with traitors. I believe we won’t get to violent opposition, Israeli democracy is much stronger.”
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