Israel on the Thames
Hebrew media review

Israel on the Thames

Papers view the terror attacks in London through a decidedly local lens, while playing up the significance of its very un-Israeli location

Members of the emergency services work to help victims on Westminster Bridge, alongside the Houses of Parliament in central London on March 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Miklas Halle'n)
Members of the emergency services work to help victims on Westminster Bridge, alongside the Houses of Parliament in central London on March 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Miklas Halle'n)

It’s no surprise that the terror attack that rocked London Wednesday is on every front page in the Hebrew press Thursday morning — as it is around the world — and it’s also little surprise that coverage of the attack in many ways attempts to Israelify it.

As un-Israeli as the placement of the attack was — and papers describe its location “Under Big Ben,” “On the Thames” or next to “the mother of all parliaments” — papers still find a way for the attack to hit home with local readers.

While the proximity of the attack to Big Ben is played up in the papers, it was also in sight of another London landmark, the giant Ferris wheel London Eye, which at the time was carrying three Israelis who watched the scene unfold below.

“We didn’t understand what was happening, and then Itzik’s phone started to buzz and he got warnings about an attack in London. We looked down and saw that on the bridge, in view of the Ferris wheel there were a ton of cops and ambulances,” one member of the Ezra family from Rishon Lezion is quoted telling the paper, after being stuck on the ride for three hours. “We didn’t see bodies, but we saw a big mess. Tons of people running in fear and escaping the scene, leaving the bridge quickly. Our carriage was practically at the top and suddenly we saw a bunch of helicopters hovering at our height.”

The article includes a selfie taken by the family from the top, with the scene of the terror attack unfolding, unbeknownst to them, way in the background — like a scene from the monster film Cloverleaf.

“It seems anywhere there’s Israelis there’s terror,” Itzik Ezra is quoted saying. “I feel safest in Israel.”

That may because of Israel’s tough anti-terror policies, which are known for being both draconian and effective.

Israel Hayom’s Boaz Bismuth, without mentioning Israel outright, brings his own hawkish take on what Europe should be doing differently and how it’s flubbing its response to attacks, formed by his own experiences as a terror-hardened Israeli.

“The problem in Europe and especially Britain is that when the attacks began, they were treated as a malfunction and not a phenomenon. Now the penny has already dropped, but it seems it’s too late. In European capitals they know there will be another attack, the question is when,” he writes. “The desire to not punish the entire Muslim population prevents European governments from fingering the problem. Instead of demanding that the imams in the mosques help fight terror, they immediately try to send out calming signals, explaining why the attackers are just rotten apples. And it’s possible that it seems in the last few years that there are too many ‘good kids’ coming out of the mosques who heaven forfend don’t prove the rule. … The war on terror is far from over. Maybe this time, when innocent people were killed in view of Big Ben, they will understand what’s going on.”

In Haaretz, though, columnist Anshel Pfeffer notes that the UK would have a hard time enacting the same sort of hard-nosed anti-terror measures used by Israel.

“Israeli commentators expect the British to adopt the tactics which allowed Israel in the last year and a half to profile and identify young Palestinian men and women as potential lone attackers in advance and greatly minimized the scale of terror in Israel and the West Bank. This style of profiling is much more difficult in a Western society where communities cannot be singled out and targeted based on their ethnicity and religion and many forms of electronic surveillance used by Israel are illegal in Britain. The dilemma will continue to be just how much of its citizens’ civil liberties is the British government willing to sacrifice in order to provide the security services with the tools to prevent further attacks,” he writes. “A democracy’s struggle against terror will always come at some price to its values. It can’t be a price though that will itself be a victory to the terrorists.”

Another issue on which Israel and the rest of the world don’t necessarily see eye to eye is construction in West Bank settlements, and Barak Ravid in Haaretz reports that despite hopes among some in Jerusalem that settlement building under US President Donald Trump could go forward willy nilly, his adviser is asking Israel to halt construction outside the major blocs, in exchange for nearly unfettered building in East Jerusalem and inside the blocs.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed reservation at the American proposal, especially a public and official moratorium on settlement construction outside the settlement blocks. The main reason is that Netanyahu believes that he will have a hard time passing such a formula within his coalition in light of opposition from many Likud ministers, as well as those from the Habayit Hayehudi party,” the paper reports, based on an unnamed source. “The sides failed to reach an agreement and decided to continue talks on the different formulas in negotiations slated for Washington this week between Netanyahu and Jason Greenblatt.”

The idea put forward by Trump, seen as one of the US’s most hawkish leaders ever, dovetails with ideas of Israel’s center-left Zionist Union party, showing how much the right-left divide shifts on the two sides of the ocean.

The shifting nature of that right-left divide is also seen in a story broken by Yedioth a day earlier about artist Yair Garbuz being denied the Israel Prize by Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett over political considerations, to get back at him for a speech in which Garbuz derided religious Jews as “amulet kissers.”

The paper follows up with a report that the move drew mostly condemnation, and even right-wing columnist Ben Dror Yemini is not on board, writing that while some, like terror supporters, Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites might not deserve the prize, Garbuz is not in that league.

“Garbuz is in a different place. He managed to annoy most Israelis, not just the right-wingers and religious, but also most of the left. Condemning those who love amulets or his claim that they are a rotten core running the country, and even his stereotyping of a certain community, did not cross any red line,” he writes. “That’s part of a conversation that’s incendiary, furious and even legitimate, and there needs to be a line between criticizing an artist and disqualifying an artist.”

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