If looks could kvell
Hebrew media review

If looks could kvell

The Israeli press is enamored with soldiers for not punching an annoying teen girl and with Trump for not kicking himself on Jerusalem, but not everything looks so rosy

Illustrative: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley voting against a Security Council resolution on Jerusalem on December 18, 2017. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)
Illustrative: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley voting against a Security Council resolution on Jerusalem on December 18, 2017. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)

The all-important issue of optics is an arena that Israel has been historically bad at operating in, notching loss after loss, including recently with the killing of a Gazan double amputee and being forced to have the US veto a 14-1 resolution on Jerusalem in the Security Council.

So it’s little surprise that some in the media find much to crow about given a rare win, as a video emerged Monday of Palestinian teen girls pushing soldiers and the soldiers not doing anything back.

The story takes up the nearly the whole front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, and led the country’s main evening newscast on the entity formerly known as Channel 2 the night before. Poor optics continue to reign in other papers though, with Haaretz’s page 1 taken up with a large picture of a Palestinian standing in a tunnel that is the only access to his home thanks to the security fence. Israel Hayom meanwhile spins America’s cottoning to Israeli positions as the best thing ever — never mind any international isolation over the moves — while looking like a mouthpiece for US President Donald Trump by going on the attack against his predecessor Barack Obama.

Yedioth playing the story of the soldiers not pushing teen girls the way it does is remarkable as a reminder both of how populist and tabloidy the paper can be, and of how desperate Israel is for a win like this, though the lack of attention to the issue in the other papers show how small of a victory this will actually be.

A Palestinian girl slaps an IDF officer in the face in an apparent attempt to get him to respond violently so the encounter could be filmed and shared online, during a protest in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh on December 15, 2017. (Screen capture)

The headlines “Restrained force” and “Impossible mission” make plain the paper’s sympathy for soldiers in the face of teen provocateurs from the Tamimi family in Nabi Saleh shoving them, as seen in the video, making liberal use of blurry screenshots and pictures of previous encounters with the media darlings from the Palestinian village.

The paper doesn’t actually have any news story though, just an extended picture caption, highlighting the fact that the incident is not actually news. Yet it accompanies its coverage with three separate pieces of commentary expounding on the symbolic nature of the encounter.

“The pictures showing an IDF officer getting slapped by a girl are not pleasant. Pictures of an IDF officer hitting back and restraining her would endanger Israel and hurt the army. And perhaps that is the problem, thinking about how the situation is filmed and not about how to actually act,” Yossi Yehoshua writes.

In another column, Asaf Schneider bemoans the catch-22 the poor soldier seen in the video was caught in, comparing it to the case of Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for killing a disarmed and wounded Palestinian assailant, slamming the IDF and politicians for putting their political and propaganda battles on the grunts’ backs.

“The Tamimi family are serial provocateurs. Maybe they should have arrested a few. Or maybe, for the same reason, they should have gotten out of there in order not to give the not-so-innocent-Tamimis [a play on the name, which roughly translates to the Hebrew word for innocent] their latest viral video,” he writes. “Just choose. But the soldier was left there, his officers dumbfounded, or disappeared. Save this wretched soldier from having to be a strategist. Be commanders.”

The story gets little play in the other two major papers, but in Haaretz’s op-ed page Amira Hass looks at another story where Israel came out muddied, the killing of paraplegic Palestinian Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, writing that the army only seems to care about investigating wrongdoing when caught on camera.

This file photo taken on May 19, 2017 shows handicapped Palestinian demonstrator Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh waving a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli soldiers following a protest against the blockade on Gaza, near the border fence east of Gaza City. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

“The army, which knows the minute a Palestinian rocket hits a Palestinian house in Beit Hanoun, needed video clips in the media in order to learn, by surprise, that its sharpshooter killed an unarmed man, a double leg amputee. Pressured as a result of the videos, the army spokesman was forced to admit that ‘the circumstances of the shooting’ were being examined. He also announced that the shots had been aimed at the main inciters in the crowd,” Hass writes.

Israel Hayom’s main stories revolve around the US’s new security strategy, which does not blame Israel for the Middle East’s woes, dovetailing it with Nikki Haley torpedoing a UN Security Council resolution protesting the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Trump’s doctrine: The problem is terror — not Israel,” reads the paper’s main headline.

“After many years, there’s someone in the US who is thinking outside the box and does not see himself as tied to the worn out naive visions that fill the halls of the foreign service in Washington,” columnist Haim Shine writes. “To President Trump and his staff its clear there is no connection between Islamist terror and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no reason not to advance peace in the region on the basis of shared interests and only afterward to deal with the Palestinians.”

In Haaretz, though, Chemi Shalev notes that the real news wasn’t about Israel, but rather Iran.

“Alongside Trump’s familiar complaints about the terrible nuclear deal signed by Barack Obama, the new American paper elevates Iran to a North Korea level of direct threat. Iran is depicted not only as a danger to America’s national security around the world but as a threat to the homeland itself. Like Pyongyang, Tehran is said to be developing ballistic missiles in order to threaten and perhaps bomb the United States with unconventional weapons. The document strengthens doubts about Trump’s willingness to adhere to the nuclear deal for much longer. It also justifies apprehension – in Jerusalem, the better word might be hopes – that the road to a direct military confrontation between Iran and the US is already paved,” he writes.

US President Donald Trump speaks about his administration’s new National Security Strategy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, on December 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Trump’s speech about the new strategy was dripping with disgust for his predecessor and the nuclear deal. Israel Hayom, not about to be left out, brings some of its own ammo to anti-Obama party thanks to a report Sunday that the previous administration went easy on Hezbollah to save the Iran nuclear deal, with a front page headline telling readers that “the real Obama legacy is cynicism and immoral policies.”

“Obama is seen today as someone who crossed all normative red lines to allow Hezbollah and its agents to carry out horrible actions without being bothered, including on American soil,” columnist Avraham Ben-Tzvi writes. “Today it’s clear that the liberal president Obama didn’t learn a thing from history, and despite what his supporters may say, gave a green light to a whole roster of continuing atrocities, all for his view — unfounded on his own — that this was for America’s national security interests.”

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